Looking for something not-so-traditional to do for the holidays?


Finnair’s inflight magazine Blue Wings picked five stellar ways to experience a different type of seasonal holiday break.

Iceland: winter run 
Training for a running event offers a motivating way to stay focused (and in shape) during December, often a treat-laden month in many parts of the world. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, hosts a New Year’s Eve run with a ten-kilometre route that starts and finishes at what is arguably the city’s most stunning architectural feature – the Harpa Concert Hall, a showcase of glass and light. The run winds along a relatively flat route that takes joggers by the ocean with a view of the sea and Mount Esja, also known as the “city mountain.” This year marks the 40th annual New Year’s Eve Run; last year more than 1,200 people participated, making it one of the biggest running events in Iceland (pop. 330,000). For 2016, a three-kilometre fun run has been added to the agenda, and as per tradition, costumes are welcome. A prize will be awarded for the best one. Following the event, Icelandic New Year’s Eve celebrations include bonfires and fireworks displays. 

Photo by Stocksy
Morocco: sun salutations 
Temperatures can be up to +20 degrees Celsius as the sun warms participants during daily meditation and yoga classes at the Quaryati Ecolodge, a traditional Moroccan guesthouse, just 30 minutes from Marrakesh. Revealing Vajra’s Christmas break yoga retreat is open to newbies and very experienced yogis, with a programme that caters to suit the needs of the participants who come from around the world. In addition to a healthful menu, pampering massages, an onsite hamam and swimming pool, tours of the nearby Atlas Mountains, as well as Marrakesh and its souks are on offer. Though this annual Christmas break yoga retreat fills up quickly, there’s always time to plan for 2017. 
Photo by Revealing Vajra
Japan: Soak in an onsen 
Reminiscent of a castle, the magical three story building of Dogo Onsen Hot Springs was the model for the bath house of gods in Hayao Miyazaki’s popular animated film Spirited Away. Located in Matsuyama, Dogo Onsen has a history stretching back 3,000 years, making it the country’s oldest spa. According to legend, the hot springs are said to have healed a deity’s illness in ancient times. Like many onsens or hot springs in Japan, Dogo Onsen is open year-round. (Only one per cent of Japan’s population is Christian, so Christmas is not a national holiday in the country.) Visitors can take a bath, sit back, and relax in a spacious tatami salon, or a private room with a tea service. Dogo Onsen’s main building features a special Yushinden bath, which is exclusive to the Imperial Family and the only one of its kinds in Japan. Matsuyama can be reached by shinkansen (high-speed train) from Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo. 
Photo by iStock
Spain: Learn the language 
Taking an immersion course abroad provides the opportunity to practice speaking a foreign language around the clock, and learn about another culture first-hand. Many language schools provide intensive language courses over the Christmas break such as the much-lauded don Quijote, which offers Spanish classes in Barcelona on its varied roster. There’s the option of participating in Spanish holiday traditions such as watching the “Three Wise Men” (Reyes Magos) parades and eating 12 grapes – one grape for each strike of the clock at midnight – during the countdown to welcome the New Year. In Barcelona, as throughout Spain, many bars and restaurants are open on Christmas Day, with a set meal of local favourites including paella, a Catalan dish. Also on Christmas Day, at the end of the main esplanade La Rambla, the annual harbour swim – one of the city’s oldest sporting traditions – takes place in the icy waters of Port Vell.
Photo by iStock
The UK: Pitch up  
For a hearty holiday in the English outdoors – where there’s little chance of snow – campers set up their caravans and tents and decorate them with festive lights during December. With 30 Camping and Caravanning Club UK campsites open during the holiday season, many sites such as Cheddar Mendip Heights in South East England feature optional Christmas Eve programmes serving mince pies and mulled wine for those who want to participate. As Mendip Heights, which also welcomes non-members, is located near significant Bronze Age burial mounds, Roman lead-workings, and sacred sites such as the Priddy Circles, there are a great number of sites to see and explore nearby. With modern laundry and shower facilities, Mendip Heights has a reception that doubles as the licensed village shop and is open all season selling locally produced cheese, meat, and other staples. Added bonus: bread and pastries are baked fresh each morning. 
Photo by iStock
Text by Katja Pantzar
This article is published in the December 2016 issue of Finnair's Blue Wings magazine.


Published December 5, 2016

Category: Local features