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Shiny happy people 

Holidaying ‘Happy’ could be just the ticket to escape the relentless Brexit misery, reports Sian Lewis

 

While clouds of economic and political uncertainty hang heavy over certain skies, why not pack your bags and head to happier climes?

 

The experts behind the UN’s World Happiness Report have crunched numbers for 156 countries and crowned Demark, Switzerland and Iceland 2016’s happiest countries.

 

A diverse trio with one thing in common – living there makes people smile. Why? And how can we bag some of that happiness for ourselves?

 

The best news is that even if you only have a few hours to spare, you can find your own happy place.

This year’s happiness buzzword from Denmark is ‘Hygge’. It’s hard to explain and even harder to say (‘hooga’ is as close as we non-Danes can get). Think countless candles and snuggle-soft blankets when the winter sun sets before 4pm. Or, endless picnics lit by fireflies on long summer evenings, with family and friends gathered.

 

Hygge is not ‘me time’ it’s ‘we time’.

 

“As a child we learn that having a good life means taking care of everyone, our friends, our family and our society,” says Sidse Rolskov, from Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) Denmark. “Humanity is the key to happiness, far more so than money and power.”

 

Copenhagen, the capital of happy, has plenty of sights to make children, big and little, smile. “In spring and summer the Tivoli Gardens is a great place to sample Danish culture,” says Sidse. This Willy Wonka-esque theme park is best seen at night when lanterns twinkle from every tree.

 

Visiting in autumn or winter? Then cruise to one of the 406 islands that make up the Danish archipelago. “Being outside fills you with energy,” says Sidse. “Seeing nature’s beauty calms your mind and brings joy.” A 90-minute ferry runs from Copenhagen to Hven, known locally as ‘Paradise Island’, a tiny dot of land with great beaches – and its own whisky.

Switzerland, a country of clocks, snow-capped mountains and chocolate. A land of clean cities, criss-crossed by efficient public transport, and even cleaner air. So far, so wonderful, but what makes this the second happiest country in the world? “The sheer beauty of it,” says Sara Roloff of Switzerland Tourism. “Watching the sunset reflected in mountain peaks is magical.”

 

“We also value reliability and efficiency. We can relax happy in the knowledge that everything works.”

 

To get the best out of Switzerland, Sara recommends taking the train. “Swiss trains leave on time. It’s an effortless way to travel.” Try the Glacier Express, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. At an average of 24mph it’s not the speediest ‘express’, but does leave plenty of time to enjoy the view. Or hop on the 45-minute train from Geneva to Lausanne, which travels around Lake Geneva, to enjoy Lausanne’s 14th century old town and leisurely lakeside walks.

 

Switzerland has a high standard of living – with prices to match. However, Zurich can be enjoyed without spending a single Swiss franc. Stroll around the Botanical Gardens or borrow a city bike and pedal along the Limmatquai, a riverside car-free street.

Iceland’s dramatic landscape has hosted Game of Thrones film crews since 2011. From lava fields to waterfalls, caves to rugged coastlines, all resting on raw volcanic power, it is a country of harsh geographic extremes.

 

Yet, Icelanders are such a friendly bunch. They leave the warmongering to HBO’s actors. With only 330,000 inhabitants, Iceland is the most sparsely populated European country.

 

“This means we generally know each other well,” says Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, from Promote Iceland. “We are there for each other, we support each other. Here, everyone has the same chance to succeed.”

 

Perhaps not surprisingly for a country that sits between two seas, the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, fish features heavily on Icelandic menus. Water is also a part of life. Whale watching tours are popular with tourists, and for many Icelanders socialising does not mean dressing up – quite the opposite. “The best way to see why Iceland is such a happy place is to go for a pre or post-work swim in a geothermal pool,” says Sigríður Hellen Sveinsdóttir, from Icelandair, who recommends the Celeste waters of The Blue Lagoon, a 25-minute taxi ride from Reykavik airport. “When you discuss daily life in a bathing suit, all social differences melt away. Everyone is equal.”

 

Stay here

Live like royalty at the Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne. This hotel, completed in 1861, has hosted Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Nelson Mandela and Tina Turner. Book a room with a Jacuzzi and soak up the lake views. Enjoy Sophie-Anne Pic’s menu in her eponymous two Michelin star restaurant. Fancy some wine? No problem. The hotel’s cellar contains 75,000 bottles.

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Check into the Canopy by Hilton concept hotel. Created from six connected houses in Reykavik’s 101 district, the hotel offers speedy mobile check-in and evening tastings of local delicacies. There are bikes for guests wanting to explore, and the swooping silhouette of the 73m-high Hallgrimskirka church, star of so many postcards, is just 500m away.

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Danish architect Arne Jacobsen gave the world the Egg chair and Copenhagen’s Royal Hotel, now a Radisson Blu. Completed in 1960, the hotel, just 8km from the Copenhagen airport, is furnished in Jacobsen’s signature functionalism style. The view from the 20th floor restaurant is guaranteed to make you smile.

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