At the Aman-i-Khás wilderness camp near India's Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, nine canvas tents have all the splendid comforts of a Moghul summer palace. In the quartzite Aravalli Hills, where leopards and gazelles roam freely through ancient temple ruins, you can lounge like maharajahs on a mocha-and-cream daybed, surrounded by billowing cotton partitions. Kerosene lamps cast a soft glow for reading Kipling in a mahogany camp chair; a languorous soak in a sunken tub removes the grit after a rugged tiger safari on the savanna. (The park is one of India's best for spotting big cats.) Dine bush-style on fiery curries within the camp's secluded courtyard. No kitties allowed.
Ranthambhore, Rajasthan; 800/477-9180; www.amanresorts.com; $2,300 for four nights, double, all-inclusive.
BY LOIS SMITH BRADY, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER
A lot of people resent "destination weddings," which have become increasingly popular—among brides and grooms, anyway. These far-flung events require guests to travel to an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, a castle in Portugal, or a mosque in Turkey. One might have to take multiple airplanes to get there, or navigate roads with potholes as deep as bathtubs, or stay in a hotel with no outgoing lines. In some people, this creates wedding rage.
Even the smallest amount of traveling can unnerve wedding guests. I once attended a wedding that required everyone to walk for miles, literally. It took place in Manhattan and was called the Seven-Stop Wedding. The couple led their guests to seven of their most sentimental spots. We visited the park where they first kissed. We climbed stairs to the rooftop of an art museum.
I don't recall the significance of the rooftop (the proposal, maybe?), but I do remember everyone huffing and puffing when they got there. The experience was like boot camp. But I remember it more clearly than the 50 other ceremonies I attended as a wedding reporter that year. The walking added much more camaraderie than you'll ever feel at a church wedding. It was a calorie-burner, and you can't say that about many parties.
A conventional wedding is the opposite: it always seems like an uninspired beginning, like a very long, uninteresting first sentence to a novel. Generally, it is full of rhetorical language and other things that put you to sleep. You certainly don't feel sleepy or bored as a wedding guest standing barefoot on a beach on Maui—even if your flight in was delayed.
Traveling is an apt metaphor for love. Both can be risky and both give you a heightened sense of all the things that can go terribly wrong. You can lose your luggage or get on the plane heading to Reno instead of Rio. Your heart can be broken, badly. These days, walking down the aisle means taking a fifty-fifty chance. Why not bring your guests to a place where the chance of their luggage being lost is also fifty-fifty, as is the chance of having Internet service, or even room service?
Once, I flew into Buffalo, New York, to watch a couple say their vows next to Niagara Falls. The bride and groom could easily have had a similar five-minute, inaudible civil ceremony at city hall. But it was worth traveling for the background roar and the symbolism. Another time, I went to a wedding in Utah where every guest stayed at the same slopeside hotel, which soon took on a dormitory atmosphere. Most guests had never been to Snowbird before; many didn't ski. But the unfamiliar "Where am I?" feeling seemed perfect. No matter how much you read about marriage, no matter how much you quiz your parents or your therapists, as a bride and groom you will always walk down the aisle into your own uniquely unknown territory.
And when someone can take you elsewhere, that is love. It's a form of unintentional, unplanned traveling. As John Steinbeck said, the best kinds of journeys are not the ones you take. The best are the ones that take you.
2 One & Only Palmilla
At the tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula, One & Only Palmilla takes moonlight serenades seriously. The 172-room resort can arrange a Latin guitar trio to strum ballads on sandy coves facing the Sea of Cortés, atop a historic bell tower, or in a Casa Gardenia suite. There, your personal butler serves dinner on a bougainvillea-covered patio under the lunar glow. For a more social outing, go public at Charlie Trotter's C Restaurant, a blue-glass fantasy where the star chef reinterprets traditional Mexican seafood dishes. Then retreat to a king-sized bed fitted with your choice of Egyptian cotton, pressed linen, or cotton sateen sheets. Moonlit madness guaranteed.
San José del Cabo; 877/472-5645; www.oneandonlypalmilla.com; doubles from $475.
Cruises for Couples A lapping sea, a painted sunset, you, your significant other—and 750 other couples?Cruising would be so romantic were it not for the madding crowds. Thankfully, a growing number of yachting companies understand that when it comes to shipboard romance, less is more. 3. The Oberoi Group just began sailings through the backwaters of the Indian state of Kerala aboard the two-story, 16-passenger Vrinda (800/562-3764; www.oberoihotels.com; doubles from $1,250). Glide through the palm-lined waterways, kicking back with a chai on deck or relaxing in the wood-paneled staterooms down below. 4. Spiritually inclined couples can ride up Laos's Mekong River during a three-day cruise on the 24-passenger Vat Phou (Absolute Asia,800/736-8187; www.absoluteasia.com; doubles from $420). Guides lead trips to previously inaccessible Khmer temples and past the Khon Phapheng waterfall, Southeast Asia's version of Niagara Falls. 5. For a more traditional excursion, try Windstar Cruises, which began ferrying passengers aboard its masted sailing ship Wind Surf (800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com; doubles from $3,486) in the Baltics last summer. The 13-day cruise starts in St. Petersburg and winds through port cities in Poland, Lithuania, Finland, and Sweden before reaching Copenhagen.
BY MICHAEL GROSS, AUTHOR, WHOSE FIRST WEB SITE WENT LIVE IN 1995
Sometimes the shortest distance between two points isn't a straight line after all. Stephanie, 27, a native Nebraskan living in Colorado, went on-line to Yahoo! Personals one night and found Mike—in Nebraska. Two months later, she was on a plane returning to her home state for a long weekend. "Mostly to see him," Stephanie admitted. Twelve days later, she moved back to Nebraska. She and Mike, 33, were married last July.
Laura, 49, from Ontario, met Allan, a New Yorker, via Yahoo! Canada Personals. "We've been together fourteen months and are planning to get married," she said recently. Tricia and Mickey, two RV enthusiasts, met in AOL's RV Travelers Online community, a group of about 100 members, and have been exploring America in their new, conjugal motor home ever since.
Executives of most Internet dating sites agree that romance on the road is on the rise. "Love is the universal language," says Louis Kanganis, CEO of Spring Street Networks, which provides personal ads to Nerve.com, Salon.com, and Knight Ridder Digital. The company will expand into Europe as well as the travel business this spring when it partners with Lastminute.com to offer spur-of-the-moment vacation opportunities—and possibly even some free trips—to users who make a connection through the service. "This medium allows like-minded people to find each other, even if they're from different races or religions or countries," he says.
Since the advent of the Internet, travel and love have become intimately related. "Travel is defined by freedom, joy, and adventure," says Bill Schreiner, vice president of AOL Community. "The same adjectives apply to relationships." With 26 million people visiting virtual dating sites a month, accord- ing to comScore Networks, which tracks traffic and revenues on the Web, personals accounted for 29 percent of all on-line spending in the second quarter of 2003. In a 2002 survey, Match.com found that 44 percent of singles seek romance while on vacation—and even plan their trips to enhance their prospects. Which explains the thousands of single people logging on to dating sites who are not just on the make but on a quest to see the world—or at least check out another state.
As the on-line dating phenomenon spreads, and Internet giants like Yahoo! Personals, Love@AOL, Match.com, and othersenter into joint ventures with travel companies to offer flesh-and-blood encounters, the global dating possibilities are expanding. Just ask Sallyanne, who stumbled upon MatchTravel.com, a new site that hosts singles trips. Three months later, she boarded Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. "I met a guy I liked the first night," Sallyanne remembers. "He was a gentleman, and we did everything together." She's signed up for another MatchTravel.com cruise—sailing just before Valentine's Day.
Having an on-line presence frees us. It gives us the feeling that we aren't tied down to jobs, houses, or old ideas. It offers us the chance to reinvent ourselves—just as travel does. "The guy in San Francisco is dating someone in Boston, and the next thing you know, they're flying back and forth," says Chris Terrill, vice president of events and travel at Match.com. "If that person is out there, why not hop on a plane?"
6 Inn of the Five Graces
This flamboyant Spanish-colonial compound in the heart of Santa Fe engages all the senses. Classic adobe and river-rock buildings with 20 guest rooms look inward to courtyards filled with ironwork garden chairs and potted geraniums. After a day of gallery-hopping, couples can savor margaritaswhile relaxing on a wooden bench swing. The earthy suites embrace a global détente, with Afghan throw rugs and Turkish kilim-upholstered sofas. At turndown, look for lucky Native American dream-catchers left on your carved teak bed.
150 E. DeVargas St., 505/992-0957; www.fivegraces.com; doubles from $295.
The Sky's the Limit Looking for a more elevated form of love?If the racy reader postings on www.milehighclub.com are to be believed, the infamous Mile High Club is making a comeback. While most commercial airlines discourage in-flight intimate encounters, 7. Virgin Atlantic Airways offers luxurious new Upper Class Suites (800/862-8621; www.upperclasssuite.com; transatlantic flights from $7,644) with fully reclining beds where, according to the Web site, "you can always invite your partner to join you on your ottoman." 8. For a more private affair, Mile High Atlanta (770/301-9339; www.milehighatlanta.com; $249 for a one-hour flight) can make joining the club comfortable in a specially outfitted Piper Cherokee Six. 9. More subdued couples can heat things up in a hot-air balloon floating over the 1,000-foot-high sand dunes—the largest in the world—of Namibia's Sossusvlei desert. Three-hour flights can be arranged through the Sossusvlei Lodge (264-63/693-223; www.sossusvleilodge.com; $412 per person, including champagne breakfast). 10. Across the Indian Ocean, multi-day helicopter safaris offered by Epic Expeditions (61-7/3844-4992; www.epicexpeditions.com; from $4,017, all-inclusive) crisscross Australia's Cape York Peninsula and Great Barrier Reef, hovering over tropical wilderness and stopping for croc encounters, diving, snorkeling, and desert-island trysts.
BY GEORGE KALOGERAKIS, A T+L EDITOR, ONETIME WRITER OF FORTUNE-COOKIE NOTES
It wasn't quite the first date, but close enough. We were in a Japanese restaurant in New York City, and I ordered a lobster dish. I had assumed that my dinner would be removed from its shell by skilled, unseen hands and brought from the kitchen to our table, where my deft way with chopsticks would impress my companion. But, to my horror, the crustacean arrived intact. There was nothing to do but go at it with the primitive tools at hand. This I did over the next hour, stopping often to mop my brow and reassure the rubberneckers—among the staff and customers my labors had taken on the aspect of a slow-motion accident—that everything was under control. (Or fairly under control. Hey, sorry about that shell-shrapnel. And would you mind very much handing me that detached claw, the one over by your wife's elbow?) Meanwhile, at our table, conversation ceased, prepared bons mots went undelivered, my entire charm offensive was put on hold—all sacrificed to the evening's new focus: the dismantling of my entrée. (My date had ordered a few pieces of sushi, and was done in about 45 seconds, which left her plenty of time to watch and cringe.) When we finally escaped into the night, my belly half-empty and a deep but treatable gash running along one finger, the busboys were already upending the chairs onto tables.
Disastrous dinner date?Before you answer, let me add that a few years later, that woman married me. And, fair enough, some time afterward divorced me. But I'm pretty sure neither eventuality was the result of what we both still fondly remember as the Japanese Lobster Incident.
A little further into the relationship we had a similar meal in Tokyo's nightlife district, Roppongi, and far more successfully, perhaps because there's something about the intersection of food and romance and travel that shows all three to advantage. The unpretentious little bistro around the corner is fine—perfect for that dinner commemorating a significant event—but it doesn't hold an alluringly flickering candle to the unpretentious corner bistro across the ocean.Those are the places—especially when they're surprise discoveries, unexpectedly stumbled upon—that you go back to whenever you can, and that you think about whenever you can't. (If absence makes the heart grow fonder, distance makes it fonder still—and when the love object is a surpassingly fine pastry kitchen several time zones removed, all the better.) They become part of your shared history: All that trouble you had finding a table in Barcelona at midnight—and how well worth it all that trouble was. Or that lunch of mussels in Deauville, when it became hard to see each other over the pile of plates and bowls and wine bottles. And that lime-infused ceviche—down in Mexico, on the terrace, with the palms swaying in front?
It might simply be a matter of travel heightening experience, which at its best it certainly does. Because it's great if the chef is on fire, and if the company's a delight, better still—but transplant that to Alónnisos, or Ürümqi, or Rarotonga, and then sparks will fly. Just make sure to ask how the lobster is served.
11 Park Tower Suite
The Park Tower Suite is for those who want to be left alone. On the ground floor of a 19th-century house overlooking the verdant Florapark, 15 minutes outside Amsterdam in Haarlem, Dutch interior designers Janneke and Peter Schoenmaker have studiously arranged a global collection of antiques in a solitary bower for two. Outside, stately wrought-iron fences surround a private garden of tall rhododendrons and reflecting pools. Inside, the apartment's formal salon has a wood-burning fireplace, oak floors, and crystal chandeliers. In the sunny bedroom, Egyptian linens cover a Swedish Hästens bed backed by a wooden Pakistani gate. For a real Haarlem night, order rijsttafel at a nearby bistro and walk along the canal banks in solitude.
Haarlem, the Netherlands; 31-23/534-7773; www.parktowerhotel.nl; $646.
Eat Your Heart Out Hungry for romance?Let the experts at hotels and resorts around the world arrange an enchanted dinner for two. 12. JACKSON HOLE Bundle up for a horse-drawn hayride on the open range in the National Elk Refuge, then defrost at Snake River Grill (307/733-0557; www.snakerivergrill.com; $100) over oven-roasted artichoke fondue with wild game sausage. As snow falls on the Tetons, share your 18-ounce buffalo steak with your pardner. 13. MALDIVES The Four Seasons Resort Maldives (960/444-888; www.fourseasons.com; $200) transports couples to a remote Indian Ocean atoll. On land, waiters serve steamed mussels in ginger-fennel broth and chocolate cake with passion-fruit sabayon late into the night. 14. ROME Reserve the Terrazza della Zarina at the Hotel de Russie (39-06/328-881; www.roccofortehotels.com; $734), a secluded balcony with views of the Villa Borghese and Trinità dei Monti church. A violinist performs Verdi during an alfresco repast of sea bass carpaccio. 15. INDIA At the Taj Exotica (91-832/277-1234; www.tajhotels.com; $100) in Goa, on the south-west coast, fishermen arrive bearing lobsters for your sunset beachside barbecue. Under a gauzy tent overlooking the Arabian Sea, a private chef prepares tamarind-infused fish curries and lemon-chile sorbet for dessert.
BY RICK MARIN, AUTHOR, CAD: CONFESSIONS OF A TOXIC BACHELOR (WITH AUTHOR ILENE ROSENZWEIG)
It was Ilene's idea to spend the last day of our honeymoon on a sheer cliff face in Australia's Blue Mountains, gazing at the misty valley below. And it was also she who stood frozen with fear on this gusty precipice, tingling with dread, while I wished we were still in Italy, where we had just married, soaking up sea-level sun and a bottle of Barbaresco.
Like many couples who've been together awhile, we'd had our share of typical romantic destinations: cobbled streets, remote inns, white-sand beaches. For our inaugural married excursion, the stakes were higher. We wanted to go somewhere that would not only inspire memories but also symbolize the life we were about to share together. We were looking for an adventure that would let us test our limits, conquer our fears, and possibly qualify us for the next season of Survivor.
We wanted an anti-honeymoon.
For many newlyweds we know, bucking the traditional hand-holding, beachcombing, and mindless mooning means a heli-safari in Botswana or tree swinging in Costa Rica. But because we're not exactly the carry-your-own-toilet-paper types, we needed a destination that offered both rugged thrills and concierge service. Haute cuisine, plus 10 of the world's deadliest snakes. Wild yet civilized. So we set out for the antipodes, for our honeymoon, with no itinerary but a plan to experience as many natural wonders as could be squeezed into two weeks. Winging it added to our sense of freedom and suspense—and justified having had no time to make proper reservations.
At first glance, Lizard Island is your classic honeymoon paradise. On a private island in the Great Barrier Reef, this boutique resort receives no more than 80 guests at a time. Its wood-paneled bungalows have a Zen-den vibe and sexy amenities, like outdoor beds on verandas overlooking the Coral Sea. But in the land of Oz, behind every picturesque façade lurks mortal danger. Or so it seemed from the welcome speech. Ominous warnings about the killing sun, lethal tides, and a malevolent one-legged seagull sent me into a panic, and Ilene rushing to the sign-up desk.
Dramamine alert! The dive boat crashed through pounding swells toward the forbidding frontier where the continental shelf drops off a cool 9,843 feet. Knowing that I feared any water over my head that isn't coming from a shower, Ilene figured that I would never jump into this. But she discovered that your mate can still surprise you, even after you're married. As soon as I dropped into the whitecapped water, I set off, snapping away with my underwater camera, frolicking farther and farther out, leaving Ilene alone to dart between the reef sharks. And barracuda. And eels. She splashed back to the boat, breathless and distraught, as my snorkeling pal, Stefano, and I resurfaced, brandishing a souvenir sea cucumber.
And looking, Ilene said, as if we'd just shared a "special moment." On a honeymoon at sea, the imagination swims in uncharted waters. I assured her that nothing happened.
I could have stayed on Lizard Island a month, or the rest of my life. But after three days of hiking, biking, and snorkeling, we were in danger of having a day to do nothing but lounge on the beach. Ilene decided it was time to move on. An English couple we'd befriended recommended a rain-forest lodge not far away where tree houses hung over the Daintree River, spiders spun golden orbs, and a 15-foot python lived under the restaurant. Ilene booked a reservation for the next night.
Into every anti-honeymoon a little rain must fall. A 12-day downpour had created an infestation of "mozzies"—as Australians affectionately call mosquitoes—at the Silky Oaks Lodge, an eco-resort in the middle of a 135 million-year-old World Heritage rain forest. On the hour-long trip north from Cairns into the high, cloudy jungle, our driver described Queensland's alternative attractions: estuarine crocs the size of Cadillacs lurking among the mangroves, and beaches rendered unswimmable by "stingers" (jellyfish) the size of a thumbnail that can cause unspeakable agony or death.
But there wasn't anything nearly that exciting on the Silky Oaks van trip to Cape Tribulation, the deadly stretch of coastline that so vexed Captain Cook in the late 18th century. We bonded with honeymooning twentysomethings who were also rolling their eyes at tourist traps advertising "emu carpaccio" and the riverboat nature cruise from which we squinted at crocodiles no bigger than a shoe. The closest we got to a life-threatening encounter was a pub crawl in Port Douglas, where we fended off giant fruit bats swooping down Main Street, and Ilene narrowly avoided a fistfight with a drunk Ozzie chick who thought we'd stolen her taxi. Dousing ourselves in deet and dressing for bed in socks and turtlenecks, the only action we saw that night in our spare, colorless cabin was Ilene jumping on the bed, hunting down mozzies with a rolled-up magazine. So much for jungle love.
That is, until we met Linc Walker, a Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal guide and our introduction to the mysterious country we were so eager to discover. A mellow, ponytailed earth dude in wraparounds, Linc drove us down to the mudflats to take us on a traditional spearfishing excursion and school us in the ways of "the old ones."
Entranced by his tales of dreamtime, the Aboriginal creation myth, we followed him into the mangroves, leaping across tentacled roots to examine slimy things Linc said were edible, to coax a snail-like creature from its shell, and to hurl 10-foot barbed poles at schools of silver mullet, which we learned to track by their shadows. Falling into a dreamtime of our own, we almost missed our flight back to Sydney and boarded the plane filthy but happy for our brief, authentic brush with the bush and Australia's original spiritual adventurers.
Our lack of an itinerary left us free to blow out of the big city after a couple of days in Sydney and take a train to Katoomba, an old resort town in the nearby Blue Mountains that's been turned into an extreme-sports haven.
"Scared already?" asked Jason, our abseiling instructor from High 'n Wild Mountain Adventures, as we struggled with our harnesses.
"No!" I shot back, pulling my helmet down over my glasses.
Abseiling is Australian for rappelling down cliffs or waterfalls or the Sydney Opera House. Here was the Big Finish of the Anti-Honeymoon Ilene had been looking forward to. But as I clamped my harness to the rope that would guide me down the narrow gorge and stepped backward over a cliff into thin air, I wondered if all this constant thrill-seeking and limit-testing was really necessary.
To my amazement, and Ilene's (and no doubt Jason's), I was a veritable Spider-Man of the cliffs. Ms. Thrill Seeker, however, looked surprisingly rattled as she crawled up the skinny path after the 98-foot drop to the top of the 197-foot one. She jumped, cautiously working her way down bit by bit, when a sudden wind gust blew her to and fro like a pendulum over the canyon. I watched, my stomach spinning with her as the rope caught on a bramble and she dangled, stuck, until she worked the rope free and landed with a thud.
With my newfound "Spidey sense," I was itching to move to the next, even higher jump. Ilene, on the other hand, was coming to terms with not being quite the Evel Knievel she thought she was. To cheer her on, I recited the High 'n Wild mantra: Feel the fear, but do it anyway. "Kind of like getting married," I added. She looked at me. I looked at her. We both looked at Jason and knew what we had to do: Ask him to drive us back to town to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, if he could.
Yes, we bailed out at the peak of our anti-honeymoon. After two weeks of thrill-seeking and spill-seeking, we were ready to accept who we were—an old married couple. We no longer needed to prove ourselves to each other. What we did need was a traditional sweetheart moment: sipping a milk shake from two straws like normal newlyweds—but with a little adventurer's dirt on our faces.
16 Carneros Inn
This California wine-country retreat has 86 rustic cottages surrounded by grapes destined to become heavenly fizz. An enclosed patio wraps each moss-green bungalow; au courant interiors (cowhide Corbusier chaises, Eames lounges) are tempered by classic nesting flourishes: wood-burning fire-places, deep soaking tubs, and blood-orange bath treats. The local harvest also shows up in the spa's grape-seed body scrub. At the inn's Boon Fly Café, linger over the Pinot Noir-braised short ribs; then let the sommelier suggest a sparkling vintage so you can pop a cork (or the question) on your private porch in view of the vines.
4048 Sonoma Hwy., Napa; 707/299-4900; www.thecarnerosinn.com; doubles from $375.
Adventurous Liaisons Sport by day and spoon by night in spots where nature's drama meets civilization's coziest nooks. 17. BRITISH COLUMBIA Minette Bay Lodge (Kitimat; 866/247-1513; www.minettebaylodge.com; doubles from $152), a haven of fireplaces and feather beds in a piney wilderness, now sends guests heli-fly-fishing on glacier-fed estuaries full of salmon and steelhead. 18. FIJI Deep Blue is one of three newly opened dive sites near Matangi Island Resort (888/628-2644; www.matangiisland.com; doubles from $310), a 240-acre private island located in the middle of Fiji's scuba paradise. Three tree-house bures and 11 more on the beach combine tropical seclusion and open-air luxury. 19. AFRICA High-style Virgin Bush Safaris (888/432-8681; www.virginbushsafaris.com; from $600 a day per person) has added chimp treks to its menu of bush expeditions. Accommodations on their bespoke trips range from a mobile white bedouin tent with antique carpeting to Princess Caroline's house on an island off the coast of northern Kenya. 20. ST. MORITZ Slide downhill headfirst at 80 mph on the upscale ski resort's toboggan run. Then mellow out in the extravagant new suites at Badrutt's Palace Hotel (41-81/837-1000; www.badruttspalace.com; doubles from $806), which have marble whirlpool tubs, plasma TV's, and private butlers.
BY MELISSA CERIA, WRITER, WIFE, AND MOTHER
On a rainy morning in the park last fall, as my husband struggled to lift our son out of the wet sandbox, and I faced the prospect of carrying six bags of groceries home, I decided we needed a break. Realizing we had no time for a proper holiday, I fantasized about an overnight getaway as we walked past the Maritime Hotel in New York's Meatpacking District. There, I thought, we could relax, reconnect, and feel totally carefree—if only for a brief moment.
The plan felt somewhat selfish at first (could we leave the baby with a sitter overnight?). But listening to our friends Isabelle and Romain, who live in Belmont, Massachusetts, talk about their quick fix of romance not long ago made me believe it was possible. Several weeks after the birth of their third son last spring, feeling worn-out and sleep-deprived, the pair checked into a suite at the Charles Hotel in nearby Cambridge, where they soaked in a tub of bubbles, sipped champagne, ordered a plate of cheese, and watched movies. "It was wonderful to be just the two of us," says Isabelle. "We didn't need a special event—simply some time to enjoy the things we like to do together."
To maintain intimacy in their lives without defaulting on their duties, more couples have to squeeze romantic rendezvous in whenever they can. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, 39 percent of all vacations in 2002 were one to two nights. At luxury properties like the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, nearly 40 percent of weekend visitors are couples living within a 50-mile radius. Sure, booking a night at a local inn may not sound as exotic as a trip to St. Bart's, but the satisfaction of leaving reality behind by just going around the corner is hard to beat. And once you're there, everything is taken care of for you—all you need is a toothbrush and an overnight bag.
"That's part of what makes it a fantasy," says Brian Honan, director of marketing for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, who estimates that 35 to 45 percent of his clients are local. "Married couples who used to meet here are returning to a place they're acquainted with, but with a new level of appreciation for the privacy, the service, and the time they spend together."
"In some ways, it's easier to go for a night than plan an evening around your babysitter's schedule," says Liz, a Canadian artist. She and her husband, Matt, periodically sneak down the road to the Park Hyatt Toronto, where they treat themselves to a couples massage and a lazy morning in bed. "You feel as if you're away, even if you're not far away."
Lingering over a drink at the hotel bar, getting dressed up for a tête-à-tête dinner, enjoying an afternoon together being pampered. In one worry-free night, we can recapture the excitement of those days when dates were spontaneous and romance had no curfew—just as it was when we were courting.
I've yet to book my weekend getaway at the Maritime, but as we await the arrival of our second child this spring, my husband and I are doubly motivated to sneak in a little time alone, without leaving our zip code.
Love and a Rub You don't need a shrink for couples therapy: a spa break will do nicely. 21. CÔTE D'AZUR In a sunset-hued suite at Hôtel Royal Riviera's L'Orangerie villa (St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat; 33-4/93-76-31-00; www.royal-riviera.com; $1,200, double, all-inclusive) entice your petite amie with a massage à deux. Rose petals are scattered on a pair of massage tables facing the sea as therapists anoint your limbs with fragrant lavender oil. 22. ST. JOHN At Caneel Bay's Self Centre (U.S.V.I.; 340/776-6111; www.rosewoodhotels.com; doubles from $450), Couples Astrology is a stellar exploration of bondage (think loving ties, not leather whips). Using birth information, a certified astrologer charts your star signs and guides the emotional dynamics of your astral pairing. 23. ARIZONA Get wrapped like bonbons during a chocolate-champagne body wrap for two at the Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa (Carefree; 800/553-1717; www.wyndham.com; doubles from $495). The sweet stimulant appears in an exfoliation, a mask, and a hydrating cream. After you've been spritzed with bubbly, take a dip in the Sun Suite's outdoor Jacuzzi and feed each other chocolate treats. 24. HAWAII Revitalize your mana (life force) with Lokahi therapy in the Kahala Mandarin Oriental's tropical couples suite (Honolulu; 800/367-2525; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $295). A footbath prepares you for the warming kukui-macadamia nut oil, which is drizzled on your chakra points during a traditional Hawaiian lomilomi massage. 25. ENGLAND In the Grove's Sequoia spa (Hertfordshire; 44-1923/807-807; www.thegrove.co.uk; doubles from $419), organic honey from the estate's hives appears in a body wrap and hot-stone massage during the five-hour Honey Immersion treatment. Couples sip honeyed infusions in the herb garden, where they can commune with the birds and the bees.