Some brides wouldn’t dream of having their big day anywhere but their hometown. Others know that when it comes time their “I dos” will be said in the city in which they live, or at a meaningful place that predates the actual engagement. But if you’re not already sold on one particular place, consider a destination that may be new to you or your loved ones. Those betrothed seeking to make an epic adventure out of their weddings can find that in an unexpected place—say Morocco or Guatemala. The right destination can even give you more bang for your buck. Here, 10 gorgeous locations around the globe that will have your guests squealing with glee when they open the invitation.
Until now, Guatemala has been a well-kept secret for destination weddings, says Antigua-based specialist Julio Aceituno, who is seeing demand for nuptials of all sizes rise in recent years. Two favorite locales in the Central American country are the charming UNESCO World Heritage colonial city of Antigua—where restored 16th century monastery Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo has a fairytale look with ruins and candlelight—and picture-perfect Lake Atitlan, likened to Lake Como. Authentic, colorful villages around the lake and views of a trio of volcanos make the photography opportunities epic, especially at Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel Casa Palopó, which can accommodate hundreds. “Guatemala is the place where magic was born,” says Aceituno. “All the venues are very unique and special, perfect places to celebrate love, and the weather is like a friend we get along with, a perfect 75 degrees all year long. Our culture is one of taking care of our visitors—we love our guests and we show it.”
Franschhoek, South Africa
Not that there’s anything wrong with a NorCal winery wedding, but it’s never a bad idea to recognize exotic alternatives. Cape Town, South Africa, may be very far away for most Americans, but for the right size wedding and right couple, its stunning winelands (South Africa’s term for wine country) are perfect. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene than the area just 45 minutes from Cape Town by car. “Surrounded by towering mountains and stunning flowering vistas, Franschhoek is home to a one-of-a-kind combination of world-class wineries, temperate year-round climate (especially during American wintertime), a thriving arts community and some of South Africa’s best destination restaurants, all at a tremendous value for the US traveler,” says La Residence group events manager Chantell Viljoen. (Current exchange rates are very much in favor of the US Dollar.) Palatial private estates like La Residence provide a dreamy backdrop for intimate or large celebrations that are guaranteed to stun guests with delicious vino and cuisine, and a complete tailored buyout means one couple and their party have exclusive access to their 30 acres of vineyards and plum orchards.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Its extraordinary natural beauty and warm hospitality are two of the top reasons sales and marketing manager Juliana Cordones of Eden Roc at Cap Cana feels the eastern end of the Dominican Republic is prime time for a destination “I do.” Carmen Rosa Aquino, hospitality sales director for Puntacana Resort & Club, agrees, noting it’s “an ideal option for a fairytale Caribbean wedding.” That 26-square-mile development has numerous indoor and outdoor venues, farm-to-table cuisine from its organic farm, the only Six Senses Spa in the Americas, and the just-renovated Oscar de la Renta–designed Tortuga Bay resort, which gives a small wedding party 13 impeccable villas with which to celebrate in style. At Cap Cana there are not only five-star amenities, chic suites and idyllic beaches but access to towering cliffs, waterfalls, private islands, historical sites and customized adventures such as a private bridal party eco-excursion through a cenote.
The weddings of Poppy Delevingne, Dianna Agron and Hannah Bronfman put Marrakech front and center in recent years, but one doesn’t have to be a celebrity to make the vibrant Moroccan city your location, too. “The red city has a magical spirit and bohemian vibe that makes it a distinctive choice for brides with a sense of adventure,” says Boutique Souk founder Rosena Charmoy, who planned Delevingne and Agron’s big days. “The city’s architecture and gardens create wow-factor settings and its golden light makes for very romantic wedding photography,” she adds. La Mamounia (Bronfman’s venue) general manager Pierre Jochem feels the city filled with vivid colors, palm and olive groves and “culinary delights unlike anywhere else” makes for an idyllic setting, specifically his hotel’s legendary 17-acre gardens that define Mediterranean oasis. The superluxe property’s tailored service and photogenic spaces makes it a popular place to make things official, while for a different take on Moroccan style couples can check out the ultra-discreet Royal Mansour comprised of individual intricately designed riads, and Amanjena, which sticks to a minimalist terra-cotta pink and turquoise theme that feels so elegantly North African.
“Colorado has the most amazing, diverse landscapes that are seemingly made to be backdrops for destination weddings,” says Edoardo Rossi, executive VP of Dunton Hot Springs. For example, “In the Colorado Rockies, you can be immersed in the mountains, but still have those amenities and services that would rival even the most luxurious hotel in New York, where all you’d have would be a reception in a ballroom—no disrespect to New York ballrooms!” The ruggedly beautiful state is indisputably one of America’s most gorgeous, and it offers a lot in the way of value to couples who appreciate the great outdoors in particular. From just beyond Denver to much farther afield there are farms, mountain retreats and luxury ranches that give guests a sense of vacation even though it’s domestic. Dunton Hot Springs (near Telluride) in particular offers an ideal melding of nature immersion with impeccable service, top-notch food and diverse activities. And, says Rossi, “with nearly 1,700 acres of private wilderness area and five natural on-property hot springs, there are plenty of places to unwind after all that celebrating.”
It’s perhaps a no-brainer if your last name is Kelly or Murphy to think of heading to Ireland, land of Guinness and whisky, but you don’t need to have Irish blood to want to imbue your wedding with some of the verdant Emerald Isle’s lively hospitality and spirit. It’s home to “the friendliest people on earth,” says Ashford Castle events manager Geraldine McAndrew, who adds of the fairytale 13th-century castle on the edge of Lough Corrib, “the personalized service of the staff makes guests feel more like they are in someone’s grand home than in a hotel, and the couple and their guests will long remember these flawless and intimate affairs.” If a castle isn’t your thing (for what its worth the new Neo-Gothic castle resort Adare Manor, on an estate the size of Central Park, is also epic), there are five-star stunners like The Shelbourne Dublin, and bucolic countryside and clifftop hideaways, too. Because it’s such a manageable size, another boon to an Irish destination wedding is that the guests can easily explore more of the island on their own—just don’t expect the sunniest wedding day in history, although romance is assured.
Santa Barbara, California
Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is “a brilliant destination to hold a wedding, not just because of the abundant sunshine, but because of the elegant, effortless and laid-back appeal,” says local wedding planner Alexandra Kolendrianos. A few of her favorite venues are Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, for its ocean-view positioning (quite amazing at sunset in particular) and staff that caters to each and every guest, and the super intimate hillside San Ysidro Ranch. The boutiquey Martyn Lawrence Bullard–designed Hotel Californian just opened in the midst of the walkable Funk Zone with an expansive rooftop, terraces and Moroccan-inflected ballroom, and the forthcoming Rosewood Montecito (opening in 2018) is sure to be a hit, too. In addition to the freshest Cali cuisine, guests coming to Santa Barbara gain access to an abundance of activities, says Kolendrianos, including beautiful hiking trails, wine tasting and quaint beaches.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Whether it’s a traditional church wedding you seek, something dramatic and grand in a cathedral-like space, or a vibrant event outside in a setting filled with botanicals and beautiful views, this UNESCO World Heritage Site city—also romantic and colonial, like Antigua, Guatemala—has something for you. Native wedding planner Guadalupe Alvarez Brunel says couples love the friendliness, sophistication, weather and availability of unique venues (top hotel sites include the traditionally styled and expansive Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and contemporary, art-filled Hotel Matilda) at different price points. But more than that, “It is full of beautiful traditions that are not made for tourism, they are really part of our everyday life. This is the real Mexico,” she says. The most exciting part of a destination wedding in San Miguel may be the traditional parade through cobblestone streets of colorful facades that precedes the ceremony and includes a mariachi band and mojigangas, aka large handmade puppets. It’s a festive occasion that about 90 percent of brides there opt for along with at least one day of Mexican decor, food and drinks—think a vibrant rehearsal dinner and welcome margaritas.
Florence and the rest of Tuscany, Positano Rome, Sicily, Lake Como, Venice—Italy is full of picture-perfect and world-renowned wedding destinations. But the big boot-shaped country still has some gems to be discovered. Take Ischia, the volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples that rivals more famous Capri in terms of natural beauty. That attribute, along with its warm atmosphere and mild climate make for unforgettable events, says Davide Maestripieri, L’Albergo Della Regina Isabella hotel manager in charge of events. The chic Italian resort on the coast makes an offbeat but fabulous choice for a ceremony and reception that will not only wow with its delectable Mediterranean cuisine and vino, but with ambience. “The exclusive outdoor event space of the Regina Isabella, located right next to the sea, and the private bay become simply magical with decorations and candles and lanterns lighting up the scene,” says Maestripieri.
If cost is a concern, it might sound counterintuitive but it’s worth considering going halfway around the world for the most romantic day of your lives. That’s because Southeast Asia, and Thailand in offers a lot in terms of value, and is of course epic to boot. You won’t see natural beauty like this in the United States, and you also won’t find magical traditional Thai Buddhist ceremonies—which involve up to five monks who wrap the bride and groom in a garland to symbolize the coming together of two individuals before more blessings and Thai music and dancing, a feast and even an elephant ride, available at dreamy resorts including Amanpuri—there either. “From basking on powder-white beaches to exploring ancient Chinese shrines, Phuket offers innumerable diversions for every phase of the celebration, and will delight culture mavens, adventure seekers and foodies alike,” says Jodie Clark, director of sales and marketing at the new Rosewood Phuket, yet another reason—and potential venue—to the list of positives for his island and its fantastical world of natural wonders.