If tying the knot on unfamiliar ground seems too difficult, think again. According to travel agents like Patsy Martin of Strong Travel Services in Dallas, celebrating a wedding in Maui can actually be easier and less costly than throwing one at a hotel down the road. "It was almost unheard-of a decade ago," says Martin, who booked her first Scottish castle wedding in the early nineties. "Now destination weddings are a big part of our business, especially with second marriages and slightly older couples." Of course, hauling your guests to distant shores can be tricky, so to alleviate the stress, we've done all the research. The following hotels and wedding planners in eight top locations can arrange anything from a small vow-renewal ceremony to a black-tie affair for a full entourage. And for the honeymoon, T+L teamed up with AOL and asked their subscribers what it takes to turn a typical trip into a sexy escape.
THE SETTING Puerto Rico's Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club (800/633-7313 or 787/796-1234; www.hyatt.com; doubles from $445*), a former grapefruit-and-coconut plantation, holds ceremonies on its oceanfront lawn before taking the party indoors to the old world-style restaurant Salon del Mar, where a wall of glass looks out to frothy waves. • At the Ocean Club (800/321-3000 or 242/363-2000; www.oceanclub.com; doubles from $695) on Paradise Island in the Bahamas (technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean), weddings are held beneath the arches of a reassembled 12th-century Augustinian cloister from France that overlooks Nassau Harbor. The bed linens are Frette; the meal is Jean-Georges; the golf course, Tom Weiskopf. THE EXPERT The consultants at the Wedding Experience (877/580-3556 or 305/421-1260; www.theweddingexperience.com) can handle the details of any island fête, whether it's held on the heart-shaped beach at Megan's Bay on St. Thomas or in a villa near the waterfalls of St. Lucia. THE ICING If you have a PADI certification, contact a luxury diving-vacation consultant at Travelwizard.com (800/330-8820; www.travelwizard.com) to arrange a honeymoon suite at a diving resort, or a private yacht tour of the British Virgin Islands for the whole posse—with an instructor and a chef on board. THE FINE PRINT Some islands let couples wed the day they arrive, but others have waiting periods and residency requirements. Contact the department of tourism on your island for guidelines. The best information is at www.theweddingexperience.com/legal.html, or call the U.S. government's Overseas Citi-zens Services (202/647-5225).
THE SETTING At the Château de Bagnols (33-4/74-71-40-00; www.bagnols.com; $15,000 per night for up to 49 guests), an estate in the green hills of Beaujolais, weddings begin with a rehearsal dinner for up to 120 in the 18th-century wine cellar. On the nuptial day, the bride and groom walk to the village church accompanied by musicians, then return to the château for dinner and dancing. • If a pair of swans gliding on a shimmering pond is your idea of wedding guests, consider the Domaine des Hauts-de-Loire (33-2/54-20-72-57; www.domainehautsloire.com; doubles from $111; opens mid-February), a Loire Valley hunting lodge built in 1860 in a private park. THE EXPERT On the Côte d'Azur, Grand Luxe Weddings International (800/319-4555; www.grandluxeweddings.com) will arrange a ceremony in Cap Ferrat, overlooking the Mediterranean; or in a 16th-century chapel in Aix-en-Provence. Although based in the States, they'll attend to all the details in person. THE ICING Continue your toasting by visiting the vineyards of Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Roederer, and Veuve Clicquot, in Reims, 80 miles northeast of Paris. Most kings of France from Clovis I onward were crowned in the town's cathedral, built in A.D. 496; nearby is Gérard Boyer's Boyer Les Crayères (33-3/26-82-80-80; www.gerardboyer.com; doubles from $257), ranked the number-one hotel in T+L's 2002 World's Best Awards. THE FINE PRINT A 40-day residency period is required to marry in France: for legal details, see www.usmarriagelaws.com. Americans often have "blessing ceremonies" or bring their own officiant from the States. Grand Luxe Weddings works with a nondenominational minister in Europe who can travel to any location.