Gone are the days when honeymooners were content to stay in their hotel, stretch out on the sand and spend a few lazy days in the sun.
Couples today want a once-in-a-lifetime experience for their honeymoon and are willing to go the distance for something memorable.
Destinations such as Iceland, South Africa and Eastern Europe are increasingly popular, says Ms Leana Doray, one of the co-founders of The Wedding Scoop online wedding portal.
“Singaporeans are on a constant search for new things, so we’re seeing interest in less ‘obvious’ honeymoon destinations,” she says.
Couples are also taking longer honeymoons of two to three weeks or longer, she says, and are willing to prioritise adventure over comfort.
However, the destination they choose still depends on their personal interests.
We want to unwind and experience a new place. Nice weather, scenery, good food, wineries and welcoming locals make us happy and, from what I’ve heard, South Africa seems like a perfect fit.
MS VENELYN CHIN on why she and her fiance chose South Africa as their upcoming honeymoon destination
She says: “Some look for adventure and exotic places, others want a comfortable destination with great food, shopping and sightseeing. We also see some couples looking for destinations with rich histories and old-world charm.
“Some of our more nostalgic couples plan their honeymoons around revisiting places they travelled to early in their relationships.”
With adventure in mind, public relations executive Venelyn Chin, 26, and her fiance opted for a road trip in South Africa for their upcoming honeymoon in December.
The couple will spend 13 days exploring the country, flying domestically from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth where they will start their drive along the famous Garden Route to Cape Town.
From Cape Town, they plan to take day trips to landmarks such as Cape of Good Hope and Paternoster, visiting one or two safari parks along the way.
The itinerary is a happy balance of scenery and natural landscape for him and city life for her.
“We enjoy road trips as they allow us the flexibility to explore at our own pace,” says Ms Chin.
“We are not thrill-seekers who look for things like bungee-jumping and skydiving. Instead, we want to unwind and experience a new place. Nice weather, scenery, good food, wineries and welcoming locals make us happy and, from what I’ve heard, South Africa seems like a perfect fit.”
Ms Chin is one of a growing number of Singaporean travellers seeking more unique, adventurous honeymoons, in line with the trend of people seeking out more active vacations in general.
A recent survey conducted by Hotels.com revealed that 21 per cent of Singaporeans have gone on active vacations, participating in activities such as hiking, cycling and mountaineering, and another 50 per cent of respondents were planning to take an adventurous trip in the near future.
And when booking website Mr & Mrs Smith, which specialises in identifying inspiring boutique hotels for couples, launched its honeymoon hub (www.mrandmrssmith.com/honeymoons) last year, it quizzed 500 Singaporeans about their honeymoon habits.
Eighty per cent of respondents said they spent time exploring their destination rather than spending all of their time in the hotel on their honeymoon.
In a global survey conducted by Booking.com last year, 45 per cent of respondents planned to be more adventurous in their choice of destination this year and 47 per cent wanted to visit a destination or stay in unique accommodation that none of their friends had been to before. “We’re seeing evidence all round of an ever-growing appetite to embrace undiscovered environments in an authentic way,” says a company spokesman.
So even when couples do opt for a beach honeymoon, they want something memorable and are usually willing to pay more for it, says Mr Callum Brown, general manager of Flight Centre Asia travel agency.
When event sales manager Nicholas Chew, 28, was planning his honeymoon, he and his fiancee were deciding between seeing the landscape and Northern Lights in Iceland or sunning themselves in the Maldives.
As beach lovers, they opted for the latter and were pleased with their decision.
The couple booked seven days at the Club Med Finolhu with Chan Brothers Express, but did way more than laze on the beach.
They went on snorkelling excursions where they saw reef sharks and large schools of fish.
And every morning, Mr Chew would wake up, have breakfast in bed, then jump straight into the crystal-clear waters right at their doorstep and feed the manta ray, which would swim up to their water villa.
“I was pampered like a king. We had a personal buggy and a butler who even unpacked our suitcases. The villa, the water and excursions were fantastic,” says Mr Chew.
“Every moment was a highlight. It exceeded every expectation. I would have stayed there forever.”
Newlyweds need not travel to the ends of the earth for the perfect honeymoon.
Sri Lanka is a jewel of a destination, offering mist-shrouded highlands and pristine beaches, charming colonial architecture and thrilling safari excursions, just a four-hour flight away.
It is an ideal honeymoon spot, with as much to see and do as any spirited couple could wish for, while also promising quiet and intimate retreats.
The cultural heart of the country, Kandy is home to the golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which houses a tooth of the Buddha and is Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic. Tour the temple and admire its gilded shrines and vibrant, intricately painted walls.
Couples planning their honeymoon for July or August should time their trip to coincide with the annual Esala Perahera festival, when the tooth is paraded through the streets in an ecstatic procession of fire dances, drummers and lavishly adorned elephants, and the typically laid-back city is a hive of celebration for the course of the 10-day festival.
Outside the city, the emerald hills and valleys invite couples to slow down, luxuriate in the landscape and take deep breaths of fresh mountain air. The region is known for its tea plantations and the hillsides are lined with their perfectly proportioned rows.
At an altitude of 1,250m near Hatton in central Sri Lanka, Ceylon Tea Trails (www.resplendentceylon.com/teatrails) resort is the ideal base for exploring – or indulging in – the scenery.
The resort, composed of five fully restored colonial-era tea planter residences, decorated with period furnishings, is the embodiment of tranquillity.
Situated along the banks of a serene mountain lake, the resort specialises in pampering its guests with butler service, gourmet cuisine, spa treatments and panoramic views of the unspoilt landscape.
The surrounding valley is veined with biking and hiking trails, and walking paths through colourful gardens and tea plantations.
Couples can visit the nearby tea plantations for a tasting or venture farther to Adam’s Peak, a 2,243m- high mountain in the south of the central highlands, famous for a rock formation that is considered the footprint of Buddha and one of the country’s highlights.
A sacred site for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, this statuesque mountain has been a centre of pilgrimage for more than 1,000 years.
Visitors can start the trek from Maskeliya, near Tea Trails’ Norwood Bungalow, and walk 6.5km of trail, most of it steps, to the peak.
The ascent typically takes 3 1/2 hours and is at its best early in the morning, so couples can watch the sunrise from the mountaintop.
For turquoise waters and white-sand beaches, head south to Tangalle. The coast offers snorkelling and scuba-diving for all levels, whale-watching and fishing. Couples can also relax and enjoy the cool shade of coconut palms.
With money saved by not spending a few thousand dollars on flights, newlyweds might indulge in a five-star escape such as Amanwella (www.aman.com/resorts/amanwella). The Aman resort near Tangalle is a haven of 27 contemporary luxury suites, plunge pools and ocean views.
Yala National Park is a two-hour’s drive away, where explorers might see elephants, leopards, water buffalo and the Sri Lankan sloth bear.
Colonial facades and fortresses are the highlight of Galle and Colombo in the west. Step back in time and spend a night at the historic, newly refurbished Galle Face Hotel (gallefacehotel.com), an icon of old-world splendour.
Thousands of years of history are palpable across every town, city and island in Greece.
Whether walking along the battered streets of Athens or on a dusty provincial lane, turning the corner to suddenly see a 3,000-year-old structure standing casually by the roadside is an incredible, awe- inspiring experience.
Greece may not be the only country with millennia of history, but it is one of the few places where it resonates so deeply from within the land and its people.
On the islands, when the sun is high, the cicadas are singing and you have been lazing on the sand, there are few things more pleasurable than biting into a slice of fresh watermelon and diving into the cool Aegean sea, feeling its crisp saltiness wash the heat off your skin.
There is something for everyone in Greece. Every island has its own character and attractions to suit every couple’s needs.
Santorini and Mykonos are the common entry points into the Greek islands and are recommendable outside of their peak tourist season in July and August, when they are too crowded to enjoy.
Santorini is the more famously romantic of the two.
A waxing crescent of earth wrapped around an ancient caldera, it offers towering clifftop villages, excellent walking trails with spectacular views, blazing sunsets and, at night, winding cobblestone streets warmly lit by lanterns and fairy lights.
Couples can hike the length of the island and the adventurous can charter a boat to swim into the sulphur hot springs that flow from between Nea and Palea Kameni islands in the centre of the caldera.
Although dormant, Santorini is an active volcano and swimming in the opaque water, surrounded by walls of cooled lava, is a unique and thrilling experience.
Couples who like to party and prefer an island with vibrant nightlife should head to Mykonos.
With a handful of fantastic beach clubs – check out Scorpios (www.scorpiosmykonos.com), Nammos (www.nammos.gr) and JackieO’ (www.jackieomykonos.com) – bars and restaurants open till the early hours of the morning, you have time to get lost in the winding, blinding white streets of Mykonos town, where the party does not start until after midnight.
Couples looking for a romantic adventure off the beaten track can consider Paphos, a town on the south-western coast of Cyprus, where Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was born.
Paphos has been named a European Capital of Culture this year and the area around the ancient port boasts several Greek and Roman ruins, including Paphos Archaeological Park with remarkably well-preserved ancient mosaics; Kourion, a spectacular 2,000-seat amphitheatre built into the hillside overlooking the sea and is still used for summer performances; and the Aphrodite temple, which was built in 1500BC.
Take the opportunity to watch the sunset at Aphrodite’s Rock, where the mythical goddess was born.
South Africa’s allure as a honeymoon destination is that it does so many things superbly well. From beautiful landscapes to wildlife, the country does not do things by halves.
It is ideal for couples who want an unforgettable road trip, since the best way to explore the country is by car.
Start with its stunning Garden Route, flying into Port Elizabeth and making your way to Storms River in the Eastern Cape. From there, drive 300km along the coast through ancient forests, over mountains and past pristine beaches, caves, lakes and fields of indigenous fynbos to the end of the route in Mossel Bay.
Adrenaline junkies can get their fix another 300km west in Gansbaai, the best place in the world to see the great white shark. It is a controversial practice and not for the faint of heart, but climbing into a steel cage and staring into the jaws of a monstrous great white shark is certainly an experience you will never forget.
Across the bay, the charming seaside town of Hermanus is one of the best places in the world for whale- watching. Every year from July to November, 100 to 200 southern right whales gather to breed in the bay and visitors can see them swimming and breaching from lookout points all along the cliff, on whale- watching boat tours or by kayak for the adventurous.
The landscape here is unique, with quiet, well-paved roads curving along apple orchards and mountainsides covered in pine.
Hermanus is just 160km from Cape Town, but foodies and wine lovers should first spend a couple of days exploring the quaint towns and picturesque vineyards of the Stellenbosch region.
Most vineyards are located between the verdant valleys surrounded by magnificent mountains and cliffs, offering breathtaking scenery while you nibble on slices of local cheese and sipping world-class wines at cellar doors. Buy a few bottles of your favourite wines as a honeymoon souvenir.
The region is also home to some of the country’s top restaurants, such as The Garden Room at Le Quartier Francais (leeucollection.com/lqf/the-garden-room) in Franschhoek and Overture (bertusbasson.com) in Stellenbosch, which serve modern South African cuisine, highlighting locally grown, seasonal produce.
Eating out in South Africa is relatively inexpensive and a seven-course tasting menu at the best restaurants will rarely cost more than $200 a person, wine included. Most other meals will be a fraction of the price.
Also spend time exploring the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl and admire the Cape Dutch architecture found there.
Once you have had your fill, continue on to Cape Town, one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world, less than an hour’s drive away.
Take in its unique culture, rich heritage and troubled history at the city’s museums – the District Six Museum (www.districtsix.co.za) offers a moving and informative insight into the effects of apartheid – sample the unique fusion of Cape Malay cuisine in the candy-coloured Bo Kaap neighbourhood and drive to the oceanside suburb of Camps Bay for good seafood.
Do not miss the opportunity to hike or abseil on the iconic Table Mountain, admiring the breathtaking panoramic views from the top.
From Cape Town, fly to Johannesburg and drive four hours to Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, in the country’s north-east. There, you have a chance of spotting the Big Five – lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo – as well as hundreds of other mammals such as springbok and zebras, which call the park home. Sitting in a jeep surrounded by trees and tall grass and admiring an elephant or a lion ambling a dozen metres away is an unforgettable experience.
Then head back to camp – a honeymoon splurge on a night in a luxurious tent – and settle in for the night. What better way to end your honeymoon than watching the sun set over the savanna.
Peru may have 2,414km of gorgeous coastline, but its sensational beaches and seaside cliffs are not the reason people fly 30 or more hours to get there.
Most are heeding the call of the Andes mountains and the enigmatic Incan ruins amid their dramatic, towering peaks.
Despite the ever-increasing flood of tourists to the site, Machu Picchu remains a highlight of any trip to the South American country.
Situated 2,400m high in the mountains, its stone walls, terraces and ramps have been recognised as one of the “greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Inca civilisation” by Unesco, which declared it a World Heritage Site in 1983.
For many, the journey there is as much an attraction as the destination itself. The fit and adventurous join the Inca Trail, the most famous trek in South America and one of the best treks in the world.
The four-day, 43km trek takes visitors high into the region’s epic mountain scenery, through subtropical and evergreen cloud forests and over ancient Inca paving stones to the Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Winay Wayna ruins, before arriving at Machu Picchu for sunrise on the fourth day of the trek.
Life goal complete, newlyweds can turn their attention to Peru’s many other delights.
Even though it is not the biggest country in South America, Peru’s range of destinations and activities available means that visitors who have allocated two or three weeks for their trip will still have to make some tough choices about how they spend their time.
Rest and rejuvenate in Cusco, the former Incan capital now known for its archaeological remains, Spanish colonial architecture and vibrant San Pedro market. The romantic Inkaterra La Casona boutique hotel (www.inkaterra.com), a converted 16th-century manor with 11 luxury suites, is an ideal base.
Next, honeymooners can retreat into the peaceful tranquillity of Colca Canyon in southern Peru, one of the deepest canyons in the world (almost 4,000m deep in some places) and another well-known trekking destination.
Travellers come here for the treks, views of green valleys and the the giant Andean condors which live there, and visits to traditional villages.
Farther south, along the border with Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is famed for its floating villages and mirror-like stillness.
Or fly over the mysterious Nazca lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs of birds, fish, llamas, jaguars and more in the desert 400km south of Lima, which were created by the Nazca culture between 500BC and 500AD.
Reserve a couple of days for exploring Lima and sample its award- winning cuisine prepared by some of the best chefs in the world.
Then climb aboard a luxury Amazon river cruise with Aqua Expeditions (www.aquaexpeditions.com). Its 45m-long Aria Amazon is a floating five-star hotel with 16 suites featuring floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views of the passing scenery.
The company offers three-, four- or seven-night cruises along the river, with excursions and naturalist- guided jungle treks taking guests deep into the Amazon rainforest.
When they are tired of touring, newlyweds can take a dip in the onboard water-jet tub, dine on five-star Peruvian cuisine or enjoy a glass of wine on the observation deck and admire the landscape’s array of mammals and birds.
No matter which route they choose, it is guaranteed to be an extraordinary honeymoon.
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN
Without a doubt, San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Situated on Spain’s lush northern coast near the border of France, the city is a jewel of Belle Epoque architecture, phenomenal food and picturesque mountain trails.
It is a small, centralised city, which means that there is not a lot of pressure to see and do dozens of things while you are there.
In the summer, the beaches are lined with sunbathers and the ocean is brimming with surfers. At night, the narrow old town streets are alive with tourists and locals alike chatting with friends – a globe of gin and tonic in one hand and pintxos (pronounced pin-chose) in the other.
To say pintxos are bite-sized bar snacks feels like an insult, yet that is what they are, the most delicious morsels of jamon, olives, anchovies, seafood salad or grilled vegetables typically served onslices of bread.
San Sebastian is alsohome to one of the highest number of Michelin stars a square meter in the world, second to Kyoto. Three of Spain’s seven three-Michelin-starred restaurants are in San Sebastian, including Mugaritz (www.mugaritz.com), the ninth best restaurant in the world.
For honeymoon-worthy accommodation, check out Hotel Maria Cristina (www.hotel-mariacristina.com/en). One of the best hotels in the country, Maria Cristina has updated its luxurious interiors to suit modern tastes while staying true to its old-world style.
To prepare yourself for a night of bar-hopping and pintxos-sampling, stroll along the seaside at La Concha promenade to La Perla (www.la-perla.net/en), a Belle Epoque spa tucked into the promenade. Its saltwater hydrotherapy pools are at eye level with the beach – perfect for people-watching.
Couples can embark on one of the many short nature walks or day hikes to fishing villages along the coast and up into the mountains and hills around the city.
Even more ambitious trekkers can take on the northern route of the Camino de Santiago. Originally a religious pilgrimage, the walk starts in San Sebastian and runs along the Basque coast, through quaint fishing villages and the region’s capital Bilbao – about 650km – until the city of Santiago de Compostela. You can do all or a portion of it, keeping in mind that the whole trail takes more than five weeks to complete.
PLANNING TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS
Mr Callum Brown, general manager of Flight Centre Asia: “Try to have a balance of experiences and destinations you both will enjoy. It is a journey of exploration and discovery, done together.
“Start your planning early to stretch your dollar. Airlines and hotels often run early-bird sales or have advance purchase promotions which you can leverage on when you plan early.
“Look for reputable agents, who can ideally provide 24/7 support around the world. You don’t want to be left alone to solve any issues that crop up on such a significant trip.” Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications for Dynasty Travel: “A mix of adventure and relaxation makes for the perfect honeymoon. You will want to explore new lands and take part in exciting activities together, but be sure not to wear yourselves out. Give yourselves the opportunity to get bored.”
Ms Leana Doray, co-founder of The Wedding Scoop: “If you get married at an international hotel chain, it may be able to offer you free or discounted nights at its hotels in other countries. Ask your hotel wedding venue about this, ideally before you book your wedding.
“Tell your hotel you are on your honeymoon. Most hotels provide a little something special to make the trip extra memorable and to show their appreciation to the couple for choosing to stay there on their honeymoon.
“Consider working with local tour organisers or travel consultants to create personalised experiences. They may be able to help you book activities such as a private tour with the curator of an art gallery or a climbing session with an operator who knows the best local spots.
“Lastly, set a honeymoon budget and do not exceed it. Try to avoid starting your marriage in debt because there are a lot of other expenses you will encounter at this juncture of your lives. It is better to overbudget and be disciplined about spending within the budget, than to underbudget and exceed it.”
TAKE A GROUP HONEYMOON
When Ms Faith Wong and her husband Nicholas Lim, both 28, told their friends they were taking a group tour for their honeymoon, their friends told them they were crazy.
“Most young people don’t like tours and people were telling me I shouldn’t do it. But because of our hectic work schedules, I didn’t have a lot of time to plan a trip. It was really nice to have everything taken care of after all the busy wedding planning,” she says.
So, in March, the couple joined a small Dynasty Travel group tour to Finland, a dream destination for Ms Wong. “Since it was our honeymoon, we wanted to go somewhere special, farther away and unique,” she says.
The 13-day tour was full of new experiences for the couple. They joined 12 other guests to Helsinki and Lapland, where they enjoyed cross-country skiing, rides in sleds pulled by reindeer and huskies, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
They spent the night in a glass igloo, admiring a sky full of stars, and ate their fill of fresh fish, delicious steak and reindeer meat.
If there were any problems, they could turn to the group leader for help. When a group member’s luggage was lost, the tour leader took control.
“Can you imagine if my luggage had been lost? I would not want to deal with that on my honeymoon,” she says.
“The whole trip was very slow-paced. There were only two excursions a day, so the rest of the time, we were able to roam around and explore. We didn’t feel rushed at all,” she adds.
Staying in comfortable hotels and eating at fantastic restaurants, all of which were pre- arranged, was a weight off the newlyweds’ shoulders.
It was the trip of a lifetime and one she did not mind sharing with a group. In fact, Ms Wong and her husband still keep in touch with some members of the group and even became friends with another couple they met, whom they visit every two months.
“I’m glad we went to Finland. It was a really memorable trip,” she says.