Party houses

Carrington House, Norfolk

There's room for an entire dynasty at this soon to open house in Snettisham, brought to you by the people responsible for the similarly glam Cliff Barns. Like the Tardis, Carrington House's traditional Georgian exterior gives way to another world the moment you turn that key. A whirlwind of hedonistic luxury - think luscious shag pile, graphic prints and lots and lots of gold.

The main house and adjoining cottage have oodles of entertaining space - including a disco with chill-out room. Add a coach house with sauna; treatment room and home cinema; and a concierge team to meet your every need and you've the ultimate location for an über cool yule.

• 0870 850 5468,; £4,750 from Dec 23-27 or £8,550 from Dec 23-Jan 2. Sleeps 20.

Felin Newydd House, Brecon

Be lords-a-leaping of all you survey at magnificent Felin Newydd House, Llandefalle, the country seat of the Evans-Bevan family for nigh on a century. This beautifully restored Georgian mansion set in 50 acres of gardens and parklands is the perfect retreat for a sublime Welsh Christmas. Crisp linen, fresh flowers, log fires and chamber maid service all come as standard; but pretty much anything else you require - including chefs, butlers, child minders, outdoor pursuits or just someone to shop and wash up for you - can be arranged.

• 01874 754216,; available Dec 29-Jan 5, costs £8,500 for seven nights. Sleeps 18.

Inshriach, Aviemore

This is a wonderful, rambling Edwardian country house, set on a 200-acre estate in the Cairngorms, just made for Boxing Day hide and seek. Recently renovated, the house has only just opened for business, but Alastair Sawday's Special Escapes has already given it a provisional thumbs up. Get in before word spreads, but wrap up warm: there's already snow on the mountains.

Very much a family home - there'll be a whopping Christmas tree to greet you - the owners decamp to a nearby bothy throughout your stay, but are on hand should you need them. If it gets cold enough they may even turn the lawn into an ice rink!

• 01540 651 341,; Available Dec 21-Jan 4; £5,000 for Christmas or New Year week, or £9,000 for the duration. Sleeps 17.

Upcott House, Devon

This is a glorious concoction of period detail and contemporary funkiness, with stonking views of Lyme Bay. This Arts & Crafts treasure has everything you need for a phenomenal, family-friendly Noel. There's a swish kitchen with two double ovens, an oak dining table, airy sitting room with wood-burner and wide-screen, and - so there's no arguing - a separate TV room with DVD, movies and games to keep the kids happy.

Equally lush are the six bedrooms (Vi-Spring mattresses) and five bathrooms (the family one has a double walk-in shower and chromatherapy suite). A Christmas tree, decorations, logs and welcome hamper will await you; arrange an online shopping order and it'll be in the cupboards before you arrive. As for walking off lunch? Well, the beach is only a few footsteps away; so festive fossil hunting will be a doddle.

• 01297 20307,; seven nights from Dec 21 for £3,500. Sleeps 12.

Manor Farmhouse, Kent

This house is perfect for families that want to play together, but not stay together 24/7. It comprises an idyllic 15th-century timber framed farmhouse, plus a cottage and barn that, together, sleep 18. That said, the lure of the farmhouse's cosy beamed drawing room - with two fireplaces no less - will prove hard to resist. A scrumptious mix of really ancient and brand spanking new; carved oak and inglenooks abound, but so does hi-tech: aside from a billiard room, library and sauna, the barn contains a cinema seating 18. Fully kitted out with large, surround sound projection TV with satellite television, DVD, CD, Laser Disc and VCR. Pack It's a Wonderful Life and you're sorted.

• Rural Retreats (01386 701177, offers seven nights from Dec 21, 22 or 23 for £6,092 based on 18 sharing.

Inns for New Year, chosen by Alastair Sawday

The Tempest Arms, Yorkshire

A 16th-century ale house in Elslack, three miles west of Skipton, with great prices, friendly staff and an easy style. Bedrooms are rather lavish and those at the back have views of the fells; suites are large and worth the money and a couple have decks with hot tubs to soak in. The Dales are on your doorstep for a blow-the-cobwebs-away yomp on New Year's Day. You will have been dining on six courses, guzzling fizz and toe-tapping to a jazz/blues band, all for £49.99pp. Suites from £95.

• 01282 842450,

The Compasses Inn, Wiltshire

A 14th-century whitewashed inn, hidden in the sleepy lanes of Lower Chicksgrove near Salisbury. Little has changed in 600 years: flagged floors, stone walls and heavy beams. Duck into the cosy darkness of this quirky bar to find low ceilings, a roaring fire, small booths and an old piano at the end of the room. Pretty bedrooms, all above, are a steal. Expect airy interiors, country rugs, wonky ceilings and well-dressed beds when you finally stagger up to bed after a New Year's Eve feast, with partying after if you fancy or a slurred chat around the bar into the early hours if you don't.

• 01722 714318,; doubles from £85 with dinner from £25pp.

The Howard Arms, Warwickshire

The Howard stands on Illmington Green, five miles south of Stratford-upon-Avon; it was built at roughly the same time as Shakespeare wrote King Lear and relatively little has changed since - it's a fabulous country inn, one of the best. The old fixtures and fittings remain - polished flagstones, heavy beams, mellow stone walls - as logs crackle on a vast open fire and a blackboard menu scales the wall above. On New Year's Eve, it's £310 for a double, which includes a bottle of champagne in the room to get you in the mood, a four-course menu, party in the pub, and a civilised late check out with breakfast served until 1pm, including Bucks Fizz.

• 01608 682226,

The Griffin Inn, Sussex

A proper inn, a community local in Fletching, Uckfield, that draws a well-heeled and devoted crowd. The occasional touch of scruffiness makes it almost perfect. You get cosy open fires, 400-year-old beams, oak panelling, settles and red carpets. Bedrooms are tremendous value for money and full of uncluttered country-inn elegance with free-standing Victorian baths, huge shower heads, crisp linen - all of which will be most appreciated on New Year's Day after a night living it up at their Prohibition Party. The lively inn is liable to turn raucous when happy guests dressed in flapper dresses, pin stripes and trilbies will be feasting on four courses and then doing the charleston to a live band.

• 01825 722890,; doubles from £85 to £145, plus £85 per ticket for the party.

The Westleton Crown, Suffolk

Situated in The Street, Westleton, near Southwold, this is one of England's oldest coaching inns, with 800 years of continuous service under its belt. Weave around the nooks and crannies and you'll find flames flickering in an open fire, leather sofas, a tongue-and-groove bar and a huge map on the wall for walkers. Come New Year's Eve you can drop in for the evening banquet; a five-course extravaganza with fish straight off the boats at Lowestoft and meat provided by local butchers. Extend the holiday with a two-night retreat; from £370 per room including the New Year's celebration evening and a full English "hangover cure" breakfast each day.

• 01728 648777,

Winter sun

Boutique hideaway, Grenada

Go off the tourist-tramped track at the laid-back La Sagesse on the southeast coast. This colonial manor house has just five rooms and two cottages, fronting a 1,000m-long white-sand beach lined with almond trees and sea grapes. There'll be a special menu on Christmas Day, and a bit of a party atmosphere, but the fun will be low-key and tinsel-free.

• Seven nights room-only from 24 Dec from £1,395pp, inc flights and transfers, with Just Grenada (01373 814214, Car hire £40 a day.

Midnight Mass, Cuba

Catch the authentic buzz of Havana, with four nights in the colonial-style Hotel Sevilla, living it up with mojitos and cigars. Castro effectively abolished Christmas in 1969, but this was revoked in 1988. Experience midnight mass in Cathedral Square, where thousands gather to ring in the 25th. Then wind down with three nights at the Soroa hotel in the hills of Pinar del Rio, by a waterfall and orchid farm.

• Seven nights' B&B from Dec 22 from £1,350pp inc flights via Paris and transfers with Captivating Cuba (0844 412 9917;

Dive in Egypt

Built in the style of a Bedouin village on a remote beach beside the Red Sea, the new, low-key Oasis Dive Resort in Marsa Alam has 50 chic chalets. There's a pool area and rooftop terrace with great views, and spa treatments are available. But scuba diving is the big thing in these warm waters. Here, Christmas can almost be forgotten about, though a gala dinner is included if you're craving a paper hat.

• Seven nights' B&B from Dec 22, inc flights and transfers, £829pp with Regaldive (01353 659 999; Beginners' diving courses cost £220pp inc equipment.

Cruise the backwaters, India

Journey by houseboat between coconut forests and lotus-filled lagoons on Kerala's peaceful rivers and canals. Visit a highlands wildlife reserve, stay with a local family, then journey to Kochi harbour. A quarter of Keralans are Christians, and on Christmas Day you can walk to Kochi's historic Portuguese area where, in either of the two beautiful churches, you'll get a taste of Christmas celebrations, Indian-style. In the evening, your tour leader will arrange a special Christmas dinner.

• Eleven-night escorted group tour with Explore (0844 499 0901, departs Dec 16, £1,615pp inc flights, transport, board and some meals.

Thai menu, Thailand

Ditch Christmas and go Buddhist with an escorted group tour of Thailand, taking in the north and south of the country as well as Bangkok. On the 25th, you'll be staying in a hilltribe village amid pristine jungle, where the villagers will have some moonshine rice whisky, should you want to toast the big day. For New Year's Eve you'll be in the southern beach resort of Sichon, where you can feast on seafood and celebrate in the friendly beach bars.

• A 14-night/16-day tour departing Dec 20 for £1,743pp inc flights, with Exodus (0845 863 9600,


Street kids, India

The warm and fuzzy feeling you experience at Christmas usually comes from overdoing it on the mince pies and sherry, but there is another way. On a volunteer scheme in India, you'll work with street kids and tribal communities on the outskirts of Udaipur in Rajasthan, as a teaching assistant in rural schools. Hindi lessons, cultural workshops and an overnight train trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and all meals are included.

• Global Vision International (01727 250 250,, two weeks from Dec 13, £795pp, excl flights.

Elephant tracking, Kenya

Tell the kids they're being sent to work for Christmas and they won't be impressed, but tell them the work will be in Africa, and involves tracking elephants, and new Wii games and stocking-fillers might suddenly sound dull in comparison. The work element of this two-week family trip to Kenya is pretty low weight, with three days camping and volunteering in the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary sandwiched between game drives in Tsavo East national park, time on Indian Ocean beaches and bush walks near Mombasa. It's a group trip for up to 20 people and the volunteer work may involve clearing paths, monitoring elephants and maintenance.

• Departs Dec 19. From £1,060pp with Imaginative Traveller (0845 077 8802,

Community work, Sri Lanka

Games, songs, drama and dancing... just a typical Christmas then, except instead of grandma and your neighbourhood choristers joining in the jolly fray, on this trip your teammates and singers will be the underprivileged kids living in orphanages or children's homes around Colombo or in the hill country near Kurunegala. You'll be helping kids aged 7-18 with their homework, doing a bit of English teaching and joining in with social activities and youth camps.

• Departs Dec 21, £495 for two weeks inc accommodation, most meals, transfer and online TEFL course, but excl flights, with Responsible Tourism (01273 600 030,

Turtle conservation, Costa Rica

Help preserve Costa Rica's heroes in a half-shell on a placement in the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, which departs on December 20.

• You can stay for 1-12 weeks, from £395 for the first week and £150 per additional week, inc accommodation in a basic hut, tent, dorm or homestay, all meals, and transfers with i-to-i (0871 781 1149,

Orphanage school, Thailand

Enthusiasm, a creative personality and an ability to encourage kids to have fun are the requirements in volunteers willing to travel to Singburi, in the central plains of Thailand, to help out in a school attached to a large orphanage, which is also open to underprivileged families. You'll teach English informally, work with kids in the vegetable garden, join in with creative, sporting and environmental awareness activities, but there's a lot of freedom to decide yourself how to best use your time and skills.

• Departing Dec 14, you can stay for a week or more from £219pp, including accommodation (you can choose a homestay or a dorm) and food, with Real Gap (01892 516 164,



Gemma Bowes, Les Dunn and Abigail Flanagan

The GuardianTramp

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