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Features

Put a ring on it: wedding destinations

Maafushivaru. Image: Kuoni

With weddings and honeymoons abroad now big business, Meera Dattani identifies the destinations and properties catering to this growing market

 

No Expense Spared

Maldives

Although non-Muslims can’t legally marry here, these idyllic Indian Ocean islands are increasingly popular for blessings after signing the paperwork in the UK, from exchanging vows on surfboards to saying ‘I do’ under a banyan tree. The all-inclusive Kuramathi Island Resort is popular, while Olhuveli Beach & Spa Resort on the South Male Atoll offers Maldivian-style ceremonies. At the very top end are the five-star Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort, which is planning the Maldives’ first nine-hole golf course, the private island of Maafushivaru and Velassaru Maldives’ over-water stilt suites, complete with gazebo and infinity pool. Etihad Airways’ route expansion has helped make the islands more accessible.

Barbados

Fusing English and West Indian culture, the most easterly of the Caribbean islands is one of the most popular with UK couples. It’s also possible to marry on the island on a Caribbean cruise stopover. Best-sellers include the all-inclusive four-star Almond Resorts, which offer free weddings for stays of seven nights or more in a deluxe room, with options for agents to upgrade the package. Equally appealing is The Crane, with many of its private balconies overlooking a pristine beach and bright blue ocean. The boutique, adults-only Little Arches and the all-inclusive beachfront Crystal Cove, with its three-tier freshwater pool and lush garden, also offer competitive wedding and honeymoon packages.

Samoa

Since it crossed the dateline at the end of 2011, the idyllic South Pacific island has become a more viable option, especially when combined with New Zealand or Australia for a twin-centre ‘weddingmoon’. Flights arrive from Los Angeles, Auckland or Sydney and there are a host of intimate boutique retreats, such as the Sinalei Reef Resort and Coconuts Beach Club. Those seeking something different will be impressed by the Polynesian culture and landscape that lends itself perfectly to snorkelling, kayaking and hiking. Austravel, Tailor Made Travel, Audley Travel, Travelbag and Transpacific can all tailor-make wedding and honeymoon itineraries to Samoa.

Mauritius

Like the Seychelles, this Indian Ocean island is a honeymooners’ favourite, with secluded beaches and luxury resorts to capture the hearts of romantics. Best-sellers here include the Constance Belle Mare Plage, set in 15 hectares of tropical gardens along a white sand beach, and Beachcomber’s eight hotels, which include the famous Royal Palm Mauritius. Operators such as Letsgo2, Somak, Tropical Sky and Kuoni offer tailor-made wedding and honeymoon packages to Mauritius, which is set to become a more affordable alternative to the Maldives when the latter imposes a bed tax this year.

St Lucia

The twin peaks of the Pitons, award-winning resorts and pristine beaches are three reasons why the Caribbean island of St Lucia is a hot pick. It’s possible for prospective newlyweds to marry the day after arrival and there’s a multitude of wedding and honeymoon packages on offer. What makes St Lucia stand out is its variety of activities, from sailing and diving to rainforest zipwires and helicopter rides. Accommodation favourites include the boutique beachfront Calabash Cove; Jalousie Plantation, set in 100 acres of rainforest; Cap Maison, on a former sugar plantation; and the exclusive Anse Chastanet and sister property Jade Mountain.

 

Mid-Range

New York

The ‘city that never sleeps’ is increasingly popular with UK couples seeking a different take on their big day. Popular venues include The Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, Central Park Zoo and even aboard the World Yacht, while hotels such as The Plaza and Mandarin Oriental offer more traditional, full-blown affairs. New and updated venues include Top of the Rock and the revolving restaurant at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel. Couples can even exchange vows in a helicopter. What’s more, the city has introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

Las Vegas

This Nevada city has long been a wedding and stag weekend hotspot, with a variety of wedding options to cater to all budgets, ranging in style from cheap and cheerful to full-blown opulence. Well-known venues include the Graceland Storybook Wedding Chapel and Little White Wedding Chapel. The possibilities here are endless: couples can marry in a Cadillac down Las Vegas Boulevard, exchange vows in a drive-through chapel or be married by ‘Elvis’. But tying the knot in Vegas doesn’t have to be a novelty affair; the MonteLago Village Resort on Lake Las Vegas, 20 miles from The Strip, and the Grand Canyon offer scenic options outside the city for wedding and honeymoon packages.

Mexico

The second most popular honeymoon destination for Thomson, Mexico’s Caribbean beaches have great appeal. Direct flights to Cancun offer access to Riviera Maya beach resorts such as Playa del Carmen and Tulum, plus the chance to see Mexico’s Mayan and Aztec sights. Best-sellers include Karisma Hotels’ El Dorado and Azul brands, including the gourmet all-inclusive Sensatori Mexico Resort. Rosewood, with the Rosewood Mayakoba on the Yucatan Peninsula, is launching a Rosewood Weddings programme, while Dreams Tulum offers secluded weddings on Tulum Beach.

Sri Lanka

A top seller for many operators, Sri Lanka is another long-haul destination offering luxury at a lower price. It regularly features among the world’s top three destinations for weddings, its strong appeal lying in the variety of its wedding product, which ranges from a traditional beach ceremony to exchanging vows aloft in a hot air balloon, on a tea plantation or on a private island. A popular spot with UK couples, Sri Lanka’s Kalutara coastline is well served by hotels offering wedding and honeymoon packages through tour operators such as Kuoni and Funway. Popular places to stay include the Paradise Beach Negombo, The Kandy House and Sri Villas.

Thailand

Value for money, high-quality resorts and fine food remain Thailand’s forte as an affordable long-haul honeymoon destination. Popular options include the five-star The Shore at Katathani in Phuket and its four-star sister hotel Katathani Phuket Beach Resort — the latter’s on-site Wedding Terrace seats up to 120 and a team of ‘Dream Makers’ cater to every whim. The islands of Koh Samui and Koh Lanta both have beachside retreats, Rocky’s Boutique Resort on Samui offering ceremonies attended by Buddhist monks. One of the country’s top honeymoon spots is the Rayavadee Krabi, located on the western Andaman Sea coastline, and the award-winning Sarojin resort on Khao Lak.

 

On a Budget

Cyprus

Around 4,500 British couples married in Cyprus last year, attracted by its proximity, climate and savings of up to £10,000. It’s Thomson’s top wedding destination with around a third of its bookings, from town hall weddings and taverna receptions to five-star hotels like the Annabelle, Amathus Paphos and Elysium. Other best-sellers include the all-inclusive First Choice Holiday Village Aliathon, Columbia Beach Resort in Pissouri Bay and Larnaca’s Palm Beach Hotel & Bungalows. North Cyprus also offers value for money, being outside the eurozone.

Portugal

Portugal is fast becoming a favourite with UK couples, offering value for money in a warm climate. Featuring for the first time in Planet Holidays’ 2012 brochure, Portugal has introduced full civil partnership ceremonies, so same-sex couples can choose this option in addition to blessings. The Algarve coastline is popular and one of its most famous venues is The Lady of the Rock, a small, 15th-century clifftop chapel 11 miles from Albufeira. Other options include the Duna Beach
Club in Lagos, the Sheraton Algarve, the Villas d’Agua and Lisbon’s majestic Grandiose Palace.

Italy

From Cupid to Casanova, Italy has long been associated with all things romantic. Already a strong honeymoon destination, it’s increasing its hold on the weddings market, with Sorrento and Rome in the south, and Venice and Florence in the north, all easily accessible from the UK. Those looking to upgrade the honeymoon segment should consider Lake Como, home to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Villa del Balbianello (used during the filming of Casino Royale), while many of Classic Collection’s Italian villas and hotels offer wedding and honeymoon packages.

Malta

English-speaking, sunny Malta is a Mediterranean wedding and honeymoon hotspot and a new addition for operators such as Planet Weddings. Five-star hotels like the Phoenicia, conveniently located near the World Heritage city of Valletta, offer reasonably priced packages. Its wedding packages are sold through operators including Belleair, Thomas Cook and Thomson. Malta has an impressive range of wedding offerings: for example, marrying in a tiny chapel over St Paul’s Bay before a lavish reception at the Radisson Blu, Golden Bay, or on Hola Beach. Neighbouring Gozo makes Malta a viable twin-centre option.

Greece

Mamma Mia! put the Greek islands on the map for romantic weddings, and cheap flights combined with a range of venues have played their part in attracting UK couples. Town hall weddings cost an average of €285 (£240), with many
venues offering picturesque locations overlooking the sea. Options include the Dana Villas in Santorini, Melissani Lake and Foki Beach in Kefalonia, and a castle in Parga. Tour operators such as Olympic Holidays, Ionian Weddings and Planet Weddings cover the region well and can confirm legal requirements for different islands.

 

Twin-Centres

Las Vegas & Hawaii

This contrasting twin-centre combination is great for couples looking to make the most of their time in the US. Las Vegas’ 24/7 lifestyle, including all-night casinos, light shows and opulent hotels, is complemented by the more mellow experience of Hawaii, where attractions include the white sands of Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, the waterfalls of Kauai and the unspoilt beaches of Maui. For couples with a few extra days to spare, San Francisco is often tagged on to these itineraries for a multi-centre holiday.

South Africa & Madagascar/Mozambique

From Cape Town and the Winelands to the luxurious safari lodges of Madikwe and Kruger, South Africa has plenty to offer honeymooners. For couples looking for an unusual add-on, suggest Madagascar or Mozambique. Rainbow Tours has seen demand for unusual honeymoon destinations increase, particularly for Madagascar, which Africa product manager Lisa Fisher says “offers luxury, beaches, unique wildlife and is still off the beaten track”. Couples looking for a remote safari could choose Mozambique, where restored Gorongosa National Park currently has just one lodge.

Sri Lanka & the Maldives

The Maldives has long been a strong seller for many operators, including Kuoni, which has exclusive properties in the archipelago, including Maafushivaru and Kuramathi. Many of the resorts offer wedding packages complete with wedding planner and ceremony. Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has become safe and affordable, offering beaches, culture and sights aplenty — ideal for couples who want to either fly-and-flop or tour. New areas that opened up to tourists in 2011 include pristine Trincomalee on the east coast.

Singapore & Bali

South-east Asia has always proved excellent value and twin-centre honeymoons combining it with Bali make the most of the long journey. Honeymoons starting in Singapore allow couples to enjoy a city break, staying at iconic properties such as Raffles Hotel or the Miramar, before flying to Bali for some R&R. Award-winning resorts on this Indonesian island include Alila Villas Uluwatu and Alila Villas Soori on the southern peninsula. Hayes & Jarvis, Kuoni and Letsgo2 are among the operators that tailor-make packages to the area. Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong are also good starting points.

Dubai & the Seychelles

A honeymoon in these destinations offers the option of combining a city break and a beach stay. Dubai’s accessibility, quality hotels and relatively short flying time have boosted its popularity, with Kuoni’s 2012 Travel Trends noting its increased honeymoon appeal. Properties such as Atlantis The Palm, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Raffles and One&Only resorts are popular. The Seychelles, meanwhile, benefitted from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge choosing it for their honeymoon. High-end accommodation here includes MAIA Luxury Resort & Spa and Raffles Praslin.

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