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Honeymoon ideas

By Audley Concierge specialist Georgina

As a concierge specialist I spend a lot of time talking to prospective honeymooners. My main piece of advice? Relaxation comes first. Even if you’re planning an activity-packed honeymoon — be it safari, wildlife watching, a road trip or exploring an entirely new culture — build in some time to unwind as well as head off on adventures.

The honeymoon destinations below offer the opportunity to relax in beautiful surroundings, but that doesn’t just mean beaches. You could find yourself bathing in a ryokan’s hot springs in Japan, looking out over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, or staying in a lodge by the banks of the Zambezi.

My honeymoon suggestions for 2017 and 2018

For a classic beach honeymoon — The Seychelles

Praslin Island, the Seychelles

Praslin Island, The Seychelles

For me, the Seychelles archipelago has some of the world’s finest beaches. They’re often secluded, bordered by a forest of coconut palms and takamata trees. The sand is silky underfoot in some places, crunchy in others, and sometimes strewn with huge granite boulders.

One of the best ways to experience the Seychelles is by island-hopping, spending time on two or three islands. Mahé, the largest, has more going on in terms of culture than other islands, with a daily food market and weekly handicraft bazaars. Tiny La Digue, on the other hand, has a sleepy, backwater feel to it, with pockets of vanilla and coconut plantations. It’s a place for taking gentle bicycle rides to utterly deserted beaches.

On nearby Praslin, you can combine beach relaxation with a day exploring the tangled jungle interior. You’ll feel Lilliputian as you walk underneath huge fronds and Coco de Mer palms with their gargantuan seeds.

Private Denis Island offers even greater seclusion. It has only one hotel of the same name, with rooms taking the form of cottages scattered amid the bougainvillea and casuarina palm trees. They have no Wi-Fi or TV, and you don’t have to walk far to reach a stretch of footprint-free sand. Like almost everywhere in the Seychelles, there’s excellent diving on the surrounding coral outcrops.

For off-the-beaten-track adventure — Namibia

Elephants in Damaraland

Damaraland, Namibia

Jumping to the other end of the scale, Namibia is a destination for those who want to eschew traditional honeymoons completely, and even a traditional safari. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime safari and wilderness experience, think about exploring the country’s Skeleton Coast.

This sweep of foggy, surf-pounded Atlantic coastline stretching all the way north to the Angolan border is where desert meets ocean. The beaches are littered with whalebones and shipwrecks. Further inland, in Damaraland, the landscapes become starker, with mars-like rock formations.

It’s difficult to reach the northern stretches of what is now the Skeleton Coast National Park by vehicle. If you have the budget, you could opt for a safari by light aircraft with the family-run company that pioneered safari in this area (and campaigned for the protection of this coastline), the Schoemans. Journeying in small groups to a flexible itinerary and accompanied by excellent guides, you’ll stay in rustic but comfortable safari camps.

After being picked up from Windhoek, the capital, by light aircraft, you might stop off at Damaraland before reaching the coast where the giant red dunes of the southern Namib Desert fall away to meet the ocean. Here you can visit a local sea lion colony. On another day, you might spend time in a local, nomadic Himba community. Where rivers have cut through the desert, flowing down from the high veld that runs like a backbone down Namibia, there are oases where wildlife gathers. You’ll visit these spots too, looking out for desert-adapted animals such as lion, oryx, elephant, giraffe and rhino. Keep an eye out too for welwitschia — a plant that opens, flowers and closes all within 24 hours of water hitting it.

When it comes to downtime, I recommend flying from Windhoek to Victoria Falls. The Waterberry Zambezi Lodge on the Zambia side is a relaxed and homely property where you can stay in stone or thatched cottages with river or garden views, swim in the outdoor pool and enjoy a sunset drink during an evening river cruise. Set slightly away from the falls, it’s also calmer and quieter than many other lodges.

For culture, cuisine and mountain retreats — Morocco

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Starting your honeymoon in a whirlwind of a city like Marrakesh might seem to counteract my advice about relaxation — but there’s a caveat. Among the crowded medina streets (some so narrow that they seem more like passageways) you’ll find pockets of calm in the shape of riads.

These traditional Moroccan dwellings, ranging from palatial residences to simpler establishments, are built around courtyards — often beautifully tiled and decorated with fountains and mosaics. Behind their cedarwood doors and high earth-toned or alabaster walls, you can escape to roof terraces with pools and views over the distant Atlas Mountains.

Stepping into Marrakesh’s Djemaa El Fna (the main square) is like being catapulted back in time to a medieval fair. You’ll see snake charmers, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, scribes, orange sellers and hawkers of trinkets; at dusk, the air is pungent with shisha smoke and the scent of spices from brightly lit food carts. Radiating out from this square is a spiderweb of souqs selling skeins of wool, leather slippers, spices heaped in pyramids, jewels and even voodoo charms.

Gastronomy-loving couples will find much to enjoy in Morocco. In Marrakesh you could take a cooking class, learning to make dishes such as tagines. Alternatively, head out on a tasting trail of the city, sampling everything from plump dates to sheep cheeks.

For a true retreat, head to the Atlas Mountains proper. Here you can spend time at a kasbah property on a hilltop, with widescreen views over the surrounding mountains terraced with Berber villages. It’s a place for being as lazy or adventurous as you like — sunbathe, try a body scrub and massage in the property’s hammam (traditional Moroccan steam bath), or go on guided hikes in the mountains, perhaps stopping to drink mint tea with a Berber family. 

For a wildlife-focused honeymoon — Borneo

Female orangutan and infant

The orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok, Borneo

Here’s one for serious wildlife fans who are happy to embark on an active honeymoon (the wildlife spotting often involves a certain amount of trekking.)

The Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo’s northern state of Sabah sustains one of the richest ecosystems in the world. Couples can base themselves at one of the lodges tucked into the rainforest that surrounds the wide chocolate-brown river. Mangrove trees plunge buttress roots into the water, climbing vines claw upwards to the canopy and a whole world of fauna and avifauna thrives amid the trees.

I’d allow spending at least two nights here, as this gives you a full day to see as much as possible. The best way to see the wildlife is by boat – you’ll head out early in the morning and again as dusk is falling, when the animals are most active. Small crafts enable you to get close to the riverbanks without disturbing the wildlife. 

Your guide can help point out orangutan making nests and eating the fruit of fig trees. Look out for proboscis monkeys leaping through the trees and feeding on rambutan fruit, and pygmy elephants shunting their young through the undergrowth. At certain lodges you can stay out later in the evening, when the trees begin to sparkle with fireflies.

Orangutan aficionados can combine time on the Kinabatangan River with a stay at Sepilok, a reserve close to the river’s estuary and home to a celebrated orangutan sanctuary.

If you’d like to head deeper into the rainforest, consider staying at the exclusive Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Here you’ll head out on foot with your guides, searching for wild orangutans, gibbons, red-leaf monkeys and hornbills as you traverse the canopy walkways. After dark, go for guided night walks, where you have the chance to spot civets, mouse deer and other nocturnal creatures.

Conveniently, Sabah also lays claim to the best beaches in Borneo. I suggest staying on Gaya Island to relax for a few days on its beaches overlooking Mount Kinabalu.

For beach time and world-class snorkeling, stargazing and scenery — Hawaii

Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Waimea Canyon on Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii’s best beaches are found on Big Island and Maui. If I had to choose just one, I might plump for the beach of Maui’s Hotel Wailea, where succulent green plants crawl out onto an enclosed area of caramel sand with a handful of cabañas.

It’s a great place for honeymooners to unwind in. A far cry from the large resort-style hotels often found in Hawaii, this is a smart property with a fine-dining restaurant and a swimming pool overlooking the ocean. Alternatively, there’s the Four Seasons on Big Island, which has its own beach and a seawater-fed swimming pool that’s frequented by tropical fish. I think there’s a certain novelty to snorkeling in a hotel swimming pool.

If snorkeling appeals, I urge you to take a day trip to Molokini, a partially sunken volcanic crater an hour’s sail by catamaran from Maui. Snorkeling in the shallow water of this horseshoe-shaped caldera, you’ll see all kinds of marine life, from kaleidoscopic triggerfish to moray eels hiding among the coral reefs. On the way home, you can stop to snorkel at Makena, a volcanic finger of solidified lava and now home to a flourishing colony of nesting sea turtles.

For a standout stargazing experience, head to Big Island for a drive to the summit of Mauna Kea — the lack of light pollution has led NASA to set up several observatories here. Tropical vegetation is left quickly behind as you ascend 4.3 km (14,000 ft) through grassland and eventually reach a barren, rocky lunar landscape. After watching the sun set, your guide assembles a telescope and gives you a tour of the night sky — I was able to see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons.

Then there’s the island of Kauai. This is Hawaii untamed — wilder, dense with tropical forest and less visited, although there are a few chic boutique hotels that are ideal for honeymooners. But you really come here for the landscape: take a helicopter ride over jungle-cloaked Waimea Canyon — the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ — or a sailing trip along the Na Pali coast, the filming location of Jurassic Park. Impregnable, impossibly sheer cliffs rise in jagged cones and spikes from the ocean — sections look like a dinosaur’s back. Only reached by boat, water pours down some cliff-faces; in other places, plumes of spray spurt upwards through great blowholes.

For an offbeat cultural honeymoon — Japan

Japanese women wearing traditional kimono's

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Granted, Japan might not immediately shout honeymoon material. Its beaches, though they compare to the Maldives in terms of sand quality and marine life, can be hard to get to.

Instead, I suggest focusing on Honshu, the main island, beginning with the high-tech cosmopolis of Tokyo and visiting rural towns and villages steeped in ancient ways. You can get around easily using the efficient, clean public railway network, including the bullet train.

Although it can be busy, the cherry blossom season (March to April) sees Japan at its most photogenic, making it a choice time for honeymoons. The many gardens of Kyoto are ideal for hanami (‘looking at flowers’) but, happily, the frosted pink petals are found almost everywhere you go, in cities as in the countryside. In Tokyo, you can take a boat ride around the cherry-tree-lined moat of an Edo-period castle, Chidorigafuchi.

After spending several days seeing Tokyo’s highlights, from the outlandish (the Shinjuku Robot Show) to the more traditional (the temple complex at Asakusa), you could move on to the traditional wooden buildings of Tsumago, a small post town. Here you can walk part of the Nakasendo Highway, an ancient mountain byway used in the Edo period. In Kyoto, Japan’s cultural heart, head for the city’s lantern-lit Gion District, where you might spot geisha rushing to their evening appointments. You could also take part in Japanese craft classes, learning (for example) the art of calligraphy at a private Japanese home.

For a more intimate honeymoon experience, I recommend spending a few nights in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). Here you’ll sleep on a futon on tatami matting, receive traditional Japanese hospitality, and dine on kaiseki (multi-course haute cuisine). You can also bathe in an onsen, a traditional hot spring bath. Bathing is usually communal, but some ryokans have rooms with private onsens. After a day’s exploring, it’s pleasant to bathe then don a yukata (light cotton kimono) and geta (traditional wooden shoes) to head out for a pre-dinner stroll through the local streets.  

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