With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many a sparkly bauble will be proffered — and many a wedding planned as a result. After the gown is chosen and the venue booked, thoughts turn to my favorite part of any wedding conversation: the honeymoon.
Wedding planning is exhausting — which is why, when it comes to the honeymoon, it’s tempting to follow tradition and head to Paris, Italy, Hawaii or the Caribbean.
But particularly at peak seasons, these time-honored spots can get awfully crowded. Whether it’s intimacy and solitude you’re seeking, or just something a little more offbeat, here are some modern alternatives to the classic honeymoon destinations.
1. Instead of Paris, try Vienna. Paris may be the quintessential city for Old World romance. Yet I would argue that the city of Freud and Schönberg, Strauss and Mahler is even more voluptuously romantic than Paris. Its historic core is a visual feast of baroque and fin-de-siecle architecture, with lavish palaces and grand parks that feel like a fairytale come to life.
For culture vultures with a certain strain of European nostalgia, Vienna’s formal balls and glamorous opera houses are the essence of romance. As are the many Art Nouveau cafés, all candlelight and dark wood, ideal for whiling away afternoons over scrumptious pastry and thick, creamy coffee. And of the rivers running through European cities, the Viennese Danube might just be the loveliest; take a day cruise and leave the city behind for a landscape of green mountains, storybook villages, and sailboats gliding along the shimmering river of Strauss’s immortal waltz.
2. Instead of the Caribbean, try Ilhabela, Brazil. All the classic elements of a Caribbean honeymoon are available: sparkling coves, swaying palms, eco-chic hotels and fish restaurants. But instead of being packed with American vacationers, Ilhabela, just 120 miles east of São Paulo off the coast of São Sebastião, is the favored weekend getaway of Jewish Paulistas and other urbanites. Lucky for them, this tropical paradise is just three-and-half hours away by car and ferry.
Despite crowds that can create some nasty traffic jams in high season (January and summer weekends), Ilhabela lives up to its name as the “beautiful isle” with miles and miles of UNESCO-protected biosphere. Exploring the jungle-like forests, nature enthusiasts will find stunning waterfalls and varicolored butterflies. Beaches are plentiful and unspoiled, with lush green mountains in the background and calm, limpid waters perfect for swimming or snorkeling.
Colonial buildings — some dating to the 16th century — lend a quaint charm to the small, friendly island towns; nightlife is gradually evolving as sophisticated Paulistas import their urbane sensibility, but a laid-back atmosphere prevails. All in all, Ilhabela is a romantic, relaxing choice with a decidedly Brazilian accent.
3. Instead of Big Sur, try Cannon Beach, Ore. The California shore is heart-stoppingly romantic — but the Oregon coast is mistier, more rustic and less well traveled.
With its art galleries, quaint wooden cottages and windswept beauty, Cannon Beach is the sort of vaguely bohemian coastal village that has long attracted lovers.
As with so many idylls, the trend is upscale; the influence of Portland hipsters is evident in a blossoming farm-to-table foodie scene. But Cannon Beach is still a place where couples come to stroll the wide-open beaches, ogle the vast Pacific by horseback, and peruse starfish-filled tide pools.
The town itself is a sliver of rocky coastline wedged between two state parks near the Washington border. You can reach the town by driving an hour and a half west from Portland, but the scenic route — along the Oregon coastal highway — is worth the detour.
In any case, the lush hills east of town are home to some of the West Coast’s finest wineries.
In short, the northern Oregon coast is ideal for honeymooners who love nature, savor fine food and wine, and prefer their beaches sans heat and humidity (or even sunshine).
4. Instead of mainland Italy, try Sardinia. Italy is a honeymoon cliché for a reason (full disclosure: it’s where I spent my own post-nuptial vacation, and I’d do it again). But throngs of camera-toting tour groups are not everyone’s idea of romance, and Florence and Venice can get seriously overcrowded.
Stunning, sunbaked Sardinia is and isn’t Italy. The sprawling, untamed island near the African coast has its own language, distinctive multiethnic heritage (including two millennia of Jewish history), and the sensation of existing somewhere outside of time. Solitary trails wend along the rocky coastline; pale aqua waters are so pristine they resemble a swimming pool. The jovial bustle that defines Rome and Naples is markedly absent in the quiet alleys of Cagliari and Castello, though the exquisite wines and fresh, simple fare is recognizably Italian.
And while the island’s Costa Smeralda sees its share of yacht-launching tourists, Sardinia is still one of the Mediterranean’s least-explored corners — making it a romantic and original choice for newlyweds.