For engaged couples, nowhere is too high or too low, too far or too wide, when it comes to having an alternative wedding that doesn’t include a guest list. From the heights of Machu Picchu to the isolated beaches of the Seychelles Islands, ordinary weddings are out. Exceptional elopements—or “matrimonial getaways,” if you prefer—are in.
Marc Smookler, a communications specialist from Manhattan Beach, Calif., and his bride got high at their wedding—in the geographical sense, that is. “We combined the ceremony with the honeymoon and trekked to the terrace of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.” The music wasn’t the traditional Bridal March but the sounds of live Andean chants. From the groom’s perspective, “it was a challenge, but we planned the wedding months in advance.”
Love is, indeed, lovelier the second time around—especially when planning second or even third nuptials. “My first wedding was all about my guests,” says Rianna Riego, 44, spa director at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. “But the second wedding is just about the two of us.” She organized a wedding-for-three at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif. Their only guest? The couple’s loyal golden retriever, Indy.
Such elegant elopements aren’t uncommon these days. For many, gargantuan guest lists padded with pals from the past are a thing of the past. These couples know that the sound of love will still be in the air—be it from camel bells, ornaments dangling from a shaman’s headdress or wind chimes in protected forest glade.
Kerstin Van Brunt, director of catering and conference services at the Four Seasons Biltmore, says, “We have seen an increasing number of smaller, more intimate weddings. We do see some elopements or private two- to five-person weddings with second or third marriages, where the bride and groom find it less important to put on a large-scale production.” What they want, she says, is “a smooth and fairytale like experience in a beautiful relaxed setting, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing their every need will be anticipated and handled with care.”
The classic elopement, then, has been modernized and redefined. It’s less about keeping secrets than keeping the experience personal—and perfect.
“Our properties traditionally have a romantic atmosphere,” says Jaume Tapies, international president of Relais & Chateaux. “Our resorts are tailormade for a wedding.” He points to the Polynesian wedding ceremony at Le Taha’a in Tahiti and the candlelit ceremony at Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. These are “truly memorable events that cannot be duplicated.” Relais & Chateaux even publishes an annual Romantic Escapes Book to complement its main directory, with a section devoted to weddings and honeymoons exclusive to each property. “It all comes down to one word: privacy.”
You’ll find delicious, deluxe isolation at the Six Senses Hideaway at Ana Mandara on Vietnam’s southern coast. This 58-villa eco-resort has an extraordinarily detailed “wedded on premises” guide that accounts for everything from the bridal bouquet to the wedding cake. The resort’s general manager can even stand in as the priest to officiate what’s best called a “symbolic wedding.” It may be one of the most romantic settings in the resort world.
At the Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli in Lake Garda, Italy, you won’t need crowd control or a security officer to fend off the paparazzi. Bob Burns, founder of Regent International Hotels, brought this stunning villa into the 21st century by outfitting the 21 distinctive guestrooms with custom-designed beds, with 300-threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets, and heated marble floors in the bathroom. When it comes to décor, this villa is ready made for an exclusive in Architectural Digest.
If exchanging your vows at a resort isn’t your style, how about hidden behind a hemlock forest? Trees keep the crowds at bay at Glendorn, nestled in the woods outside Bradford, Penn. It dates from the early 1920s and sports world-class fly fishing. Newlyweds will find the rustic redwood Big House a perfect escape from city life. For an even wilder experience, consider the Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. It’s a perfect choice for couples looking for a stunning natural setting. Before or after the big day, guests can explore 130 ancient rock art sites found among the diverse indigenous flora and faunal. It's an 18,000 acre malaria- and predator-free reserve.
The cost of an intimate wedding, such as one at Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos in the British West Indies, can add up. Typically, the pricing is à la carte. Start with a wedding coordinator and legal formalities, add in flowers, food, spa treatments and accommodations—and your exceptional elopement will cost a pretty penny. Still, for most couples, the final price tag doesn’t compare to that of a traditional wedding.