Brits on Christmas Breaks 2013: short stories in competition

Sri Lanka tops exotic Christmas breaks contest

Telegraph, UK readers share their thoughts on recently published stories (October 11-19, 2014)
The winning entry: SRI LANKA
The fortress at Sigiriya Rock Sigiriya

Sri Lanka: The children woke to the screeches of wild peacocks to find that Father Christmas had filled their hammocks with a few well-travelled gifts – this was a Christmas Day like no other in the Mud House Hotel in central Sri Lanka. On this joy of a break, with neither electricity nor internet, we cycled to the nearby Buddhist temple and went canoeing and swimming at the local lake where fish nibbled our toes. Afterwards we enjoyed a feast overlooking a lily-filled buffalo meadow – and then the activities began: a cricket match against the staff, and lessons in rounding up buffalo by tuk-tuk.

Boxing Day was spent birdwatching at dawn followed by a cookery lesson over open fires learning to prepare the perfect dal and to shred our first coconuts. Our Sri Lanka tour continued with safaris and hiking high up on Sigiriya Rock and it seemed rude not to pop to the Maldives for New Year.

Sally York, from East Sussex, wins a voucher with DialAFlight

India: Jaipur in Rajasthan is a delight at any time of the year, with its prominent buildings painted in a pink hue, but it is a truly special place to be at Christmas.

We visited the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and saw the most amazing kite festival. Children are given a little kite each and hundreds of them are flown against the backdrop of the palace’s pink façade with Father Christmas handing out chocolates to the children in the sunshine.

The city comes alive at Christmas, with busy city markets thronged with carol singers and awash with festive goodies. Churches are decorated with white and red balloons, and candles are lit in hundreds of windows. Something that cannot be missed is the monkey temple where you can witness at sunset monkeys swimming in the sacred pools. It’s altogether a very different and enchanting city in which to celebrate Christmas.

Lisa Anderson, West Sussex

Malaysia:  I highly recommend Penang for a Christmas break. I once had a memorable stopover holiday at the Parkroyal Hotel overlooking Penang beach and the atmosphere was very warm and welcoming. It was unusual hearing Frosty the Snowman being played in the hotel foyer and to see white Christmas trees with gingerbread treats as ornaments. To celebrate Christmas I enjoyed a refreshing cocktail and foot massage on the beach, followed by a parasail ride. Amazing tropical food made a delightful change from the traditional dry turkey feast.

Fiona King, Portsmouth

We like to visit the Far East during December and January. Christmas Day saw us at the Spice Gardens in Ferringhi on Penang, Malaysia. A wonderful morning was spent being shown around the gardens, gaining valuable knowledge about the uses of spices in Malaysian cuisine. That was followed by a cookery class given by a local chef. We created a traditional Malay curry lunch and then sat down together to enjoy our efforts. It was marvellous – and, as a result, we have this kind of lunch at home every Sunday.

Peter and Anne Taylor, Lincolnshire

England: What better Christmas setting than Amberley Castle, in Sussex, the medieval fortified home of the bishops of Chichester? Enter the castle through its sturdy gatehouse and, after admiring the inner courtyard, proceed to the welcoming domestic quarters. After canapés and drinks in one of the large lounges heated by log fires, eat and drink well in the grand hall before retiring again for coffee and brandy downstairs. After festive activities and further liquid refreshment and mince pies, watched over by shiny but lifeless suits of armour, retire to one of the large and luxurious bedrooms – but beware the ghostly things that may frequent the corridors and rooms of this historic building. At Amberley Castle, all is provided for, including the possibility of a festive ghostly encounter.

David Rudling, East Sussex

Egypt: I would recommend Egypt for a Christmas holiday, not least because the weather is so good in December (an average of 19C). It is said that “Once you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return” – and I would agree. Egypt provides the perfect balance of culture, adventure and relaxation. In addition to some of the world’s most famous historical sights (including the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Valley of Kings), it offers adventures in the desert such as star-gazing through a huge telescope, enjoying tea with the Bedouin, camel-trekking and quad-biking. Other activities include scuba diving and snorkelling around the colourful reefs of the Red Sea. Or you can simply relax by the pool with a cocktail or a shisha pipe, watching traditional belly dancers perform.

What more could you want from a holiday, at any time of the year?

Jennifer Gane, East Sussex

Hong Kong: Christmas is great in Hong Kong. The climate is temperate and you can view the amazing Christmas displays in the shops while picking up those last-minute gifts, then head to Victoria Park for t’ai chi or to a temple for reflection and peace. I would combine it with another destination such as Bali – a perfect location for peace and tranquillity with top-class service and a friendly smile.

Claire Thomson, Cheshire

Japan: This is an intriguing choice for a Christmas holiday as there are few Christians in Japan. However, the Japanese still see it as a time of celebration and happiness. Father Christmas is named “Santa-san” and several Western traditions have been adopted, such as exchanging presents and cards.

On Christmas Day shops are open and the food of choice is apparently fried chicken. Japan is a truly unique Christmas destination, not easily forgotten.

Helen Greaves, Newcastle

Madagascar:For a complete getaway over the Christmas period, head to Tsarabanjina, a tiny volcanic island accessible only by boat or sea plane off the north-west coast of Madagascar. Tsarabanjina is a totally unspoilt eco-friendly paradise with turquoise waters, coral reefs and protected wildlife. The staff are lovely and knowledgeable about the unique environment, offering guided walks, snorkelling, diving and boat trips. There are just 25 private bungalows which are well spaced to ensure your stay is peaceful. There are no pools or hot tubs because the Indian Ocean is just steps away from your door. The sand-floored bar is ideal for a sundowner if you want to socialise with the other guests; just be aware that the local Malagasy rum is lethal.

Lucy Carson-Taylor, Shropshire

Hawaii:  Tropical, and with amazing beaches, Hawaii is perfect for a Christmas break, whether you want to chill or do something more challenging such as trek up the volcano. Because it is part of America, you still get a festive feel and Father Christmas arrives via jet ski at some hotels.

Rebecca Inman, London

Mexico:Envisage yourself in crystal-clear waters, then take yourself to the beautiful and vibrant country that is Mexico. Begin your journey in Cancun. I recommend a few days at an all-inclusive to recover from jet lag or take a boat ride across to Mexico’s hidden treasure, Isla de Mujeres. It has the most beautiful beach in the whole of Mexico. Rent a golf buggy and head up to the Mayan temple and witness a spectacular view, preferably at sunset.

You can then venture to Tulum, a jungle town filled with bars and traditional restaurants. I would order the fish tacos with a classic margarita. Head down to Playa Papaya at the weekend for a party. If you’re more adventurous, dive through the cenotes (sink holes) or take a zip-line ride through the jungle. If it’s sanctuary you seek, spend a day at a beach spa where treatments are organically sourced and the view will match your tranquil mood.

Natalie Graham, London

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