New Years Eve is an unusual celebration. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and chefs spend months planning special menus for the night while we spend almost as long planning where to celebrate the event.
Then it is all over in a second. Moreover, with todays instant communication there are best wishes for 2010 winging their way from friends in Europe while we in the UK still have an hour to wait for the midnight hour, when American friends may still not have finally decided what to wear for their party.
This year, December 31st considerately falls on a Thursday so that there will be a gentle, long weekend to recover from the festivities.
Here are four destinations, each renowned for their great food and with more than enough activities for the long weekend. If you cant make it there over New Year, do resolve to try one of them in 2010.
Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland, www.gleneagles.com
The original Victorian hotel has over the past 30 years under the beady eye of its Director, Peter Lederer, added all kinds of sporting activities alongside its three golf courses: swimming pools; an equestrian centre; clay pigeon shooting; off-road driving; as well, of course, as numerous ways of enjoying the wild countryside on its doorstep.
Anyone less energetic will happily settle for the creativity of chef, Andrew Fairlie, who presides over the intimate restaurant that bears his name. Trained in France, Fairlie now cooks with the best Scottish produce, Perthshire lamb, beef from Peelham Farm near the coast and lobsters smoked over whisky barrels. His food sits alongside an impressive wine list and numerous bottles of whisky, of course.
Hotel Rosalpina, Dolomites, Italy, www.rosalpina.it
While Geleneagles may enjoy snow during the winter, the Hotel Rosalpina, set high in the small village of San Cassiano in the Dolomite mountains of north-east Italy, revels in it. The airports of Venice and Verona are 200 kilometres away but the ski slopes are right on its doorstep.
Within the hotel, owned by the Pizzinini family, are three very different places to eat and drink extremely well under a talented brigade of chefs marshalled by the hugely experienced Norbert Niederkofler.
What is remarkable about Niederkofler is the deftness of touch he brings to each restaurant. Fondue Stube provides just the meat and cheese dishes every skier relishes; the Wine Bar & Grill is more sophisticated and highlights the increasingly good quality wines of the north west of Italy; while the menu in the intimate St Hubertus (named after the patron saint of hunters) shows off Niederkoflers confident approach with pasta, risotto and the local game dishes.
Régis Marcon, Saint-Bonnet-Le Froid, France, www.regismarcon.fr
Régis Marcon is a top French chef who over the past 30 years has garnered a reputation for himself as the undisputed king of wild mushrooms.
As the name of the village, Saint-Bonnet-Le Froid, suggests, (it is located where the departments of the Haute Loire and Haute Ardèche meet, with Lyons the closest airport), Marcon is located in a vast unspoilt area of France which yields the mushrooms and herbs for his kitchen.
Over the past 30 years, Marcon and his wife, Michele, have transformed what was once his parents inn (where his father was a wine merchant) into an ultra-chic restaurant with twelve bedrooms, a bistro and a patisserie attached. Their son Jacques is now in the kitchen, so wild mushrooms will continue to be on the menu here for many years to come: in soups; terrines; and alongside almost every fish and meat dish.
Hotel Niza, San Sebastian, Spain, www.niza.com
San Sebastian in northern Spain, no more than an hours drive from Bilbao airport, has become one of the worlds top restaurant destinations.
Juan Mari Arzak is the charismatic chef who first established the citys gastronomic reputation, although he has now handed over the day to day running of the kitchen to his daughter, Elena. Martin Berasategui then established his restaurant on the outskirts of the city since when San Sebastians reputation has just taken off, with a phalanx of world-renowned restaurants within easy reach.
But as well as these more formal restaurants, the city also boasts an array of pinxtos, or tapas bars, that serve great wines by the glass and appetizing mouthfuls of food that cleverly provide just enough energy to move on to the next one.
Hotel Niza is a three star hotel located close to the bars and not too far from any of these restaurants. And it is directly opposite a magnificent crescent beach on which the locals walk off their good meals and look forward to the next.