Honeymoons, Two Ways

Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2010

South Africa. Mexico. Italy. Lovebirds have been flocking to these destinations for decades, and for good reason: Each is romantic, postcard-perfect, and packed with things to see and do. But there's more than one way to experience them. On the following pages, discover great places to visit in each of these countries, whether you're first-timers or seasoned travelers. Go the classic route and stay in the quintessential spots (a century-old hotel at the top of Rome's Spanish Steps, for example). Or get off the beaten path and try some alternative venues and exciting locales (a northern Italian city where the strudel is as good as the spaghetti). It's your honeymoon, after all -- you decide.

SOUTH AFRICA
Go the Classic Route

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
If you've ever dreamed of going on safari (in, admit it, full-on khaki regalia), you were probably picturing Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. Its whopping 7,000 square miles makes it one of Africa's largest animal preserves. In addition to the Big Five (lions, elephants, cape buffalos, leopards, and rhinos), you'll see cheetahs, hippos, and, on the botanical side, 336 types of trees. (Look for baobabs, or "upside-down trees," with their rootlike branches.) Flora and fauna are the main event, but archeological anomalies abound, like the restored village of Masorini, which dates to the Stone Age. If you can swing it, go. Kruger is one for the bucket list.

Insider Tip: Hippos, wildebeest, impalas, and buffalos give birth during the wet season. From November to March, their adorable babies can be seen wading in the Sweni River.

Where to Stay: Singita Kruger National Park (rates from $2,984, all-inclusive, singita.com). Roughing it just isn't in the cards at this 33,000-acre compound, where two contemporary lodges are poised on a cliff above the N'waneti River. Lebombo has 15 open-air, loft-style suites with indoor/outdoor showers and private game-viewing decks (complete with daybeds), while Sweni is home to six double suites perched on riverside stilts. In the waters below lie yet another creature: crocodiles, which come to sun.

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CAPE TOWN
The city is by far South Africa's most popular destination -- blame it on the beautiful beaches. The trendy Atlantic coast side (Clifton's Camps Bay is a notable beach) is known for its restaurants, grade-A people watching, and icy water. On the Indian coast, it's less of a scene and the beaches are emptier (False Bay is always uncrowded), but the surf is noticeably warmer. Peel yourself away from the ocean to experience everyday life at the shebeens (pubs) and gospel churches in townships like Langa or Cape Flats.

Insider Tip: Sample cured biltong, a South African spiced jerky made with meats from beef to antelope.

Where to Stay: One & Only Cape Town (rates from $546, capetown.oneandonlyresorts.com). With a restaurant by Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, a heated infinity pool, an indoor/outdoor yoga pavilion, and rooms with 24-hour butlers and rain shower-heads, you might never want to leave. When you have to, ask to be whisked away in the resort's brand-new chauffered Maybach Zeppelin, a limited-edition model that's one of 100 in the world.

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Get Off the Beaten Path
JOHANNESBURG
Despite Jo'burg's cool nickname, South Africa's largest city has historically been passed through by travelers en route to somewhere else. But thanks to mild weather and an up-and-coming fashion and art scene, the city is booming right now. Crime is down; painters, poets, and beat philosophers are everywhere; and Kwaito -- a bass-heavy hybrid of rap, house, and African music -- thumps from cafes and open car windows. For a taste of history, visit the Mandela Family House museum. It's located in the former home of Nelson Mandela himself and crammed full of curios and memorabilia. There's a lot happening outside the city, too. In fact, many hip neighborhoods and hotels are located in bohemian suburbs like Rosebank, Melville, and Newtown.

Insider Tip: Try Amarula, a creamy South African liqueur. It's distilled from the tangy-sweet marula fruit (which elephants think of as dessert).

Where to Stay: Clico Guest House (rates from $270, clicoguesthouse.com). This 60-year-old Rosebank home is all about luxury in its most delicious form. Visitors come for chef Sean Ackermann's French-fusion cuisine. The menu changes with the winds, but during your stay (continental breakfast is included), it's safe to say you'll enjoy everything from the "perfect" martini and wine-poached fish to hazelnut brulee and a bottle of Ouma Se Wyn from the Weltevrede winery.

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GARDEN ROUTE
This coastal stretch along the N2 Highway, between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains, is road-trip territory at its very best -- there's even a town named Wilderness along the way. Rent a car and wind through the national parks, pine plantations, and beach towns (Mossel Bay, Knysna, and Plettenberg Bay are exceptionally charming). Make time to stop and browse through funky shops, snap a few photos at vista points, and sample South African wines at the area's many vineyards.

Insider Tip: The oysters in Knysna are so outstanding, there's a festival to celebrate them in July. It's one of South Africa's best foodie events.

Where to Stay: Tsala Treetop Lodge (rates from $494, hunterhotels.com/tsalatreetoplodge). When you check in, you have no choice but to make like a rare Knysna loerie (a vibrant South African bird) and nest high in the canopy in a stone-and-wood suite that blends organically into the scenery. There was never a birdbath so sweet as your private infinity pool, nor a perch so cozy as the deck beside it.

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MEXICO
Go the Classic Route

LOS CABOS
Situated on the very tip of the Baja California peninsula, this area is known for its sugar-sand beaches and stellar snorkeling (with almost guaranteed sightings of puffer fish, eels, turtles, and huge groupers). It also encompasses two very different cities, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, plus the 20 miles of resort-lined oceanside highway (dubbed the Corridor) between them. Spring breakers head to Cabo San Lucas for its inexpensive drink specials and stomping nightclubs; honeymooners turn to San Jose del Cabo for peace, quiet, and secluded hotels. Here, you won't come in contact with any crazed coeds, but you will have the pleasure of meeting more than 100 species of birds and fish that inhabit its protected waters.

Insider Tip: Travel in November, when the normally arid hills are green from seasonal rains and temperatures hover in the mid-80s.

Where to Stay: Zoetry Casa Del Mar (rates from $590, all-inclusive, zoetryresorts.com/casadelmar). Visitors at this San Jose del Cabo hotel receive hand-crocheted raffia beach bags and bottles of tequila at check in. The thoughtful amenities continue with aromatherapy-infused linens, in-room Champagne, and terraces overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Try the spa's Zoetry Suenos del Mar treatment, which includes Reiki therapy and a massage with oil from the native damaina shrub.

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ACAPULCO
In the 1950s, this was the beach escape for glitterati like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor. Since that golden era, the Pacific-coast city has taken a backseat to other tropical places. But a wave of new upscale resorts, bars, and restaurants is drawing couples seeking a luxe yet laid-back beach scene. Take a sunset sail from the famous Club de Yates, and you might find yourself channeling Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in "The Lady from Shanghai," which was filmed on location here.

Insider Tip: At sundown, embrace a little nostalgia with a Coco Loco cocktail (tequila and rum muddled with fruit) at Hotel Los Flamingos, where John Wayne and Cary Grant often relaxed.

Where to Stay: Banyan Tree Cabo Marques (rates from $600, banyantree.com). At this sophisticated resort, rose petal-strewn boudoirs and bottles of bubbly served with bowls of chocolate-dipped strawberries can be arranged by the on-site Romance Manager (no kidding!). Each of the 47 stand-alone villas was designed with amor in mind, too; all have personal infinity pools and day beds.

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Get Off the Beaten Path
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
Located in central Mexico, the colonial city's 16th-century historic district features baroque buildings and cobblestone streets (with nary a traffic light in sight). Travelers come to check out the Spanish architecture, nearby hot springs, and the exuberant festivals, celebrating everything from religion to film. While it may seem like everyone here is a self-proclaimed "arteest," the vibe is inclusive and creative. Venture to the outskirts of town for the Tuesday Market, a weekly bazaar where vendors sell crafts, fruits, veggies, and even bicycles. Or soar up in a hot-air balloon to view the mountainscape from overhead.

Insider Tip: Participate in a "callejoneada" walking party, which happens regularly here. While holding a giant puppet created by a resident artist, you'll follow musicians and -- get this -- a donkey carrying tequila through the historic district.

Where to Stay: Casa de Sierra Nevada (rates from $215, casadesierranevada.com). A cluster of 16th- to 18th-century mansions make up this boutique hotel in the town center. The rooms look traditional, with Mexican artwork, Talavera tiles, and clawfoot tubs, but they're stocked with modern amenities including Nespresso coffee machines and Bose speakers. For a taste of authentic food, sign up for a class (like Mexican Specialties or Seasonal Ingredients) at Sazon, the hotel's cooking school, helmed by local chefs.

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RIVIERA NAYARIT
This coastal strip, which borders bustling Puerto Vallarta, is the kind of low-key, outdoorsy place where surfers ride waves and locals fish them. Craving a real taco? Go ahead and book that plane ticket. Roadside stands, where fish and cabbage or shaved pastor and pineapple are folded into handmade corn tortillas, are literally everywhere. In between mouthfuls, hit the beach, motorboat through dense mangrove swamps, or cheer in the stands at a polo match (the La Petrona Polo Club is in San Pancho). No matter how you spend your time, you won't ever have to change out of flip-flops.

Insider Tip: Stop by Sayulita Fish Taco (request mango salsa), Burrito Revolucion (carnitas are the best), and Choco-Bananas (no explanation necessary). The food here is fan-tas-tic.

Where to Stay: Petit Hotel D'Hafa (rates from $50, hotelhafasayulita.com). The tiny hideaway in Sayulita, with its boho-chic decor, rooftop deck, and surfboard storage, is beautiful, eclectic, and insanely affordable. And though it's in the middle of town, its only two blocks from Los Muertos beach.

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ITALY
Go the Classic Route

ROME
This is truly one of the world's most fabulous cities. It's practically dripping with ancient art and architecture (Sistine Chapel, Vatican, or Colosseum, anyone?). And it's full of contemporary pleasures, too. You can take in concerts at the Parco della Musica or a Fellini film festival. Or attend a fashion show (iconic lines like Gucci and Fendi are based here). Then stroll the Villa Borghese Gardens, or scale the Spanish steps and make a wish at the Trevi Fountain -- the options for sightseeing are endless. Most important? Eat. A lot. In Rome, it's possible to fall in love with every bite of pasta and scoop of gelato that hits your lips.

Insider Tip: Spring's wild asparagus and artichokes first appear in March. Order them Roman-style with garlic, mint, and bread crumbs.

Where to Stay: Hotel Hassler Roma (rates from $640, hotelhassler.com). TomKat checked into this five-star hotel during their 2006 wedding festivities, but you don't need a tabloid moniker to honeymoon here. Each of the 96 rooms are high-end; even the standards have garden or city views, opulent classic furnishings, and luxurious marble bathrooms. Don't miss Imago, the hotel's Michelin-starred panoramic top-floor restaurant. It features chef Francesco Apreda's Neapolitan cuisine, and it's worth the splurge (try the pheasant ravioli or the sea scallops stuffed with mozzarella and black truffles).

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TUSCANY
Botticelli, da Vinci, Galileo, and Puccini were all moved by the central Italian region's beauty -- and you will be, too. Its rolling fields and quiet villas surrounded by olive groves always seem just a dirt road's walk from a tiny town that sells the freshest focaccia. Whether you peruse the Uffizi (one of the world's foremost art museums, home to Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus") and sip Chianti in a Florentine cafe or bike around the grape-filled countryside, Tuscany is the Italian fantasy come to life.

Insider Tip: Traveling in July and August? You won't want to miss Palio de Siena, a historic horse race where bareback jockeys zip around the Piazza del Campo three times.

Where to Stay: Villa La Massa (rates from $500, villalamassa.it). Within the 16th-century estate's 22 acres lie chef Andrea Quagliarella's herb and vegetable gardens. He uses the produce to enthrall patrons with meals like bistecca alla Fiorentina (rosemary-infused porterhouse steak). The riverside mansion feels wonderfully secluded, but if you start getting restless, the big city of Florence is just 4 miles west.

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Get Off the Beaten Path
SICILY
Seeing the beauty of the island's citrus groves, baroque architecture, and rambling vineyards on-screen in "The Godfather" is one thing, but experiencing it all in person is quite another. Soak up the sun in tiny coastal beach towns like Taormina, which is backed by dramatic cliffs and dotted with chaise longues. Or venture into the big cities, such as Palermo, for real-deal Italian opera and fresh-produce markets. Wander through the stalls and listen carefully as the locals gossip and haggle. Though many people here have made the switch to Italian, the beautiful Sicilian language lives on (not that you'll be able to understand it). As for the food? Peter Clemenza said it best: "Take the cannoli."

Insider Tip: Visit island farmhouses for natural honey, almond sweets, extra-virgin olive oil, and wines from Mount Etna. And to celebrate the good life alongside the Italians, attend a sagra (food festival), held weekly in the town centers.

Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Timeo (rates from $490, grandhoteltimeo.com). The newly refurbished cliff-top property in Taormina overlooks the Bay of Naxos and has an architectural wonder -- an ancient Greek theater -- right next door. While you're there, you'll have inside access to nearby Villa Sant' Andrea's private beach (it's a short, free shuttle ride away). Ask the concierge to arrange a "Godfather" movie-scene tour or sunset dinner on a private sailboat.

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TRIESTE
Before World War I, the work-ing seaport town (nestled in between Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea) was part of Austria. And today, Eastern European influence is everywhere. It would be perfectly normal, for example, to eat smoked ricotta pasta for lunch, and sauerkraut and strudel for dinner (in fact, you should make it a point to do just that). Also pay a visit to the Cattedrale di San Giusto, a 14th-century basilica built atop a 1st-century Roman temple. To blend in with the Italians, take a dip in the saltwater pools at L'Ausonia and sip steaming espresso in a coffee house, like Caffe San Marco. Trieste is, after all, Italy's java capital.

Insider Tip: Try the cured pork, with mustard and horseradish, at Buffet da Pepi, an Eastern European-style deli.

Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Duchi d'Aosta (rates from $150, grandhotelduchidaosta.com). Sting, Francis Ford Coppola, and the Queen of Jordan have all rested their heads at this 55-room hotel, originally built in 1873. Just like them, you can have many an intimate meal at Harry's Grill (the sister restaurant of Harry's Bar in Venice).

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