A European Rendezvous

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Bellevue Suite terrace at Mezzatorre Resort & Spa in Ischia, Italy.

st. tropez, france

The spectacular scenery and glamorous vibe found along the coast of southern France has been drawing royalty, artists, writers and movie stars to the area for hundreds of years. But in 1956, it was Brigitte Bardot sunbathing in the nude on the white sands of the Plage de Pampelonne while filming “And God Created Woman” that made St. Tropez a household word. Nowadays, come July and August, this really pretty terracotta fishing village becomes an adult playground of the rich and famous—Jay-Z and Beyonce tend to arrive by luxury yacht—sizzling with sensuality, and awash in beautiful (and wildly rich) people, sun-splashed fun and nonstop nightlife. May and June, September and October are perhaps better times to enjoy quieter honeymoon moments to savor the cafe scene, the interesting museums and art galleries, the stylish boutique shopping, the restaurants that fringe the old port, and of course, the beaches.

A legend in hospitality—and justifiably so—is the 95-room Byblos Saint-Tropez Hotel (41 rooms and 50 suites), a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and Virtuoso, located just minutes from the port and the town’s hub. Romance was certainly in the air when Mick Jagger proposed to his first wife Bianca at the Byblos, in a setting reminiscent of a Mediterranean village. This gay-friendly hotel—this is St. Tropez after all—is made up of buildings painted in ochre and blue facades grouped around courtyards, and set in landscaping of olive trees, palms and lavender.

Ultra-modern guestrooms and suites are decorated in warm colors, complemented with Provencal fabrics and furnishing. At the same time, the resort embraces a Soins Essentiels Spa with five treatment rooms and a Turkish bath, fitness center and pool, a swanky Alain Ducasse-concept restaurant, and the region’s most famous nightclub, Les Caves du Roy. Rates from $480 to $710 dbl, including VAT, service charge and shuttle to beach at Pampelonne.

(800) 745-8883; byblos.com or lhw.com

Byblos Saint-Tropez Hotel

istanbul + bodrum, turkey

Board a magic carpet and take off on the exotic road to romance, which leads to cosmopolitan Istanbul, linking Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait, and picturesque, historic, seaside Bodrum. Come to Istanbul to be dazzled by the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace; carpets, spices and jewelry in the Grand Bazaar; a vibrant arts scene; delicious dining and stylish nightclubs. Then head for picture-perfect Bodrum, where whitewashed stucco houses, bathed in bougainvillea, rise up from the resort town’s twin harbors, dominated by St. Peter’s Castle and packed with yachts and wooden gullets offering day trips to nearby islands.

Kempinski provides honeymooners a luxury stay combo with romance packages at its Ciragan Palace Hotel Istanbul and Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay in Bodrum. Land first in Istanbul, where little else compares to the luxury of spending one’s honeymoon in an opulent 19th century palace, sitting right on the European shore of the Bosphorus, built for Sultan Abdulaziz and incorporated into the 313-room Ciragan extravaganza. Its trove of indulgent rooms comes draped in rich fabrics, with balconies in some, butler service in others and a Sultan Suite that’s decked out with a marble hammam, steam room and crystal bathtub. Palm trees dot the gardens and the infinity pool unfurls dramatically right up to the water’s edge.

The hotel’s Regal Romance package includes roundtrip airport limousine transfers, 3-night accommodations in a superior Bosphorus-view room, champagne and chocolates in room on arrival, daily buffet breakfast, couple’s massage and Turkish bath therapy at Sanitas Spa, candlelit dinner in the hotel’s elegant Tugra restaurant that showcases foods from the Ottoman Empire, plus a Two Continents land, air and sea tour composed of a full-day private tour to Prince Islands, a 30-minute helicopter tour and a 2-hour cruise on the Bosphorus by private yacht. It’s priced from $4,984 per couple.

Then move on by land or air to Bodrum and the 173-unit Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, where pampering and privacy set the honeymoon tone in this world of leisure and unique luxury experiences by private yacht or day cruiser, from a private helipad, or a private jacuzzi terrace. Rooms have plush beds, lazy banquettes, teak-deck terraces or balconies with sea views, and bathrooms fit for royalty.

During a stay, honeymooners enjoy the refined cuisines in the hotel’s restaurants, each offering a spacious terrace: Aegean cuisine in Olives; authentic tastes from eastern Asia in Saigon Club; seafood at Barbarossa Beach & Seafood, and contemporary Italian dishes in La Luca. Beyond relaxing and rejuvenating in the Six Senses Spa, on the blue-flagged sandy beach or by the infinity pool, activities include going to sea on a private gullet cruise, catamaran sailing and wind surfing, mountain biking, Nordic walking, scuba diving, golfing, off-road tours, and privately guided excursions around historic Bodrum.

The hotel invites honeymooners to make love everlasting with its Infinite Romance experience offering a selection of relaxing activities and extras to make a stay even more special: a bottle of champagne to enjoy on the balcony one evening, a box of chocolates for a midnight treat, three hours of private use of a spa suite with sauna and steam room, a couple’s massage in the spa, an in-room aroma bath experience, and candlelit dinner with wine pairing menu. Priced at $242; rooms start at $350 including breakfast.

(800) 426-3135 or kempinski.com

algarve, portugal

The alluring Algarve—Portugal’s Riviera—is one of Europe’s favorite and most romantic vacation destinations, particularly appealing to active honeymooning couples and those who adore the beach, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, sailing, tennis and golf year-round. Superb Algarve beaches, vineyards, Rio Formosa National Park, the historic fishing port of Sagres, and the Vilamoura Casino also offer couples in love ample ways to delight in their honeymoon destination choice.

And on this southern Portuguese coast, there is at least one fairy tale hideaway to seek out: Vila Joya. West of the town of Albufeira, this property has a style marked by five-star sumptuousness, cosseted relaxation and outstanding food. This oceanside Shangri-la has been converted over the last 25 years by the Jung family from a private villa into the Algarve’s most exquisite boutique hotel and spa. All 21 rooms except one have heavenly ocean views, carpeting, enormous beds banked with brightly colored cushions, and every amenity (yes, WiFi, iPod dock) imaginable, while the bathrooms are just as swanky with colored tiles, a pile of fluffy white towels, spa robe and slippers. Top floor rooms (numbers 11-15) all have balconies, while the three recently created cavernous suites (Alegria, Maresia and Joia) are in the new annex. Finally, the new Joy Jung Spa, with an amazing range of therapies, is simply a flight of decorative fancy. And the wonderfulness continues to the glass-fronted, vaulted-ceiling, two-Michelin-star restaurant, open for lunch and dinner on the ocean-facing terrace.

Honeymooners will certainly want to explore the Algarve: Head up into the hills to the pretty towns of Silves, Monchique and Loule; waterski and jet ski, snorkel and fish; play tennis, stretch out for yoga, or take a coached tennis lesson on the hotel court; reserve a round of golf at any number of nearby courses; or sit by the pool amidst lush gardens overlooking the ocean and beach below. Room prices for two start at $343, including a vast buffet breakfast, taxes and service charges.


capri, italy

A hydrofoil or ferry ride away from Sorrento and Naples, Capri is an icon among Mediterranean getaways, and voted no. 1 on Lonely Planet’s “Best Places for Intrepid Romantics” list in 2012. It is also the spot that Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius came for some R&R, and in more recent times, celebrities have flocked for escape—or to see and be seen. Resort action centers on Capri Town, while the hinterland offers a rural charm combined with grand villas, overgrown vegetable plots and banks of brilliantly colored bougainvillea. From Capri Town, one can walk to the Villa Jovis, the largest of the island’s 12 Roman villas and the main residence of Tiberius, or take a boat ride to the famous Blue Grotto, a stunning sea cave aglow with iridescent blue light.

Hugging a hillside and overlooking the sea, yet a 10-minute walk to Capri Town, the landmark, five-star Al Punta Tragara is a secluded luxury hideaway with stunning views over the legendary Faraglioni Islands—three breathtaking peaks in the sea lying directly in front of the hotel. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this landmark hotel comes with an illustrious history. Designed by Le Corbusier as a private villa in the 1920s, it served as headquarters for the American Command during World War II when the guest list included General Eisenhower and Prime Minister Churchill. Today, this stunning hotel offers accommodations in 44 spacious and contemporary rooms and suites with sea views, is furnished with antiques and modern art, serves cocktails at sunset in the bar and Mediterranean gourmet meals in the Monzu Restaurant, has two outdoor swimming pools as well as direct access to the sea, a new spa, and offers boat and land excursions to guests.

Love in Capri is the Al Punta Tragara 4-night honeymoon package, priced at $856 and including accommodations with breakfast, strawberries and champagne in the room, one candlelit dinner, and a private boat tour to the Blue Grotto; VAT and service charge also included.

(800) 234-7033 or slh.com

Ciragan Palace Hotel Istanbul in Turkey

ischia, italy

Ischia, an hour by hydrofoil from its more glamorous neighbor Capri, is the largest island in the Bay of Naples. It’s lauded for its thermal water health spas, medieval ruins, secluded sandy beaches and vineyards producing good red and white wines. The largest community and first port of call is at Ischia Porto on the eastern coast, a circular town seated in the crater of the extinct Monte Epomeo Volcano. A hike or donkey ride to the volcano’s heights is rewarded with unforgettable views of the 18-sq.-mile island and the bay. Sant’Angelo, jutting out on the island’s southern coast is a charming fishing village, and its beach about the island’s finest. The liveliest town is Forio on the western coast, a favorite with artists such as filmmaker Luchino Visconti, whose villa is here.

Forio is also home to the Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, an intimate and relaxing Italian retreat. Rich in history, the hotel has been designed around a 16th century tower, and its perch atop a promontory that sweeps majestically into the sea is the most romantic of settings. The collection of guestrooms and sea-view suites dot the pine woods, and feature amenities that range from private terraces to outdoor jacuzzi pools. Recreational facilities include a heated sea water swimming pool, tennis court, gym, jogging tracks and a choice of watersports. This member of The Leading Hotels of the World also has a Leading Spa that treats guests to treatments using Ischia’s well-known thermal water and mud.

Distinctive Honeymoons has designed a romance package that includes 4-night accommodations in a double room with sea view in Park or in Tower; daily buffet breakfast; red roses and Italian sparkling wine in room on arrival; candlelight dinner for two with champagne at the hotel’s Chandelier Restaurant; complimentary access to the fitness rooms, open-air pool and tennis court; one complementary water track in the thermal pool for two; one face mud mask for the bride; 30-minute toning massage for the groom; and full day excursion to Capri by speedboat.

(800) 803-1360 or distinctivehoneymoons.com

let’s get flirty with artisans of leisure

Artisans of Leisure is especially proficient in creating completely personalized, unforgettably luxurious, romantic travel experiences. And its clients don’t stay put, but take off on any one of 20 totally private honeymoon tours to all corners of the globe, including six focused on Europe: France, Italy, Portugal, Prague, Spain and Turkey.

“We aim to design a tour with a balance of activity, relaxation and romance that’s perfectly suited to each
honeymoon couple and guaranteed to create shared memories that will last a lifetime,” says Ashley Ganz, company founder.

Ingredients in fashioning unforgettable experiences include extra special amenities such as room upgrades, meals, spa treatments; booking carefully selected rooms—often with private balconies, jacuzzis and/or plunge pools; private touring with one’s very own guides and drivers; romantic excursions such as private cruises and meals in dramatic settings; restaurant reservations; spa appointments;

shopping recommendations; tickets to cultural events; and ample alone time.

“Our top destination request is Italy, and it always has been since we introduced luxury honeymoon and romance tours almost a decade ago. We have tweaked the hotels a bit, but the basics of this top-destinations-oriented itinerary are the same.”

Artisans of Leisure’s 11-day Romantic Italy, priced at $15,200 pp, focuses on the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Florence, Tuscany, and Rome. According to Ganz, the second most popular pick among honeymoon couples is the 16-day Romantic Turkey tour, priced at $16,800 pp and including Istanbul, Cappadocia, Antalya, Izmir & Ephesus, and Bodrum.

“Honeymoon tours always have room for customized touches,” Ganz says, “and in Turkey, the most common request is the cooking class experience.

“And itineraries are even more customized for second honeymooners who combine new destinations with places they want to revisit.” She also points out that luxury honeymoon tours can be not only a profitable niche for travel agents, but it’s a niche that cultivates repeat clients, for “an unforgettable honeymoon can lead to a memorable family trip years later.”

(800) 214-8144 or artisansofleisure.com

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Fairy Tale Honeymoons in Europe (June 2012)