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Wonderful winter weekends
6:00am Saturday 14th December 2013 in Travel
Falling in love with a cold climate? From a Christmas shopping spree in Brighton to a ski weekend on the Swiss slopes, Sarah Marshall rounds up the best festive short breaks.
Best for... winter sport
Not all ski trips have to be action packed, says Peter Thompson
Lying flat on my back with my legs up in the air is a predicament I've became accustomed to on ski trips over the years. And just a few hours after arriving in the Swiss Alps, I already find myself in that all-too familiar position once again.
As I open my eyes in a startled state, I hear a stern voice instructing me to 'inhale' and then 'exhale'. Now breathing easily, I get back on my feet, and fortunately, there's no need to salvage my skis after another almighty pile-up.
I'm enjoying my first ever yoga session high up in the mountains in one of the converted barns that makes up the impressive Montagne Alternative boutique hotel, billed as a place to escape for some peace and tranquillity.
Blessed with spectacular views of vast mountains and seemingly never-ending valleys, the location easily induces relaxation.
I arrived at the quaint village of Commeire by train from Geneva Airport to the nearby town of Martigny, coasting past the sun-dappled Lake Geneva.
Spread over five barns (with one sleeping up to ten people), Montagne Alternative combines classic Alpine-style design with modern and chic decor.
There are only 13 residents in the village of Commeire, but every effort has been made to ensure their lives haven't been disrupted by the hotel. Thanks to measures such as solar-powered heating, the impact on the environment has also been minimised.
But a stay here isn't just about sitting back and soaking up the atmosphere; with resorts Verbier and La Fouly on the doorstep, it's an excellent spot for skiers.
The slopes at La Fouly are much quieter and are perfect for a novice skier like myself.
A tasty lunch with a couple of beers at traditional Swiss restaurant Auberge des Glaciers is a perfect way to end my short break in the mountains. Although I could happily stay in front of the roaring fire at our luxuriously converted barn long after the cows have come home.
:: Doubles at Montagne Alternative cost from 200 euros, including breakfast; a week's stay costs from 650 euros per person (based on two sharing a room). Visit www.montagne-alternative.com
:: Swiss Air flies from London Gatwick to Geneva from £67 return. For information on train travel within Switzerland, visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk
:: For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com
Best for... festive shopping
Turn gift buying into a weekend break for the family, says Ben Mitchell
For shoppers suffering brand fatigue by trawling through the same old stores which hog the average high street, then Brighton offers an exciting antidote.
The south-coast city is a breeding ground for independent and creative labels, and retailers offering a refreshing range of everything from children's clothes and toys to retro and cutting-edge fashions.
And with so many family-friendly attractions in the area, it's the perfect choice for a weekend Christmas shopping break with our young child in tow.
The first place to head is the North Laine - this growing network of streets is less famous than the original Brighton Lanes, but is brimming with life and colour. Make sure you take time to look around you as the street performance and art is as much a part of the experience as the shops.
We stay in the midst of this at Vine Street Studios - stylish self-catering loft apartments kitted out with the latest in interior design, all of which can be purchased.
Heading towards the sea, we encounter the winding maze of The Lanes with stylish boutiques from world-famous brands, intermingled with independent stores and restaurants offering worldwide cuisine.
A typically-colourful option is the Scoop and Crumb ice cream parlour which boasts the largest ice cream sundae and waffle menu in the UK. Set up by Jonathan Dickson and his Swedish wife Helena, the decor is as candy-coloured as its desserts and it all brims with a Scandinavian feel - check out the toilet and kitchen doors for a taste of their sense of humour.
For a break from all that shopping, the Tremendous Tipi pop-up restaurant, pitched on the beach by the Brighton Music Hall, offers hearty winter meals.
But if you decide to stay at home for the evening, enlist the help of chef Minesh Agnihotri from the Indian Summer restaurant. He can teach you how to cook authentic Indian cuisine while your kids, exhausted by the Santa's grotto in the Churchill Square mall and the colourful Sea Life Centre, sleep soundly upstairs.
:: Until end of January, Vine Street Studios offer family apartments for £1,000 (or £50pppn) for up to 10 guests staying Friday and Saturday nights. Visit www.vinestreetstudios.co.uk
:: For information on Brighton, visit www.visitbrighton.com
Best for... family fun
Join Mickey and Minnie for a magical Christmas, says Claire Spreadbury
If you're dreaming of white Christmas, snap up some tickets for Disneyland Paris.
After a few hours on the Eurostar, my four-year-old daughter Rosie and I are walking down Main Street, taking in the sites and sounds of the festive season, as an incredible 8,200 litres of soap is magically transformed into snowflakes falling from the sky.
A 24m-high Christmas tree is adorned in a mass of decorations, each one inspired by end-of-the-year European traditions.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead the parade of floats dressed in their festive finery, while Rosie bops to Christmas tunes, gasping as the pirates and princesses wave and perform for everyone lining the route.
I even allow her to stay up late to take in the spectacular Disney Dreams Christmas show, where Sleeping Beauty's iconic castle is transformed into a shimmering winter scene.
Projections featuring characters from the Christmas must-see family film Frozen make us both giggle, not to mention the Toy Story guys and gals trying their hand at The Nutcracker. Stunning effects and the most fabulous fireworks ever seen add to the atmosphere, ensuring every minute we spend at Disneyland Paris really is as magical as you're led to believe.
:: Disney's Enchanted Christmas two-night, three-day package, including return travel with Eurostar in December 2013, starts from £1,205.20 for a family of two adults and two children (aged 4-6yrs). Price includes accommodation with continental breakfast at Disney's Hotel New York and three day hopper tickets for the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, based on two adults sharing. Visit www.disneylandparis.com