by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh, The Telegraph, May 22, 2017
Following their weekend wedding in Berkshire, newlyweds Pippa Middleton and James Matthews are expected to commence their honeymoon today in the French Polynesian private-island resort The Brando. Costing £3,000 per night, the retreat is clearly aimed at the world’s wealthiest travellers, but the way members of this demographic are spending their first weeks of married life is changing.
CEO of tour operator Red Savannah, George Morgan-Grenville has found that while his clients desire “intense rejuvenation” after concluding the wedding rigmarole, they now request “hands-on authentic experience” as part of their honeymoon alongside the traditional beach element. In practice that might mean exploring the depths of the tropical waters surrounding Fiji’s Laucala Island resort in its £1m DeepFlight Falcon Submersible, or traversing Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Saltpans by quadbike to reach the Lost Island of Baobabs. Strenuous and sweltering though the journey can be, it provides honeymooners, Morgan-Grenville says, with the “‘bragging rights’ that will have their dinner party guests on the edge of their seats as opposed to yawning into their soup.”
Ostensibly at least, it was a desire to meet local people rather than bragging rights that saw one duo enlist Brown + Hudson’s Phillippe Brown to organise a particularly personalised honeymoon to South Africa and beyond. Over one month, the European couple enjoyed a private audience with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and lunch with Olympic gold-medal swimmer Ryk Neethling, alongside private safari drives with South Africa’s best guide and a night asleep under the stars at Tswalu Kalahari lodge . Their trip concluded with a 10-night stay at North Island in the Seychelles . The bill was £550,000.
Prices can rise steeply when customising every component of the trip - even down to having the seat and headrest covers on their privately chartered aircraft embroidered with the couple’s names - but it’s often the guarantee of absolute privacy that commands the highest premium.
For Alex Malcolm, MD of Jacada Travel, that desire for complete exclusivity is “the biggest trend we see for honeymooners without a budget”. For amorous couples who want to be entirely alone (save, of course, for the attention of a battalion of discreet, intuitive staff expected to anticipate their every whim), his company can arrange a private-dining experience for two in the ruins of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples, for £12,000. One couple eager to see the Northern Lights chartered a private jet to chase the phenomenon around Iceland. With their own photographer in tow, they paid £34,000 for the experience (though there’s no word on whether the lights themselves deigned to make an appearance).
Catering primarily to an American clientele, tour operator Sienna Charles has gone to similar efforts to ensure her honeymooning guests are entirely undisturbed. On one recent $800,000 Italian honeymoon, the couple undertook private tours in palaces usually closed to the public; enjoyed the services of a private chef and had a private water taxi reserved for their exclusive use throughout their time in Venice. (Other journeys were conducted by hot air balloon and Ferrari.)
While other tour operators are offering increasingly niche honeymoon options - costing from £174,000 and so far booked by just one couple, Health and Fitness Travel’s six-month-long wellness honeymoon sees couples undertake Ayurvedic treatments at India’s Ananda in the Himalayas and go paragliding in Oman - hotels too are providing increasingly extravagant services in their efforts to lure lucrative honeymooners direct to their properties.
Keen to stand out among the innumerable romantic resorts that populate Bali, Alila Villas Soori’s ominous-sounding 96 Hours Blackout sees couples willingly sequester themselves in the property’s Soori Residence - a five-bedroom property with ample space for the two butlers and two housekeepers constantly on call. There they’ll spend a demanding 96 hours undergoing 16 decadent spa treatments, eventually emerging from their chrysalis buffed, preened and looking presumably even more beautiful than they did in their wedding photos. The experience will cost them just shy of £30,000.
Perhaps the quintessential - and most predictable - luxury honeymoon destination is the Maldives and the country’s truly creative luxury resorts can profit hugely from their ingenuity. Like many competitor properties, Four Seasons Landaa Giravaru offers couples the opportunity to charter a yacht to a private sandbank for a candelit dinner under the stars. More unusual is its night spa experience: one couple can book the resort’s spa exclusively each night, and after an outdoor massage for two, they are left to bathe together in an immense bathtub made from Balinese stone, even sleeping overnight on a swinging day-bed if they wish.
Every reputable concierge, meanwhile, can offer tales about the significant efforts they made to ensure honeymooners’ stays were memorable. One Russian guest of the Peninsula Paris hotel wanted to buy the wrought-iron entrance to Kléber metro station as a holiday souvenir for his bride. An impossible request even with his unlimited budget, but instead their concierge was able to source a replica after a tireless trawl through the city’s auction houses.
But when it comes to creating spectacular, unprecedented honeymoon experiences, there is perhaps no tour operator that tops the efforts of Based on a True Story. Though the company organises just 10 or so a year, each honeymoon is an exceptionally elaborate, multifaceted affair that might incorporate intricately synchronised private performances (in one case with literally thousands of participants), continents-spanning itineraries undertaken by private jet and superyacht, and custom-made components and habitations that will never again be on offer to another couple. Honeymoons are £500,000 at a minimum and can cost up to £5 million.
For B.O.A.T. founder Niel Fox, the stereotypical luxury-travel tropes - stays in hotels’ best suites, transfers by helicopter or yacht - are in this case entirely unremarkable elements already completely familiar to his UHNW clientele: “We’re adding a layer of magic to honeymoons, and that is more important to me than the obvious blueprint of luxury - the jets, the yachts, it’s all arbitrary. We provide a level of creativity above all of that - one that is often a complete surprise. That’s where we stand alone in this industry.”
Invariably already extremely well-travelled, his honeymooners often don’t even stipulate where they want to go and instead indicate the types of experiences they value. In practice that might mean they’re whisked to the Arctic, where they’ll be led to their own remote, purpose-built igloo lined with sheepskin rugs, with a private chef on standby and where a Sami choir will sing under the stars and Aurora Borealis.
One tour of Japan saw the couple travel between Tokyo and Kyoto by bullet train - every seat in the first-class carriage was booked so it was kept entirely for their exclusive use - and were entertained by unexpected performances - perhaps a flash of ninjas appearing unexpectedly - at every stop. The night before a sumo match, they were joined at dinner by the two most esteemed fighters; another day saw actors from Kill Bill make a cameo.
It accumulates into a luxury-travel experience that for once is indisputably worthy of the industry’s oft-repeated “once in a lifetime” mantra. The itinerary will never be repeated for anyone; the couple can commence their hopefully life-long marriage assured their honeymoon memories will last forever.
This article was written by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].