12 Not-so-average Honeymoons
Central Asian immersion, The ’Stans
Well and truly off the beaten track, this 21-day tour through the ’Stans bestows its guests with much more than intriguing passport stamps and honeymoon bragging rights, although prints from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan do look pretty cool. You’ll visit no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, dine with local Uzbek families, listen to traditional Kazakh folk performances and cross one of the world’s largest mountain ranges. The accommodation won’t be something to regale the grandkids with, but the opportunity to visit a region that’s steeped in mystery and devoid of tourists just might.
The ’Stans to Borneo: Stop over in Malaysian Borneo on your way home with flydubai and China Southern.
Bunga Raya, Pulau Gaya, Malaysian Borneo
Take a secluded stretch of shoreline on a coral island just off the coast of Borneo, add white sand to scrunch between your toes, and bamboo sharks, clown fish and sea turtles below turquoise waters. Sound like paradise? It is, especially after traversing the rugged lands of the ’Stans. A treehouse or tropical timber villa comes next, and you and your better half – kicking back on your private balcony with chilled beers in hand – complete the picture. You may be out in the jungle, but there’s still plenty of ice for your champagne bucket and an underground cave stocking almost 5000 bottles of wine. Just make sure you don’t drink and dive.
Scale Sacred Summits, Northern Greece
Mount Olympus is legendary. Not because it’s Greece’s tallest mountain, but because the world’s most feisty deities fell in love and waged war from above its rocky summit. Take to the slopes on a private seven-night tour with a guide and channel your best Aphrodite or Eros (just not together – they’re mother and son) as you trek through pine forests and discover chapels constructed in caves. Put your endurance to the test as you scramble up Skolio, Olympus’s second highest peak, where you’ll stop for dizzying vistas and first date vibes, complete with pounding hearts. The highlight though is the Pinnacles of Meteora, where monasteries are built atop cliffs among 400-metre-high sandstone columns formed millions of years ago. And we thought “until death do us part” sounded everlasting.
Thessaloniki to Skopelos: The 2.5-hour ferry journey departs daily between 30 June and 10 September.
Villa Pyrgos, Skopelos, Greece
Set on a headland on the island of Skopelos, Villa Pyrgos offers rustic charm. Think handcrafted wooden furnishings, chequerboard floors, an antique stove and – the pièce de résistance – windows topped with stained glass that look to Alonissos Island erupting from the Aegean Sea. Fill your days reading by the pool set on the edge of the promontory, following hilltop trails past grazing goats and twisted olive trees or exploring the island’s many beaches. Stock up on bread, wine and skopelitiko tiropita (the region’s famed goat’s cheese pie) at Skopelos, the postcard-perfect town nearby, or jump into the 4WD that comes with your castle and make for the little taverna down by the beach to celebrate your union over a glass of Peparithios, the local wine.
Gastronomic adventure, Honshu Island, Japan
Dousing your date with broth-drenched udon noodles? Not a good look. But someone who is now legally bound to you? That’s a different story. Indulge every culinary dream with zeal on this self-guided food-themed odyssey across Japan’s Honshu Island. It’s all there: handcrafting your very own soba noodles in the highland town of Matsumoto, taking a street food tour of neon-plastered Osaka and embarking on a ramen crawl of gastronomic capital Tokyo. Tour company Inside Japan can tailor almost every element of the trip to your exact requirements. But whatever you do, there will be ample opportunity to share your love of food with each other, bibs or no bibs.
Osaka to Ishigaki Island: Fly with Japan Airlines from Osaka, where the gastronomic adventure ends.
Jusandi, Ishigaki Island, Japan
Mermaid-tail blue water, white sandy beaches and subtropical forest might not be the first things you associate with Japan, but in the country’s most far-flung southern islands that’s exactly what you’ll find. Enjoy this secret paradise with your significant other at Jusandi, a luxury five-villa resort on Ishigaki Island, where the clean lines of modern Japanese design meet the rugged outdoors. Each villa boasts a private pool and garden and is just minutes from a private beach, so there’s ample space to enjoy alone time together. Rest assured cabin fever won’t be an issue though, as staff can arrange all manner of local activities, from diving Japan’s biggest coral reef to admiring the Southern Cross on a stargazing trip.
Drive the Dempster Highway, Yukon, Canada
Nothing draws you and your loved one closer together than hours on the road with jaw-dropping views whipping past the glass and your wedding soundtrack pouring through the speakers. The Dempster Highway, one of the world's most scenic stretches of road, promises the few who drive it a journey through lunar landscapes and expansive tundra and past jagged peaks as they make their way to the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Pick up a heavy-duty camper from Motorhome Republic in Whitehorse and set the GPS for Dawson City, a historic gold-rush town with a Wild West vibe. Cruise on to Tombstone Territorial Park, where you’ll spot moose in fields of wildflowers and lakes reflecting granite ridges. Once you’ve crossed the circle, stop to learn about First Nations Hän and Inuvialuit people at cultural centres and to find good spots to camp before, finally, you get to the end point of Inuvik. When you’re this far north darkness never claims the summer night sky, and what could be more romantic than re-creating your first dance under the midnight sun?
Whitehorse to Halfmoon Bay: Air North flies from Inuvik to Vancouver via Whitehorse. From there it’s a two-hour drive and 40-minute ferry ride.
Pointhouse Suites at Sargeant Bay, Halfmoon Bay, Canada
There’s something about sleeping outside that feels earthy and romantic, but there’s no need to forego four walls and creature comforts while getting cosy with Mother Nature. Designed to blur the boundaries between inside and out, the Pointhouse Suites at Sargeant Bay on Canada’s Sunshine Coast do just that. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood rooms with light and offer views of waves from the Georgia Strait smashing against the granite below, as does the outdoor hot tub for two. Housing just a handful of guests at a time, the hotel offers sweethearts one of two luxurious suites in the B&B, where each day starts with plush robes and gourmet breakfasts, or the privacy of the standalone Aerie or Annex guesthouses. Cut off from the mainland by water and mountains, this slice of British Columbia is accessible only by plane or ferry, making its forests an untapped adventure playground – although after your Yukon road trip you might want to stay in one spot.
Cycle Tuscany, Tuscany, Italy
Given that We Bike Tuscany is the brainchild of an American–Italian couple who met on a cycling tour of the region, it’s practically a given that their itineraries are designed with a hint of romance and boundless local knowledge. The four-day Val d’Orcia Dream is one of the company’s most popular. You’ll pedal through crumbling medieval hilltop towns, sweep round curlicue bends in the roads through a landscape dotted with cypress trees and sate sharpened appetites with tastings of organic cheese and full-bodied reds en route. A hard day’s work behind the handlebars is rewarded with stays in four-star, heritage Tuscan villas and inns complete with swimming pools to ease aching muscles. Coasting through this UNESCO World Heritage-listed region is guaranteed to bring you even closer together.
Florence to Monopoli: Fly from Pisa, less than an hour on the train from Florence, to Bari, near Monopoli, with Ryanair.
La Peschiera, Monopoli, Italy
A former fish hatchery doesn’t sound like the most amorous of honeymoon destinations, but this seaside retreat has been polished into the epitome of stylish Italian living and offers a great way to relax after a long bike ride. When you’re ready to leave the white walls and handmade silk bedding in your gorgeous guestroom – one of just 13 – throw on a kaftan or your cheekiest Speedos and lounge, cocktail in hand, by the pool. Actually, make that pools. Add in the private beach and there are enough swimming spots for you to dip somewhere new every day during a week-long stay. And if salt from the Adriatic kissing your skin doesn’t refresh you enough, indulge in a little pampering at the spa. When you’re ready to venture outside and into Puglia start at the UNESCO World Heritage town of Alberobello, famed for its streets of trulli (conically roofed houses).
Tiny Boat, Big Adventure, Amazon, Peru
You would be hard-pressed to uncover an Amazonian adventure more exclusive than this. For one thing, the onboard ratios work very much in your favour. The four-suite boat caters to a maximum of eight guests, with a whopping 15 members of staff, including two expert guides and naturalist, on hand to tend to your every need. The boutique Delfin I ventures into the most secluded reaches of the Pacaya–Samiria National Reserve. When you’re not sailing past indigenous settlements on this fabled, mighty river you can scan what is the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world for resident wildlife. Peru boasts the largest number of bird species on the globe, plus giant otters, giant anteaters, tapirs and black caimans, and you’ll get a close-up view on rainforest walks and kayak outings. Or you can simply watch the emerald green landscapes sail past from the privacy of the whirlpool on your own deck.
Peru to Uruguay: Fly between Iquitos in Peru and Uruguay's capital Montevideo with LATAM Airlines. From there it’s a 90-minute drive.
Bahia Vik, José Ignacio, Uruguay
Pair stark, cutting-edge design with the bleakly beautiful dunes of a quiet Uruguayan fishing village and you have the blueprint for an idyllic off-the-radar escape. Perched on the shores of the wild Atlantic coast – less than an hour’s drive north of its famous cousin Punta del Este – is Bahia Vik in José Ignacio. Opened in late 2014, the resort’s buildings feature sharp metallic lines that belie the creative interiors. Each suite boasts bespoke installations, from geometric prints adorning bedroom walls and bold artworks gracing ceilings, created by local and international artists. By day sink your toes into the warm sand as you raise a toast with ice-cold caipiroskas at the retreat’s restaurant, La Susana. When the sun slips beneath the horizon you can cosy up together under a blanket by a beachside bonfire knowing there’s still the option to party to live music at the late-night lounge should the moment take you.
Island Safari, Nosy Ankao Island, Madagascar
Miavana is no run-of-the-mill boutique property; it’s a sanctuary built to preserve and pay homage to Madagascar’s Oscar-worthy array of endemic wildlife. On Nosy Ankao, a private island off the country’s northeastern coast, indulge in the beauty of your choice: wake up with the sun, snorkel straight off the front of your villa, trek hand in hand with your newlywed to observe lemurs and organise a dive to inspect the extraordinary marine biodiversity. Then again, you could simply enjoy a late breakfast in bed at your five-star villa – one of just 14 – before embarking on a tough day of lounging on baby-powder-soft sand (four different species of turtles lay their eggs here, but that happens after dark, so you’ll need to ask staff members to accompany you). When you’re this far from the daily grind, everything counts as adventure.
Madagascar to Zanzibar: Fly from Madagascan capital Antananarivo to Zanzibar with Kenya Airways.
White Sand Villas, Paje, Zanzibar
Outdoor bathtub? Check. Private pool? Check. Rooftop champagne bar? Check. Butler service? Check. All the ingredients for a romantic getaway are on tap at Zanzibar’s White Sand Villas. Each one-bedroom guesthouse features oodles of seclusion, since all are bordered by lush gardens. Comprising 500 square metres of living space, each of the 11 villas is more than double the size of most urban apartments. Inside the calming cream walls, furnished with hand-picked antiques, there are unadulterated views from your bed to the ocean. Soak up some quality one-on-one time with your loved one or, if you get itchy feet, there’s a whole host of activities of which you can partake, from a market tour that demonstrates why Zanzibar is known as the Spice Isle to kitesurfing the island’s endless downwinders.
Footsteps of Lawrence, Jordan
For an Instagram-worthy honeymoon album, make like Lawrence of Arabia and venture into the wild Jordanian desert on horseback. On the nine-night Footsteps of Lawrence tour, you’ll ride Arabian horses over rose-pink dunes and stark, stony plains, cross paths with local Bedouin families, eat lamb cooked over an open fire, and bed down on a mattress beneath the stars. As if the changing daily landscapes weren’t enough, you’ll also marvel at the carved sandstone cliffs of Petra and soak your limbs in the healing waters of the Dead Sea. Embarking on the first stage of marriage with an adventure this epic is sure to kick off a lifetime of action-packed memory making.
Jordan to Israel: Fly direct from Amman to Tel Aviv with Royal Jordanian.
The Norman, Tel Aviv, Israel
Although it’s an alluring stretch of golden sand and less than a 20-minute stroll away, the pull of Tel Aviv’s beaches might play second fiddle to the sleek rooftop infinity pool at the Norman. A warm hug of a hotel set in two delicately restored 1920s Bauhaus buildings awash with books and demure pops of colour, the Norman is the antivenom for any brutalist property you’ve ever endured. It’s also burrowed deep in the core of what is arguably the Middle East’s nightlife capital. Explore backstreet wine bars and dimly lit speakeasies arm in arm before teetering back to your individually designed suite.
Heritage Hike, Cordillera, Philippines
If you’ve ever seen El Nido’s glimmering waters and the seemingly endless stretches of beach in Boracay, you’ll know the Philippines is a haven for water babies. But did you know there’s a more mysterious side in its northern lands? Unravel its secrets on a six-day journey with a private guide through the mountains of the landlocked Cordillera region on Luzon, the country’s largest island. You’ll hike through hills, visit Batad – a town encircled by mountains cut with ancient rice terraces forming a natural amphitheatre – and shack up in little villages. Sluice off heat from hiking at waterfalls, spot the hanging coffins of Sagada and clutch each other tight as you head underground to explore the sprawling cave network. Six-day trips from US$581 per person.
Manila to Small Bamboo Island: Fly from Manila to Coron Island with Cebu Pacific. From the port it’s a one-hour trip by boat.
Small Bamboo Island, Palawan, Philippines
Paradise in the Philippines isn’t hard to come by, yet finding a perfect stretch of sand free from tourists is like hunting for buried treasure. Strike 24-karat gold at Small Bamboo Island in Palawan. Situated in Culion Bay, this pristine isle’s blue-green waters and sugar-white sands play host to just 16 guests (sister island Big Bamboo sleeps 25). Bamboo huts are dotted between palm trees and feature rustic island luxuries. After organising your big day you’ll be happy to know the hardest choice you’ll have to make while here is how much or little you want to do. You might find yourself plunging into water to see coral lagoons and tropical fish, exploring the island or catching rays on the beach.
Mix-and-match Adventure, Cuba
With its gorgeous beaches, historic cities and soulful nightlife, Cuba graces the top of many wish-lists. But travelling there can be a bit tricky and red tape often gets in the way. Make your honeymoon more relaxing than taxing by letting the locals at Cuba Adventure Company take care of the bureaucracy so you don’t have to. Working as your private guides, the experts here can help piece together your ideal trip, whether you and your other half want to go caving and rock climbing or kayaking and snorkelling. Itineraries can also include a sprinkling of culture, from salsa dancing to classic car tours that take in the faded grandeur of Old Havana.
Cuba to Nicaragua: Travel from Havana to Costa Esmeralda Airport in Nicaragua via Costa Rica with Air Cubana and Sansa Airlines.
Mukul Resort, Costa Esmeralda, Nicaragua
Florida, Spain and France all possess one, but it is Nicaragua’s so-called Emerald Coast that’s igniting the lion’s share of interest. This Central American country retains enough grit to entice the most experienced traveller, yet a blossoming stable of homegrown, boutique accommodation makes it an equally tempting proposition for couples hunting luxury escapes. Mukul is the country’s first luxury resort, and arguably the region’s hero property when it comes to romance – think private plunge pools, secret gardens with outdoor showers and your own palapa (palmleaf beach hut), all set on a 675-hectare reserve. That’s a space the same size as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. The folks who run the place are so thoughtful they’ve even thrown in some world-class surf breaks just for good measure.
Sail the Inside Passage, Alaska, USA
If you’re looking for an Alaskan expedition that’s low on crowds but big on wildlife, check out the Inside Passage Catalyst cruise. Housing just 12 passengers and five crew, the Pacific Catalyst II boasts a charm like no other. She’s been sailing these waters since her maiden voyage in 1932, and her wood panelling and beamed ceilings, imbued with decades of history, offer an intimate residence for guests on this adventure. Weave through fjords dotted with bobbing icebergs, hike among forested outcrops and paddle along glassy waters in a kayak for two. On your 10-day round trip from Juneau you’ll encounter an abundance of creatures living among the trees and below the water’s surface. Highlights include visiting Pack Creek for the best brown bear spotting in South Alaska, and entering the feeding grounds of humpback and orca whales.
Alaska to Hawaii: Alaska Airlines flies from Juneau to Kona on the Island of Hawaii, via Seattle.
Kealakekua Bay Bali Cottage, Hawaii, USA
Continue your party in the USA in the nation’s tropical archipelago, Hawaii. The land of wild mountains, sand and surf is the perfect place to defrost for a week or two on your way back to the southern hemisphere. The rustic luxury of Kealakekua Bay Bali Cottage, situated in a quiet beachside residential area on the less-visited Big Island (it’s proper name is the Island of Hawaii), is where you want to be. A sprawling ficus tree shades the bungalow, which features an eclectic mix of Balinese teak fixtures and quirky decor (check the surfboard-adorned ceiling). Homemade dinners are best consumed alfresco beneath the twinkle of fairy lights. When you need a break from your love shack, hang out with the turtles, mantas and angelfish living in the bay.
Ride the African Explorer, South Africa and Namibia
An African safari? Just a bit unimaginative. A 13-day, 3600-kilometre expedition by railroad and open-top vehicle from Cape Town through to Namibia’s Etosha National Park? Much more inspired. See some of Africa’s best-loved landscapes from the window of a private luxury train. There’s a grand, cigar-den feel to the African Explorer’s cabins that lend this train an air of romance, yet almost any mod con you could need is available on board. But it’s what’s outside the carriages that is the main draw on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Scale the world’s highest sand dunes at Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, stand at the lip of Fish River Canyon – the second largest of its kind in the world – and gape at the largest salt flat in all of Africa. There are also ghost towns, German colonial settlements and braiis (barbecues) aplenty.
Namibia to Mozambique: Fly from Windhoek in Namibia to Nampula in Mozambique with South African Airways.
Ossimba Beach Lodge, Nacala Bay, Mozambique
Mozambique hosts beaches to rival the Maldives, Bermuda and Brazil all squeezed together. But it’s yet to receive the same litany of travel headlines or immense tourism traffic of those tropical favourites, making these deserted shores the perfect place to wind down following the excitement of nuptials. At Ossimba, eight simple, thatch-roof villas allow the scenery to take centre stage. Surrounded by indigenous forest and settled on a 1.5-kilometre stretch of private beach, the lodge is ideal for nature lovers. Best of all you can sleep easy in the knowledge that the lodge is eco-friendly, too, since Ossimba runs on solar power and harvests its own borehole water. The usual gamut of water-based activities is on offer, so when lazy days get a bit too much, you and your partner can stand-up paddleboard into the sunset.