In spite of a literal world of choices, a Modern Bride poll of luxury travel agents ranked Italy and Hawaii respectively as the first and second best honeymoon destinations. If you live by the boundless wisdom of Robert Frost, you’ll be dismayed by the fact that 6,000 travel experts are sending masses of newlyweds to the same overbooked locations. For many of us, a great honeymoon involves more than sunbathing on a beach and sipping colorful cocktails; we want adventure, unique experiences, or to make a difference in someone’s life. Take your honeymoon down the road less traveled: Get inspired to forge a journey that reflects who you are as a couple by considering these suggestions.
Event of a Lifetime
Bond as a couple and immerse yourself in the customs of another country by centering your honeymoon around a specific cultural event. Use the World Events Guide website to discover a region’s traditional celebrations, and narrow down your options from there. Japan and Morocco offer two enchanting events. Originating from a ritual of star worship that was believed to banish malevolent energy, Akita, Japan’s Kanto Matsuri is now celebrated as a prayer for an abundant grain harvest. Be intoxicated by the sound of drums and bamboo flutes as hundreds of lit paper lanterns float by in the dark of an August night. Men balance lantern-laden poles in the likeness of a stalk of rice on their foreheads and lower backs as they parade through town, trying to outdo one another without letting the lanterns go out.
For a spiritual musical experience don’t miss the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez, Morocco. In its 13th year, this week-long event is performed under a great Barbary oak in the Andulucian gardens of the Batha Museum and in the Bab Makina palace courtyard. Scheduled every year in June, the festival has included performances by whirling dervishes, dancing monks of Tibet, American gospel choirs, Sufi and African musicians (Youssou N’Dour, Miriam Makeba), and Japanese drummers. Celebrate your new marriage among the exotic smells, lively colors, and ornate designs of the ancient Muslim holy city of Fez, which is renowned as a place where religions peacefully coexist.
Exercise in Exploration
There are multitudes of tour companies that specialize in crafting active escapades for every interest. You can literally ride off into the sunset with an equestrian vacation through Cross Country International, whose French Loire Valley ride was featured in National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime. This chateau to chateau ride travels through the vineyards, sunflower fields, and forests of the valley, with accommodations in French chateaus, castles, and farmhouses. All meals are included, as well as a wine tasting in Sancerre. For an additional fee, couples can ditch the group (which is a maximum of 10) and hire a private guide to lead them across the terrain more intimately. Trips can suit the needs of every rider, whatever their skill level, although it is recommended that novice riders take a few lessons before their trip. Cross Country International offers a registry that allows wedding guests to contribute money toward the honeymoon of your dreams—be it in Argentina, Hungary, New Zealand, or any of the many rides they offer in 16 different countries. If four legs isn’t your thing, take your two on a hut hiking adventure. Discover a route yourself or use a travel company like Distant Journeys, which specializes in guided group hiking tours and in helping clients create their own self-guided version. Check out the dramatic Italian Dolomites, the limestone range of the Alps that forms spires, canyons, and plateaus, and overlooks spectacular alpine meadows. Each night you’ll reach a different hut with unique qualities and views of the mountain range.
If one of you is determined to make it to a city famously synonymous with romance, take a stab at appreciating their unconventional aspects. Turns out some parts of Paris, the city of love, are not for the faint of heart. Skip the Eiffel Tower and instead, discover the vast network of underground catacombs. Originally limestone and gypsum quarries in the 12th century, the catacombs eventually would store bones, house French resistance fighters and a German base during World War II, lure graffiti artists, and most recently, accommodate an illegal, technologically sophisticated cinema. The only lawful way to visit the site is to descend almost 3,000 feet at Les Catacombes Museum, where the bones of more than six million people line the walls. (Don’t be tempted to snag a souvenir, either—you’ll be patted down upon exit.) If Paris doesn’t float your boat, maybe kayaking in Venice would do the trick. Skip the gondolier ride and kayak through canals and the less crowded lagoon, which harbors a macabre past. Small islands in the lagoon, like Poveglia and Lazaretto Nuovo, played a grim role in history by serving as quarantine areas and mass graves for the Black Plague victims of the 14th century. Poveglia, which is off-limits to the public, is rumored to be haunted—and from the water you can see an abandoned psychiatric hospital and an old church. BYOK (bring your own kayak; inflatable and folding models are available at www.advancedelements.com).
Vow to Volunteer
Did you just promise to love each other in bad times and in sickness? Help others overcome those obstacles by using your honeymoon to give back, while still spending your vacation in a beautiful location. Through Global Crossroad, a volunteer vacation organization, you can travel to Honduras to work at orphanages or with at-risk children—playing, cooking, cleaning, and teaching them English. The Mini-Venture option is a 14-day itinerary that places volunteers with host families and volunteer opportunities at orphanages for the first 10 days, and ends with four days of Honduras exploration, including whitewater rafting, a canopy zip-line tour, and a visit to Pico Bonito National Park. Global Crossroad offers trips to Brazil, Australia, Cambodia, and Kenya, to name a few.
Plan your escape with a company that is committed to making a minimal impact on the environment and the culture of your destination. Geographic Expeditions, recipient of the Conde Nast Top Travel Pro Award in 2006, is a founding member of the Adventure Collection, an alliance of travel agencies promoting ethical travel. GeoEx supports a variety of conservation, cultural resource protection, education, and health care groups. Next year, they’ve pledged to donate one percent of their net annual tour sales to alternative energy technologies managed by Climate Trust, as well as offering travelers a $250 trip voucher for a donation of $250 or more to the Living Planet Trust, which works to offset carbon emissions and helps finance local enterprises in GeoEx’s vacation areas. With this in mind, choose one of their diverse destinations, or work with a travel consultant to forge your own unique getaway. Investigate a journey to Lijiang in Yunnan, China. This ancient city was once part of the Silk Road and offers the striking scenery of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which is home to the Yunnan golden monkey, alpine butterfly, and the sacred black-necked crane. GeoEx arranges accommodations at the Banyan Tree Lijiang, and each room boasts its own private hot tub and garden. The company can also plan a Dongba blessing ceremony, given by the local, animist Naxi people, to sanctify your marriage.