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Alternative honeymoons: 10 destinations that aren’t the Maldives

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 16/04/2020 Suzannah Ramsdale
an island in the middle of a body of water © Provided by Evening Standard

What better way to spend your time in lockdown than plotting your dream honeymoon.

From the romance of an 18th-century, antique-filled chateau in a sleepy French village to the sunrise spectacle of galloping wild horses at the surf’s edge on a forgotten Indonesian island, let these alternative honeymoon destinations whet your appetite.

Because, after all this, you deserve to go somewhere truly special.

If you're one of the many couples for which it's looking likely you'll have to cancel or postpone your wedding this year, we've written an article laying out your options.

the roof of a building: Uninterrupted ocean views from your own hilltop casita (Isla Secas) © Provided by Evening Standard Uninterrupted ocean views from your own hilltop casita (Isla Secas)

Isla Secas, Panama

When it comes to central American honeymoon hotspots, Costa Rica and Belize are perhaps the obvious contenders. But we’d like to nudge you politely in the direction of Panama, or, more specifically, Isla Secas , 20 miles off the coast on the Pacific side of the country. A luxury eco retreat sleeping just 18 people, this is one of the most buzzed about openings of the year. The resort owns 14 islands in the archipelago, but the hotel and rooms (spacious casitas made from reclaimed wood) live on just one island, while the rest have been left undeveloped and ready for exploring. Pick your favourite and head off with your SO, bottle of champagne in hand, for your own private island picnic. The draw at Isla Secas is the marine life with manta rays, sharks, turtles and even humpback whales during migration all calling the glistening, fertile waters home. The hotel boasts some impressive eco stats - 100 per cent of its power is solar-generated, for example; and all food waste is dehydrated down and used for compost. Isla Secas isn’t showy or glamorous. It’s subtle, understated and one of the most special spots on the planet.

Best time to visit: January - April

islassecas.com/

a chair sitting in front of a beach: Aman's new luxurious Camp Sarika (Aman) © Provided by Evening Standard Aman's new luxurious Camp Sarika (Aman)

Utah

It’s likely that you’ve heard of Amangiri in Utah. If you haven’t, you will surely have seen it all over Instagram. One of the most recognisable hotels from the exceptional Aman group, it’s in the heart of the canyon-filled Painted Desert and its clever polished concrete buildings seem as if they have been carved directly into the rugged landscape. It doesn’t get more remote than this, but for couples seeking a real back-to-nature experience (with all the usual 5* luxuries, of course), new for 2020 is the soon-to-open Camp Sarika. A tented retreat a short drive or hike away from the main property with pit-fire cuisine, cosy campfire nights, and all the usual Aman trimmings, like the brand’s outstanding spa treatments. The emphasis here is on adventure with hiking, climbing and horseriding high on the agenda, so probably not one for the fly and flop brigade. For a truly magical honeymoon experience, book a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the glowing Navajo Mountains.

Best time to visit: Spring (April - May) and Autumn (September - October)

aman.com

a train on a track with a mountain in the background: All aboard the Royal Scotsman (Belmond) © Provided by Evening Standard All aboard the Royal Scotsman (Belmond)

Scotland

If you and your new Mr or Mrs are more cosy than Caribbean, head north for the wild beauty of Scotland. Hole up at Nord 57, a chic Scandi-style cabin just across from Skye on the shore of Loch Duig in Wester Ross; or check into the much lauded and art-filled pub-with-rooms Fife Arms in Braemar near the Cairngorms. For couples happy to throw cash at a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon, Ardfin on the remote Hebridean island of Jura will be 2020’s splashy new opening. With delightful interiors by London-based designer Louise Jones and a new golf course that’s being touted as one of the best in the world, this will be the place to see and be seen. Don’t like to stay in one place for too long? Why not hop aboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman for the finest way to see the Highlands. Itineraries start at three nights and go up to seven.

Best time to visit: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November)

a train that is sitting on a bench: Wa Ale island in the Myeik Archipelago (Scott A. Woodward) © Provided by Evening Standard Wa Ale island in the Myeik Archipelago (Scott A. Woodward)

Wa Ale island, Myanmar

This destination is a schlep (about 24 hours from London’s Heathrow via planes, cars and boats), but, boy, is it worth it. Wa Ale is the first hotel to open in Myanmar’s untouched Myeik Archipelago and here you’ll find barefoot luxury on a remarkable private island resort in what feels like the middle of nowhere in the Andaman Sea. The whole place feels tailor-made for once-in-a-lifetime romance - it’s even got a Honeymoon Beach for crying out loud. Eleven luxury tented villas sit along the shore of the calm cove and three cosy treehouses perch in the treetops with views of the ocean. Watch turtles hatch on the beach, kayak through the island’s mangrove rivers and unwind with a private couples’ massage in your villa while the champagne sits on ice. A guilt-free honeymoon, 20 per cent of Wa Ale’s profits go to the Lampi Foundation set up to protect the Lampi Marine National Park in which the resort sits. Plus, you’ll find sustainable practices throughout, like solar power, rain water harvesting, and biodegradable packaging. Go now before everyone else discovers - and falls in love with - it.

Best time to visit: January to April and October to December

waaleresort.com/

a person riding a wave on a surfboard in the water: The undisovered islands of São Tomé and Príncipe (Photo by João Ferreira on Unsplash) © Provided by Evening Standard The undisovered islands of São Tomé and Príncipe (Photo by João Ferreira on Unsplash)

São Tomé and Príncipe

Skip the Seychelles for the relatively undiscovered nation of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s Atlantic coast. The rainforest-covered islands cover all the key honeymoon requisites - deserted palm-fringed, white sandy beaches; jungle retreats; and blissfully few tourists - plus they follow Greenwich Mean Time so no energy-sapping jet lag to contend with. South African billionaire Mark Shuttleworth owns the top hotels and nearly all of them can be found on Principe, the smaller of the two islands, which is a 35-minute flight from São Tomé’s small but charming capital of the same name. Bom Bom is a laidback beach resort, Roca Sundy is a tastefully converted former plantation and Sundy Praia Lodge is the tiny nation’s first five-star resort. Snorkle, dive, beach-hop and gorge on chocolate from one of the country’s many cacao plantations.

Best time to visit: June - September

a house with a large pool of water: One&Only's Portonovi hotel is due to open October 2020 (One&Only) © Provided by Evening Standard One&Only's Portonovi hotel is due to open October 2020 (One&Only)

Montenegro

Swap the Amalfi for the Adriatic and hotel-hop down Montenegro’s sparkling coastline. Be one of the first to stay in One&Only’s first European outpost in the slick resort of Portonovi on the shores of the beautiful Boka Bay. Opening October 2020, this uber-luxe hotel will have its own private sandy beach (other beaches in the area are pebble), a state-of-the-art Espace Clenot wellness retreat, speedboats on hand for guests, plus Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli will be at the helm of the hotel’s healthy Italian restaurant Sabia. Then it’s off to The Chedi Lustica Bay on the shorefront of Traste Bay, the star of the new uber-swanky €1.1 billion Lustica Bay marina development. Dress to impress, plonk on a bean bag at The Rok beach bar and watch the super-yachts glide past. Finally, end on a high at Aman’s exceptionally romantic Sveti Stefan, a converted 15th-century fishing village on an island linked to the mainline by a narrow stone path. It doesn’t get much better.

Read our full review of The Chedi Lustica Bay here.

Best time to visit: May - September

a group of people swimming in a body of water: The resort's Sandalwood horses taking their morning dip (Jason Childs) © Provided by Evening Standard The resort's Sandalwood horses taking their morning dip (Jason Childs)

Nihi Sumba, Indonesia

An hour’s flight from Bali lies the largely forgotten island of Sumba, and on the south-west coast, with its own private 2.5km stretch of beach, is the Nihi Sumba eco-resort. Famous for its world-class surf and Sandalwood horses, which are released and gallop freely along the shoreline and splash in the pristine waters each morning. A magical sight. Once the novelty of that’s worn off (it never will, of course), spend the rest of the day lazing by the pool or the beach, stretching it out in the hilltop yoga pavilion or exploring the untouched island. The Spa Safari is a must do. A two-hour hike through rice fields, banana tree groves and even a thatched village to the secluded, over-water spa cabins. Not relaxed enough? That wedding planning is stressful, we know… so book Villa Rahasia for 24-hours. It’s the resort’s ultra-exclusive, cliff-top private villa and comes without internet but with unlimited spa treatments for the ultimate escape.

Read our full review of Nihi Sumba here.

Best time to visit: April - November

a large white tub next to a window: Tub time: soak in the views (Michael Spengler ) © Provided by Evening Standard Tub time: soak in the views (Michael Spengler )

Château du Grand-Lucé, Loire Valley

We can’t think of a better minimoon spot than the converted 18th-century Château du Grand-Lucé. Originally owned by Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay, a good pal of King Louis XV, and set in 80 acres of manicured gardens - with a heated pool - the fine art and antiques found throughout the house and its opulent guest rooms are worthy of a museum. Bedrooms are wonderfully grand with honeymoon-appropriate four-poster beds. Ask the friendly staff to whip up a picnic and head off to explore the grounds. For rainy days, there’s a spa and always a supply of excellent local wine.

Read our full review of Château du Grand-Lucé here.

Best time to visit: April - October

a living room with a fireplace and a large window: The bedroom in Twin Farms' romantic Chalet cottage (Twin Farms) © Provided by Evening Standard The bedroom in Twin Farms' romantic Chalet cottage (Twin Farms)

Twin Farms, Vermont

This one really has everything: six private downhill ski trails, ice skating rink, tennis courts, fishing, kayaking, a spa, and a private swimming pond - all set over 300 acres of beautiful New England woodlands. Honeymooners should book into The Chalet, the most romantic cottage on the grounds with its own private granite hot tub with views of Mount Ascutney and several crackling fire places for cosy nights. The real romantics should book the spa’s Japanese Furo bath for a private soak - swimwear optional. Five hours from NYC, this could make a perfect city-to-calm honeymoon.

Best time to visit: year-round

twinfarms.com/

a view of a city at sunset: (Singita) © Provided by Evening Standard (Singita)

Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Rwanda

Gorilla trekking at Singita’s luxury eco-lodge will be the ultimate bonding experience for you and your new plus one for life. Sustainability is at the heart of everything the brand does, so buckle up for a guilt-free, low-impact wildlife experience to remember. When you’re not busy observing the endangered mountain gorillas, or hiking around the Volcanoes National Park, head to the spa or unwind in one of the lodge’s eight suites. All make the most of the prime location with floor-to-ceiling windows, plunge pools and roaring fireplaces. Singita has a passion for conservation and is the top ecotourism brand in Africa with long term plans to look after the continent’s wildlife. A honeymoon with a heart, if ever we heard it.

Best time to visit: May - November

singita.com/

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