Happiness, said American actor George Burns, is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family... in another city. Once a year though, the clarion call of Christmas means that we have to confront the reality of our own family, probably for more than 24 hours and preferably all in the same house.
But whose house do you choose? For some families it is an easy decision based on who has the most space, but how about Plan B, where you all chip in and choose a Christmas holiday home? Neutral territory with, hopefully, enough pampering interior design to give everyone the feelgood (with your relatives) factor.
FOR ACTIVE FAMILIES
The Inn at John O’Groats sleeps up to 54 in one- to four-bedroom apartments, priced from £80 a night in Christmas week.
For some individual privacy within a community setting, how about Natural Retreats’ The Inn at John O’Groats? After a complete facelift, the iconic hotel in the north of Scotland has 23 super-comfy one- to four-bedroom flats, the latest part of a £6 million regeneration project.
Outside there is plenty to do — from a boat ride along the coast spotting orca and minke whales and grey seals, to fishing in nearby lochs, diving on wrecks, hiking along Shell Beach or taking a day trip to Orkney.
■ Natural Retreats (naturalretreats.com; 0843 636 4308)
A HOLIDAY FOR TWO
Stardust, a Scottish loch-side retreat for two with hot tub, costs £1,600 for seven nights over Christmas; Turtledove Hideaway, a cosy cottage for two in Shropshire, is £850 for a week at Christmas.
Not sold on the family reunion? There are some great options for an escape à deux. Stardust in the Western Highlands, a 90-minute drive from Inverness, is a former boathouse-turned-splendid bolthole. Sip champagne in the hot tub as you watch otters and seals play in Loch Ewe. From £850 for four nights. Or try Turtledove Hideaway, a cosy Shropshire cottage for two decorated in Farrow & Ball colours, with fine linen sheets and the squishiest bed. From £385 for four nights.
■ Both through Unique Home Stays (uniquehomestays.com; 01637 881183)
A SLEEK SOPHISTICATED RETREAT
The Find sleeps 12 in the Cotswolds near Cheltenham, from £2,600 for four nights. A week over Christmas is £7,950.
Take a traditional listed Cotswolds cottage, add a stone extension that features floor-to-ceiling glass, plus a minimalist, all-white theme and you get the most sophisticated pad for a family reunion. The Find, designed by Found Associates, was a Royal Institute of British Architects National Award winner last year. Children will love exploring the 16-acre wooded valley outside, while teenagers will hunker down in the games and cinema rooms. There’s a rooftop terrace, six bedrooms and gleaming Corian-lined bathrooms, all of which, despite the pale colour scheme, makes for a wonderfully welcoming, family-friendly house.
■ Unique Home Stays (as before)
LUXURIOUS WINTER SUN
Dar Ourika, near Marrakesh, sleeps 14. Priced £14,000 for seven nights in Christmas week.
For warm sunshine and turkey with an exotic twist, head south to Marrakesh where December daytime temperatures average 19C.
Dar Ourika is 25 minutes from both the airport and the Atlas Mountains in a quiet valley, but with easy access to Marrakesh. There are seven bedrooms split between two houses with a pool and tennis court, a roof terrace with fireplace for the chilly evenings and three acres of gardens planted by a double gold winner at Chelsea Flower Show.
Best of all, you can hire the skills of three full-time housekeepers under the vigilant eyes of magnificent Aziz, who will arrange anything from a trip to a Berber market to a shopping expert to guide you through the Medina — or simply serve you sweet mint tea in the garden.
■ Through Scott Williams (scottwilliams.co.uk; 01963 33046)