For the love of travel, here are some of my favourite romantic destinations to inspire your future travels with your significant other or bestie.
Rovos Rail: For couples who love the finer things in life
The family-owned luxurious Rovos Rail began with a love of trains and journeys, when founder Rohan Vos bought several coaches at an auction with the intention to refurbish them. That was 34 years ago. Since then it has evolved into one of Southern Africa’s premier train experiences, alongside their Shongolo Express and the Transet-owned Blue Train.
While the train stops at numerous romantic destinations along its various routes, it’s more so a romantic experience. The Rovos is a luxurious hotel on wheels that’s affectionately called ‘The Pride of Africa’. I felt awfully fancy on the two-day, 1 600-km Cape Town to Pretoria journey, especially as Rovos Rail is known for pulling out all the stops.
Lunches and dinners are four-course meals that are paired with selected local wines and liqueurs. Though guests can also choose from an extensive list of fine South African wines, we went with the sommelier’ suggestions. High tea serves a selection of canapes, snacks and bite-size desserts. This was followed by a sundowner on the observation deck that showcases the landscapes. Our dinners were elegant affairs with the chance to dress up to the nines in suites and cocktail dresses.
The Rovos Rail offers guests a sense of slow travel on board its eight train journeys across South Africa and southern Africa that range from 48 hours to 15 days. In trying to maintain the spirit of a bygone era, there are no radios or TVs on board, nor any Wi-Fi. Guests can only use cellphones, laptops and ipads in the privacy of their suites, besides for taking pictures in the communal areas – dining carriages, smoking lounge, and open-air observation deck at the tail.
Mauritius: For couples who prefer more affordable yet exotic experiences
This tropical island is popular for romantic escapes and honeymoons. The many year-round, all-inclusive holiday packages offered by various hotels make it an affordable island getaway, even for South Africans. The many adult-only resorts across the island make it an ideal romantic destinations with no distractions from kiddies running amok by the swimming pool. Just peace, quite, and ultimate relaxation with your loved one.
There’s much to do besides chilling in your resort, relaxing on a beach lounger or flopping near the swimming pool. As the volcanic island of Mauritius is only 65km in length and 45km in width, it can be easily explored with a hired car or by public transportation, which was affordable and reliable.
You can hike the volcanic peaks of Black River Gorges National Park; do a canopy walk and zip-line over the indigenous forest; learn about slave history and heritage with the UNESCO World Heritage site of Le Morne as the backdrop; gawk at the 83-metre-high Chamarel Waterfall located near a rum distillery; wander wide-eyed through the many Hindu, Tamil and Buddhist temples; and explore the seven-coloured earth phenomenon, which was created by various minerals and oxides during volcanic eruptions. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to Mauritius for the first time.
Seychelles: For couples wanting the best beach escapes
It’s true what they say of romantic destinations, they really have a way of making you fall in love with nature and appreciate the world’s beauty. Expect beaches galore on this Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands that are spread out over 1 000km. The Seychelles is famed for its white-sand beaches that are ringed with coconut palms and scattered with smooth granite boulders in the aquamarine waters. Of the three most accessible islands – Mahé, Praslin and La Digue – the latter proved to be my favourite on both trips.
Water sports and water-related activities are the name of the game here. From Mahé, you can charter a yacht for the day; go deep-sea fishing for grouper, red snapper and marlin; snorkel at one of the many free public beaches; try scuba diving (this is where I did my first open water dive back in 2017); and attempt surfing or stand up paddle boarding at Anse Royale Beach.
The second biggest island, Praslin, is an hour by ferry from Mahé or 15-minute flight onboard national carrier Air Seychelles. While there are numerous gorgeous beaches along every curve of the sea-side road, Anse Lazio beach is probably the one you’ve seen photographed the most. It’s been voted 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. If you’re spending a few days here then embark on a catamaran to explore the nearby islands of Cousin, Felicite and Sister.
La Digue measures a mere 3km by 5km and is best explored on foot, hired bicycle (R150/$8.50 day) or electric vehicle (R1 600/$100), which you can hire yourself or be driven around (up to five people) with a personal guide. To give you an idea of its size, you can walk to any part of the island within an hour. Source D’Argent beach, famed for its large granite boulders, is set within L’Union Estate – a vanilla plantation and former coconut farm, with a cemetery of the earliest settlers from Reunion Island (entrance is R115/$6.50). At Grande Anse, walk to the panoramic look out point before you order your beachside braai (BBQ) of fish and seafood from the tiny beach-side restaurant. But my all-time favourite beach is Anse Patates, which is smaller and quieter than the others, but oh so lovely with many nearby juice bars and restaurants.
And better yet, the Seychelles is a visa-free destination for South Africans, however you do need to have an onwards ticket on arrival and you should at least have your first night of accommodation pre-booked.
Reunion: For couple’s looking for adventure
If adrenaline, adventure and being active outdoors is more your vibe then welcome to the French foreign department of Reunion Island, which floats just above the Tropic of Capricorn between Madagascar and Mauritius. It’s best known for its spectacular landscapes – soaring volcanic peaks, deep verdant canyons and wide sand plains that are reminiscent of Martian and Lunar landscapes. People often claim that it’s other worldly.
Volcano tourism on reunion island draws around a million tourists each year. Piton des Neiges, which translates to snow peak in French, is found in the centre of Reunion. It has been inactive for around 20 000 years and is surrounded by countless free hiking trails. While Piton de la Fournaise – found in Reunion National Park that lies across 40% of the island – on the south-eastern part of the island, is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s a shield (or hotspot) volcano, so it doesn’t erupt with clouds of ash and smoke, flying rocks and rubble, but rather with a gentle lava flow. This means you can observe an eruption from a safe distance or from the air during a heli flip with Corail Helicopters.
You can also climb into the underbelly of the volcano as you go spelunking through six lava tunnels. The one we explored was 6 kilometres long, though we only explored the first kilometre within two hours with our guide Jan.
Canyoning or aqua hiking offers a different kind of adrenaline rush across more than 100 sites, from waterfalls, slides and zip-lines. A guide will show you the way, in your wetsuit and helmet, as you swim, slide and take a 10-metre drop down the river.
Namibia: For couples who love 4×4 road trips and open spaces
Last year, I spent five weeks and some 5000km on the road exploring Namibia and staying between a converted Land Rover at various camp sites to B&Bs, ecotourism lodges and some of the most luxurious properties in the country from the Zambezi Region (the north-eastern panhandle) to Noordoewer.
The country’s vast road network stretches across almost all of the country’s major tourist attractions and regions of interest, though it’s mostly unpaved, unlit and only occasionally leveled, all of which adds to the adventure. that being said, it’s best to have new spare tyres and repair kits, lots of drinking water and a jerry can of petrol as petrol stations in some parts are few and far between, and may run dry during peak season.
Namibia is characterised by its vast desert of rusty-red dunes (said to be the oldest in the world) and dramatic coastline of shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast. This enigmatic destination simultaneously offers an abundance of animals and one of the continent’s greatest wildlife parks.
If you only have two weeks to spare (though three would be ideal) make you way to the vast, rusty-red dunes of the Namib Desert (said to be the oldest in the world) and then take the coastal road from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund. In Namibia’s adventure capital you can go sandboarding, fat-biking or do a guided 4×4 tour along the dunes. If you prefer seeing things from the sky, try a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Rossingberge mountains or a not-to-be-missed, two-hour sunset ‘Sossusfly’ flight over Soussusvlei and the Skeleton Coast. Follow the road from the shipwreck coastline into the hinterland, where you can see the desert-adapted elephants in Damaraland. Next undertake the ultimate safari in Etosha National Park, or better yet the quieter and less touristy Zambezi Region (formerly the Caprivi Strip) which borders Botswana’s Chobe National Park. For a more detailed overview of what to do during a road trip through the country, check out the Namibia chapter which I wrote for the Fodor’s The Complete Guide to African Safaris.
France: For couples who dream of visiting the city of love
Call it what you will, the city of lights or love, Paris allures you regardless and is widely regarded as the ultimate of all romantic destinations. Start at the heart of the city, known as Kilometre Zero, which lies at the foot of Notre Dame Cathedral and segments Paris into 20 districts or arrondissements, in a clockwise spiral.
From here, an hour-long river cruise along the Seine floats past 30-odd popular attractions from Musée du Louvre – this former 18th century royal palace is the world’s largest art museum with over 35 000 artworks – to Place de la Concorde, where Marie-Antoinette was guillotined and which is now marked with a 3 300-year-old Egyptian obelisk, before making sight of the Eiffel Tower. On the way back you’ll see Assemblée Nationale, Musée d’Orsay – housed within the former Orsay railway station that was the set for Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial – and Place de la Bastille.
Next, visit a nearby boulangerie before walking along Parc du Champ-de-Mars where you can picnic on the lawns to the soundtrack of performing buskers beneath the 324-metre Eiffel Tower. Let the sun be your timekeeper. As it begins to approach the horizon, head in the direction of Sacré-Coeur. But first stop at Charles de Gaulle–Étoile metro station (line 6) to get a glimpse of the 50-metre high Arc de Triomphe that was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height (ha!) of his glory. Take the funicular to the top of Montmartre butte, where the white Roman-Byzantine basilica houses France’s largest mosaic. Though entrance to Sacré-Coeur is free, you’ll have to pay to enter the dome, from where you’ll understand the origins of the city’s moniker as the city of lights. Say farewell to the city of love and head to Marseille next.