These small towns sparkle during the Christmas season and are ideal whether for a weekend break or just a day tour. Their historic buildings, independent shops, contemporary restaurants, comfy pubs dispel any idea of backwoods.

Here we go ….

Bakewell, Derbyshire

This attractive market town which is home to the Bakewell pudding ought to know how to keep its visitors comfortable and well-fed. Well, it does as every few steps will get you to either a pub or a tearoom. As you walk away from all that ale and cake, you stumble on the spectacular Peak District. The town is set to play host to a traditional Christmas that will coincide with its lights switch-on scheduled for 26 and 27 November, plus a Winter Wonderland event (new for 2016) that will take place at the Bakewell Showground starting from 18-20 November & 9-11 December with plenty of exciting things including Christmas grotto, craft marquee, market stalls, reindeer, ice rink, amusement park and of course, fireworks.

In case you are looking for something more serene, then check out Haddon Hall’s candlelit tours. This romantic, old-fashioned manor house has starred in numerous films (designated dates are 7–13 December, £22pp). Chatsworth Estate, which is in the neighbourhood, is known to put on a good display for Christmas – lovely Nutcracker-themed decorations inside the house, special openings in the evenings, and a Christmas market (till 30th November),

Eat/drink

The Manners, which is situated a few minutes’ walk from the heart of the town is a traditional stone-built pub that serves a pub fare that is well-executed, including local venison served with root veges and red as well as apple plus plum crumble. Located on Unit 8, Granby Road is an amiable little café, Wyes Waters, with a gingham table cloth, and offering a valuable menu consisting of cakes, homemade pies, and sandwiches.

Shopping

Bakewell’s booming Monday market is ever popular for shopping, with its beautiful paved courtyards plus market square, being home to several independent shops as well as galleries. A visit to Bakewell cannot be considered as complete without visiting the good Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. The shop will not just gift-wrap sweet treats, but will also post them to any spot on planet earth. The superb Chatsworth Estate farm shop located out of town is the spot to “stockpile” Derbyshire specialities including handmade chocolates, oatcakes from Holdsworth, which is family-run business, and of course bottled ales brewed on the same estate.

Stay

One Castle Street, on the river in the heart of the town, a picturesque B&B falling in a Grade II listed building (doubles range from £90 B&B) offers a cosy stay. Here, a large breakfast will prepare you for a day touring. An alternative is Haddon Grove Farm situated three miles out of Bakewell which boasts of 11 lovely holiday cottages in rehabilitated farm buildings that sleep between two and 10 (from £490 in a cottage for four, for a four-night December break). There is an indoor heated pool, as well as a communal games room. This makes it an ideal winter escape for families.

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

This miniature town does not get the attention it deserves. Its streets are framed in beautiful Georgian houses and former textile mills, lined up with cafes and tiny independent shops. An antique bridge lies across the Avon at its centre, and just beyond the town’s gorgeous Tithe Barn lies a towpath that follows one of the country’s most beautiful stretches of canal. It is within a half-hour’s stroll to Avoncliff, with its 18th century channel or a nine-mile trek to Bath (which is of course longer). However, there are trains to travel back to town from the two places. Come the first weekend in December, there will be a Christmas Floating Market which will be alongside the Bradford stretch of the canal. You can expect much including carols, roast chestnuts, mulled wine and local crafts. The Music Centre will provide evening entertainment, with premium classical jazz plus folk concerts. Elda, the Swedish-Brazilian-Slovenian trio are among the December’s performers.

Eat/drink

In Bradford, dining pubs are the order of business, with a number of comfy firesides to pick from. Ahead of the pack is the chic Bunch of Grapes, whose proprietors “imported” to south-west England the village idea of bar bistros from south-west France. One of the speciality here is smoked and brined poussin that is actually cooked in a beer can, though there is a banquet of small dishes as well. They include: cheese beignets, rabbit rillettes, homemade Charentais sausage, and mixed leaves with preserved lemon, mint, feta and toasted hazelnuts. Pablo’s Tapas offers a more Spanish accent, with good jamón, manchego and gambas. If you want to sip a pint of Rusty Lane ale brewed at Kennet & Avon Brewery in unconventional – albeit warm surroundings, then the best place to head to is the Lock Inn, where you can sup by the fire, with a flurry of antique advertising signs surrounding it.

Shopping

When shopping for British made scarves, ceramics and spoons, the place to start off is the recently- opened Silver Street Studio. Further down the road is Ruby Red, an independent wine store selling Somerset Pomona, which is a moreish cider brandy, as well as beers from Kettlesmith, a local microbrewery. Next, stroll through old-fashioned Shambles, beyond Fetch, the classy pet shop, to The Cheese Shop located at 5 Market Street for cheeses and chutneys from local maker In a Pickle. Lastly, wander past Made in Bradford arts co-operative, and over the bridge – right along the towpath leading to Tithebarn Workshops’ art, pottery and antiques stores.

Stay

Though it feels more like a casual provincial hotel, Timbrells Yard prefers to call itself a gastropub with rooms (doubles from £95 B&B). It boasts of a café-bar as well as a restaurant managed by Chef Tom Blake, formerly River Cottage chef, and elegant bedrooms. It is merely a five-minute walk from the station. A 15-minute walk will get you to the two one-bedroomed flats’ foodie George pub (from £110 B&B), located out of town. The Georgian Lodge, a two-bedroom flat located alongside the town’s bridge, may be preferred by families. It has free parking, green velvet sofas, and painted shutters.

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