Andean vow renewals, secret beaches, thermal geysers to romantic escapades by Mayan ruins, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY choose an eclectic list of honeymoon destinations that are truly off the beaten track
Couples take seven marriage vows, walk seven rounds around the sacred fire and promise to be with each other for seven lives. So what’s a wedding without a celebration of togetherness that makes you feel you’re in seventh heaven? Here are seven secret hideaways for a dream honeymoon…
Romantic baths in thermal geysers of the Tatra Mountains (Poland)
Get on a flight to the charming old Polish capital of Krakow and drive 80km south to the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska near the Slovakia border. Thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers across the entire Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are channeled from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate yourself in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, it is possible to use the outdoor pools in winter as well! Just 14 km away, Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is an adventure sports hub with Nordic hikes, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and skating. For a more leisurely experience, take a ride in decorated horse-pulled sleighs called kuligs or a romantic stroll down the popular Krupówki Street lined with stores, restaurants, carnival rides and performers. Shop for unique Zakopane souvenirs, such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese). Enjoy a Polish meal at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio with highlander music, Polish vodka and a celebration of local Goral culture through traditional dances, music, costume, cuisine and stunning wooden architecture.
For more travel ideas across Poland, visit www.poland.travel
Private beaches, secret coves and isles of love (Seychelles/Maldives)
Located 1,000 miles away from any major landmass in the middle of the Indian Ocean but reachable by a 4-hour flight from Mumbai, Seychelles opens a hidden world of tiny islets, secluded coves and private island resorts surrounded by endemic flora and fauna which bestow an air of unprecedented privacy and romance. Dive or snorkel hand in hand in crystal blue waters, stroll through tropical forests to spot iridescent birds or go on nature trails over the islands’ granite mountains. Head to remote hideaways like Desroches Island Resort, 230km southwest of Seychelles’ largest island Mahé, voted among the world’s best remote island resorts. Enjoy sailing trips, romantic cruises, spectacular fishing, indulgent spa treatments, exploratory island cycle rides and breathtaking sunsets. Laze in private pool villas nestled along the coastline at Fregate Island Private, a 3 sq km ecological sanctuary where the only other guests are 2,000 free-roaming Giant Aldabra Tortoises and 100 species of birds. Or choose from great hotels on the main isles – Constance Ephelia or Northolme on Mahé, Constance Lemuria and Raffles on Praslin or Le Domaine de l’Orangeraie at La Digue. And, honeymoons needn’t cost the moon. Find romance on a budget with distinct Seychellois flair, thanks to Seychelles Tourism Board’s packaging of the finest small hotels, chalets and guesthouses into one brand – Seychelles Secrets! For a quicker escape, Maldives is just a short hop from Kochi. A private seaplane sweeps you up from Malé Airport to Viceroy Maldives Resort at Shaviyani Atoll in the unchartered north where 60 villas encircle a lagoon resembling the hull of an inverted Maldivian dhoni (fishing boat). A 15-min luxury speedboat ride from Malé takes you to Taj Exotica, an exclusive, romantic island resort set in one of the largest lagoons in Maldives while Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef at Hembadhu Island in North Mal Atoll has numerous dive sites, a private reef and a shipwreck!
For a romantic holiday that doesn’t break the bank, visit www.seychellessecrets.com
Luxury and adventure among Mayan ruins (Belize)
Horse rides to Mayan ruins, hikes through tropical rainforests, champagne picnics by the river and ancient cuisines and massages handed down across a thousand years; Belize has all the ingredients of an exotic honeymoon vacation. Located on the eastern coast of Central America, it served as a British colony between 1862 and 1973 known as British Honduras. Caracol, easily one of the most impressive Mayan sites in Central America, has as many as 35,000 buildings dominated by the spectacular Caana or Sky Palace. Inspired by it, the small luxury resort of Ka’ana at San Ignacio in Western Belize is the ideal spot for a romantic tryst. Stay in a private pool villa, with gardens, plunge pools and your own personal houseman. Laze over breakfast in bed with chaya (Belizean super food), eggs and fried jacks. Learn the secrets of Mayan cuisine from a traditional cook and prepare ancient recipes on a fogon (brick and mud stove) – tortillas, tamales, caldo and dukunu, a corn dish similar to polenta. Get a Mayan Abdominal Massage at Ka’ana Spa and ride on horseback to the majestic Mayan site of Xunantunich accompanied by an archaeologist. For exotic adventures, hike through the jungle, cross three rivers and swim into the hourglass-shaped entrance of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a sacred cave in the heart of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, where ancient sacrificial ceremonies took place. Or drive through rugged terrain to a private 400-acre reserve where you zipline through the subtropical jungle, a suspended bridge and a hydraulic elevator that whisks you 50 feet above the canopy.
To book your Belize holiday, visit http://kaanabelize.com/
Luxury yachting in the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean)
While a cruise ship is great for a luxurious holiday, for a honeymoon you might prefer the privacy of a yacht. SeaDream’s ultra-luxury twin mega-yachts SeaDream I and II operate 5 to 20-night sailings in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Amazon River and the British Virgin Islands of the Caribbean between November and April. Its compact size allows you to sail into exotic ports and unexplored harbours beyond the reach of larger cruises. Stop by at idyllic islands like Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Nevis, Norman Island and Virgin Gorda, famous for The Baths, a geological wonder. Soak up French flavours at St. Barts, Tobago Cays in the Grenadines or Gustavia with its stunning beaches, resorts, restaurants and adventures. Plan a boutique yachting experience of 6, 7 or 10 days, with just over a hundred guests for company. All-inclusive fares include an impeccable wine cellar, ‘Cuisine A La Minute’ and an open bar with unlimited Sushi, and enough to do on the yacht besides offshore activities like mountain biking, helicopter rides and swimming with dolphins.
For more cruise itineraries, visit www.seadream.com
Coastal Drives, Castles & Fairytales in the Emerald Isle (Ireland)
A landscape of lakes, glens, sandy beaches, rolling hills and winding roads around a patchwork of emerald green countryside; the romantic scenery of Ireland is the stuff legends are made of. Little wonder that the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ chose Northern Ireland as its filming location. (There’s even a 3-day medieval tour retracing plot points and key scenes!) Treat yourself to a fairytale castle or enjoy seclusion in a quiet country cottage. There’s no better place to start than Dublin, a city founded by Vikings a thousand years ago. Today, a vibrant city buzzing with art, culture and music, here you can go on Viking tours, Literary trails and pub walks. For a long drive, go north to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and begin your road trip up the Antrim Coast. The 155-mile Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic road journeys in the world, takes you past Larne, gateway to the Glens of Antrim and Glenarm Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest estates. Stop at Ballycastle, a seaside resort and walk across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended across a 20-metre chasm. Drive to Armoy to see a road lined by a drooping canopy of trees called The Dark Hedges. Continue to Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of hexagonal basalt columns lashed by the sea. The audio tour captures its legends with typical Irish wit and charm. The ruins of Dunluce Castle nearby, is a scenic spot. Head inland to Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery for a tipple and end your tour at Londonderry (Derry, for short), the only walled city in Europe.
Take a train, ski or paraglide from the Top of Europe (Switzerland)
If you are feeling on top of the world and want a destination to match your mood, fly to Zürich and take a quick train to Interlaken. As the name suggests, it is ‘the area between the two lakes, named after the towns of Thun and Brienz. Check into the exclusive Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa overlooking the large central meadow of Höhematte for an unhindered view of the majestic Mount Jungfrau (the Virgin), soaring 13,842 ft. With casinos, restaurants and souvenir shops, the main street Höheweg is quite literally the tourist highway. Enjoy a horse carriage ride, explore Interlaken on foot or take a guided e-bike tour to a local Swiss farm to try local cheese and bread. If you’re into skiing, take the amazing century-old narrow gauge Alpine railway to Kleine Scheidegg or ride past stations like Wilderswil and Schynige Platte to Grindelwald. After a typical lunch of rostis and fondue, walk to the cable car station for a ride to First (7,170 ft) for a great view of the Bernese Alps. Zoom down at 80 km per hour on the exhilarating First Flyer and take the cable car from Schreckfeld to Grindelwald for the train to Interlaken. But for the ultimate high, escape to Jungfraujoch, the very Top of Europe at 3,454 m for a guided tour of the snowy attractions – Alpine Sensation, Ice Palast, Plateau and the Sphinx Observatory, at 3,571 m, the highest structure in Europe. Perched on snowy crags against a dramatic backdrop of peaks and glaciers, the domed astronomical station has served as a lair for super villains and mad scientists in several films from Bond to Krrish 3. After the customary selfie at the fluttering Swiss flag, drop by at Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, opened by Swiss tennis star and Lindt ambassador Roger Federer. He even played a tennis match on the Aletsch Glacier overlooking the Sphinx! Savour a romantic meal at the Restaurant Crystal, touted as the highest in Europe. And if weather permits, paraglide from Jungfrau all the way down to Interlaken! On your way out, visit St. Beatus Caves at Beatushöhlen, Switzerland’s first and only underground cave museum around a maze of stalactites, stalagmites, lakes and waterfalls. Stop for lunch at the Castle Oberhofen and continue to Thun for a guided city walk, before flying out of Zürich.
Vow renewal ceremony at Machu Pichu (Peru)
Fly to Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, where Pre-Colombian architecture and dramatic Inca wall art on the streets will enchant any visitor. Stay at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio as you visit the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, the formidable fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the amphitheatre, the Inca baths and other impressive sites like the Plaza de Armas or Square of the Warrior. From Cusco, board the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train and rumble through the dramatic landscape of Sacred Valley before arriving at Machu Pichu. Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, just steps away from the citadel, is the only hotel adjacent to the Lost City of the Incas. Enjoy an earthy dinner at the in-house Tampu Restaurant and wake up early to have privileged access to the site at sunrise. You could enjoy your honeymoon or make this dramatic backdrop your wedding venue or renew your marriage vows in the ancient Andean tradition with live Andean music and an authentic Shamanic ritual to strengthen the bond of love.
For more exotic vacations around the world, visit www.belmond.com/luxury-hotels
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Select Magazine for Spenta Publications.