Explore Your Options Together
From unabashedly romantic to arduously adventurous, here are a dozen ways to get your new life rolling.
Dunbrody Country House
Romancing the Isle
The traditional wedding stone may be a diamond, but you could find yourself wrapped in romance if you go with an emerald instead. Make that the Emerald Isle—Ireland. The lush green landscape, with its rolling hills and rocky shores, is enough to make hearts race. Explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, the small towns and neighborhood pubs. Add in the excitement of cosmopolitan Dublin—the famed Temple Bar, the library of Trinity College with its 1,200-year-old Book of Kells, the James Joyce trail—and you’ll make lifelong memories that linger on the palate like the foamy first draught of a pint o’ Guinness.
LUXURY: Built two centuries ago and operated by Ireland’s most famous chef, the Dunbrody Country House (above) is located on the dramatic Hook Peninsula 90 miles south of Dublin. The house sits on 200 acres of parkland and is close to the many artisanal workshops of Waterford. Kevin Dundon and his wife, Catherine, own the hotel, operating it in the fashion of a chef-run French inn. It has a cooking school, spa and more atmosphere than you can digest in a month. There’s even a private lodge on the property if you just can’t bear sharing your significant other with others. Prices vary by room type and season, but expect $250-$420 per night. dunbrodyhouse.com
MODERATE: Every bride should feel like a princess, and every princess needs a castle. Ballyseede Castle (right) in Tralee, County Kerry, has everything needed to fulfill whatever royal fantasies you may have. Dating back to the 16th century, the castle was the ancestral stronghold of the Fitzgeralds, who defied the Irish crown for 300 years. After the beheading of the 16th Earl in 1590, the castle passed into the Blenhassert family where it remained until the 1960s. It’s now a grand hotel set on 30 beautifully landscaped acres of parkland. Nearby attractions include the Ring of Kerry, oceanside golf courses, the Dingle Peninsula and even an indoor water park. Expect to pay about $180 per night. ballyseedecastle.com
BUDGET: Get right into the spirit of Dublin at the Harcourt Hotel, located in a group of buildings that include the home of novelist, playwright and social reformer George Bernard Shaw. Within walking distance of the Temple Bar, St. Stephens Green and Trinity College, the Harcourt is an inexpensive hotel with an impressive location. The biggest room in the house goes for about $100 a night, with doubles going for about $80 depending on the day of week and season. harcourthotel.com
For a honeymoon of adventure, look no further than Canada, where the Rocky Mountaineer travels over the towering Canadian Rockies.
High Country Adventures
They say marriage is the ultimate challenge, so why not start yours with a real adventure? While the world is awash in the unusual, the spine-tingling and the downright dangerous, you needn’t look any further than Canada for your thrills. Easy to get to, English-speaking and supremely safe, Canada is exciting for all the right reasons. Ride the rails through the Canadian Rockies, view polar bears from a safe vantage point, explore the Arctic or casually canoe the Boundary Waters. Amazing, eh?
LUXURY: Adventure Canada has an impressive portfolio of packages, offering everything from hanging with polar bears in Churchill to cruising the high Arctic. One of the company’s signature trips is a 10-day voyage aboard the Clipper Adventurer, an ocean liner-style expedition ship that will cruise from Resolute, along Baffin Island and across to Greenland. Ever seen a narwhal? Didn’t think so—but you could on this trip. Prices range from $4,045 to $11,445 per person. adventurecanada.com
MODERATE: Moving from the high Arctic to the high peaks of Western Canada, the Rocky Mountaineer train (right) travels some of the most scenic railways in the hemisphere. Glass-topped coaches provide a panoramic view of dramatic mountains, fields of wildflowers, scenic rivers and endless blue skies. Itineraries cover several different stretches of track along Canada’s west coast. The premier package originates in Vancouver, heads up and over the Rockies, ending in Banff, with a helicopter trip through the mountains. Prices vary by date, destination and length of trip, but range from $2,100 to $3,330 per person. rockymountaineer.com
BUDGET: The largest international wildlife preserve in the world, the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area is an aquatic highway between Minnesota to the south and Ontario to the north. North Country Canoe Outfitters caters to honeymooners with a special five-day package that includes a lightweight canoe and all the gear and supplies you’ll need to explore the vast, scenic BWCWA by yourselves. You’ll be paddling instead of being pampered, but the isolation is inspiring and entrancing. Prices vary by length of trip and style of equipment, but the average range runs $375 to $1,045 per person. boundarywaters.com
The Caribé Hilton
Rest, Relax, Regroup
After the nonstop madness of the wedding, you might want to gear down instead of gearing up. If that’s you, consider heading to the Caribbean, one of the most relaxing places on the planet. Sure, you can nap almost anywhere, but if you’re going to be lazy, why not do it in a place where it’s warm and you can lie under a palm tree overlooking laser-blue water while someone fetches you drinks adorned with little umbrellas? Picking the “right” Caribbean destination is like picking a diamond out of a box of jewels; there are so many options it can be dizzying. Of course, we do have some favorites.
LUXURY: Nevis is the slightly more rural sibling of St. Kitts, but there’s nothing unsophisticated about this volcanic dot in the Leeward Islands. A rainforest cloaks the flanks of the central volcanic peak, thinning to a palm-speckled fringe at the water’s edge. Hiking, sunning and indulging in the local culture—there are festivals throughout the year—are the main activities. The place to enjoy them from is the Four Seasons Nevis. It has everything you go to a resort for: a Robert Trent Jones II golf course, spa, three pools, a beach, 10 tennis courts (hard and clay), hiking, biking, diving, sailing, surfing, snorkeling and kayaking. It’s also close to Sunshine’s Beach Bar, home of the Killer Bee—an infamously addictive concoction of passion fruit juice, 151-proof rum and nutmeg that’ll keep you celebrating long into the night. Rates vary by season (approximately $700 per night high season/$350 low season) and there are packages available that offer resort credits and discounts that reduce the cost by up to 20 percent. fourseasons.com/nevis
MODERATE: If you want a stronger foreign flavor, go a little farther south, to Cartagena, Colombia (right). This beach resort city is a must for history buffs. Founded in 1533, its historic central district, enclosed by fortified walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls of the city and the restored fortress, bristling with cannons, are fascinating, but Cartagena has a rich present as well. Located on the Caribbean, the city is a beach town at heart. You can take a car or ferry to Playa Blanca or a boat excursion to Islas del Rosario just offshore. Inexpensive and reliable accommodations are available at the oceanfront Hilton Cartagena Hotel. There are four pools, tennis courts, a sauna and restaurants serving both international and local foods. Rates vary by season, but a spacious ocean view room will run you about $300 a night. hilton.com
BUDGET: There are few islands easier to get to than Puerto Rico. As a U.S. commonwealth, there’s no need for a passport and there are direct flights daily from Orlando. Once you get there, you can spend your time brushing up on history in the Old City or appreciating modern art at the city’s superb museum, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, playing the golf courses, betting in the casinos or eating some of the best food in the Caribbean. Oh, yeah, you can also just chill on the beach. The Caribé Hilton (left) is a few miles from the Old City and just across the channel from the frenetic Condado district. The subject of a $45 million makeover a few years back, the beachfront property sits on 17 landscaped acres with a private lagoon and a clutch of restaurants and lounges. These include a Morton’s steakhouse and the Oasis, the home of the original piña colada. There are tennis courts, pools, a spa and even an historic Spanish fort on the premises. Rates vary by season, but expect to pay about $180 a night (plus resort fee) to start. hilton.com
Maybe your ideal honeymoon is a full retreat, someplace you and yours can hide out from the world and just enjoy each other. If so, put away your passport—there are a number of stellar destinations in the United States that will satisfy the urge to disappear for a while. If you’re planning a summer wedding, you may want to go north, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the famed Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Closer at hand, but still cool in the summer and with just the right touch of winter chill, The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va., has been hosting heads of state and those who appreciate the finer things in life for more than 100 years. Even closer, and less expensive, the Smoky Mountain town of Gatlinburg, Tenn., offers country comfort and cabins in a spectacular natural setting.
LUXURY: Anxious for some solitude? How about being on an island. With no cars. And no bridges. Mackinac Island in Lake Huron has been ranked one of the world’s top 10 islands by Condé Nast Traveler, and indeed it has a healthy helping of mid-America, turn-of-the-century charm. It’s famous for its fudge, you can ride horseback (or drive a horse-drawn carriage), hike (80 percent of the island is state park), bicycle or just take in the small-town atmosphere at the numerous shops and restaurants. The best place to explore Mackinac from is the Grand Hotel (above). The enormous Victorian structure has been welcoming guests since 1887 and it has been a must-see for the wealthy and tourists ever since; Mark Twain lectured at the Grand Hotel and two movies (starring Jimmy Durante and Jane Seymour, respectively) were filmed here. There are, of course, a swimming pool, restaurants, spa and golf course, but also private cottages. The hotel is open from May through November each year (the lake freezes solid and the island can be reached by snowmobile in the winter), so rooms are appropriately priced: expect to pay about $600 a night for room and a full meal plan, though there are a number of packages available that can reduce the nightly rate considerably. grandhotel.com
MODERATE: Tourists started arriving at the site of The Homestead in 1760, just six years after Scotch-Irish settlers moved into this little valley in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. The area is pocked with natural-flowing warm mineral springs, the largest of which is on The Homestead property. A lodge built here in 1766 is considered the forerunner of the modern resort, which was begun by a group of investors headed by J.P. Morgan. Located about three hours north of Greensboro, N.C., in western Virginia, the current building dates to 1901. The Homestead consistently ranks among the best resorts in the U.S. in part because of its stellar natural setting and because of its history of nonpareil service. You can retreat to a cozy traditional style room with a four-poster bed and be waited on hand and foot. But if you’re in the mood for a diversion, this place has plenty: there’s a full Alpine ski resort, fly fishing in streams, horseback riding, spa, golf courses (Sam Snead caddied here as a youngster) and more. Rates vary by season. A spacious room with a good view will run you about $300 per night but there are smaller rooms scattered throughout the resort available for about $225 a night. thehomestead.com
BUDGET: Mountain views and cool air are available closer to home, too. Gatlinburg, Tenn., (left) is on the northeast edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with a large supply of vacation cabins available in all sizes and styles. Gatlinburg itself is part resort town, part honky-tonk and a whole lot of down-home fun. Over the years, the food choices have gotten more varied and more sophisticated, but keep in mind you’re visiting a national park, not Park Avenue. In addition to the inevitable dry sled runs, zip lines, observation towers and putt-putt courses, the park itself is a genuine national treasure. Drive through Cades Cove, or, better yet, rent horses for a trek up the mountain. There’s superb fishing in nearby streams and, if you don’t want anyone to bother you, they won’t. Cabins can be rented for as little as $100 a night, and go up from there into the luxury range, depending on size, location and amenities. gatlinburg.com