When my parents got married in the late seventies their honeymoon consisted of several nights at a holiday cottage in rural Wales. Things have changed. Today a honeymoon is seen as a major life event and, for many, a status symbol. This can mean that those starting to plan their own honeymoon can feel pressure from friend’s albums boasting of their ‘perfect’ honeymoons; whether these be jaw-dropping six month round-the-world trips, stays on a private island at the end of the earth or unbelievably romantic and indulgent city breaks.
In this digital age of image crafting and personal branding on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, where broadcasting your perfect life through carefully chosen photographs has replaced the traditional photo album that lived on the bookcase, some couples feel that announcing to your friends that you’re going to some beach resort in Thailand or The Maldives just doesn’t cut it anymore – people are looking for that special place that will make their honeymoon ‘different’. Another common complaint is that people just don’t know where to start. A standard search on the internet done by the happy couple will bring up seemingly endless opinions and options – with a range of opinions. Endless websites, magazine articles, guide books and recommendations from friends leaves honeymoon couples scratching their heads and not knowing who to trust.
To combat both common complaints I have put together a list of my top ten honeymoon hotels that will a) blow the socks of all the competition b) ensure that, on top of the drool-inducing photographs, you will actually have a special and memorable time and c) give you all the details you need from when to go, what to do and how to get there
1. Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
Everything about Song Saa screams honeymoon destination – from the ridiculously gorgeous villas with private plunge pools and direct sea access to the idyllic location and Michelin-starred quality food and drink. Located on a private island a few miles off Cambodia’s beautiful coastline, Song Saa was set up by an inspiring eco-friendly couple, Rory & Malita Hunter after a visit to area had them falling head over heels for the place (it’s not hard to see why). Due to their inspiring environmental focus, Song Saa is up there with one of the most sustainable luxury resorts in the world, meaning that you can relax and enjoy your honeymoon while knowing that the local environment and communities are actually benefiting from your stay. If sitting by your private plunge pool, snorkelling in the crystal clear sea of gorging yourself on culinary treats isn’t quite enough, Song Saa has a fantastic number of activities to while away your time; they team will happily arrange a picnic on a nearby deserted island, lend you kayaks for your to explore by yourself, organise a special blessing by local monks or take you to visit one of the nearby villages. However, for those who like the idea of Song Saa’s novelty factor, act quickly. From 2015 Cambodia will be home to another private island, this time from Alila Hotels.
Logistics: The best time to visit Cambodia is between October and mid-March as this will mean you avoid both the rainy season and unbearably hot season. To get there you’ll need to either catch a domestic flight from Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) or drive from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city to Sihanoukville – the team at Song Saa will be happy to arrange BMW transfers for those who really want to travel in style. Once in Sihanoukville you will be transferred to the island by private speed-boat. Flights depart throughout the day from Bangkok to either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. To make the most of Song Saa’s general excellence I would recommend a minimum of stay at lest five nights.
2. Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
Recently the winner of ‘Best Dressed Hotel’ at the Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Awards – Alila Villas Uluwatu is one of the world’s sexiest hotels. Located on Bali’s southern coastline, in Uluwatu, this hotel is, fairly surprisingly, not known for its beach. Although there is one, it is fairly rocky, and can only be reached after a fairly strenuous walk. The real selling point of Alila Villas Uluwatu however is the view. Perched on top of limestone cliffs overlooking the pounding sea below, a stay here completely rejuvenates you; how many hotels worldwide can boast interrupted (and impressive) sea and sky views from nearly every square foot? In a world where, increasingly, the majority of us live in cities where the furthest your eye can see is the building across the road, or at best, a city park, this endless affront of blue sea and blue sky reaching all the way to a horizon is heart wrenchingly hard to leave. For a hotel so incredibly sexy, its no surprise that Alila Villas doesn’t do rooms – only villas – and of the 1, 2 or 3 bedroom super slick and stylish variety – meaning that a stay here is private, grown-up and oh so sexy.
Logistics: For a hotel with such an incredible location, Alila Villas Uluwatu is fairly easy to get to. From London there are currently no direct flights to Denpasar (Bali’s international airport) but you can fly there with Singapore Airline (via Singapore). On arrival in Bali, it’s a matter of driving Uluwatu, Bali’s southern coast, which takes about 45 minutes. The best time to visit Bali is, annoyingly, also when it is the best time to stay in and around Europe – the months from May to July. This is because these months constitute the region’s ‘dry’ season.
3. The Leela, Udaipur, India
Although people are more than happy to fly for over 8 hours to Thailand and then sit on the same beach for 2 weeks, for some unknown reason, India (which is closer to London) hasn’t managed to attract what are known as ‘fly and flop’ tourists. This may be down to the fact that India has an incredibly rich cultural heritage meaning that many travellers feel it wouldn’t do India justice to fly in, flop and fly out. But then again, Thailand has plenty to see and do, so the logic just doesn’t add up. India is always very high up on my list of places to visit on a honeymoon as it manages to combine out of this world hotels with beautiful landscapes, charming people, mouth-watering food and lots to see and do. India also has a romance and magic which is hard to put into words. The Leela, in the lakeside city of Udaipur, represents everything that is fantastic about the country. The service is faultless, the décor is Bollywood blingtastic, the spa award-winning, the food fantastic and the location to die for. Still need persuading? I thought not. Udaipur is one of India’s most beautiful cities thanks to the calm and tranquil Lake Pichola – which has given the city its nickname; the Venice of India. Dominated by the ancient City Palace, Udaipur’s cityscape could definitely be mistaken with one of Europe’s finest cities; handsome crumbling buildings, quaint bridges and a luxury hotel ‘floating’ in the middle of the lake all combine to make a visit here unforgettable. The Leela is brilliantly located on the lakefront overlooking both the City Palace and the Lake Palace meaning that you don’t have to move very far to have fulfilled your sightseeing quota. Also on the lake front you’ll find the hotel’s sensational spa tents, an olympic size swimming pool and Sheesh Mahal, a romantic al fresco restaurant that you’ll find buzzing on warm evenings. For utter honeymoon perfection make sure to bag a room with a Heritage Lake View; the sight of many twinkling lights from your balcony will be something that you’ll never forget.
Logistics: Udaipur has a small and incredibly efficient domestic airport with regular flight connections to both Delhi and Mumbai (both about an hour away) meaning that you can reach the city easily after an international flight to either of India’s main hubs. The airport is about an hour and half’s drive to the city, meaning that a door to door journey comes in at around 15 hours (which is less than just the flight to Bali). As an unashamedly enthusiastic Indophile I would advise going to India at any time of year, but to do Udaipur justice it makes sense to visit between September and March to avoid the heavy monsoon rains. With the amazing facilities of The Leela, the cultural attractions on your doorstep and your beautiful surroundings on Lake Pichola, I could easily spend seven nights at this romantic retreat.
4. COMO Shambhala Estate, Bali, Indonesia
Initially designed as a private residence, COMO Shambhala Estate was, from the outset, never going to a ‘standard’ luxury hotel (yes, such a thing does exist). Built within acres of lush jungle, views from every part of the hotel are green, green and green. Leafy palm trees, verdant rice paddies and tropical forest surround you and create a feeling of complete and utter tranquillity. Luxurious, but in a laid-back and low-key way, people come to COMO Shambhala to recharge their batteries in one of the most beautiful locations on earth. However, if you like a bit of culture with your holidays, Bali’s cultural capital, Ubud, is merely a 15 minutes drive away. An all suite hotel, interiors are a blend of Balinese wood, signature COMO white linen, killer views and an emphasis on natural materials and products. Consistently the winner of spa and wellness awards, one of the main draws of COMO Shambhala is the spa (the hotel was the winner of Best Spa Hotel in the 2013 Smith Hotel Awards… no mean feat). However, you don’t have to experience a treatment or undergo a session with a specialist to feel the benefit of COMO Shambhala’s holistic wellness focus; the food that is prepared daily and the activities you are encouraged to undertake (mountain biking, rafting, trekking etc) will mean you get home feeling completely refreshed – both in body and mind – the perfect way to start your new life together. So successful has the COMO Shambhala concept been that you’ll now find COMO Shambhala spas in hotels all over the world, should you want to go back for more, a little closer to home.
Logistics: Because of the wellness and spa focus, I would recommend a stay here at anytime of year – the hotel doesn’t experience much of a low and high season due to its incredible world-wide demand. The best way to get here is to fly to Bali with Singapore Airlines (via Singapore) as there are still no direct flights from London to Bali’s main airport, Denpasar. From Denpasar it’s a 45 minute drive into the heart of the island to COMO Shambhala. The journey isn’t super speedy, so I would recommend at least seven nights. Ideally a trip to Bali should be between ten – twelve nights; you may want to extend this with a couple of nights at the sensational Alila Villas Uluwatu.
5. Amanbagh, Rajasthan, India
A paradise on earth, Amanbagh is always one of the top hotels I recommend to honeymooners who want a really special experience. Located in the heart of rural Rajasthan, Amanbagh sits within the grounds of the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Alwar. Situated between the Aravelli Hills in a lush and fertile farming valley, arriving at Amanbagh feels like reaching an idyllic oasis after months in the desert. Surrounded by an ancient wall on four sides with a vast and inviting swimming pool at its centre (in addition to leafy palm trees, green clipped lawns, an extensive organic vegetable patch) Amanbagh is the modern world’s answer to the Mughal’ sumptuous gardens of paradise. For honeymooners one of the resort’s Pool Pavilions is a must. Located out of the way, each one has its own garden, private plunge pool and covered outdoor terrace meaning that it’s easy to not leave your pavilion for several days. If you can prise yourself away from private perfection, the hotel’s enormous green marble bottomed swimming pool is the ideal location for a day or reading, relaxing and drinking in the beauty of your surroundings. Amanbagh also has a brilliant range of excursions; take a Cow Dust tour on an open top jeep around the beautiful surrounding countryside, through local villages and farms, see in the sunrise with yoga at nearby Bhanvgarh Temple, take an open-air cookery class in a mystery location, explore a range of walking trails, ride the resort’s resident camel or take dinner on the roof of the hotel where views are spectacular.
Logistics: Although located in rural Rajasthan, Amanbagh isn’t as hard to get to as you might think. Depending on flight connections, the best way might be to jump on a domestic flight to Jaipur from either Delhi or Mumbai from where it is a 2 hour drive. Alternatively, for those arriving into Delhi, a car and driver will meet you and whisk you to Amanbagh in about 4 hours. Due to the heavy monsoon rains, Amanbagh is closed between June and August. My favourite time of year to visit Amanbagh is when it’s nice and hot to make the most of that swimming pool (September – November and February – April). Read more about my favourite Aman Resorts here.
6. Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay, Nha Trang, Vietnam
With beaches just as beautiful, but still less of a mainstream destination than Thailand, Vietnam is fast becoming a go-to destination for those who like their luxury but, at the same time, appreciate a sprinkling of ancient temples, good food and beautiful scenery. Located on a scenic bay, and only accessible by boat, a stay at Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay gives the impression of staying on an island at the end of the earth. Surrounded by the emerald East Vietnam Sea, picture-perfect white sand beaches and a backdrop of green wooded mountains, this place is pretty close to my definition of paradise on earth. For the ultimate honeymoon experience opt for either a Rock Pool Villa or Water Pool Villa on the fringes of the resort (for maximum privacy as this family-friendly hotel does attract the odd unruly child). Perched on rocks overlooking the sea, each villa has a private plunge pool nestled amongst weird and wonderful natural rock formations; wonderfully unique, these really have the wow factor. As you would expect from a Six Senses, the spa is fabulous and the resort organizes a great range of activities from hiking in the hills, diving and kayaking to yoga (done on an outdoor platform looking out over the bay) and the Six Senses classic al fresco film screenings on the beach. With all this going on, combined with the jaw-dropping scenery, you could certainly spend seven nights here.
Logistics: As the name suggests, this Six Senses resort is really hidden away. You’ll need to fly into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with Vietnam Airlines and then catch a short domestic flight up to Cam Ranh (Nha Trang). From Cam Ranh it’s about an hour’s drive to the coast where you’ll catch a 20 minute speedboat to the resort. The best way to visit this part of the world is to combine it with another destination in Vietnam, as all this travelling for one hotel can seem a little exhausting. Vietnam can suffer from fairly violent rainstorms; the best way to avoid this is to travel from February to May.
7. The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India
Unashamedly opulent, The Oberoi Amarvilas is the perfect place to rest your head when visiting the world’s most unabashed declaration of love, the Taj Mahal. Located in Agra, every single room at Amarvilas has a direct view of the Taj. For something extra special book out the Presidential Suite – located on the top floor of the hotel, here you can even see the Taj from your bathtub. As you are less than 600 metre from the Taj Mahal, visiting at sunrise is hassle-free; it is either merely a short walk or golf buggy ride away, both of which mean more sleep for you. For warm and lazy afternoons the swimming pool at Amarvilas is fantastic; relax on your sun-bed with views of Mughal-style terraced gardens while an eager pool assistant caters to your every need, whether this be spraying you with refreshing rose-water cooling mist or providing strong sun cream and cold flannels for your sweating brow. After a busy day by the pool or sightseeing around Agra’s Fort and the Baby Taj, take sundowners (the Melon Mahal was particularly delicious) on the bar’s Taj-facing terrace. A short walk down a palatial marble staircase will take to you the hotel’s signature Indian restaurant, Esphahan, which serves up mouth-watering fare (the Keralan prawns are to die for!) to the atmospheric backdrop of candle-lit tables and a sitar player. To get over your jetlag, make the most of the Taj Mahal and simply enjoy your surroundings I would recommend between three and four nights at Amarvilas. Although Agra isn’t the world’s prettiest town (far from it) at Amarvilas you’ll be well based to either visit as a day trip or head on to Jaipur for some cultural sightseeing and more hedonism at the show-stopping Rambagh Palace. For ideas on how to extend your honeymoon into Rajasthan go here.
Logistics: Getting to The Oberoi Amarvilas is surprisingly simple. From London jump on a direct overnight flight to Delhi (with Jet Airways or British Airways). On arrival in Delhi a driver will whisk you to Agra in around 4 hours with plenty of time before sunset at the Taj Mahal. Alternatively, if your international flight arrives late at night, make the most of it and spend one extra night in luxury at The Trident Gurgaon; surely one of the world’s most luxurious ‘airport’ hotels. The traditional tourist season for this part of India falls between October and March, but for warmer days avoid December and January.
8. Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks & Caicos
Another private island resort to make the list, Parrot Cay by COMO is considered one of the best hotels in the Caribbean. Set over 1,000 acres of uninterrupted tropical island paradise, the resort is consistently the winner of numerous awards (best hotel, best spa etc.). Parrot Cay has universal appeal because it appeals to everyone from honeymoon couples, boisterous families and aging rock stars, to dot com millionaires and privacy-seeking celebrities. Due to the clever design of the resort, this eclectic mix of guests manage to have the time of their lives without infringing or affecting anyone else’s holiday. Over Christmas and New Year this is one of the the places to be; the private beach-side villas are snapped up (many are actually privately owned) and you will have to book months (perhaps even years in advance) to guarantee a booking. It’s also been said that Parrot Cay is one of the best places to see in the New Year due to the movers and shakers that you’ll find rubbing shoulders at the bar. The hotel’s rooms, suites and villas all have Christina Ong’s signature fresh touch; whitewashed wood, crisp starched linen, stand alone baths, dreamy four poster beds and an emphasis on light, views and nature. Also in line with Ong’s focus on wellness, the food at Parrot Cay is delicious; fresh, healthy and designed to do you good without feeling boring or restrained – a combination that is rarely achieved. The sea in Turks & Caicos is a colour that defies description. Therefore, understandably, the hotel’s rooms, private plunge pools and private terraces all look out over it. A week or more spent staring out over this turquoise treasure is something that everybody needs to do at least once in their life. If you like the idea of a honeymoon on Turks & Caicos but have already visited Parrot Cay, fear not, there is another resort worth returning for. Amanyara, part of the prestigious Aman Resorts hotel group, is simply sensational.
Logistics: To get to Parrot Cay you’ll need to fly to Miami – British Airways is normally the best airline for this route if departing from London. From Miami it’s a short flight to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos’s international airport, where you’ll be collected by car for a short drive before taking a 35 minute boat ride to the island. The good news is that weather (both sunshine and temperature) is pretty fantastic all year around in this part of the world. For those who like the heat, June to October is the warmest time of year.
9. Four Seasons George V, Paris, France
As clichéd as it might sound, a trip to the city of love takes some beating. Easily accessible, home to some of the world’s best hotels (Le Meurice, the Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, The Ritz and soon The Peninsula), top restaurants, petits cafes, incredibly romantic boulevards, glittering monuments, art galleries and museums, it wouldn’t be difficult to spend a week exploring one of the world’s most visited cities with your loved one. With a seemingly endless supply of luxury hotels, it was hard for me to pick out one that came out ahead of the rest. After a fiercely competitive selection process, I settled with the Penthouse Suite at The Four Seasons George V. If you budget allows, I don’t think there is a more romantic suite on the planet for a wedding night or honeymoon stay (if there is one, send it my way). Having dinner on a summer’s evening overlooking the Eiffel Tower in all its glory, from the vantage point of your private balcony will take some beating. You can’t fault Four Seasons hotels, except for being faultless (which sometimes doubles up as being a little boring) and on a honeymoon it’s nice to think that nothing is going to go wrong. In fact, while staying at the Four Seasons George V a lot can go right. Where do I start? Located in the heart of Paris, a stay here means that you are literally walking distance from the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe and the city’s many designer boutiques. If the weather isn’t up to scratch, fear not; for sybarites the hotel boasts a sensational indoor pool and spa and for gluttons the Afternoon Tea here is delicious. While at the George V, a meal at the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Le Cinq is a must; consistently rated one of Paris’s best restaurants, this will be a meal to remember on what should, hopefully, be a holiday of a lifetime.
Logistics: Paris is easy peasy to get to. For those based in the UK, the journey to Paris by Euostar is a breeze – especially if you upgrade to Business Class. Those coming from outside the city might want to make the most of their time in London; for an early morning Eurostar there is nowhere nicer to stay than the St Pancras Renaissance, just minutes from the platform itself. If you’re coming from further a field simply jump on a flight to Orly or Charles de Gaulle airports where a driver can meet you and transfer you into town.
10. Kasbah Tamadot, Morocco
Morocco is the ultimate honeymoon destination. Ridiculously easy to get to (a three hour flight from most European airport), arriving on the African continent feels undeniably exotic due to the palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, the cobalt blue sky and shaggy camels scaling golden sand dues. Due to the recent Arab Spring, many North African destinations have suffered significant dips in numbers of tourism, however Morocco has managed to buck the trend and the tourist keep piling in. Despite this, the country has managed to retain a reputation for upmarket luxury hotels such as La Mamounia, Amanjena and Le Royal Mansour. Never one to miss out on a good thing, Richard Branson cottoned on fairly early and purchased the utterly fantastic Kasbah Tamadot after he spotted it on one of his ballooning expeditions (as you do). Part of the Virgin Limited Collection (alongside some other fairly impressive properties), Kasbah Tamadot is located within the foothills of the outrageously picturesque Atlas Mountains. Part Provencal villa (those pine trees), part sexy Sahara hideaway (that infinity pool), this is the place to come, sit back and enjoy yourself. Bedrooms, decorated in an opulent but tasteful Moroccan-chic style, make the most of the landscape and grounds with floor to ceiling windows, open plan layout and charming balconies. If, however, you’re looking to connect with the landscape a little bit more, stay in one of the Tented Suites which take ‘glamping’ to the next level with their private plunge pools and panoramic views. Spend your time by the pool (indoor and outdoor), relaxing in the Hamam, trekking, horse-riding, catching one of the hotel’s cinema nights or simply dining al fresco under the sparkling desert stars.
Logistics: Although surrounded by wilderness, Kasbah Tamadot is only an hour’s drive from Marrakech which in turn is about a three hour flight from most of Europe’s international airports. In addition to more traditional carriers, budget airlines like Easyjet fly to the country frequently, meaning this is a honeymoon that can remain fairly reasonably priced. As with the majority of North Africa, the best time to visit is between September and May. From June through to August temperatures get dangerously high, meaning that relaxing by the pool or getting out and about on an adventure or two can be fairly uncomfortable. Due to the proximity with Europe, a five night stay would definitely still be worthwhile.
I hope that you have come away inspired to start planning your own honeymoon. However, if all of these hotels are out of your budget, fear not; 36 years later my parents are still happily married. I suppose the holiday cottage in Wales wasn’t so bad after all.