independent– Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind,” so said the author Mary Ellen Chase. To some this could be a throwaway comment, but to The Inn at Christmas Place, a left field hotel that lavishly celebrates the holiday season every single day of the year, it’s nothing short of a mission statement.
We stumbled across this wonderland hotel purely by chance while road-tripping through the Great Smoky Mountains en route to Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Pulling into its car park on a blisteringly hot July afternoon, to the hum of traffic whizzing past on the nearby highway, my vibe was decidedly more Grinch than Buddy the Elf. I was more than a little sceptical of the joys of Christmas on repeat, having lost my festive mojo in recent years.
However, I reasoned that the hotel was within a snowball’s throw of Dolly Parton’s legendary theme park, and our five-year-old daughter was exceptionally keen, so I duly checked us in for a couple of nights.
Stepping inside, the lobby made me catch my breath – every inch of it was adorned with twinkly decorations, while a super-sized Glockenspiel clock chimed its greeting and yuletide songs filled the air with glee. It took all of five minutes for The Inn at Christmas Place to thaw my icy Scrooge heart and win me over.
The hotel first opened in 2007. Its owners, the Biggs family, also own The Incredible Christmas Place, a vast shopping complex directly opposite that sells every conceivable festive ornament. The idea of this very merry Christmas hotel was conceived after loyal customers complained that they loved coming here to buy trinkets year-round, but had nowhere in keeping to stay. Now, it’s a place that people can come and experience Christmas any time of the year.
Making our way along corridors decked with nativity scenes and jaunty elves, we stepped into our festive boudoir. “It really is Christmas!” my daughter exclaimed as she threw back the door. Each of the 145 guestrooms have been decorated with illuminated Christmas trees, wreaths, reindeer sculptures and red velvet bedding. For holiday high-rollers, there’s even a Santa Suite, where a life-sized model of Saint Nicholas greets you at the door and a regal sleigh bed overlooks a bubbling Jacuzzi.
During our stay, we relaxed in the indoor swimming pool surrounded by Nutcracker figurines and tucked into freshly baked cookies and apple cider in the lobby, before bedding down to watch Miracle On 34th Street.
Then on our final morning, the Big Guy himself was there to greet my daughter. Following a photo op with Santa and clarification that she had made it onto the nice list, my daughter promptly declared The Inn at Christmas Place as her favourite hotel in the world. Despite the blazing sunshine outside, she unquestioningly accepted that within the walls of this hotel, she’d truly experienced the magic of Christmas.
Surprisingly, we hadn’t yet reached Christmas saturation point. Instead, The Inn at Christmas Place had cast its spell, nostalgically reminding me of childhood festivities with chintzy decorations, pancakes for breakfast and unstructured days melting into each other – and I couldn’t get enough of the place.
Although it feels like 25 December on any given day, to really crank up the Kris Kringle barometer you should stay during July or December. There’s a full rota of daily activities, including “story time with Santa, gingerbread house decorating, cookie decorating and family bingo” according to Victoria Jones, director of marketing for the hotel. Pre-pandemic, there was also a live singing Santa performing twice weekly, plus family scavenger hunts exploring the hotel’s five floors and grounds.
We left the hotel appreciating why 50 per cent of the guests were repeat visitors. Why should the joy of Christmas be confined to a single day when, in the infamous words of Buddy the Elf, we could “treat every day like Christmas”? We’re already in the workshop plotting our Fakemas return visit.
Rooms at the Inn at Christmas Place start from $139. innatchristmasplace.com
Other places to celebrate Christmas year round
Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Finland
This Noel themed resort is situated in Rovaniemi, an area that boasts the title of Santa Claus’ official hometown. The village and surrounding area are packed with activities, from husky rides and snowmobile safaris to reindeer petting and Northern Lights excursions. There are plenty of places to stay nearby, including snug cabins at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, or go luxe with a glass igloo, complete with an aurora alarm to wake you when the lights appear.
Santa Claus Resort, Indiana, USA
Every day is a holiday at the Santa Claus resort town in southwestern Indiana. Here, you’ll find a museum dedicated to Father Christmas, festive fireworks displays, meet and greets with Santa from the back of his classic pick up truck and decorations galore dotted around the town. There’s also a mega splash park for the warmer months.
Christmas Farm Inn, New Hampshire, USA
Keep Christmas classy, with a visit to this chocolate box hotel. The emphasis is less on tons of tinsel and more on creating a cosy space that the whole family can enjoy. There’s also a seasonal Santa’s Village theme park within driving distance, with plenty of rides and a chance to gain a diploma at the Elf University.
The North Pole, Alaska, USA
This eccentric city near Fairbanks was given a festive-theme in the 1940s, in the hope that it would attract the major toy manufacturers. The factories never materialised but, undeterred, the 2,200 residents have kept the spirit of Christmas going, with year-round decorations and winter festivals including the legendary ice sculpture competition. The streets carry names such as St. Nicholas Drive and Snowman Lane and are decorated with candy cane lights.