Instead of: Christmas in Hawaii
Head to: Sanya’s beautiful beaches
They might be the antithesis of snowscapes and curling up by the fireplace with a mug of cocoa, but Christmas beach getaways are a classic. Nicknamed the Hawaii of the East, Hainan shares the same latitude as the famed Pacific island chain and boasts just as perfect a climate. The city of Sanya, on the island’s southernmost tip, features long stretches of beach and an ocean that stays at entirely mellow temperatures.
While there’s some exploring to be done (visiting the giant Guanyin statue of Nanshan Temple, sampling the famous coconut chicken hotpot), kicking back and unwinding are really what island life is about. Luckily, plush resorts you won’t want to leave are in no short supply here. With 506 guest rooms all facing the hotel’s private beaches, The Sanya Edition offers the style and polish now synonymous with the boutique brand. As romantic a getaway as it is a kid-friendly destination, it comes with sprawling grounds that allow ample room for couples to cosy up in peace or for families to enjoy to special holiday meals together.
Or splash out on one of the five underwater suites at Atlantis Sanya, where sea creatures float past your bedroom window. During the day, you can swim with dolphins and sea lions, scuba with sharks and stingrays or shoot down the waterslides at the resort’s Aquaventure Waterpark. For extra holiday cheer throughout December, the resort hosts festive programming, including themed children’s activities and a show featuring scuba divers dressed in Santa costumes.
Instead of: Roast turkey with all the trimmings
Seek out: Nanjing’s classic duck dishes
Beijing might champion its Peking duck, but the duck-obsessed capital of Jiangsu province has its own version – and much more. From duck and sticky rice shaomai dumplings to yaxue fensi tang – duck blood and vermicelli soup – Nanjingers use the fowl in question every which way. The city’s signature dish, however, is salted duck. The dish dates back a thousand years: its flavour-packed, succulent meat is marinated, then simmered, then served chilled. Meiyuan Restaurant at the Jinling Hotel turns out one of the city’s finest versions, or try Nanjing Impressions, a popular chain that’s spread across the country thanks to its excellent renditions of local specialities.
If you’re keen for some festive holiday crafting, visit the Nanjing Folk Museum. Set in a former Qing dynasty residence, it houses handicraft exhibitions and live demonstrations of traditional arts such as woodcarving, Chinese knotting, velvet flower art and paper cutting. For a deep dive into the 1,600-year-old tradition of yun brocade, which has made Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, stop by the Nanjing Cloud Brocade Museum, where you can marvel at the intricate silk designs and observe master artisans work the two-person loom.
Instead of: Skiing the Swiss Alps
Head to: The pistes of Chongli
If your budget this year doesn’t cover a trip to Switzerland, you can still hit the powder. Beijing is gearing up for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and excitement is brewing. A three-to-four-hour drive from the capital, Chongli district in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, is set to stage most of the skiing events. Its snowy slopes will be infinitely more accessible as of this month, when the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed rail is scheduled to open, cutting travel time down to one hour.
Chongli has several major ski areas, including Wanlong, Duole Meidi and Genting Secret Garden, with a scattering of resorts and an expected 271 ski runs by 2022. Local and international lodging options near the ski resorts are generally no-frills, catering towards travellers looking to spend all day on the slopes. Element Chongli features more polished accommodation, while the nearby Thaiwoo Ski Resort offers 34 slopes covering 80 hectares.
Instead of: Adorning the Christmas tree
Seek out: Anji’s bamboo forests
While snow-dusted evergreen forests might shout happy holidays, Anji County’s stunning Grand National Bamboo Forest offers a tranquil retreat from the frantic festive season. Located an hour away from Hangzhou, Anji’s bamboo groves rose to fame as the backdrop for scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – yet even so, the destination remains relatively hidden. Plan hikes through the ‘bamboo sea’ forest and then head over to eco-luxury resort Alila Anji for some well-deserved R&R.
While eastern China isn’t known for its winter sports, if you do want to hit the slopes, Jiangnan Tianchi Ski Resort offers runs suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers at an elevation of 1,000 metres. Afterwards, soothe your aches and pains in one of the area’s many outdoor hot springs, surrounded by rustling bamboo forests.
Instead of: A German Christmas market
Explore: Xi’an’s street food market
After the meal, ditch Santa’s sleigh and hop on a vintage jeep to see the city and its sights with Xi’an Insiders. Choose from itineraries that whirl you through the famous Terracotta Warriors, or give you a peek into traditional crafts in the ancient villages of the Loess Plateau outside the city.
Trade Christmas market staples like glühwein and bratwurst for the deliciously juicy roujiamo braised beef sandwiches or paomo bread soaked in lamb soup served by the Shaanxi capital’s street-side vendors at the Beiyuanmen Night Market. Missing a festive turkey? At the original branch of Zui Changan, hidden in a traditional courtyard off the city’s art street, you can feast on ‘gourd-shaped chicken’, a local speciality that’s boiled, steamed and then fried, resulting in a golden bird – served in a gourd – that is crispy yet tender and utterly delightful.