Are honeymoons still a thing? At the last few weddings I’ve attended the couples have either said they might go away next year instead, or mentioned they might have a long weekend in Ireland, or maybe they’ll just chill out at home. Comments that would have drawn concern and wrinkled foreheads when I got married some 20 years ago. At that time (I’m fairly sure) some couples were getting married solely because of the honeymoon. The moon in honeymoon meaning a month together before things waned. Back then, in the olden days, it felt competitive and I knew more than a few who took four weeks off on grand tours that cost as much as the wedding.
Each to their own, but the very first question I would ask is, do you want to go where other honeymooners are? Not my scene, then or now, but there are newlyweds who think nothing of proper long haul, losing four days to flights and post-flight collywobbles. Couples who think nothing of flying and then taking flight again (and again) to a honeymooned colony, something on stilts, to compare wedding albums and anecdotes with your next-door over-water cabin neighbour, where even the manta rays are signalling for you to turn off your effing phone.
If the holy holiday trinity of culture and food in the sunshine is your thing – something to do and something to talk about – then you’ll want a decent hotel or rental with a pool from where you can smell nice things being grilled over the rooftops of the mighty, but often forgotten, European beauties of Athens, Naples and Lisbon, or something similar but smaller like Valletta, Seville or Nicosia.
Twenty years ago, watching your airmiles meant looking through a cute book where you collected coupons. Soon you will be able to leave the EU without leaving this island, but if you need to hear a foreign language in a foreign land to feel you are away, but are cutting airports out of your diet, then there are fewer languages more foreign or older than Basque.
The ferry from Cork to Santander is a near guilt-free option. Buzzing in the summer, Santander has some of the best seafood and seafood traditions anywhere and all around Cantabria is the world of good beaches. This corner of the continent is also Basque country. I prefer Bilbao to the throngs of food tourists in San Sebastian but neither are particularly honeymoony. Handsome Biarritz or picturesque Saint-Jean-de-Luz in France’s Basque country are better. The beaches around Lekeitio or mooching around the perfectly preserved old town of Hondarribia are best. The cosy Villa Magalean in Hondarribia by the marina or the 19th-century elegance of Hotel Villa Soro inland or the classy Iriarte Jauregia 25 minutes south of San Sebastián have old-school honeymoon written all over them. www.iriartejauregia.com
I got engaged in Rome. Writing to my 28-year-old self now I would probably advise him not to go to a city where it looks like every second person is down on one knee all of the time. And definitely don’t do Rome in the summer. Instead have a different kind of Roman holiday and retreat to La Posta Vecchia, a villa between the most Roman of countrysides and the Tyrrhenian Sea. You don’t even need to leave the building to visit a museum as you are staying in one – this ancient villa is its own John Paul Getty Museum. The oil magnate bought the palazzo as his home in the 1960s and restored it, equipping it with hundreds of treasures as a living museum. When (nearly) in Rome, do as the Romans do – dip in and out of the city when you feel like it, then retreat to La Posta Vecchia’s terraces over a Campari. www.postavecchiahotel.com
My honeymoon was scuba-diving in Malindi north of Mombasa before heading on a bottom-breaking drive to the badlands of Tsavo in northern Kenya, staying in big canvas Victorian tents and listening to a huge male lion wandering the site at night, or someone with a huge male lion’s footprints on a stick à la Skippy the bush kangaroo, leaving plausible marks. There were many animals to be seen by day – lions, cheetahs, elephants – and then the sinister Christmas lights when the sun went down on the river and hundreds of avid eyes stared at you having dinner, with some considering having you for dinner.
It was perfect. But if I was doing it all again tomorrow – Kenya, not the wedding that is – I would go up a grade in comfort to Giraffe Manor in the suburbs of Nairobi and lie around reading some books on the top floor, while that most dramatic of mammals stick their heads in the window, diffusing any potential honeymoon tension. www.thesafaricollection.com
If those desert island dreams won’t go away and the flying time and money aren’t hurdles, then fewer countries have turned perceptions around quicker than Colombia. I am due there later in the year, when I won’t be on honeymoon or on holiday, but if I was doing either I would track down to Cartagena – nobody’s holiday secret these days, but still beautiful. Then to Providencia, a little isle off that country’s northern coast that has more than newlyweds aflutter while remaining the fantasy island of most Caribbean dreams – like Monasterio del Viento, a house with four bedrooms on an island of the kind that isn’t supposed to exist anymore. Twenty years ago, announcing you were heading off to stay in a Colombian guesthouse for your honeymoon would have resulted in an intervention.
Times have changed and although the perfect honeymoon mightn’t be a priority now, the perfect honeymoon posts are. You only have one honeymoon (maybe), so if you do want to outdo all your friends in a single post, maintain radio silence for the entire trip and don’t post a single thing until you are home. Then just a blank white page saying Sensational honeymoon, completely forgot to even look at Instagram … Hashtag this. www.monasteriodelviento.com