Originally published in Wedding Album magazine
Gili Islands, Indonesia
Remote island paradise’ is at the top of most honeymooners’ wish lists, and the beautiful Gili Archipelago, north-east of Bali, perfectly answers that description. Choose between Gili Trawangan, the most visitor-centric of the three, with a vibrant bar scene, Gili Air, home to the most local culture, and Gili Meno, pure deserted honeymoon bliss, where it’s not difficult to find a swathe of white sand to yourselves. All three are car- and motorbike-free zones, so the only way to get around is to meander hand in hand or take a cidomo, a small horse-drawn carriage. The turquoise waters offer excellent snorkelling, especially when you consider the Gili Islands are the turtle capital of the world.
There’s something inherently romantic about Cuba’s capital, if only for the reason that visiting now would capture a moment in time that may soon be lost. Since the country reopened its borders to tourism in the 1990s, Havana has been evolving, albeit slowly, which means the clock is ticking on its anachronistic charm – 1950s American motor cars prowling grand avenues where the 16-century Spanish colonial architecture is even more striking for its crumbling facades. A second revolution, this time culinary in nature, is taking place too; we recommend the ropa vieja at Doña Eutimia. Toast your journey down the aisle with mojitos and a cigar on the veranda of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Jean-Paul Sartre's. Speaking of cigars, the annual Habanos Festival begins on 27 February 2017.
Celebrate your commitment to each other in the eternal landscape of the Namib, one of the world’s oldest deserts. Sossusvlei is an hour’s flight from Windhoek, but about as far from the madding crowd as you are ever likely to get. The starkly white salt-and-clay pan is surrounded by undulating red, pink and orange dunes – some of the highest in the world. Hike to the summit of Dune 45 in the predawn dark to watch the sun rising, its light spilling from dune to dune and revealing the shifting and magical colours of the five-million-year-old sand. Or you could float above it all with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, one of the most breathtaking ways to experience the silent splendour of the desert.
Koh Tao, Thailand
Possibly the sunniest spot on this sunniest of lists, Koh Tao experiences 300 days of sunshine per year. It’s not surprising, then, that this tropical island’s biggest drawcards are its beautiful white-sand beaches and excellent diving opportunities. Get PADI open-water certified in four days with Crystal Dive Resort, then spend your honeymoon swimming side by side over coral reefs, spotting fish, rays, turtles and, if you’re lucky, whale sharks. These gentle spotted giants are the reason many divers visit here, and your best chance of seeing one is between March and May, when visibility is at its best. April also sees the ebullient celebration of Songkran – Thai New Year – a fittingly joyous time to mark the beginning of your life together as Mr and Mrs.
Rick and Ilsa’s Casablanca may have seemed like romance central, but today, Marrakech turns heads as our favourite North African destination. There’s plenty to fall in love with in the thousand-year-old Ochre City. Begin your immersion in the souks of the maze-like, red-walled medina, where you can drop some serious dirham. For more traditional bazaar wares, from spices and textiles to Berber carpets, take Rue Semarine; Rue Mouassine will lead you towards the more boutiquey traders, who are the modern face of Morocco’s legendary shopping labyrinths. When you’re all haggled out, give in to the spirit of Marrakech with a gentle soak at a hammam, a rooftop sundowner at Kechmara on Rue de la Liberté, and dinner and belly dancing at the riotous Comptoir Darna on Avenue Echouhada.
Whitewashed cubic houses, rugged cliffs and those blue, domed roofs echoing the colour of the Aegean Sea below... the island of Santorini is a dreamer’s Greece made tangible. And who wouldn’t want to dream away their honeymoon here, when its beautiful caldera lagoon and black-sand beaches at Perissa and Perivolos inspire the myth that it is the final resting place of Atlantis. For a more historically accurate glimpse into its past, the archeological sites at Akrotiri and Mesa Vouno can’t be beaten anywhere in the Mediterranean. Then plunge into the present day with a meal of fresh Santorini fare, including the island’s unique cherry tomatoes, fava (broad beans), katsouni (cucumber), capers and white aubergine, all washed down with many a glass of Assyrtiko, Santorini’s signature wine.
This jutting Istrian port city is almost heartbreakingly picturesque. The red-roofed buildings of the old town huddle together on an egg-shaped peninsula, with narrow cobbled streets and piazzas in which to lose yourselves to its charm. For sigh-inducing views, wander your way to the Church of St Euphemia to climb its 60m tower. From this lofty position, you’ll be able to count all 14 forested islands of the Rovinj Archipelago, just across the harbour, where hiking, biking and scuba excursions provide a perfect antithesis to the closeness of the city. Italian and Croatian are Rovinj’s dual official languages, but keen linguists should keep an ear out for the near-extinct Istriot, spoken by only a handful of locals.
Venice Beach, United States
For the edgy couple that lives and loves on the wild side, Venice Beach in high summer is a must. Your first stop is the famous Ocean Front Walk, where nobody blinks an eye at bikini-clad rollerbladers, because they’re too busy watching fame-hungry street performers. With white-sand beaches and warm water, this is also the spot to work on your Californian tan – don’t forget to take a couple's selfie with the wonderfully Baywatch-esque lifeguard stations in the background. In fact, photo ops abound, with beachside basketball courts (a breeding ground for the NBA), skate parks (the real Lords of Dogtown practised here in the ’70s) and the public body-building gym at Muscle Beach (ooh-la-la). Hollywood, Disneyland and Rodeo Drive are 30 minutes to an hour’s drive away, so you’re well placed to explore the rest of LA too.
Welcome to Rajasthan’s most romantic destination. Surrounded by lakes, Udaipur has been dubbed ‘the Venice of the East’, but it has a magic all its own. Here, fantastical palaces, awe-inspiring in both their size and detail, watch over daily life. For ultimate luxury, check into the famous Taj Lake Palace hotel, with its white marble walls rising out of Lake Pichola like something from a fairy tale (we hear Jackie Kennedy adored it). From there, take a boat cruise across the lake and delve into local history at City Palace, itself a collection of 11 smaller palaces built over 400 years by generations of sun-worshipping Rajputs. Then, if the thronging city streets and markets (Hathi Pol and Bada Bazaar are favourites) become too much, head into the surrounding Aravalli Hills on horseback for a new perspective on this magical destination.
Ah, Florence! Heart of Tuscany, cradle of the Renaissance, birthplace of Gucci and Cavalli. In October, the Italian summer heat is easing off enough to really explore this riverside city – gelato in hand, of course. Truffles are in season, so head to Trattoria Za Za to savour this Italian delicacy properly, with a mandatory bottle of Brunello. If you’ve come to Florence for its art and history, then go to Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia first – these galleries are home to some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculpture, including Michelangelo’s David. Of course, if canoodling in centuries-old piazzas is more your thing, Florence is your oyster. Be sure to make your way to the medieval Ponte Vecchio to share a kiss before drinking in the best views of this Italian darling.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Could there be any destination more suited to lovers than the home of the tango? In many ways, Buenos Aires is the living embodiment of the dance – passionate, fierce and so very sexy. Base yourself among the cobbled streets and colonial mansions of historical San Telmo. It’s a popular neighbourhood, but less touristy than better known Palermo (but do head to Palermo Soho for the best retail therapy). Like anywhere in Argentina, steak is the order of the day in this red-blooded city; treat yourselves to the best at Bistro Sur at the otherworldly Faena Hotel. Buenos Aires is a city of night owls, with restaurants, bars and clubs opening late. Locals suggest a catnap before you head out to practise your tango – dawn is likely to break as you perfect the final dip.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
On a map, the Cook Islands look like a sprinkling of tiny stepping stones between French Polynesia and American Samoa; conveniently remote, perfectly romantic. Fly into Rarotonga, the most populous of the 15 islands, to explore its rich cultural heritage, natural beauty and thriving cafe culture. Then take a 45-minute transfer to breathtaking Aitutaki, the archetypal tropical island, whose people are known for their highly emotive praise singing and fire dancing. A few resorts are scattered about, but for the most part, it’s just pure white shores curving around an unimaginably blue lagoon. Snorkel among the bountiful coral and other marine life, then surface to bask on one of the lagoon’s tiny motu (islets), savouring the sun on your skin, the sound of the sea all around, and the presence of your true love beside you.