Miles of terraced rice paddies. Instead of carols, the haunting sound of the gamelan gong. Watching Christmas Eve sunset at the island temple of Tanah Lot.
WHERE TO STAY:
Incense wafts through the soaring lobby, and wreaths of rice plants, herbs, and flowers hang on the doors of the 25 villas at the small, affordable but remarkably stylish Hotel Tugu Bali (Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu Beach; 62-361/731-701, fax 62-361/731-704; doubles from $250). Ultra-fashionable Amandari (Kedewatan, Ubud; 62-361/771-267, fax 62-361/771-266; doubles from $605) entertains its A-list guests with dances by village children and gallons of eggnog. With its serene, secluded villas, the seaside Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay is the place to shut out the hectic holidays (Jimbaran Bay, Denpasar; 62-361/701-010, fax 62-361/701-020; doubles from $525).
The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (Sayan, Ubud; 62-361/977-577; dinner for two $80) jazzes up the traditional meal—spiced rack of lamb comes with taro root goat-cheese croquettes; the standard bûche de Noël is blanketed in coconut sauce.
Penjors, slim bamboo poles adorned with colorful flowers, fruit, and palm fronds, hang above the streets for major festivals, including Tilem, which falls this year on December 25.
In the Seminyak area of Kuta, stores are filled with chic presents: antique Indonesian watches at Tik Tok (8 Jalan Basangkasa, Kuta; 62-361/733-891); sterling-and-bamboo jewelry boxes at Disini (6—8 Jalan Raya Seminyak, Kuta; 62-361/731-037).
BEST GIFT (TO YOURSELF):
Balinese brides prepare for their wedding with the lulur: an aromatherapy massage and exfoliation, followed by a yogurt splash and a bath in lotus petals. Only $80 at the seaside Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, it's a sublime experience even if you're not about to walk down the aisle.
Church bells ringing through the Alps. Trading that tame cocoa for a steaming cup of gluhwein (hot spiced wine) at the Marienplatz market.
WHERE TO STAY:
Take up residence in the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (17 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/21250, fax 49-89/2125-2000; doubles from $238), so you can expedite last-minute shopping (for Versace and Bogner) out on the stylish Maximilianstrasse, then refuel with a slice of stollen—as ubiquitous as fruitcake, but much tastier—in front of the hotel's gold-trimmed tree.
Steps from a tree market, Käfer's am Hofgarten (6—7 Odeonsplatz; 49-89/290-7530; dinner for two $100) serves 12 holiday menus in an oak-paneled room. Try the roast duck with apples, potato dumplings, and Rîsti.
In Munich, the bastion of German Catholicism, churches are packed on Christmas Eve. St. Peter's, the oldest, has a 302-foot Gothic spire with one of the best views of the city.
LOCAL TRADITION: Farmers in the nearby Alps set up their Krippen, hand-carved Nativity scenes, in candle-lined holes dug in waist-high snowbanks. Go in search of them on mountain roads or catch the national collection—some dating back to the 1700's—at the Bayerisches National Museum(3 Prinzregentenstrasse; 49-89/211-2401).
Classic porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg (8 Nrdisches Schlossrondell; 49-89/179-1970) has enlisted artists like Ted Muehling to create modernist vases and chic caviar spoons. Hals Über Kopf (49 Leopoldstrasse; 49-89/343-667), a hat shop in the trendy Schwabing district, sells haute headgear.
BEST OUTING: Skating on the frozen canals that criss-cross the grounds of Schloss Nymphenburg, a Rococo estate five miles west of downtown. —Kristine Ziwica
PARK CITY, UTAH
Snow, snow, snow. Schuss Utah's famously light powder and take an après-ski stroll down funky Main Street, the hub of this former mining colony. One town, three resorts: Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, and the Canyons.
WHERE TO STAY:
The comfy-luxe Stein Eriksen Lodge (800/453-1302 or 435/649-3700, fax 435/649-5825; doubles from $600) evokes a holiday of a century ago. Sip mulled wine by the fire in a lobby decorated to the nines with Norwegian sleds, skis, ice skates, dolls, and elves. If you order a tree for your room, it'll be trimmed while you're on the slopes.
Exchange groomed slopes for untouched powder by riding to the Wasatch Mountains in heated Sno-Cats—big all-terrain tractors—with Park City Powder Cats (435/649-6596).
Kitsch-meets-keepsake with gold or silver pins, necklaces, and charms of the Olympic snowflake logo at OC Tanner (416 Main St.; 435/940-9470), which designed the medals for the 2002 Salt Lake City games.
A horse-drawn sleigh takes you through the snowy mountain meadows of nearby Bear Hollow farm (435/649-9527; rides from $20).
Deer Valley's beloved pastry chef Letty Flatt bakes tiramisù Yule logs surrounded with chocolate leaves, meringue mushrooms, and candied cranberries (no store; 800/424-3337 or 435/649-1000).
Chimayo (368 Main St.; 435/649-6222; dinner for two $100), adorned with wreaths and handblown glass angels, dishes up a spicy Southwestern-style turkey stuffed with bacon, almonds, and apricots, served with a side of green-chili potato tamales. Another hot spot is Riverhorse Café (540 Main St.; 435/649-3536; dinner for two $85), a chic bistro with live music on weekends. —Janet O'Grady
Dickensian traditions like Christmas crackers and plum pudding, mixed with the best of Cool Britannia.
WHERE TO STAY:
Claridge's (Brook St.; 44-207/629-8860, fax 44-207/409-6363; doubles from $543), an elegant Art Deco mansion. Don't miss the classic afternoon tea accompanied by a string quartet. Non-traditionalists should check into St. Martins Lane (45 St. Martin's Lane; 44-207/300-5500; doubles from $390), Ian Schrager's color-and-light spectacular that's an event even when it's not Christmas.
Conduit Street is emerging as the place to go, with new boutiques from Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood, and Yohji Yamamoto.
For a traditional dinner with all the trimmings, it can only be Rules in Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant in London (35 Maiden Lane; 44-207/836-5314; fax 44-207/497-1081, dinner for two $176). But get a table before the 25th, when Rules is closed. For something more exotic than turkey and roast potatoes, head to Chutney Mary (535 King's Rd.; 44-207/351-3113), an Anglo-Indian restaurant in Chelsea. Christmas Day brings a splendid four-course lunch with Eastern delicacies such as lobster curry ($90 per person, including a glass of champagne).
Services at St. Paul's Cathedral (44-207/246-8348) start at 11:30 p.m., but arrive early to get a pew near the choir.
Each night through Christmas Eve, carols are sung around a 75-foot tree in Trafalgar Square.
On Christmas morning, walk over to the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Here, at 9 a.m., you'll see a madcap swimming race in the lake's icy waters, held annually since 1864. —Philip Watson
Caipirinhas instead of eggnog. "Jingle Bells" with a bossa nova beat. Bikinis that offer about as much coverage as a piece of tinsel.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Copacabana Palace Hotel (1702 Avda. Atlântica; 55-21/548-7070, fax 55-21/235-7330; doubles from $385) is still the twinkling star of Copa. The comfortable if subdued Caesar Park (460 Avda. Vieira Souto; 55-21/525-2570, fax 55-21/521-6000; doubles from $357) not only has a hip Ipanema address, but it also pulls out all the seasonal stops with a Christmas Eve buffet: farofa-stuffed turkey plus black beans and rice.
The 250-foot, 200-million-bulb tree afloat in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas glows over Parque da Catacumba, site of the monthlong Very Brazilian Christmas spectacular, with symphonies, ballet, concerts by local pop superstars, even the circus (for details, call 55-21/523-0080).
At Antiquarius, sample Rio's finest Portuguese dishes (try the seafood cataplana, a stew of shrimp, lobster, octopus, and squid) in an antiques-filled dining room (19 Rua Aristides Espinola; 55-21/294-1049; dinner for two $110).
Contrary to popular Anglo belief, Papai Noel and the Mrs. reside not at the North Pole but in Penedo, a mountain village 95 miles west of Rio.
From Lenny (Forum de Ipanema, 351 Rua Visconde de Piraja; 55-21/523-3796; $35), a "sunkini," or bikini specially designed for modest Americans. —Connie McCabe
Chili-pepper wreaths and fruitcakes shaped like the state of Texas. Margaritas and live music under the stars.
WHERE TO STAY:
The elegant Driskill (604 Brazos St.; 800/252-9367 or 512/474-5911, fax 512/474-2214; doubles from $205), the 1886 former home of a cattle baron, has recently been restored to its original grandeur.
The Café at the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto Blvd.; 512/685-8300; lunch for two $104) serves up a lavish holiday lunch with molasses-glazed beef tenderloin and turkey with pecan—corn bread stuffing.
Head down to the Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512/442-6189; dinner for two $30), one of the last of the true Texas dance halls, for chicken-fried steak, a display of country music memorabilia, and a lively two-step around the floor.
Residents of 37th Street adorn their houses with outrageously creative Christmas decorations. Walk from 37th and Guadalupe Street to take in the full effect of backyard displays.
Nativity scenes, ornaments from around the globe, and curios such as Mexican personal altars are the top draws at Tesoros Trading Co. (209 Congress Ave.; 512/479-8377).
Shopping (and haggling) for rugs, furniture, and spices in the souks. A muezzin's call to prayers. Avenues lined with orange trees.
WHERE TO STAY:
In the heart of the old medina, La Maison Arabe (1 Derb Assehbe; 212-44/387-010, fax 212-44/387-221; doubles from $170) feels like a pasha's villa, furnished with Moroccan rugs and fabrics.
Luxuriate on silken cushions at Yacout (79 Sidi Ahmed Soussi; 212-44/382-929; dinner for two $55) for the ultimate Arabian Nights experience: incense and candlelight, a zither player who makes the tassel on his fez whirl like a dervish; rose petals strewn over a white damask tablecloth. On the menu are intense tagines and superb local wines.
Ryad Tamsna (23 Derb Zanka Daika; 212-44/385-272) has both Moroccan and European-style clothing, English-language books, and even a picture gallery. The tiny café serves brunch, lunch, and tea—a welcome respite from the hubbub of the nearby Djemaa el-Fna, with its crowd of vendors, tourists, and snake charmers.
The concierge at La Maison Arabe can arrange a Christmas Day picnic in the Palmerie, a lush grove of date and palm trees. Not far from your picnic site is Les Deux Tours (Douar Abiad, Circuit de la Palmerie; 212-44/329-527), a new hammam where you can indulge in a eucalyptus steam bath.
—Jane Fletcher Geniesse
Pecans roasting on the fire instead of chestnuts. Eggnog laced with bourbon. Choirs singing spirituals at Drayton Hall plantation.
WHERE TO STAY:
The 21-room Wentworth Mansion (149 Wentworth St.; 888/466-1886 or 843/853-1886, fax 843/720- 5290; doubles from $295) dresses in subdued Victorian finery for the holidays with model trains, gingerbread houses, and trees on every floor. On your pillow at turndown: bourbon chocolate balls.
At the Peninsula Grill (112 N. Market St.; 843/723-0700; prix fixe dinner for two $90), chef Robert Carter puts a radical spin on such low-country favorites as sweet corn bisque with crab relish and roast standing rib of veal with horseradish spoon bread.
The cadets wear their dress grays for the annual Citadel Christmas concerts on campus at Summerall Chapel (843/953-5049). Fashionable parishioners pack the house during a candlelight performance of Handel's Messiah at First Baptist Church (61 Church St.; 843/722-3896).
Sweet grass is gathered from low-country marshes and then woven into baskets by traditional weavers. For charming grass ornaments, visit the Vera Manigault Family basket stand (843/884-5617) on Highway 17 North in Mount Pleasant, next to Heritage Presbyterian Church.
Olde Colony Bakery makes the South's best benne wafer, an old-time sesame cookie. Pick up a bag at the Sugar Plantation (48 N. Market St.; 843/853-3924).
The drive-through Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park is an absolute hoot. A million twinkling lights re-create such familiar Charleston landmarks as the Cooper River Bridge and St. Michael's Church. For kids (and grown-ups), there's a marshmallow-roasting pit in Santa's Village.
The Garden Club of Charleston festoons the Joseph Manigault House (350 Meeting St.; 843/722-2996; Dec. 2—31) in antebellum greenery—seashells, holly, tufts of cotton, and camellias sprout from every nook and cranny.
WHY: A quiet celebration in the Canadian city that Harriet Beecher Stowe described as "a mountain of churches." A spin in one of the many outdoor ice-skating centers (our favorite is the Patinoire du Bassin Bonsecours in Old Montreal).
WHERE TO STAY:
After a day of going from shop to shop in the frosty air, check into a hotel with a heated outdoor pool: Hilton Montreal Bonaventure (1 Place Bonaventure; 800/267-2575 or 514/878-2332, fax 514/878-3881; doubles from $150) or the Omni Mont-Royal (1050 Sherbrooke St. W.; 800/843-6664 or 514/284-1110, fax 514/845-3025; doubles from $135).
The majority of restaurants in predominantly French-Catholic Montreal are closed December 24 and 25, so it's best to have a fabulous meal before Christmas day. At the loungey, elegant Globe (3455 Rue St.-Laurent; 514/284-3823; dinner for two $60), chef David McMillan's roasted Valleyfield duck with pineapple confit and Chinese broccoli is a perfect stand-in for goose.
Despite the cows mooing, the sheep baaing, and people stamping their feet to stay warm, there is a crystalline stillness at the outdoor crèche vivante in Place Jacques Cartier (514/496-7678).
Look between the glittering chandeliers at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (400 Rue St.-Paul E.; 514/282-8670) and you'll see small wooden sailboats hanging from the rafters—an apt decoration, since Bon-Secours is also known as the "Sailors' Church."
—Dara Y. Herman