Resorting To Romance Honeymoon Havens Where Relaxation And Outdoor Fun Go Hand In Hand

June 02, 1996|By JUDI DASH

My honeymoon two years ago had all the elements I deem essential for romance and relaxation: cozy accommodations in a knockout location. We chose a place that guaranteed little fuss but plenty of outdoor activities -- but none of which required our participation if we chose instead to stay in and nuzzle.

Our seaside condo on North Carolina's dunesy Outer Banks meant freedom from hotel and restaurant formalities. We just picked up our key at the rental office and were left blissfully on our own. We could eat out, carry in, or even do a little cooking if the mood struck.

Our timing -- midweek and off-season -- meant no crowds. And though hiking, kayaking, hang gliding and other intriguing activities were at our disposal, we made no commitments beforehand -- except a prenuptial agreement to just go with the flow.

Certainly, honeymoon tastes are as diverse as other vacation preferences, but the stress that often accompanies planning a wedding makes choosing a no-hassle getaway especially important. A postnuptial trip (or any romantic journey) is, after all, an attempt to unwind and share precious time with the love of your life; it should not come encumbered with the pressures you left home to escape.

Over the years I've developed a list of favorite places around the country for romantic, adventurous escapes -- from isolated inns on quiet cliffs to haute hotels that sizzle to a city beat, modern condos with extensive spa and sports facilities, and love nests with heart-shaped tubs and mirrored headboards. Each captivated in a different way, making for a spicy gumbo of romantic memories.

Palm Island Resort, Cape Haze, Fla. -- The launch ride from the registration office at Cape Haze to Palm Island Resort is a mere 10 minutes, but we left more than our car and credit card imprint behind on the mainland. Snuggling close against a chilly afternoon breeze, we felt a warm calm set in and the tensions of real life ease out.

Occupying 2 miles at the northern tip of a 7-mile stretch of three barrier islands on western Florida's Gulf Coast, Palm Island Resort is a romantic retreat not just because it's an island but because it is mostly devoid of distractions. True, our sprawling condo overlooking the wispy dunes and gently foaming sea had a television and phone, but we agreed to make believe they weren't there unless an emergency struck -- and it never did.

Our days soon took on an easy pattern: morning beach strolls, afternoon canoe excursions into the cool mangrove swamp, sunset walks along the tide line, and evening lounging, two to a chaise, on our screened-in-terrace as we listened to the surf and the squawk of shorebirds.

For sustenance, we survived on oatmeal breakfasts and soup-and-sandwich lunches prepared in our kitchen. At the dinner hour we hopped on our trusty golf cart (no cars are allowed on the island) and drove to the pier-side Rum Bay Restaurant for Cajun grouper, grilled salmon or spicy ribs.

When our island time was up, we boarded the hotel launch back to the mainland. We held hands throughout the crossing and during most of the flight home.

"Honeymooners," the smiles of strangers seemed to say. Actually, we had been married two years by then!

Stanford Inn by the Sea, Mendocino, Calif. -- Perched on a heather-covered headland 150 miles north of San Francisco, Mendocino is Northern California's arty-est ocean-side enclave. The wild seascapes and rugged cliffs resemble coastal Maine -- except for the much milder weather and the roadside llama farms.

You'll find quality art galleries on every block, innovative restaurants and cozy bed-and-breakfast inns. This is the perfect place to come for hiking, canoeing and mountain biking, and you can take weekend art classes year-round at the Mendocino Arts Center.

My favorite place to stay is Stanford Inn by the Sea, about a five-minute drive from downtown. Rooms have working fireplaces, refrigerators, coffee makers, and redwood decks that overlook the inn's llama ranch, organic vegetable garden and, beyond, the Pacific Ocean and Mendocino village.

There's a champagne Continental breakfast every morning and wine and cheese every afternoon. Rent bikes or canoes from the inn (a canoe trail starts right off the premises) or hike the rugged Mendocino coast or inland redwood forest.

Caesar's Pocono Palace Resort, Marshalls Creek, Pa. -- Yes, this is the land of heart-shaped tubs and giant round beds with mirrored headboards. You can even choose a room with a two-story whirlpool tub shaped like a champagne glass. What, you're snickering? Trust me, you'll get caught up in the seductiveness of the theme, surrendering to the fantasy. Besides, the sports and outdoor activities are fabulous, and you might catch Jay Leno, David Brenner or Dana Carvey as a headliner at the resort theater.

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