europe

Planning Your Own Honeymoon

Planning you own wedding and honeymoon simultaneously isn’t for the faint of heart.

There’s a reason why cruises and all-inclusives are popular choices for newlyweds. Planning a wedding is hard. The to-do lists are long. The logistics are maddening. Budgets can be scary. Things can get stressful quickly. Add planning a honeymoon on top of that? It can get tricky.

We’re still in the middle of it all, but I’ve learned some things along the way that I thought might be helpful to other couples.

Start Early

I know I give this advice all the time. I probably sound like a broken record, but more time to research and plan gives you the best chance of finding what you want. Make a list of all the places you both dream of going to and start narrowing it down from there. Make a budget. Do your research to see what's actually feasible. 

Know Thyself

Please, please, please take a honeymoon that suits you as a couple. If that means hiking and camping, do it. If that means going to an all-inclusive, do it. If that means taking a mini-moon somewhere nearby, do it. The honeymoon you want is the right honeymoon..

image:  Ales Krivec

There’s a (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek term I’ve come across a lot during our engagement: the Wedding Industrial Complex (or WIC). It refers to the people and things that make couples feel like they have to have, spend, or do to have a “real” wedding. Some examples are: personalized favours, a tiered cake, or an overpriced tulle veil.

I’d say that honeymoons are also a big part of the WIC.  There is a lot of focus on them being extravagant, exotic, incredibly romantic and, by extension of all of that, expensive! There are agencies that specialize in honeymoons. Hotels and resorts often have exorbitant packages available. Multiple honeymoon registries allow couples to ask  wedding guests to help fund their trip. 

There’s nothing wrong with using those tools (although I'm not convinced the honeymoon registries aren't tacky) or going to an all-inclusive or doing a "typical" honeymoon, but don’t feel pressured to do that if it’s not how you like to travel. 

Keep It Simple

Don’t try to go too many places or see too many things. Don’t pack your honeymoon with lots of travel from place to place. Maximize your days together and your relaxation time as much as you can. The one piece of advice that keeps coming back to me from other couples is that you will likely be exhausted for the first few days after your wedding. The point of the honeymoon isn’t to rack up a list of things you’ve seen, it’s to enjoy your time together as newlyweds. 

Our Experience So Far

I started bringing up the honeymoon pretty soon after we got engaged. As excited as I was about the wedding, I was roughly 1500 times more excited about the honeymoon! We talked a lot about the different places we wanted to go. Tahiti! Hawaii! Normandy! Italy! Japan! Spain! As you can see, we were all over the place.

I made lists. I made mock budgets. I did a ton of research. I looked at what felt like countless rentals and hotels. 

The options felt endless and the stakes felt higher than other trips. You only get one honeymoon and I wanted it to be perfect. My excitement plummeted and I got frustrated. Should we just do an all-inclusive?

At some point, after banging my head on the desk a few times and maybe a couple of tears, I realized I was being silly. We started at the beginning. We decided on Europe and were able narrow our options to three different trips. Two of them were to places neither of us had been. One was the Amalfi Coast. The other was Barcelona and Collioure in France. Those both seemed like they would be wonderful trips, but the rentals and logistics never worked out for us. I was really reluctant to let go of Amalfi because it’s such an iconic honeymoon spot. Would we regret it? I mean, look at this place:

In the end, we decided to start off somewhere easy and comfortable. Villefranche-sur-Mer was a natural choice. S has been wanting to go there since we started dating and I’m already comfortable with the town. It has the relaxed feel that I think we’ll need right after our wedding. We can wander down to the beach everyday and lay there for hours on end. There are enough restaurants and shops to keep us fat and happy. We wouldn’t have to go anywhere, but we also have the option of hopping on the train and exploring the coast if the mood strikes us.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer

After that, we’ll head to the Gard department of Languedoc region. It will be new for the both of us, which will make it special to explore together. We’re also lucky because we’re close enough to Provence to do some day trips into the beautiful Luberon hill towns, but we’re not paying Provence prices. 

I don't have the perspective to look back and say if the extra work of doing it ourselves was worth it, yet. I don't think this way is any better than another way, but I do feel like it's very us. And that's what was most important all along. Now that everything is booked, we feel like we have the honeymoon we wanted waiting for us. It took some time to get there, but we couldn’t be more excited.

After that, we’ll head to the Gard department of Languedoc region. It will be new for the both of us, which will make it special to explore together. We’re also lucky because we’re close enough to Provence to do some day trips into the beautiful Luberon hill towns, but we’re not paying Provence prices. 

I don't have the perspective to look back and say if the extra work of doing it ourselves was worth it, yet. I don't think this way is any better than another way, but I do feel like it's very us. And that's what was most important all along. Now that everything is booked, we feel like we have the honeymoon we wanted waiting for us. It took some time to get there, but we couldn’t be more excited. 


Friday 10: Christmas Markets

Somewhere around this time of year I start to daydream about going to one of the great Christmas markets in Europe. I love the idea of wandering a historic squares and alleys between little chalets full of goodies with a warm cup of mulled wine in my hand. The markets look so beautiful and festive that even I've started thinking a river cruise would be fun thanks to Viking's marketing department. . .and I'm not a cruise person (or a cold-weather person, if I'm honest).

So for today's Friday 10, I thought I'd do a list of my Christmas Market Daydream Destinations in US, Canada, and Europe. Sit back, get cozy, and grab a hot drink. Here's one of my current favourite Christmas playlists to set the mood (link for email subscribers). I'm listening to it as I type!

Before I start, I have to say there are so many Christmas markets out there that I would probably be able to do an annual Christmas Market Daydream Destination list for a few years. 

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via  OT-Colmar

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via OT-Colmar

#1 Colmar, France

Tradition and illumination are the cornerstone of Colmar's Christmas markets. There are 5 markets tucked throughout the old town, each with a different focus. Place Jeanne d'Arc, for example, is full of local Alsatian products and delicacies from charcuterie to gingerbread.

I really chose Colmar partly as a representative of Alsace because it seemed cozier and more intimate than the famed markets of Strasbourg. It would be a lovely trip to stay in Colmar and travel to the other beautiful markets nearby. (video link for email subscribers)

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via  www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com

#2 Cologne, Germany

It would have been silly not to include a German market. Cologne seemingly has it all. There are 7 different markets throughout the city, each with their own personality. The Alter Markt sounds the loveliest to me. It's located in the old town directly in front of city hall and is known as being more intimate, nostalgic, and picturesque than the others. The Cathedral Market, however, has the largest tree in the Rhineland, the dramatic backdrop of the cathedral and 150 chalets to visit. 

#3 Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

This is the market that inspired this post. Each year Tivoli Gardens transforms itself into an Alpine Wonderland with rides, market stalls, food, beautiful lighting, ballet and more. . .it's the complete Christmas package. 

Spittelberg Christmas Market   Ph  oto credit: Lind

Spittelberg Christmas Market Photo credit: Lind

#4 Vienna, Austria

I had a hard time deciding between including Salzburg or Vienna this year. Both are gorgeous places that I would visit again in a heartbeat. In the end, Vienna won for its size, the beauty of Schönbrunn Palace as a backdrop, and variety of its markets held in squares throughout the city. The Spittelberg Market, just a short walk from the centre of Vienna, feels more like a village with historic buildings and narrow, romantic cobblestone streets that provide a cozier market atmosphere. 

#5 Prague, Czech Republic 

Like most of the larger cities Prague has a number of Christmas markets, but the one in the Old Town Square is the most picturesque. The Old Town Square dates back to the 10th century. The giant Christmas tree and Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque buildings serve as an enchanting setting for the chalets full of traditional Czech food and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#6 Valkenburg, Netherlands 

Looking for something unique? Valkenburg's Christmas markets are held underground in heated caves. Caves! With murals and sculptures and an 18th century cathedral. Sign me up now, please! (video link for email subscribers)

#7 Skansen Christmas Market, Stockholm, Sweden

Skansen, an open-air history museum on Djurgärden Island in Stockholm, was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius. It brings historic rural Sweden to life with exhibits that include cultivated gardens and wild animals. Each Christmas, it also hosts a market celebrating Scandinavian traditions, food, drink, and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#8 Georgetown, Colorado

The small, historic town of Georgetown is known as the "Silver Queen of the Rockies." For just  2 weekends each December, the Christmas market arrives. What I love about this market is that it seems like a mix of everything: Victorian Carolers, procession of St. Lucia, St. Nicholas, a horse drawn wagon, roasted chestnuts, and, of course, shopping. It's a little bit Western, a little Scandinavia, a little German, and a little British. I think that probably makes it uniquely its own. For another special treat, the Historic Hamill House hosts two classic Christmas dinners.  

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.    Photo credit: Rich Yee

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. Photo credit: Rich Yee

#9 Great Christmas Dickens Fair, San Fransisco, California

A Victorian London Christmas in San Fransisco. A cast of 700 characters roam around merrymaking. You may, for instance, bump into Dickens or Queen Victoria or Scrooge or Dr. Livingston (I presume)! Meanwhile, the Cow Palace has been transformed into the London streets full of boutiques and pubs. There's dancing and stage shows for young and old. Visitors are encouraged to dress up and immerse themselves. 

#10 The Distillery, Toronto, Canada

A local favorite. The Distillery is a pretty little section of Toronto of historic brewery buildings that has been turned into a pedestrian market area. The cobblestone streets and old brick buildings make you feel like you're stepping back into old Toronto, but the boutiques and restaurants keep things interesting.

Every year the Christmas market rolls around and we get our own version of the Bavarian chalets selling crafts, gifts, and treats. You can even get some mulled wine and listen to carollers dressed in Victorian garb. Visit one of the beer gardens to warm up with some mulled wine or a local brew (Mill Street Brewery still has a location in the Distillery). I personally love getting a coffee at Balzac's, a local coffee roaster and cafe, before milling about. Parking is a nightmare, but it's worth going to every few years just to get into the spirit of Christmas in the city.


That's it for this week. I hope you have a warm, wonderful weekend. I'm off to bake cookies!

Friday 10: Haunted Hotels

Happy Halloween!

In honor of today and Monday's post about the spectre of Ivan the Red taunting me at Burg Bernstein, I've compiled a list of 9 other beautiful haunted hotels in Europe, the US and Canada.

Before we go any further, you should know that I didn't pick the creepiest hotels, like Karosta Prison Hotel in Latvia. From the website: "According to the prison's history, there are a lot of people who died in this place and most of them were shot in the head." I like a good scare and I'm a skeptic about the whole ghost thing, but. . . nope, nope nope! Not for me. Not on a bet.

I also skipped some of the most famous hotels, like The Stanley Hotel, which was made famous by The Shining

Instead, I picked places I would genuinely like to visit in areas with rich histories and lots to do. The whole haunted thing is just a bonus. 

Europe

#1 Hotel Burg Burnstein - Burgenland, Austria

There are 10 unique guest rooms in this beautiful Austrian castle that overlooks the lowlands. The castle has a long, storied history extending back to the 800s, changing hands multiple times between the Austrians and Hungarians thanks to its location in prime borderlands. Its most famous inhabitant, however, was László Almásy who was born in the castle and went on to inspire the title character of The English Patient. The castle has been passed down through the generations and the Almásy family continues to welcome guests to stay at the castle and explore Burgenland today. 

Haunts: Red Ivan, who is also known as Raging Wolf and Schlosshansl. According to this website he was a murderous 13th century knight who beat a bishop  to death and haunts the castle "by showing himself beside children's bed [. . .] He has been described with flaming red hair, a skirt at knee length and an evil laugh!" 

Caterina Frescobaldi (aka the White Lady) is the second ghost.  The story goes that she committed adultery so her husband had her buried alive in the 15th century. She appears in white and has an icy touch. People who stay in the Tantalouis or Vinzenz have the best chance of seeing her, apparently. 

#2 CHÂTEAU DE BRISSAC - LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE

Nestled into the Loire Valley, south of Angers, sits Château de Brissac, the tallest castle in France. It dates back to the 11th century, but was completely rebuilt in the 15th century. The first Lord of Brissac bought the castle in 1502 and it has been passed down from generation to generation since then. Today the 13th Count of Brissac opens the castle to tours. A few lucky guests can book nightly stays in one of its opulent rooms. 

Haunts: Legend has it that in the 15th century one of the castles owners, Jacques de Brézé quickly tired of his wife’s adulterous ways and murdered her and her lover. It is said that the lovers still haunt the castle. Moans can be heard in the night and the woman, dressed in green, wanders the halls, earning her the nickname La Dame Verte, or the Green Lady. 

#3 Ackergill Tower - Scottish Highlands

A dramatic 15th century seaside castle in the Scottish Highlands near Wick. Ackergill Tower is set on 3,000 acres and includes a restaurant, private beach and loch for fishing. There are 68 guest rooms and 5 guest cottages available for a unique and quiet country getaway. 

Haunts: The castle was owned by the Keith family in the 15th century. They had a history of feuding with the Gunn family, including murders and revenge murders. So the night before Helen Gunn’s wedding, Dugald Keith kidnapped her and held her in the tower. Helen tried to escape, but she fell to her death. She reportedly wanders the castle, appearing either as a green lady or in a red gown. 

#4 Parador de Jaén - Andalusia, Spain

Perched atop Santa Catalina Hill, Parador de Jaén commands attention and offers spectacular views of Jaén and the Andalusian countryside. The original fortress was built by the Arabs, but after Ferdinand III of Castile conquered it in 1246 the structure was rebuilt. The current iteration dates back to the 18th century and retains its Arab roots. In 1968 it became a Parador, one of the many beautiful and unique heritage building that Spain turned into hotels.

Haunts: Two ghosts are said to haunt this castle. One is of a young woman who supposedly died from heartbreak in Room 22. The second ghost is nicknamed Terrible Legarto, the Terrible Lizard, who died of hunger while imprisoned here. 

via Hotel Burchianti

via Hotel Burchianti

#5 Hotel Burchianti - Florence, Italy

Between Piazza Santa Maria Novella and the Duomo is Hotel Burchianti. It was first opened in 1919 by the Burchianti sisters, who welcomed a number of famous guests, from opera singers to poets, into their boarding house. There are just 11 rooms here, a few of which have beautifully restored frescoes. 

Haunts: For such a small space, there sure are a lot of ghosts roaming around. There are reports of a child skipping in the halls, a knitting woman, and a ghostly maid who continues her cleaning. The Fresco room is singled out as the most haunted room. Benito Mussolini may have stayed there and guests have reported everything from icy breath on their skin to pink-hued apparitions of a man.  

via The Langham Hotel

via The Langham Hotel

#6 The Langham Hotel - London, England

A 5-star hotel located in London’s West End, the Langham Hotel opened its doors in 1865. It has been welcoming high profile guests from royalty to celebrities ever since. You, too, can follow in the footsteps of the likes of Oscar Wilde and sleep in one of their luxurious rooms. Or, if that’s a little too rich for you, perhaps partake in afternoon tea at Palm Court, the “birthplace of Afternoon Tea.” 

Haunts: According to the HuffPo article “Room 333: The Most Haunted Hotel Room in London”, the list of ghosts that haunt Langham is extensive and Room 333 is especially hopping. There’s the ghost the likes to shake the bed. And the doctor who committed murder-suicide on his honeymoon. And, finally, the German prince who jumped to his death. Other ghosts have been seen elsewhere. Napoleon III apparently haunts the basement. A butler with holes in his socks, a footman with a powdered wig, and a man with a horrifying face wound have also been seen in the hallways.

USA

#7 The Battery Carriage House Inn - Charleston, South Carolina

The Battery Carriage House Inn is a bed and breakfast overlooking Charleston Harbor near Fort Sumter and Battery Park. The original house was built in 1843, but it was abandoned during the Civil War. It sustained damaged during the Siege of Charleston, which wreaked havoc on the city itself. After the war, a wealthy Yankee Colonel bought and refurbished it. Today visitors can stay in one of the 11 rooms and enjoy Southern hospitality, breakfast,  afternoon tea, and evening wine receptions. 

Haunts:  The Inn has fully embraced its ghosts and has a whole page dedicated to stories and sightings. Room 3 has had a little girl who died at the Inn tends to hang out on the porch and an apparent congregation of glowing spirits in the bathroom. In Room 10, the Gentleman Ghost tires to woo ladies by crawling into bed with them (how this is gentlemanly, I don’t know). Meanwhile, Room 8 has the most macabre sightings of a headless torso from the Civil War. 

#8 Captain Lindsey House Inn - Rockland, Maine

Built in 1835 as a home for its namesake, Captain George Lindsey, who first turned it into an inn and tavern two years later. Today the inn is appointed in a beautiful and welcoming “new nautical” style. Its located close to the harbor in Rockland’s historic district and makes a good base for exploring the Mid-Coast of Maine or partaking in the city’s annual Maine Lobster Festival. The Inn also partners with Stephen Taber to offer a sailing package

Haunts: A group of ghost "experts" declared that no less than 35 ghosts, including Captain Lindsey himself, haunted the building. 

Canada

#9 Fairmont Banff Springs - Banff, Alberta

An iconic luxury mountain resort within the confines of Banff National Park. The beauty of the stunning Canadian Rockies serve as the backdrop to this hotel’s long history. It all began when William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway decided that a series of luxurious hotels along the railway would entice tourists travel the CPR. Construction began on the Banff Springs Hotel in 1887 and it opened on June 1, 1888. Van Horne’s vision was spot-on because Banff Springs, despite being destroyed by a fire in the 20s and undergoing many expansions and renovations, has remained a much-loved destination.

Haunts: A few spirits, it seems, haunt to halls of Banff Springs. There’s Sam, a bellman who promised to come back and haunt the hotel after he died (which happened in 1976). There’s also a ghost bride who is often seen dancing in the Cascade Ballroom. This year, the resort is even offering its own Heritage Ghost Tour  for guests who want to hear more about the hotel’s history, its spirits, and maybe—just maybe—experience one firsthand.

#10 The Algonquin Resort - St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick

The Algonquin Resort is another luxury Canadian hotel with deep roots. It first opened in 1889 and its award-winning golf course followed in 1894. Today golf and seaside luxury still draw its guests in. The location offers access to beautiful beaches, the Bay of Fundy, whale watching, the town of St. Andrew, and more. 

Haunts: Two women haunt the Algonquin. One is a fastidious former employee who has been known to rearrange tables. The second is a jilted bride who took her own life in Room 473 after being left at the alter. Like Banff Springs, The Algonquin is hosting a Ghost Walk through historic St. Andrews-by-the-Sea this year.


Would you stay at a haunted hotel? Have any good ghost stories from your travels? Let me know!

I hope you have a fun, candy-fueled Halloween and a wonderful weekend!