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Sun 5 Nov 2017 12:43 PM

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UAE travel: Three cultural winter escapes to visit

Make the most of your destination with an expert holiday programme

UAE travel: Three cultural winter escapes to visit
It’s easy to miss out on authentic travel experiences if your knowledge of a destination is limited, which is often the case with tourists travelling to foreign cities.

It’s easy to miss out on authentic travel experiences if your knowledge of a destination is limited, which is often the case with tourists travelling to foreign cities.

Travel firm Story Unheard creates custom holiday programs at affordable rates to help travellers discover the ins and outs of different cultures. Here are three of their experience-led itineraries for winter escapes:

Vienna, Austria
Vienna is known for its winter charm, when almost every street corner is draped with festive lights. Starting from mid-November to the end of December, inter markets start popping up in the city’s main and smaller squares, selling everything from handcrafted gifts to culinary treats. If you’re in the Austrian capital, Story Unheard recommends the following:

Visit the Schloss Schönbrunn Christmas Market, set against a palatial backdrop, for homemade gingerbread and a mug of hot Weihnachtspunsch, traditional German Christmas punch. Then, catch a performance at the Spanish Riding School by the Lipizzans; the ballet of the white stallions, before enjoying lunch at the Palmenhaus greenhouse, surrounded by luscious greenery and glimpses of fluttering butterflies.

If you are an art fan, discover the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection at the Belvedere Museum, which houses two of the artist’s masterpieces ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. Later, warm up with an afternoon tea at Café Sacher Wien and order the famous chocolate Sacher-Torte along with a Wiener Melange coffee.

For a designer shopping spree, head to the Goldenes Quartier in Vienna’s Old City, home to brand stores such as Prada, Chanel and Emporio Armani. At night, dine at the opulent Vestibül (once the carriage entrance of Emperor Franz Josef’s Burgtheater) where master chef Christian Domschit’s lobster dish Hummerkrautfleisch is a favourite on the menu.

If you’re after exotic flavours, Japanese fine dining brasserie Shiki is a must-try. To burn off the calories, stroll along the Ringstrasse Boulevard towards Rathausplatz and take a twirl at ice-skating on the Wiener Eistraum rink followed by a walk through its festive market. Up for a late night? Motto lounge has a lively atmosphere. For accommodation, Story Unheard favors Hotel Imperial Vienna or Hotel Sacher Wien for a lavish stay.

Copenhagen, Denmark
The capital of the world’s second happiest country is also a great spot for a winter holiday, described by many as something out of a fictional fairy-tale. Copenhagen’s snow-capped bridges and spires are easy on the eyes, but they’re also filled with numerous luxury retreats, Michelin star restaurants and local designer boutiques. Here is Story Unheard’s itinerary for the colorful city:

Sleep in at the 5 star Hotel D'Angleterre or opt for a laid back experience at the stylish Skt Petri hotel. Then, head to brunch at the Royal Smushi Café, popular for its smørrebrød (traditional open-face sandwich).

Follow up your meal with a visit to the Tivoli Gardens, which transform into a festive market during winter; then, take a walk on the streets of Strøget, where you can grab some statement pieces at brands such as Hermès or Burberry.

Make sure you discover Christiansborg Palace and its tower – the highest in Copenhagen, before you hit the Jægersborggade confectionary for a kanelsnurrer (cinnamon roll) or premium Valrhona chocolate at Meyers Bageri bakery. Don’t miss the dreamy Nyhavn waterfront, famous for its colorful houses overlooking the canal.

Ballet is a must: catch the The Nutcracker performed at The Royal Theatre’s The Old Stage. For an elegant evening, dine at Michellin-star restaurant Kong Hans Kælder, located in the oldest building in Copenhagen. For something a little more authentic, head to Nordic restaurant Höst, serving fine traditional food.

Budapest, Hungary
The vibrant city of Budapest is nicknamed ‘The Paris of the East,’ and this is best witnessed during winter, when it gleams with opulent baths, majestic buildings with fin-de-siècle façades, vintage cafés and festive markets.

Running through the heart of the capital is the Danube, Europe’s second longest river, splitting Budapest into two cities – traditional Buda and cosmopolitan Pest. Story Unheard recommends the following itinerary:

Start your day with a stylish splash or massage at Budapest’s thermal spa bath, Gellért (there’s a private bath, too). Warm up with a coffee at Espresso Embassy before swinging by Chez Dodo for fresh macarons.

Later, stop by the festive market at Vörösmarty Square and grab the traditional Kürtőskalács chimney cake. Have lunch at the trendy Liberté Grand Café, situated in one of the upscale neighborhoods of District V, a financial, commercial and financial centre.

Then, hop into a Castle Hill funicular carriage and go for a walk along the Halászbástya (Fisherman's Bastion) for views of the Hungarian Parliament and Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

Indulge in tea at stylish café, New York Café, before heading for some retail therapy along the Andrássy Avenue, filled with local and international designer boutiques from Louis Vuitton to Gucci.

The Paloma courtyard is specifically dedicated to galleries and pop-up stores by Hungarian designers. For dinner, French-Asian restaurant Baraka Budapest is a city favorite. Caviar lovers should try the lavish Arany Kaviár (‘Golden Caviar’).

Story Unheard warns against missing the Hänsel Und Gretel opera at the Erkel Színház (Erkel Theatre). Follow up the show with an evening at artistic Brody House venue. End the night at the Boscolo Budapest Hotel or Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, both in easy walking distance to touristic must-see St. Stephen’s Basilica.

Custom itineraries at Story Unheard start at an affordable price of AED250.