Old World charms: Europe makes gains as newlywed hot spot

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NEW YORK -- Although a trip to Europe may be a dream vacation for the average U.S. traveler, sun-and-sand destinations like Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean have long been more likely destinations for honeymooners.

Blame it on distance, cost or culture, but the Old World just hasnt been able to hold a candle to the New as a post-nuptial holiday nexus for U.S. newlyweds.

That said, everything old does eventually become new again.

Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine -- which included Europe destinations in its first-ever Honeymoons & Weddings Away travel issue this winter -- said the Continent is now an up-and-comer in romance travel.

Percentage-wise, the numbers for honeymoons to Europe are much smaller than for other destinations, she said. I would say Europe attracts, at most, 10% of such travelers.

But as [engaged] couples have gotten older, are traveling more and become more adventurous, they do want to honeymoon in Europe in greater numbers.

Theres also, in some cases, a celebrity factor at work. When pop star Madonna wed British filmmaker Guy Ritchie at Scotlands Skibo Castle five years ago, Martini Bratten said she saw an increase in castle weddings, noting Highlander honeymoons have remained popular ever since.

Honeymoon specialist Peggy Knipp, senior travel consultant with Honeymoons Galore, New York, said Europe bookings have really been picking up lately.

Knipps Europe business grew by 60% to 70% in two years.

Similar to Brides findings, Honeymoons Galores Europe-bound clients skew both older and wealthier.

Most of the clients I send to Europe are baby boomers, intelligent workaholics who have the money to afford luxury but want to be penny-wise at the same time, she said.

Penny-wise? But isnt Europe less of a bargain than ever, given unfavorable exchange rates between a weak U.S. dollar and the euro, pound sterling and other currencies?

Knipp said poor exchange rates have not dissuaded clients at all, pointing out that stays at luxury properties in Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean can be just as costly.

Theyre cutting back in Europe ... and are doing more a la carte trips, Knipp said. But I work within everyones budget, and for those who are price-conscious, Ill deal with two- and three-star properties instead of the four- and five-stars.

In terms of value for euro spent, it seems central and southern European nations such as Croatia and Greece are good bets.

Martini Bratten interviewed a middle-class family that found a three-star hotel in Italy to host a reasonably priced destination wedding. Aside from the euro attacking them at every turn, they managed to have a very modestly priced wedding, she said.

As far as overall popularity goes, Knipp said her honeymoon clients show the most interest in Greece, Italy, Spain, southern France and, believe it or not, Ireland.

Although most of its Europe honeymoons are FIT, Honeymoons Galore prefers to book clients to Ireland on tours from operators Celtic Tours and CIE Tours.

The packages, say $1,000 for 10 days, are so worth it, you cant beat it, said Knipp. You can see five different cities, stay in five-star properties and get all your meals.

Inn vogue

In the special travel issue, Brides reviewed 18 European destinations it deems top wedding or honeymoon hot spots, outlining what qualities or features each is best known for, what visiting couples might like and the attractions no traveler should miss.

They are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Croatia? Iceland? Martini Bratten said the list is aspirational as well as practical.

Its designed to talk to adventure travelers and people who want bragging rights different than everyone else they know.

The magazine advises honeymooners to head to the Continent for what it calls seven sexy reasons, including food -- beer, ice cream and chocolate, for example -- art, history and ease of rail travel.

Brides also named its editors 10 favorite hotels, which ranged from castle hideaways like Inverlochy Castle Hotel in Scotland and Irelands Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Club to urban digs such as the Connaught in London, Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam and Hotel Paris in Prague.

Other favorites: Parador de Granada, Spain; Chateau de la Chevre dOr, on the French Riviera; La Sirenuse, Positano, Italy; Katikies Suites, Santorini, Greece; and Badrutts Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland.

These are places we thought do a particularly nice job with romance travel, said Martini Bratten. In some cases, they also make it easier for Americans to get married there, too.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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