...or, 'I still do.' Read on for essential information on the best spots for weddings, vow renewals, and honeymoons far away.
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.
THE SETTING The Parker Co. (800/280-2811; www.theparkercompany.com; weekly rentals $350-$18,000) short-lists 10 of its 400 properties for wedding parties; at these select few, the owners double as coordinators. Among the villas are a group of farmhouses in Tuscany that sleeps up to 100 and a medieval castle in Umbria that accommodates 19. • For a Tuscan country wedding, consider the Villa Fontelunga (39-0575/660-410; www.villafontelunga.com; $2,650 per night for 16 guests, three-night minimum stay), overlooking Cortona. Its three stylish owners create celebrations with white linens and white flowers against a backdrop of terraced gardens and olive groves. THE EXPERT The Italian-born wedding consultants at the London firm Italia Romantica (44-208/830-2090; www.italiaromantica.com) can manage every detail of any wedding, down to the translation of the vows and the selection of wines. THE ICING Float over the Tuscan countryside on a balloon tour led by Buddy Bombard's Europe (800/862-8537; www.bombardsociety.com; $9,893 per person for seven days, all-inclusive), stopping for visits at local farms, villages, and castles. THE FINE PRINT Marrying in Italy is difficult, as it requires not only translating all legal documents into Italian but also dealing with sporadic business hours and long lines at the U.S. Consulate. Call a planner or the Italian Consulate in New York (212/439-8633) for details.
THE SETTING Oahu's famous Halekulani (800/367-2343 or 808/923-2311; www.halekulani.com; doubles from $325) specializes in sunset weddings on its terrace, overlooking Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. After the ceremony, the candles are lit, the cocktails are served, and the bridal party is ushered into Yves Garnier's La Mer for dinner prepared by the only Michelin-starred chef in the state. • The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (800/888-6100 or 808/875-1234; www.grandwailea.com; doubles from $450) on Maui prepares the bride and groom with a day of spa treatments. Ceremonies in the open-air chapel begin with a processional of torch-bearing maidens, conch-shell blowers, and Polynesian drummers, and end with the release of doves. THE EXPERT When Hawaii event consultant Dean Christopher (808/733-4633; email@example.com) plans a wedding, society attends: for recent projects, he ordered favors from Georg Jensen, entwined chandeliers with 30 dozen roses each, and flew a Vera Wang couture gown from New York to Hawaii for fittings. THE ICING Take surf lessons. A flower-draped statue of Duke Kahanamoku (the father of the sport) marks the spot where teachers and boards of all sizes congregate on Waikiki Beach. At the Princeville Resort on Kauai (800/325-3589 or 808/826-9644; www.princeville.com; doubles from $425) the beach boys start beginning surfers on a nine-foot-long board in sandy-bottomed Hanalei Bay. THE FINE PRINT No residency, waiting period, or blood test is required, but couples need to apply for a 30-day license. Call Hawaii's Marriage License Office at 808/586-4545 or go to www.hawaii.gov/doh/recordsvr_marri.html to download an application.
THE SETTING Waiheke Island, near Auckland, is celebrated for its red wines, and Derek and Sally Holland, owners of Waiheke's English country-style winery Glenora Estate (64-9/372-5082; www.intimatewedding.co.nz; doubles from $176, including breakfast), specialize in intimate weddings. He's licensed to perform the ceremony, and she's a noted portrait photographer who will take the pictures. They have only three guest rooms on the estate but can throw a party for 100 in collaboration with a local vineyard and find accommodations for guests elsewhere on the island. • The lodge and rooms at Kauri Cliffs (64-9/405-1905; www.kauricliffs.com; doubles from $1,005, including breakfast and dinner), opened in 2001, were designed by Virginia Fisher, the Ian Schrager of New Zealand hotel design. Sunrise wedding ceremonies are held on a whitewashed, pillared veranda above the Pacific, with Maori tribal elders in attendance. • Snowcapped mountains and ancient forests above a glacier-fed lake are the setting at Blanket Bay (64-3/442-9442; www.blanketbay.com; doubles from $598, including breakfast and dinner), one of New Zealand's most sumptuous lodges. It delivers luxury, adventure, and wedding photos that seem to have been art-directed by J.R.R. Tolkien. THE EXPERT Extreme adventurers should call Vanessa Leeming of Cashmere Heights Weddings (64-3/377-3317; www.wednz.com) and ask for the 12,349-foot-high "Wedding at Altitude." Leeming ferries bride, groom, and civil celebrant by helicopter to Mount Cook National Park, where the couple is joined on the peak while a bottle of bubbly cools in the snow. For the agoraphobic, she can arrange more-subdued weddings as well. THE ICING Travel by AS-350 Squirrel helicopter to the remote Rangitikei River—its trout are so abundant they're visible from the air. Before landing and unpacking the fly-fishing gear, the pilot from Chris Jolly Outdoors (64-7/378-0623; www.chrisjolly.co.nz) will hover over the wild horses in Kaimanawa and the active volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. THE FINE PRINT A three-day waiting period can be avoided by mailing copies of required documents (birth certificate, passport, and divorce decree, if applicable) to the wedding planner or hotel in advance. They can file your Notice of Intended Marriage; you pick up your license. Check the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Web site, www.dia.govt.nz, for details.
The South Pacific
THE SETTING Staffers at Bora Bora Lagoon Resort (800/860-4095; www.orient-expresshotels.com; doubles from $495), on the private island of Motu Toopua, suggest following the Polynesian ceremony (which is not legally binding, by the way) with a picnic on an uninhabited island. After unloading baskets of lobster, lamb, local Hinano beer, and snorkeling equipment, they leave the bride and groom on their own. The wedding night is then spent back at the hotel, in an overwater, thatched-roof bungalow. • Couples staying in a suite on stilts at the Hotel Bora Bora (800/477-9180 or 689/640-460; www.amanresorts.com; doubles from $800) segue from the service to a sailing expedition on a 50-foot catamaran, where champagne and canapés are served. • Bill Gates honeymooned at the Wakaya Club (800/828-3454; www.wakaya.com; doubles from $1,600, all-inclusive; exclusive rental with up to 24 guests $25,000), a private island in the Fiji archipelago with a 6-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio. A Methodist minister conducts legal weddings at the club and four master chefs and two pastry chefs design reception menus featuring seafood, game, and produce from Wakaya's organic gardens. THE EXPERT Lee Barnitt (Cherry Creek Travel, 303/316-5902; www.cherrycreektravel.com) knows everything there is to know about arranging symbolic ceremonies and honeymoons in French Polynesia. She can also organize legal ceremonies in Fiji and the Cook Islands. THE ICING Picasso triggerfish and Moorish idol fish are among the many creatures that form a psychedelic underwater palette around the 118 islands of French Polynesia. For a private tour—on a 17-foot Boston whaler—of the best diving and snorkeling spots, try Moana Adventure Tours & Cruises (689/677-597; www.moanatours.com; half-day trips from $413, including gear). THE FINE PRINT Legal weddings in Bora-Bora require 30 days' residency (check the Tahiti Tourism Web site at www.gototahiti.com; for Fiji, call the registrar's office at 011-679/666-5132). It's easier to have a civil marriage in the United States and a symbolic ceremony in French Polynesia.
THE SETTING The 1964 classic movie The Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton, put Puerto Vallarta, a town of cobblestoned streets and exuberant nightlife set against the peaks of the Sierra Madre, on the map. The Westin Regina Resort Puerto Vallarta (800/228-3000 or 52-322/226-1100; www.westinpv.com; doubles from $99) holds weddings on its terrace above the sea. Have a simple affair or indulge in all the local frills: a five-tier cake, a Mexican wedding dress, a trio playing "Novia Mia." • Twenty-five miles north, on a private isthmus, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (800/332-3442 or 52-329/291-6000; www.fourseasons.com/puntamita; doubles from $390) caters to the unusual—if you want flower petals sprinkled on your reception from a helicopter, consider it done. Guests can sleep in private casitas with plunge pools, and sign up for massages with sage oil and tequila. • The grand gates of the Hacienda San Gabriel de las Palmas (52-751/348-0636; www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com; doubles from $140), built by Cortés outside Cuernavaca in 1529, are thrown open for the reception of wedding groups of up to 1,000 (30 can spend the night). Ceremonies are held in a small chapel on the grounds, and the evenings end with fireworks. THE EXPERT If you just want to pack a bag and flee to a palapa on Huatulco Beach, call the bilingual planners at Weddings on the Move (800/444-6967; www.idoweddings.com). They'll do all the legal legwork and select traditional Mexican wedding goblets or even (for a Catholic wedding) honorary Mexican godparents. THE ICING A personal shopper can uncover the finest black pottery and weavings of Oaxaca and the most intricate silverwork of Taxco, and help you get that folk-art Nativity scene or wrought iron-and-tile patio furniture home. You can hire a personal shopper through your hotel concierge. THE FINE PRINT Legal requirements in Mexico vary, not just from Saltillo to San Miguel de Allende but from judge to judge, and there is no public information available in English. A planner or a hotel with a wedding coordinator is essential.
California Wine Country
THE SETTING Exchange rings under the willows at Meadowood (800/458-8080 or 707/963-3646; www.meadowood.com; doubles from $500), a 250-acre Napa Valley estate with a wedding coordinator, a wine educator, and even a croquet pro on staff. Garden weddings and day-after breakfasts here are legendary. • Hotel Healdsburg (800/889-7188; www.hotelhealdsburg.com; $60,000, all-inclusive, for two nights, for 110 guests), on Healdsburg's downtown square, is the home of Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen; that's reason enough to take over the place for a weekend. THE EXPERT Wedding planner Robbin Montero (707/579-5886) can arrange spa treatments for the bridal party at Indian Springs in Calistoga, as well as wine tours just for them, a rehearsal dinner with a string quartet in the caves at Clos Pegase Winery, or a wedding at the storybook castle at V. Sattui Winery. She'll even order bottles of wine from Windsor Vineyards with custom labels commemorating the day. THE ICING Getaway Adventures (800/499-2453; www.getawayadventures.com; weekends from $899 per person) will schedule a weekend of biking, sightseeing, and wine tasting by day and spa treatments and great inns and restaurants by night. THE FINE PRINT No residency requirement, no waiting period. To pick up your license, appear in the county clerk's office with identification; proof of divorce, death or annulment (if applicable); and the fee (which varies by county). For phone numbers and details, go to www.usmarriagelaws.com/search/united_states/california.
*In all cases, the price for wedding ceremony and reception varies according to specific requirements and the size of the party.
More Hotels for Destination Weddings
CLASSIC The Phoenician Average rates: Reception $175 per person. Ceremony $3,800, including bridal suite. Doubles from $625. Scottsdale; 800/888-8234; www.thephoenician.com
NEW CLASSIC Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Average rates: Reception $160 per person. Ceremony $2,000. Doubles from $430. Paradise Valley; 800/245-2051; www.sanctuaryaz.com
VALUE Hermosa Inn Average rates: Reception $75 per person. Ceremony $1,500. Doubles from $240. Paradise Valley; 800/241-1210; www.hermosainn.com
CLASSIC Round Hill Hotel & Villas Average rates: Reception $55 per person. Ceremony: $2,500. Doubles from $420. Montego Bay; 800/972-2159; www.roundhilljamaica.com
NEW CLASSIC Jake's Average rates: Reception $30 per person. Ceremony $190. Doubles from $115. St. Elizabeth; 876/965-3000; www.jakesjamaica.com
VALUE Good Hope Plantation Average rates: $2,700 per night (four-night minimum), including ceremony, with accommodations for 26 guests. Reception $50 per person. 301/229-4300; www.jamaicavillas.com
CLASSIC Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa Average rates: Reception $40 per person. Ceremony $1,000. Doubles from $540, all-inclusive. Estate Smith Bay; 340/777-7100; www.wyndham.com
NEW CLASSIC Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas Average rates: Reception $78 per person. Ceremony $3,600. Doubles from $595. Great Bay; 800/241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com
VALUE Hotel 1829 Average rates: Reception $160 per person. Ceremony $800. Doubles from $105. Government Hill; 800/524-2002; www.hotel1829.com
CLASSIC Bellagio Average rates: Reception $150 per person. Ceremony $3,200. Doubles from $159. 888/987-3456; www.bellagio.com
NEW CLASSIC JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort Average rates: Reception $130 per person (including ceremony). Doubles from $229. 877/869-8777; www.gowestmarriott.com
VALUE The Venetian Average rates: Reception $52 per person, room rental $445 extra. Ceremony $1,650. Doubles from $279. 877/283-6423; www.venetian.com
CLASSIC Fairmont Château Frontenac Average rates: Reception $90 per person. Ceremony $255. Doubles from $255. Qquebec City; 800/441-1414; www.fairmont.com
NEW CLASSIC Hôtel St.-Paul Average rates: Reception $95 per person. Ceremony $514. Doubles from $140. Montreal; 514/380-2222; www.hotelstpaul.com
VALUE Fairmont Château Montebello Average rates: Reception $80 per person. Ceremony $193. Doubles from $147. Montebello; 800/441-1414; www.fairmont.com
The Special Agents: Weddings and Honeymoons
Call on one of these experts to act as both travel agent and wedding planner. From the chartered Concorde to the purpose-built wedding pavilion, they leave no detail unattended to—even if the ceremony is a few time zones away.
SPECIALTY: The Caribbean. Arranged for a 40-guest reception aboard a yacht. Protravel International, New York, N.Y.; 800/227-1059; firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIALTY: France. Inspected hotels there to find one couple's idea of perfection: a private entrance, four-poster bed, and claw-foot tub. Anspach Travel Bureau, Highland Park, Ill.; 800/345-7901; email@example.com
SPECIALTY: Italy. Flew in a rabbi from Israel to Lake Como to perform a wedding. Sue Brown Travel Consultants, Boca Raton, Fla.; 800/637-5577; firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIALTY: Africa. Organized sunrise breakfast in Kenya's Great Rift Valley. Unique Travel, Delray Beach, Fla. 800/245-3403; email@example.com
SPECIALTY: Ireland. Tracked down a minister in Northern Ireland, so the bride could be wed in the same town as her 16th-century ancestors. Travel Society, Boulder, Colo.; 877/464-9255; firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIALTY: The Caribbean. Had a staircase in a Jamaican villa covered with blossoms for the bride's entrance. Strong Travel Services, Dallas; 800/747-5670; email@example.com
Mary Ann Moorehead
SPECIALTY: Greece. Arranged villas, pools, and jeeps on four Greek islands. American Express Travel Services, Garden City, N.Y.; 516/228-2384; firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIALTY: Western Europe. Conspired with a groom to plan a honeymoon in France and Italy. The bride thought she was going to California—right up until she got on the plane. World Wide Travel Service, Austin, Tex.; 888/407-9900; email@example.com
Meadowood Napa Valley
Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort
Whether it's splashing in Maui's best swimming pool all day or relaxing in Maui's best spa, a day spent at the Grand Wailea is synonymous with island luxury. In recent years, the Grand Wailea has led an exciting hyper-local food movement, where many of the resort's food and beverage items are grown or harvested on Maui. A few items, such as resort-grown honey, are sourced right on the property, and there's even a monthly dinner featuring food caught or harvested by hotel staff. Oh, and the 780-room property is set right on Wailea Beach—which in 1999 was voted by "Dr. Beach" as the #1 beach in America.
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita
Open since 1999, the first luxury resort on the Punta Mita peninsula continues to enchant guests with its sweeping views (naturally, it claimed the peninsula's choicest spot when it opened) and pamper them with its famously perfect service. The hotel prides itself on fulfilling even the most unusual request. Most visitors, though, will find lounging in their rooms to be pleasure enough: most suites have plunge pools, some oceanfront suites are set atop cliffs, while others open directly onto the white-sand beach. Those craving more indulgence can try the signature Punta Mita massage which incorporates tequila and traditional Mexican healing techniquees. If you have a family in tow, the game center, ideal for teens, and a children’s center both have been recently renovated.
Domaine des Hauts de Loire
A former 19th-century hunting lodge with 31 Empire-style rooms set on 178 forested acres between Blois and Amboise.
Hotel Bora Bora
This hotel is currently closed for a complete reconstruction. No date has been set for reopening.
Hyatt Hacienda del Mar
The Hyatt Hacienda del Mar sits on a private section of Dorado Beach, just 25 miles outside of San Juan. The hotel’s lobby and guest rooms are decorated in bright, tropical colors; the lobby has bright yellow walls and blue chairs, while the guest rooms are outfitted with brightly colored, tropical linens, light wood furnishings, and tropical plants. The on-site Spa Del Sol offers guests relaxing massage treatments, while the Blu Bohio Bar & Grill serves tropical drinks and sandwiches. Additional amenities include an outdoor pool and four championship golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Hacienda San Gabriel de las Palmas
A 1529 conquistador's mansion turned ultra-luxe hotel.
Recommended by Zachary Rabinor, one of T+L's 2010 A-List travel agents.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta
Bora Bora Lagoon Resort
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Set on 6,000 acres of lush, rolling North Island countryside and bushland beside the Pacific, the 22-suite Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is one of three luxe lodges owned by the New York-based Robertson family (the others being the Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge). Despite its American proprietors, Kauri Cliffs feels 100 percent Kiwi. While golf is the main draw here, there are also two tennis courts, an infinity pool, and a trio of secluded swimming beaches. In addition to the spacious suites, there’s also a 4,200-square foot two-bedroom Owner’s Cottage (these days de rigueur at top New Zealand lodges), nestled in native forest with views of the golf course. The spa, regarded as one of the best in New Zealand, is set in a native totara rainforest with indoor and outdoor fireplaces for chilly Kiwi days.
Château de Bagnols
Healdsburg’s historic downtown got a big dose of modern chic when this hotel opened in 2002, right on the main square. The property has a sophisticated, W-ish aesthetic, with common areas (a cavernous, firelit lobby lounge, a glassed-in breakfast atrium, a sleek outdoor pool) that feel luxe and decidedly angular. The 55 guest rooms are more inviting, with sunny yellow walls, polished pecan floors, and teak furnishings warming up the otherwise spare décor (the goose-down duvets and Frette linens help, too). Celebrity chef Charlie Palmer runs the excellent on-site restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen; be sure to nab a dinner reservation when you book your room. For a more hands-on experience, sign up for any of several one-day cooking classes at nearby Relish Culinary School—they run the gamut from pickling and cheesemaking to mushroom-foraging.