Tuesday 20 February 2018

20 Best: Honeymoons from heaven

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Library image

Pol O' Conghaile

From diving trips in Oman and tango in Argentina to US city breaks and the classic escape to an exotic island, Pól Ó Conghaile has great ideas for every newlywed couple.

Best eco retreat

You'll be for the birds after your wedding, so why not accept your fate and head for the trees? That's the offer at South Africa's Phantom Forest Eco Reserve.

Nestled into an Afromontane forest along the Garden Route, the reserve offers several tree suites built into the forest canopy, surrounded by 150 species of twittering birds, among other wildlife. Facilities include a freshwater pool, and you can add on activities including sailing, mountain biking and bungee jumping.

Details: The Travel Boutique (01-295 9099; thetravel boutique.ie) has a seven-night package in a classic tree suite in Phantom Forest from €1,450pp, including flights.

Best Hawaiian honeymoon

Hawaii has been challenged by other honeymoon hot-spots, but the fact that the Obama clan holidays there regularly has given it cache all over again. Aloha Holidays has a 10-night package starting with a floral lei greeting at Honolulu Airport, followed by five nights in an ocean-view room at the four-star Waikiki Parc or Outrigger Waikiki Beach Hotel in the city. Then it's a quick flight to the garden island of Kauai, with accommodation in the five-star Sheraton or Marriott resort.

Details: Aloha Holidays (01-210 8391; alohaholidays.ie) has this 10-night package from €2,895pps, including all flights, taxes and transfers. Extra nights or islands can be added on request.

Best safari

Tanzania is a country better known for its parts than the whole -- think Serengeti, Zanzibar, Tanganyika and Kilimanjaro. Another is Selous, Africa's largest protected area, and it's from here that the luxury Selous Safari Company stages its wildlife explorations.

This trip includes a six-night safari adventure (Selous is home to more than a million large animals, including half of Tanzania's elephant population) and winds up with three nights at a beach-front cottage overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Details: Tanzania Odyssey (0044 207 471 8780; tanzania odyssey.com) has this nine-night package from €3,986pp for travel from June. Travel before March 6 for €3,287pp.

Best hikers' hideaway

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is better known for blisters than honeymoon bliss, but where there's a will ...

Follow the Camino Walking Tours has a nine-night itinerary based out of a restored 14th-century farmstead (we like the stone fountain in the living room). Activities include a Galician cooking course, a wine tour, horse riding in the countryside, a Champagne balloon flight, a night at the Finisterre Lighthouse and a hike down the last 10km of the Camino. Get on yer boots.

Details: Follow the Camino (followthecamino.com; 1890 252602) has this package from €990pps. Ryanair flies to Santiago via Madrid.

Best self-catering

If you're inclined towards a peaceful honeymoon, with no knocking maids, hovering waiters and other canoodling couples, then self-catering could be the way to go.

Stashed away in the Majorcan hills near s'Horta, Can Alou is a two-bed country cottage fitted out with wooden beams, rustic furniture and exposed stone walls. There's a private pool and brick-built BBQ too, and the garden overlooks several mountain peaks. Cala d'Or is a short drive away.

Details: Mallorca Farmhouses (0044 118 947 3001; mallorca.co.uk) has Can Alou from €602 per week (€2,233 in peak season). Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly to Palma.

Best of the Caribbean

The Caribbean is a long-standing honeymoon playground, and no prizes for guessing why. It can be difficult narrowing a Caribbean vacation down to a single place, however -- unless, of course, you can tell your Anguillas from your Antiguas.

That's one reason the Dominican Republic has been stoking interest as a one-stop shop of late. You won't want for gated beach-front resorts here, but surprises such as the kite-surfing at Cabarete and the lively capital of Santo Domingo are worth checking out too.

Details: Caribbean Collection (01-435 0090; caribbeancollection.ie) has seven nights at the five -star Dreams Punta Cana Resort from €1,012pp (April 16-July 2) and €993pp (September 2-October 31).

Best budget cruise

A honeymoon is an opportunity of a lifetime. After all, when else are you going to have a fat holiday fund, a chunk of time off work and (traditionally, anyway) no kids in tow? If ever there was a time to see the world, this is it.

Then again, you could also have the world come to you.

Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas kicks off a 14-night cruise in Dubai this April, taking in exotic ports such as Muscat, Sharm El Sheikh, the Suez Canal and Alexandria, before docking several clicks west in Barcelona.

Details: Tour America (01-817 3535; touramerica.ie) has this 14-night cruise from €949pp, including flights to Dubai and from Barcelona plus all meals, taxes and charges.

Departs April 19.

Best of Bali

Bali is Indonesia's friendliest destination; a small island that packs a big punch. There'll be no shortage of honeymoon memories either -- including sparkling waves, lush rice terraces, hidden temples, thumping nightclubs, sizzling curries, seaside massages and a fantastic scattering of beaches.

Meliá Bali is a resort hidden away in the Nusa Dua enclave in south Bali, surrounded by tropical gardens and featuring a lagoon pool threaded throughout. Welcome to Southeast Asia.

Details: Tropical Sky (068 56800; tropicalsky.ie) has a 14-night honeymoon on a B&B basis, staying at the Melia Bali Villas & Spa Resort in Bali, from €1,699pp. Flights, taxes and transfers included.

Best Indian Ocean bolthole

The Seychelles, the Maldives, Mauritius ... the Indian Ocean is Grand Central Station for honeymooners, and for good reason. The seas are clear, the beaches white, the coasts peppered with gently swaying palm trees.

Mauritius is the location that stands out, however, because it offers a dose of culture on the side. Buzzing markets, Hindu temples, a fascinating French colonial heritage and the stirring capital of Port Louis make for memories that long outlast postcard prettiness.

Details: Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has seven nights half-board at the five-star Legends resort in Mauritius from €1,390pp, including flights, transfers and taxes.

Best for beach bums

If the Maldivian President is right, climate change will sink his country's necklace of islands before the century is out. Better get there quick then, because when it comes to the basics of honeymooning -- ie, sun, sea and sand -- the Maldives has no competition. Trailfinders has a seven-night escape to South Male' Atoll. The startling fish and crystal-clear lagoon aren't half bad either.

Details: Seven nights at Olhuveli Beach & Spa Resort in the Maldives from €1,369pp, based on May 1-July 2 departures. Flights and transfers included. See trailfinders.ie.

Best of South America

Machu Picchu is something of a honeymoon cliché at this point, with newlyweds hiking into the heavens to find an Inca masterpiece overrun with ... well, other newlyweds and recent, sadly, floods.

Why not take your slush fund instead and head south to Argentina and Brazil? This nine-night package kicks off in Buenos Aires, where you can take in the tango in one of the continent's most romantic cities, before heading via Iguazu Falls to Rio de Janeiro. The Marvellous City is the ideal place to stage your own private Mardi Gras.

Details: Nuevo Mundo (0818 204488; nuevomundo.ie) has this nine-night trip from €2,635pp on a B&B basis in a mix of four and five-star hotels. Flights, taxes and transfers included.

Best European city break

Rome is the eternal city. Paris has its je ne sais quoi. But none can touch Venice for its sheer sense of place. That place, of course, is a lagoon-lodged time capsule from Italy's golden age, and one of the most beloved of cities on Planet Earth.

Despite its expensive reputation, you can find hotels from €52 if you travel off-peak, and there's no shortage of romantic prompts. St Mark's Square, the gondolas, the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs ... Venice may be sinking, but your heart won't.

Details: Hotels.com has the three-star Cà Bragadin Carabba from €52 per room per night, and the five-star Bauer Hotel from €147. Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly to Venice.

Best Atlantic escape

So low is Madeira's profile, it sometimes seems like a forgotten bath toy, adrift 300km off the North African coast. This Portuguese island has been charming visitors for more than a century and a half with its dramatic coast, surprising gardens and lively capital.

The Quintas da Madeira is a collection of 10 traditional manor houses that have been restored into some of the island's finest hotels, ranging from cliff-top boutique properties to old country houses with four-poster beds, antiques and botanical gardens. All are small and private, making them dreamy for newlyweds.

Details: Quintas da Madeira (0044 795 732 2275; quintas-madeira.com) has rooms from €50 a night. In certain quintas, honeymooners receive flowers and Champagne on arrival and one night free when five are booked. Direct scheduled flights between Dublin and Funchal are operated by SATA (01-844 7372; sata.pt).

Best fly/drive

You've seen Sideways, right? There's something about California and the open road that says romance, relaxation and red wine. Tour America has a fly/drive based around flights into San Francisco and out of Los Angeles, with three nights in the former, one in Monterrey, one in San Luis and two in Santa Monica. Great cities, stunning coastal scenery, mountains, beaches and world-class national parks ... get motoring.

Details: Tour America (01-817 3535; touramerica.ie) has this seven-night fly/drive from €769pp based on November departures, with flights, car hire and three-star accommodation.

Best luxury cruise

Size matters hugely to the cruise market these days, but small can be beautiful too. Yachts of Seabourn has its Seabourn Legend leaving Rome on October 2, taking in Florence and the French Riviera before docking seven nights later in Nice. The lodgings match the itinerary -- walk-in closets, marble bathrooms and fine Egyptian cottons. There's a spa and personal stewardesses, too.

Details: John Galligan Travel (01-207 6555; jgt.ie) has this seven-night cruise starting at €2,279pp, excluding flights. Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly from Dublin to Rome and Nice.

Best five-star bargain

Irish five-star hotels continue to cough up the deals of the century, but they're far from alone.

Panorama has seven nights at the Ritz-Carlton in Sharm El Sheikh, the Egyptian package-holiday favourite, from just over €100 per day (provided you book online).

The price includes flights, taxes and transfers, as does another five-star find from Concorde Travel -- a week at the Grand Hermitage Hotel in Bulgaria's Golden Sands starting at a recession-friendly €620pp.

Details: Panorama (0818 202020; panoramaholidays.ie) has this seven-night package for €834pp B&B or €1,016 half-board (book online for a 5pc discount).

Concorde Travel (01-775 9300; concordetravel.ie) has a week at the Melia Grand Hotel Hermitage from €620pp, including flights, transfers and taxes.

Best for dive buddies

Lolling about in a tropical paradise is fine for the first few days of a honeymoon, but what if you're a more active couple? A week is the perfect length of time to gain (or upgrade) your diving qualifications, the principle behind Regal Dive's seven-night package in Oman.

This trip is based out of the Shangri-La Resort in the Bay of Al Jissah -- where there's a chance of seeing eagle rays, turtle and even pilot whales -- and a three-night 4WD tour can be tagged on if you want land-based exploration too.

Details: Regal Dive (0044 135 365 9999; regaldive.co.uk) has this seven-night package starting from £967/€1,110pp, including flights (from Heathrow). Dive packs start at £140/ €160pp for six dives.

Best Brazilian beaches

Thought the Copacabana was Brazil's best beach? Think again. Muro Alto, in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, is better-looking and less crowded.

Forming a 2.5km-long tidal pool with its offshore reefs, the beach is next door to the Nannai Resort, described as one of the country's finest (book a luxury bungalow if a private pool sounds tempting). If you fancy something livelier, the bars and restaurants of Porto de Galinhas are 10 minutes by beach buggy (also a good bet for raft-sailing trips).

Details: Nuevo Mundo (0818 204488; nuevomundo.ie) has a seven-night package at the Nannai Resort from €2,198pp on a half-board basis, including flights, taxes and transfers.

Best animal encounter

The Galapagos Islands may not be as edge-of-the-earth as they were in Darwin's day, but sensitive handling by Ecuador has kept their extraordinarily unfazed wildlife intact ("nowhere else can you engage in a staring competition with wild animals and lose," as Lonely Planet puts it). This two-week trip includes a 10-day Galapagos tour, with cruising on board GAP 6, one of the most luxurious catamarans in the islands.

Details: Trailfinders (01-881 4994; trailfinders.ie) has this two-week package from €4,299pp, including all flights, accommodation, cruising, park entry fees and taxes.

Best US city break

Sin City is enjoying something of a second wind lately, thanks to a flood of new hotel rooms coming online at exactly the wrong time (for the hotels, that is -- visitors have never had it so good).

Match that to some great shows, mega-casinos, weird wedding chapels and discount shopping outlets, and Vegas is definitely on the up.

It still has a way to go to catch New York, however -- the world's favourite city break by a country mile. It's your honeymoon, so why not do both?

Details: Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has three nights at the four-star Barclay Intercontinental in New York, and three nights at the Encore in Las Vegas, including flights and taxes, from €939pps.

Irish Independent

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