Near the top of any list of things most missed during 2020 has to be the sheer joy of travel, before the anxiety of wearing a face mask, slathering on hand sanitiser and following arrows in a socially-distanced queue.
Many of us have had to cancel sun-filled breaks in exotic climes, a multi-generational family trip or even just exploring somewhere new on a mini-break here in the UK.
Now, ingenious ways to entice us back into enjoying travel again come wrapped as brilliant gifts to give at Christmas that can be taken when the world reopens.
Make someone’s trip extra special with welcome cocktails and a delicious sharing menu at the Mansour Marrakech Hotel, pictured (royalmansour.com)
Start with a blast of warm North African sunshine in Morocco. For anyone who has postponed a big celebration, a voucher for welcome cocktails and a delicious sharing menu served amid the scented flowers and rich colours of a riad is one of many experiential offerings from the Royal Mansour Marrakech Hotel. From £130 (royalmansour.com).
For a cooler take on romance and fine dining, head high into the Swiss mountains and the lavish Gstaad Palace, which has hosted guests such as Marlene Dietrich and Margaret Thatcher.
If a ski trip is planned, treat a loved one to a champagne and black truffle fondue in its underground La Fromagerie restaurant from just £17 (palace.ch/en).
Romance: Gstaad Palace, pictured, in the Swiss mountains has hosted guests such as Marlene Dietrich and Margaret Thatcher. Treat a loved one to a champagne and black truffle fondue in its underground La Fromagerie restaurant from just £17 (palace.ch/en)
If that sounds too niche, then gift cards from trusted travel firms will spread the joy. Top options include Trailfinders, where you can give anything from £10 to a generous £1,000 so recipients can book their own dream holiday.
Gift cards can be redeemed against flights, extras such as car rental or even big-ticket trips, including family holidays to Disneyland, gap-year adventures to the Far East or round-the-world tours (trailfinders.com).
To contribute to someone’s holiday there’s a fun ‘flight gift card’ of at least £25 for a lastminute.com booking. You can add a video message and specify the day you want the voucher to be emailed to your recipient. They then have up to 12 months to redeem it against a flight.
Why not buy a special person a surprise trip and add to the excitement with a ‘Scratch-Off Boarding Pass’? As the name suggests, it’s designed to look like a traditional flight boarding pass. On the front is a simple message: ‘Pack your bags, you’re going away!’
Snap-happy: Capture the beauty of the Bempton Cliffs, pictured, on the Yorkshire coast with a one-to-one photography lesson (yorkshirecoastnature.co.uk)
Add the lucky person’s name, the departure date and time for the trip plus a short message (or have this printed on the card). Then hand over a coin for the ‘scratch here to reveal the destination’ box. From £8.99 at notonthehighstreet.com.
Photographers and bird-watchers are big travellers, but with many not going abroad this year, a popular spot has been Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast. Between March and August it’s home to one of the country’s top wildlife spectacles, when half a million birds from gannets and guillemots to puffins and barn owls gather.
Give the gift of a one-to-one photography lesson with a local photographer so the birds can be snapped in all their glory whatever the season. From £200 from yorkshirecoastnature.co.uk.
Or sporty types can get ready for the summer and learn the basics of paddleboarding, one of the world’s fastest-growing watersports, in the holiday resort of Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire coast. Gift cards from Ebb & Flo on the North Promenade can pay for kayak hire, wetsuits and lessons (ebbandfloliving.co.uk).
Oarsome: A paddleboarding experience at Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire coast is a great gift for sporty types. Lessons start from £30 (ebbandfloliving.co.uk)
At the 60-acre Monkey Forest, pictured, set amid the larger Trentham Estate near Stoke-on-Trent, you can see some 140 monkeys swinging between trees (monkey-forest.com/gifts-experiences)
Zoos and animal sanctuaries are holiday favourites, but visitor numbers and funds have inevitably fallen in 2020. Gift memberships are a feelgood way to support them when their doors reopen.
In Essex, there’s the Simon Cowell-supported Hopefield Animal Sanctuary that cares for pigs, parrots and even reindeer. Chewie the alpaca, Chip the cow and many more animals are there to be sponsored for £30 as a gift at hopefield.org.uk.
Head to the 60-acre Monkey Forest set amid the larger Trentham Estate near Stoke-on-Trent to see some 140 monkeys swing between trees. Gift vouchers or memberships from £7.50 at monkey-forest.com/gifts-experiences.
Perhaps a family member has not yet visited key tourist attractions such as Stonehenge, the Roman Baths of Bath or Windsor Castle. Now gift vouchers from Evan Evans Tours will give them the chance, alongside an expert guide, with all the organisation and transport taken care of. Choose an all-day tour, such as Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswold villages from £99. Or give a speciality tour for a history-lover, foodie, film buff or music fan (evanevanstours.com).
Treat a friend or family member to a visit to a popular tourist attraction such as Warwick Castle (above) or Stonehenge (evanevanstours.com)
Give a one-night ‘winter muddy paws’ stay to a dog-owning couple from £90 at a host of stylish pubs with rooms across East Anglia. Pictured is one of the rooms at The Three Blackbirds in Woodditton (chestnutgroup.co.uk)
Private tours can make travel even more special. Give a day with a fully qualified Blue Badge guide and your loved ones will be in the very best hands.
Pick from more than 100 bespoke walking tours, museum and gallery visits and even private-car excursions right across the UK. A top choice? The ‘God’s Own Country’ tour of the Yorkshire Dales that takes in Ripon Cathedral, Bolton Castle and Aysgarth Falls and includes everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Wallace and Gromit. Give a half-day tour from £185 or a full-day from £295 at britainsbestguides.org/voucher.
Hotels have whizzed up all sorts of gift packages to lure guests through their doors. Give a one-night ‘winter muddy paws’ stay to a dog-owning couple from £90, or pick a voucher for a romantic stay in Suffolk.
Gift a stay in a classic Airstream caravan at Ettie’s Field in Hinckley, Leicestershire (coolcamping.com)
There are plenty of offers for a host of stylish pubs with rooms across East Anglia at chestnutgroup.co.uk.
Know someone who loves to go glamping? With a Cool Camping voucher, from about £25 you can buy them a pitch at some of the country’s most perfectly positioned sites.
Wild-campers might like a stay at Walkmill under the dark skies of Northumberland, while other sites offer the chance to stay in a treehouse, yurt or converted horsebox. Or gift a stay in a classic Airstream caravan at Ettie’s Field in Hinckley, Leicestershire (coolcamping.com).
Consolation for any ‘should have been married this year’ couples are breaks at some of the country’s most romantic hotels. The modern Georgian style (and huge bathrooms) at No 131 in Cheltenham and the quirky yet cosy Kings Head Hotel in Cirencester are fun choices from Mr & Mrs Smith, where ‘get a room’ gift cards start at £50 (mrandmrssmith.com).
Foodies may have missed the taste of travel but you can give them a cooking class that goes right around the world. The Honesty Cookery School in Sydmonton, Hampshire, is part of a food family that includes a top-notch bakery, a string of stylish coffee shops and the Crown & Garter, an award-winning gastro pub in the Berkshire village of Inkpen. Classes teach how to make perfect Italian pasta, South Indian dosa, a range of Venetian cicchetti snacks, the foods of a Korean kitchen and more. Classes from £70 (honestygroup.co.uk).
The flavours of Spain mix with a side-order of fun in a sherry-tasting Zoom class run by one of the few Brits certified as a ‘sherry educator’.
At the Honesty Cookery School in Sydmonton, Hampshire, pictured, there are classes that teach how to make perfect Italian pasta, South Indian dosa, a range of Venetian cicchetti snacks, the foods of a Korean kitchen and more (honestygroup.co.uk)
Give someone a whisky masterclass from £60 at the Gleneagles hotel. Pictured is the hotel’s whisky shop – The Still Room (gleneagles.com)
Six miniatures are delivered in advance so you’re ready for a 90-minute guided tasting session delivered direct from host Annie’s Andalucian farmhouse. From £125 at anniebspain.com.
In Scotland, the ‘Golfer’s Lunch’ at Gleneagles hotel is a treat for those who want to eavesdrop on players’ tall tales in the bustling Dormy clubhouse that overlooks the course. Gift vouchers start from £29, or you can give someone the opportunity to dress up for drinks in the hotel’s opulent, 1920s-style American Bar, where martinis take your taste buds around Scotland with a clever mix of local gins and flavours.
Alcohol-free options also abound, or give someone a whisky masterclass from £60 (gleneagles.com).
A private wine-tasting day trip accompanied by your own sommelier in Tuscany is available to give as a gift year-round (golfandwineexperiences.com)
Alternatively, enhance a Tuscan holiday with a private wine-tasting day trip accompanied by your own sommelier (transport included). During visits to two historical wineries south of Florence, you’ll stroll through vineyards, sample wines and learn about pairing food and drink. The day includes a visit to a charming small medieval town in the Chianti Classico region.
Available to give as a gift year-round, it’s £180 per person for a minimum of two. Even if you’re not planning to visit you can send a taste of Italy back home to enjoy with friends and family.
A bespoke case includes 11 wines (mixed) for a historical winery with a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, plus tasting notes for each wine, tasting videos with a sommelier, a box of Tuscan biscuits and Christmas gift cards. £295 includes shipping to UK this week (golfandwineexperiences.com).
THE JOYS OF A SPARKLING WINE DAY OUT
There are more than 200 wine producers in the UK that welcome visitors, according to winecellardoor.co.uk which has an interactive map and directory so you can find your nearest. Most of those listed offer tours, tastings, experiences and gift vouchers to treat family or friends.
England’s leading winery, Chapel Down, near Tenterden in Kent, taps into every budget with a guided tour from £20 per person and cheese and wine tasting for £50pp, to Fizz And Falconry at £145pp.
Its Deluxe Experience costs £120pp and takes up most of the day. It starts at 12.30 with a glass of Chapel Down sparkling wine in the on-site restaurant The Swan, which has a Michelin Bib Gourmand award. On a dank October day, guests are given drinks fireside before a three-course lunch. In warmer months you can enjoy the terrace, admiring vines and the rolling weald.
After a fortifying lunch (duck leg and apricot terrine, succulent shin of beef, sticky date and Chapel Down porter pudding with toffee sauce and clotted cream) we meet Tom, who leads groups (never more than 20) on a tour of the vineyards and behind the scenes.
Even if you know a bit about wine, you’ll learn plenty – including that the vineyard produces two million of the 13 million bottles of wine produced in the UK annually.
The hour-long tutored tasting will see you taking notes and closing your eyes as you swill and slurp a range of wines. Each guest leaves clutching a gift bag. No surprise what’s inside: your very own bottles of Chapel Down – sparkling and rosé (chapeldown.com).
By Sarah Hartley