Machu Picchu, Peru
For a Mystical Experience
Sunrise. The light breaks over the deep green of the Andes Mountains, 8,170 feet above sea level. Slowly the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu appear through the morning mist. If you are brave (and have booked in advance), you can tackle the somewhat challenging climb up the green sugarloaf-shaped mountain, Huayna Picchu—the one you’ve seen on all the travel posters—for incredible views as the sun rises. Plan a full day exploring what many scholars now believe was the great estate of an Incan emperor, rather than a fortress. Stay at Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Resort in Aguas Calientes, the village below the ruins. This eco-friendly, 12-acre property, offers cozy white-washed casitas with fireplaces and thick alpaca blankets for chilly evenings. Guided bird watching and orchid walks are part of the package. Dine in the casual Fusion or the more formal Dining Room, both with views of the roaring Vilacanota River. Book a soothing couples massage, but most of all, bask in the silence.
The Gower Peninsula, Wales
For Glorious Seaside Walks
Wales’ Gower Peninsula, an official “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” in Britain, offers glorious cliff top walks, views of serene horseshoe-shaped bays, postcard-pretty villages—and except on summer weekends—a delicious sense of peace. Book a room in the 18th-century mansion Fairy Hill, in Reynoldston, with a restaurant that features only locally sourced food. Head for the Cliff Walk, part of an 850-mile walking path that soon will encircle all of Wales. At Rhossili, the farthest reach of the Gower, hike out to Worms Head, a narrow peninsula stretching into the sea (mind the tides, so you don’t get trapped). Baby lambs—destined for local restaurants where salt marsh lamb is a delicacy—will give curious glances as you walk by. The rather basic Worms Head Hotel has a restaurant, and an unbeatable location. At Cefn Bryn, Gower’s highest point – and the site of a giant boulder known as “King Arthur’s Stone”—you can look over the Llanrhidian salt marshes and see as far as neighboring Carmarthenshire.
The Galilee, Israel
For Gentle Pleasures
Book a room at the quietly elegant Hotel Spa Mizpe-Hayamim, outside the lovely hill town of Rosh Pina (where, rumor has it, Madonna has purchased a home). The pretty hotel’s 37-acre grounds includes walking paths, streams, views of snow-capped Mount Hermon in the distance, as well as the abundant gardens and barns that supply its excellent organic restaurant. Spend a morning in nearby Nazareth to tour the Christian sites and enjoy great Middle Eastern fare at Tishreen, just steps from the Basilica of the Annunciation. Another day, drive north for a tour and tasting at the impressive Golan Heights Winery. Don’t miss the Jewish holy city of Safed, its winding streets lined with art galleries. Be sure to also visit the 16th-century Synagogue Isaac Loria, with is Kabbalistic art. Just below lies the serene Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Kinneret, where you can take wind-surfing lessons, dine on St. Peter’s fish, and view the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount, marked by a small Franciscan Church.
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
For World-Class Scenery
Canada’s Cape Breton Island is a bit like a journey back in time, with its cozy country inns, farm-fresh fare, and such low-tech pleasures as birding, moose spotting, trout fishing and whale watching. In fact, the whales are so prolific that boat captains guarantee sightings. The island’s vast 370-square-mile Cape Breton Highlands National Park provides dramatic views of both the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the wild waves of the Atlantic. Drive the 190-mile-long Cabot Trail, flanked by towering mountains on one side and sheer cliffs above the sea on the other. If your base is in Pleasant Valley, you will be close to the lovely (but steep and a challenging) Pollett’s Cove Trail, with extraordinary views, as well as places to camp. The pretty Broadwater Inn, 10 minutes from the Cabot Trail, offers rooms in private log cottages or in its main lodge. The adjacent Bell Bay Golf Club provides views stunning enough to distract you from your game.
Stanley Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls, Zambia
For Romance in the Wild
When it comes to romantic safaris, small is better, which helps to explain why the 10-unit Stanley Safari Lodge is perfect for canoodling couples in search of privacy. Splurge on the Livingstone Suite, pure colonial Africa, and so close to Victoria Falls that you can see the spray—not to mention the sunset. The staff will serve private dinner à deux for you anywhere on the lodge grounds. Guided game drives are, of course, the order of the day—sometimes in neighboring Botswana, to see the world’s largest elephant population in Chobe National Park; other times in Zambia and even in Zimbabwe. More options: Riding an elephant through the bush or taking a guided walk alongside some cute baby lions. Take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi or, for the brave, canoe or raft down part of the river (watch out for hippos and crocodiles). Visit the nearby traditional village of Mukuni, ruled by His Royal Highness Chief Mukuni, Monarch of the Victoria Falls. Finish each day with soothing sundowners on your private terrace.
The Island of Madeira, Portugal
For Sipping Wine While Watching the Sun Set Over the Sea
The pretty little island of Madeira feels delightfully British, despite the fact that it actually belongs to Portugal. No matter who owns it, you can’t beat its relatively steady 80-something degree weather, its quiet elegance, and of course, its eponymous wine. Reids Palace Madeira, an Orient Express property, is the place to stay if romance is on the agenda. The hotel is ringed by lush gardens, and offers spectacular views of the Atlantic and sublime spa packages. While it may be hard to leave, do head to the Saint Francis Wine Lodge in Funchal to taste the local wines, some more than 150 years old. Visit the Botanical Garden and see the city panorama from the cable car there. Explore the shops in Funchal’s old port. Locals say that Porto Santo is the best beach on the island—it goes on forever. If you’re feeling energetic, take a guided hike along the “Levados,” the open-air canal system that dates back to the 16th century. It will take you through the island’s green heart, and into Europe’s oldest laurel forest.
Reykjavik and Southern Iceland
For Combining Big City Fun with Lovely Vistas
Start in pretty Reykjavik, with its postcard-perfect harbor, its houses painted in vivid primary colors, and its nightlife that doesn’t stop until morning, especially during the white nights of summer. Great restaurants abound. If touring time is short, put The Settlement Museum, with its almost intact Viking longhouse dating back to 871 A.D., at the top of the list. Real romance, however, lies in the glorious scenery of the Golden Circle, along the country’s south coast. Do it in a day, stopping at Pingvellir National Park, where the North American and European tectonic plates meet, and where an early, oral legal system was devised. Stop at Geysir, the hot (very hot) geothermal eruption that occurs every five minutes and that gave its name to geysers all over the world. Don’t miss the glorious Gulfoss Falls, the roiling water often topped by a perfect rainbow. Savor the beauty of a landscape dotted by sheep and tiny Icelandic horses. Back in Reykjavik, soothe your souls in the Blue Lagoon, where you can smear each other with white mud and bask in a giant 100-degree geothermal pool, before heading to the airport.
Hacienda Santa Inés, Cartago, Costa Rica
For Rural Romance in Ultimate Luxury
Somewhere between peeling the potatoes and putting laundry in the dryer, have you ever wished you could spend a week in the lap of luxury, be waited on hand and foot—and maybe throw a few couples massages into the equation? There is a solution, though it may involve winning the lottery. The exquisite Hacienda Santa Inés, on 300 acres in the mountains above San José, Costa Rica is available for rent, for just one couple; a group of friends; Hollywood celebrities, drawn by the promise of supreme privacy; or destination weddings. This vast private home, complete with a movie theater, a spa, a kitchen that Martha Stewart might covet, and more staff than you could possibly keep busy, will let you feel like you are starring in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Outdoors, you will have 300 acres to roam, gallop around on horseback, or zoom over on an ATV. Indoors, meals are prepared to order and such niceties as aperitifs and champagne enrich your time in the spacious hot tub. Off-property tours are arranged.
For Getting Far Away From It All
If your romantic dream is to get far away from it all, consider Tasmania, the small, and still delightfully untouched island off Australia’s southern coast. Book a suite at the new and deliciously private, Saffire-Freycinet, located at Coles Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula. This posh place to play accommodates only 40 guests in 20-free-standing suites, all with ocean views. Do as little or as much as you want. Take a picnic to nearby Freycinet National Park, do a morning canoe tour of Pelican Bay, fly kites on the beach, take a guided scenic walk, or just hang out in hammocks. Ready for reentry? Move to the Henry Jones Art Hotel in downtown Hobart, the island’s major city. From there, explore the Tasmanian Devil Conservation site and the infamous Port Arthur Historic Site, where 12,500 British convicts were held in brutal conditions (there is also an evening ghost tour). Stroll through Hobart’s dockside area, and take a tour to the summit of Mount Wellington for views as far as the island’s South West Wilderness.
For Serene Sands, Deep Jungle, and Local Color
The Langkawi Islands, off Malaysia’s west coast, offer glorious strands of white sand backed by deep green palm trees, good restaurants, and great hotels, in a setting that still harks back to the “old” Southeast Asia. You don’t have to drive far from pretty Pantai Cenang Beach, the major hotel strip, to find small settlements of houses built high on stilts, water buffalo contentedly grazing, women working in the rice paddies, and kids pedaling down the road on rattle-trap bicycles. Sacrifice some beach time to ride the cable car to the top of Mount Gunung Mat Cincang, and then walk across the steel bridge to a neighboring mountaintop, enjoying great sea and island views, as well as the rainforest canopy below. Book a boat trip through the mangroves, visit the local hot springs and the black sand beach, and check out at least one of the island’s major sea caves. Langkawi is so rich in natural wonders that it has recently been declared a UNESCO World Geopark.