NETFLIX AND CHILLS
On its release last year, Stranger Things was hailed as the best series yet to appear under the “Netflix original” banner – but its premise is straight out of the 1980s.
In the town of Hawkins, Indiana, a 12-year-old boy goes missing. As his friends search for him, they find Eleven, a disturbed girl with terrifying telekinetic powers. And as the story unfolds over eight episodes, the significance of a sinister local laboratory is revealed.
Stranger Things has everything: murderous government agents, a terrifying monster, portals into another dimension and enough genuinely scary moments to satisfy fans of classic horror flicks. It’s worth getting up to date with the first season, as a new series will be released on 27 October – just in time for a Halloween binge.
netflix.com standard sub £7.49 per month
If you’re grabbed by the idea of a moonlit jog in the gardens of a stately home, try a National Trust Night Run.
Every entrant needs to bring a head torch, though marshals are present to ensure no one strays from the route. There’s no competitive element, and runners are not timed.
0344 800 1895, nationaltrust.org.uk Adventurer runs £14; Explorer runs £7; group discounts available
BETWEEN THE COVERS
Reading in bed is a pleasure that lends itself to winter nights. So how about snuggling up with a classic under a Welsh-wool blanket in a cosy country inn?
Check in to the Felin Fach Griffin, on the trunk route between Cardiff and the north Wales coast. Its bar, well used by locals, serves up a regularly changing selection of real ales from six local breweries.
The management accurately describes the food as “surprisingly refined but doing justice to the Welsh larder”, and there is great range of sherries.
01874 620 111, eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk Winter Escape dinner, bed and breakfast from £165 for two
Confectionery jokes aside, when did you last see the Milky Way? Unless you live in the sticks, the thrill of going out on a crisp, clear night and gazing up at twinkling stars may be a thing of the past.
Light pollution is to blame – which is why the International Dark-Sky Association has been designating Dark Sky Reserves where the night still falls rather than slumps.
Few are more spectacular than the Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve in the French Pyrenees, encompassing a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a French National Park. Better yet, it’s home to the Midi-Pyrenees Observatory at the 2,877m summit of Pic du Midi de Bigorre.
On selected dates, you can visit for a “soirée under the stars”. Guests travel up by cable car for a tour and three-course meal as the sun dips below the surrounding peaks. Then there’s the chance to observe the amazing nightscape from the panoramic terrace, with astronomers on hand to point out stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae.
If you don’t want to go back down at 10.30, you can opt for the “night at the Pic” package and stay overnight in the century-old observatory, also visiting its planetarium and scientific facilities.
+33 5 62 56 70 00, picdumidi.com soireé £90 per adult; nights from £310
CALL MY BLUFF
First published in 1991 and a bestseller at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Ex Libris is the “game of first lines and last words”. In each round, players are given a book title and come up with fake opening (or closing) lines. Everyone tries to identify the genuine entry that’s concealed among the bogus ones. Games tend to develop their own momentum of terrible puns and running jokes as the night goes on.
oxfordgames.co.uk Ex Libris £14.50
Opened by mixology wizard Matt Whiley, Scout bar in Shoreditch, east London, works to a strict set of rules. All ingredients must be fresh, seasonal and grown or foraged within the British Isles.
The menu runs to just 10 cocktails, including the cherry with chervil and black pepper, and the fig leaf with fermented gorse flower and vetiver (a fragrant grass). Perfect winter warmers for anyone who thinks Heston Blumenthal doesn’t go far enough.
020 7686 8225, scout.bar
IN THE NIGHT GARDENS
The concept of hygge may have been hyped to Helsingborg and back, but no one does winter cosiness quite like the Danes. When the days get shorter, a weekend in Copenhagen is still a classic break for couples and families alike.
Tivoli Gardens – the 175-year-old blueprint for all theme parks up to and including Disney’s – is irresistible after dark, when the attractions are illuminated by thousands of tiny lights.
It’s enough to wrap up warm and soak up the atmosphere, but you’ll find it difficult not to be tempted by the Ferris wheel, bumper cars, Star Flyer and 100-year-old wooden roller coaster.
Stay at Nimb Hotel and you need never leave Tivoli’s fairy tale world. Located in a shining white Arabian castle at the entrance, it’s a charming mash-up of Ali Baba and Scandinavian chic (including the obligatory Bang & Olufsen entertainment systems). Each room has a log fire, and all but one have views over the gardens.
+45 88 70 00 00, nimb.dk doubles from around £500
Given the tonnage of tourists that land on Venice in high summer, it’s a wonder the city hasn’t already sunk into its lagoon. But off season, when the crowds have thinned out,
La Serenissima takes on a different aspect.
Winter nights in Venice are blissfully romantic, offering the chance to see the canals shrouded in fine mist and hear your own footsteps echoing around the squares. Grand hotels such as the Baglioni Hotel Luna (+39 041 8520707, baglionihotels.com; doubles from around £350) become less expensive, and seats at the opera are significantly discounted (teatrolafenice.it).
In December, Campo San Polo becomes a large open-air skating rink, floodlit after dark. A few figures-of-eight are a great way to segue between aperitivos in a hole-in-the-wall bar and sitting down for dinner in a snug trattoria.
Even in December and January, the climate is usually mild. While the wind from the Dolomites can get a little chilly, winter is no rainier than any other time of year in Venice – and if you can’t cope with a little water, we’d suggest you’ve probably come to the wrong place.
If splendid isolation is what you’re seeking, look to Lundy – a three-mile granite outcrop in the Bristol Channel with rugged cliffs, abundant wildlife and not much else. From the end of October, guests staying in the 23 self-catering properties, administered by the Landmark Trust, have the place to themselves, save for the handful of permanent residents.
When night falls, you can lock out the wind, light the stove and work out how to make your own entertainment – electricity is switched off between midnight and 6am. The island’s one pub, the Marisco Tavern, caters for more sociable night owls. Mobile phones and electronic gadgetry are strictly prohibited, but impromptu music sessions – acoustic only – are very much encouraged.
landmarktrust.org.uk four-night breaks for two from £182; return flights £116pp
It’s not surprising that Boston has such fine whiskey bars, given its Irish heritage and colourful Prohibition-era history. When the first dustings of snow appear, they’re great places to sit, sip and savour the warmth and good company.
The Last Hurrah is the city’s most famous hangout for politicos, the Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar offers an impressive 200-plus varieties of whiskey and introductory thimblefulls, while Hops N Scotch has 40 beer taps as well as 100 whiskeys.