Enjoy the new art quarter in Vienna, why it’s cheaper than ever to see the aurora borealis and four places to stay in Madeira
Take me there: Neubau, Vienna
With its Christmas markets and cosy coffee houses, Vienna is the perfect city for a winter weekend. But if you overdose on twee, head into bohemian Neubau. Known as the 7th district, it’s where you’ll find the coolest cafés, bars and shops.
What to do
The Museums Quartier is a sprawling arts centre, home to galleries such as the excellent Leopold Museum, dedicated to Austrian modernism and Egon Schiele, and Mumok (mumok.at), the modern art museum. In winter the MQ courtyard becomes a Christmas market, with designer stalls, curling lane, ice bar and DJs. Browse the indie shops on Neubaugasse and Gumpendorfer Strasse. Don’t miss Tongues (tongues.at), a record store-cum-deli and Saint Charles Apothecary (saint.info), which makes its own products.
Where to eat
When it comes to fusion cuisine Austro-Persian might sound odd, but locals can’t get enough of dishes such as roast suckling pig with coriander dumplings at Hirsch und Kamel (Stuckgasse 6; hirschundkamel.at). For a modern spin on the Viennese kaffeehaus head to Café Leopold – coffee and cakes by day, DJ sets by night (cafe-leopold.at).
Where to stay
The 25hours Hotel has colourful, quirky rooms with a circus theme, and the rooftop bar doubles up as one of Neubau’s hippest hangouts, with stunning views and regular DJ sets (from €100, 25hours-hotels.com)
Actor and style blogger Carola Pojer (viennawedekind.blogspot.com) recommends the café bar Liebling (Zollergasse 6) for Makava Ice Tea, “flowers on vintage tables, cosy sofas, lots of candles and recycled lamps”.
Lighting up the sky: how we switched on to the aurora borealis
Heading north to the Arctic in search of the aurora borealis used to be a niche activity – something to be found on the wish list of only the most well heeled and well travelled. But in the last two years, northern lights holidays have become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel industry. This is partly due to increased affordability – the launch of low-cost and charter flights to Nordic countries has helped to bring the price down – and also to a surge in solar activity, with Nasa experts predicting spectacular aurora displays this winter.
Arctic adventure specialist Discover the World has increased the number of direct flights from Heathrow to Kiruna in Swedish Lapland by 30% at peak times this winter to keep up with demand. It has also introduced several new holidays, including a self-drive package which combines a stay at the Icehotel with Abisko National Park (famed for some of the best aurora sightings in the world) and the chance to explore the Lofoten Islands in Norway (discover-the-world.co.uk).
Tour operator Simply Sweden has added a new collection of Lapland holidays, under the brand Simply Northern Lights, with three nights at the Lyngen Lodge in Norway from £1,495pp, including flights (simplynorthernlights.co.uk). And in Finland the Mighty Fine Company is offering the Muotkan Maja Wilderness Lodge as the base for a four-night winter escape, with dog sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing from £1,225pp (mightyfinecompany.com).
Four places to stay in Madeira
Madeira Surf Camp, Porto da Cruz Laid-back surfers’ hostel in the attractive village of Porto da Cruz. This coast has some of the island’s best surf breaks, but even if you’re not here for the waves, it’s a great budget option, with dorms, private rooms, a communal kitchen and a roof terrace with a record player and a stack of vinyl. From €20pp per night for a dorm bed and from €30 for a private room sleeping 2 (madeirasurfcamp.com)
Quinta Das Vinhas Inn, Calheta This 17th-century farmhouse is surrounded by vineyards in the southwest of Madeira. Choose between B&B in the old house or self-catering in one of 14 cottages. Flagstone floors, beamed ceilings and azulejo tiles add rustic charm, and there’s a small pool. Meals are served around the farmhouse table in the evenings. B&B from €65 per night. Cottages sleeping 2-3 from €525 per week (qdvmadeira.com)
The Vine, Funchal
With its sleek, dark interiors and sexy rooftop infinity pool, this cutting-edge hotel in the capital, Funchal, is a radical new departure for stuffy old Madeira. As the name suggests, this place is all about the wine, from the grapey palette of purple, green and brown to the vinotherapy treatments in the underground spa and the impressive wine cellar. Doubles from €126 (hotelthevine.com)
Quinta da Casa Branca, Funchal
If the budget won’t stretch to a night at Reid’s Palace, the grand-dame of Funchal hotels, then this place makes a satisfying alternative: low-key elegance, good service and a great location in beautiful botanical gardens a 20-minute walk from the city centre – if you can tear yourself away from the sun-trap swimming pool. From €150 for a garden room with terrace (quintacasabranca.com)