AJC Travel Guide 2015: Nine ideas for couples

In need of a romantic recharge, or just a wind-down weekend? Here are nine couples getaways with destinations ranging from close-by on a budget to splurge-worthy adventures.

BUDGET

Greenville, S.C.

Once called Pleasantburg, nowadays Greenville (www.visitgreenvillesc.com, @Greenville_SC) wants to be known as a “Foodie Paradise,” showing off its eclectic array of culinary experiences, including some 600 restaurants.

Founded by restaurateur Carl Sobocinski and singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, Euphoria (www.euphoriagreenville.com), Greenville’s premier food, wine and music festival, is held annually in September.

Among the newer restaurants, bars and breweries on the scene:

Roost (220 N. Main St., 864-298-2424, www.roostrestaurant.com, @RoostGreenville) is a “soil to city” concept, featuring local and seasonal menus for lunch, supper and breakfast. Settle in at the Harvest Table in front of the exhibition kitchen, and try smoked bone-in pork loin and collard greens, or Lowcountry shrimp and grits.

Bacon Bros. Public House (3620 Pelham Road, 864-297-6000, www.baconbrospublichouse.com, @BaconBrosPUB) in East Greenville offers quality food at value prices with barbecue and entrees in the $12-$25 range. A cure room with a viewing window lets guests see what chef Anthony Gray is offering on the charcuterie board.

Papi’s Tacos (300 River St., 864-373-7274, www.eatpapistacos.com) is often described as a “food truck without wheels,” featuring a simple menu of tacos, tortas, salsas and dips.

SIP (103 N. Main St., 864-552-1916, www.siprooftop.com) is Greenville’s first rooftop wine bar and lounge. The sprawling outdoor space features 50 wines by the glass and overlooks the lights of Main Street.

Quest Brewing Company (55 Airview Drive, 864-272-6232, www.questbrewing.com, @QuestBrewing) captures the new spirit of Greenville with a taproom and culinary beers with flavors like cranberry, peach and pineapple. Free tours, 2-5 p.m. Saturday afternoons.

Tastes of the South Tour (864-567-3940, www.greenvillehistorytours.com/tastes-of-the-south, @gvilletours) takes guests on a three-hour journey to five Southern-themed restaurants to sample iconic dishes and ingredients. Tickets: $45.

To walk off the calories, tour the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail (http://greenvillerec.com/swamprabbit), a 17.5-mile multiuse area that runs right through Falls Park in downtown Greenville. Or rent a bike from Reedy Rides (864-419-2944, www.reedyrides.com, @ReedyRides) at 12 W. McBee Ave.

St. Augustine, Fla.

The area is always one of America’s great historic destinations, but romance is a now a common theme of getaways to St. Augustine on Florida’s Historic Coast (www.floridashistoriccoast.com, @FlHistoricCoast), where couples can always find budget and even free fun.

Sip a selection of Florida wines at the San Sebastian Winery (157 King St., 888-352-9463, www.sansebastianwinery.com, @StAugustineWine), which offers free tours and tastings every day. Sample handcrafted chocolates as you tour Whetstone’s Chocolate Factory (139 King St., 904-217-0275, www.whetstonechocolates.com); $8 with free tastings. Daily free tours of St. Augustine Distillery (112 Riberia St., 904-825-4962, http://staugustinedistillery.com/visit/, @StAugDistillery) allow visitors to watch the making of small-batch vodka, rum, gin and whiskey, then sample some in the tasting room.

St. Augustine Historic Walking Tours (904-392-7137, www.staugustinehistorictours.com, @SAWalkingTours) offers two-to three-hour food tours and pub crawls, with generous tastings and culinary surprises along the way; $59 per person.

The first Saturday of each month, celebrate a romantic sunset across the bay, plus dozens of market vendors, live music, local food and arts and crafts, with free admission at the Vilano Beach Sunset Celebration (www.vilanobeachfl.com, @VilanoBeachMain).

Once a month, climb to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse (www.staugustinelighthouse.org/events/sunsetmoon.html) to enjoy a view of the sunset and the rising of the full moon. The $25 admission includes champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres.

St. Augustine’s downtown historic district has more than 20 galleries along brick streets lined with sidewalk cafes. The first Friday of every month, the art walk features wine and local musicians. And most pubs and restaurants in St. Augustine’s historic district and on the beachside offer live music in the evenings for the price of a drink.

Of course, the area’s 42 miles of beaches are popular sun and surf destinations with free parking and access to the sand in most areas.

Austin, Texas

Known for an endless number of rock-around-the-clock entertainment possibilities, Austin (www.austintexas.org/visit/, @VisitAustinTX) is home to the annual SXSW Music and Film Festival (http://sxsw.com, @sxsw), March 13-22, 2015.

With some 250 music venues, the city’s motto, “The Live Music Capital of the World,” is hard to dispute. Among the most venerable, the Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-6189, www.brokenspokeaustintx.com) is a classic country dance hall featuring mostly local acts. The Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-2444, www.continentalclub.com) is an Americana institution booking local and touring country and blues bands and singer-songwriters.

Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater (310 Willie Nelson Blvd., 512-225-7999, http://acl-live.com, @acllive) is home to the award-winning TV show, a public concert series, and venue tours.

Zilker Kite Festival (www.abckitefestival.com, @zilkerkitefest), held on the first Sunday of March, is the free kickoff to hundreds of springtime activities with the spectacular sight of hundreds of kites filling the sky.

Run, hike, bike and kayak at Lady Bird Lake (http://austintexas.gov/page/lady-bird-lake), where locals take in 300 days of sunshine a year on the 10-mile trails in the heart of downtown. The essential “hip strip” of the city, South Congress (www.austintexas.org/listings/South-Congress-Ave-SoCo-/4359/), just south of Lady Bird Lake, brings Austinites together to take in the city’s culture, music, antique shops and vintage boutiques, and dine at eclectic restaurants.

Food trailer parks (www.foodtrailersaustin.com, @FoodTrailersATX) are a big deal now, with the likes of South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery on South First Street featuring Torchy’s Tacos, Holy Cacao, Conscious Cravings and more.

The Domain (11410 Century Oaks Terrace, 512-873-8099, www.simon.com/mall/the-domain/about, @TheDomainAustin) is the city’s new upscale retail development with 700,000 square feet of restaurants and luxury fashion, including Austin’s first Neiman Marcus, Tiffany and Co., Barney’s Co-Op, Louis Vuitton and Intermix.

MODERATE

Las Vegas

A city of blinding lights, blaring casinos and faux pyramids, skyscrapers and Euro cityscapes, Las Vegas (www.lvcva.com, @LVCVA) is a mecca of disorienting fun and games. But straying a bit off the beaten path can be an adventure, too. And famous chefs, entertainers and really big shows are just as much of a reason to go as blackjack and roulette.

On or off the Strip, dining out in Las Vegas always seems like an occasion. One of the best new restaurants is Carson Kitchen (124 S. Sixth St., Suite 100, 702-473-9523, http://carsonkitchen.com), where Kerry Simon is bringing celebrity chef status to the Fremont East District. The casual vibe and rooftop patio combine with a sociable menu of small plates and entrees under $20.

On the Strip, db Brasserie (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-430-1235, www.dbbrasserie.com, @dbBrasserie) at the Venetian is the latest destination from chef Daniel Boulud. Go for French restaurant classics like escargot, country pate and steak frites, or for two or three courses on a budget, check out the prix fixe lunch.

At Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar (10970 Rosemary Park Drive, Suite 160, 702-878-5505, http://cravesummerlin.com, @CRAVEamerica) in downtown Summerlin, one side of the menu is American, the other is Japanese, but it’s all good at this energetic spot serving lunch and dinner daily, along with “the best happy hour.”

At the High Roller Happy Half Hour (3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 866-328-1888, www.caesars.com/linq/high-roller.html#.VL_CoMY-CNh, @TheLINQ), spinning above the Strip, a $29.95 ticket to ride the 550-foot-tall wheel includes 30 minutes of an open bar inside the cabin and views for miles around.

SlotZilla (http://vegasexperience.com/slotzilla-zip-line/, @FSELV) at the Fremont Street Experience is a slot machine-inspired zip line. The upper “Zoomline” ($40) takes off more than 10 stories up and lands at the historic Golden Gate casino.

Late last year, Elton John extended his contract at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace (3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-866-1400, www.thecolosseum.com, @ColosseumatCP) to return with his show, “The Million Dollar Piano,” for three more years. The namesake piano features more than 68 LED video screens, and Sir Elton performs hits and classic album tracks from his five-decade career. Tickets: $55-$250.

Montreal

Perfectly situated on an island in middle of the St. Lawrence River, Montreal (www.tourisme-montreal.org, @montreal) is the cultural and economic capital of Quebec. It’s also the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, behind Paris. Art, architecture, cuisine and culture abound with easy access to nature and a slice of Europe without crossing the ocean.

Home to Cirque du Soleil, buskers (www.buskercentral.com) and street life are everywhere. Look for them at Place Cartier and popping up on corners. Festivals of all kinds are held monthly from comedy and jazz to beer and fireworks.

World-class art institutions include the Musee des Beaux Arts (1380 Sherbrooke St. W., 514-285-2000, www.mbam.qc.ca/en/, @mbamtl) and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 Baile St. E., 514-939-7026, www.cca.qc.ca, @ccawire). Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal (110 Notre-Dame St. W., 514-842-2925, www.basiliquenddm.org) is an over-the-top historic church renovated with funds from Celine Dion for her wedding. More low-key is the charming Notre Dame de Bon Secours, the sailors’ church, with hundreds of ship models hanging from the ceiling (400 St. Paul St. E., 514-282-8670, www.marguerite-bourgeoys.com, @margbourg).

Montreal is known for its smoked meat sandwiches, bagels and poutine. All can be found at or nearby Jean-Talon Market (7070 Avenue Henri-Julien, 514-277-1588, www.marchespublics-mtl.com/marches/jean-talon/) alongside a bounty of artisanal stalls perfect for sourcing a picnic. Au Pied de Cochon (536 Duluth Est, 514-281-1114, www.aupieddecochon.ca) offers a special night out with prix fixe and pairing menus.

Nightlife is abundant with pubs and brasseries staying open until 3 a.m. Nearby Unibroue (www.unibroue.com, @Unibroue) and other craft breweries, cideries, and ice wineries mean that locally crafted drinks are highlighted on menus around the city.

Auberge du Vieux-Port (97 Rue de la Commune Est, 514-876-0081, www.aubergeduvieuxport.com) offers charming accommodations in Old Town, where you’ll find the historic Artists Alley.

North of Montreal, excursions to the Laurentides (www.laurentides.com) are easy for cross-country and downhill skiing, dog sledding or just a quiet auberge.

Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira (pronounced “essa-weera”) on the Atlantic coast of Morocco (www.visitmorocco.com/index.php/eng/) has become a destination for surfers and kite boarders and those looking for an off-the-beaten track spot in North Africa (www.essaouira.nu). In the ’60s and ’70s, it was a go-to spot for Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Cat Stevens, and the music scene lives on in an annual world music festival (www.festival-gnaoua.net/en/).

It’s also a history buff’s dream holiday as the film site for “Game of Thrones” with fortress walls overlooking the ocean and a charming port designed by Frenchmen out of St. Malo in Brittany.

“Game of Thrones” tours can be booked through Winter Is Coming (www.winteriscoming.it). Surfing and kite board lessons can be booked through Kite Morocco (www.kitemorocco.com, 212671084686). (Note: 212 is the country code for calling Morocco.)

To relax, traditional hammam spa experiences can be had at Hammam Lalla Mira (www.lallamira.net).

For exploring Moroccan cuisine, cooking classes featuring couscous and tagines are available through L’Atelier Madada (www.lateliermadada.com). Essaouira is also an artisanal hub with galleries and workshops throughout the town.

Women’s cooperatives sell argan oil and give demonstrations in the history and process of manufacturing this local product with curative properties.

For a desert adventure, La Maison du Chameau offers overnight accommodations and camel riding lessons on its white Sudanese racing camels (212 (0)658 376 043, www.lamaisonduchameau.fr). Scarabeo Luxury Camp offers a unique desert camping experience (212 (0)661 444 158, www.scarabeocamp.com/).

For dining, outdoor fish grill stands abound in the harbor and along the beach. In the evenings, Riad Al Baraka (Rue Mohammed el-Quorry) has charming courtyard dining with live music.

The Villa Maroc is an older hotel offering argan oil treatments in its on-site spa (10, Rue Abdellah Ben Yassine, 44000 Mogadar, 212 5 24 47 61 47, www.villa-maroc.com).

Day trips to Marrakech are easily arranged by taxi or car rental.

SPLURGE

Punta de Mita, Mexico

Punta de Mita (www.rivieranayarit.com, @riv_nayarit) is a breathtaking mountainous peninsula jutting into the sea on the Nayarit Riviera, surrounded by almost 10 miles of Pacific beaches and coves. No wonder it was chosen by John Huston as the site for filming “The Night of the Iguana” (1964) in nearby Mismaloya.

Away from the rivers, the water is cerulean blue and clear, making it ideal for snorkeling. Boats are readily available for day trips to the outer islands and secluded beaches. Its low-key and private atmosphere has made it a mecca for Hollywood. And the lively nightlife of Puerto Vallarta (www.visitpuertovallarta.com, @PVvisit) is a short drive away.

Day trips for swimming with dolphins, whale watching and paddle boarding can be booked through the eco-friendly company Punta Mita Expeditions (www.puntamita-adventures.com).

Spectacular oceanfront golf courses include the world’s only natural island green, the Whale’s Tail (www.puntamita.com/jack-nicklaus-golf).

For dining out, seafood abounds from casual joints for ceviche to super chef Richard Sandoval’s Bahia and Ketsi at the Four Seasons Resort (www.fourseasons.com/puntamita/dining).

Aurinko Bungalows in Sayulita (52-329-291-3150, sayulita-vacations.com) are charming. Or choose the luxury of the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (Bahía de Banderas Nayarit, 52-329-291-6000, www.fourseasons.com/PuntaMita, @FSPuntaMita) or the St. Regis Punta Mita (Lote H-4, Carretera Federal 200, km 19.5, 52-329-291-8000, www.starwoodhotels.com/stregis/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1734, @StRegisPMita), which offer world-class spa experiences and concierge services for excursions. (Note: 52 is the country code for calling Mexico.)

Renting a beachfront or cliffside villa is a luxurious, private alternative to hotels. This is a great option for couples traveling together, but smaller rental properties are available. Most come fully staffed with daily housekeeping, grocery shopping, and a chef on-call for breakfasts, picnics and poolside dinners (www.lapuntarealty.com).

Georgia’s Golden Isles

The Golden Isles (www.goldenisles.com/discover-golden-isles, @Golden_Isles), made up of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the port city of Brunswick, offer five different vacation destinations. Each beckons with a unique experience, but all promise the gorgeous natural beauty of the Georgia coast.

For a real splurge, book a romantic getaway package at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (371 Riverview Drive, 855-535-9547, www.jekyllclub.com, @JekyllClubHotel), once the private retreat of J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer and friends. Or try the Ocean Lodge (935 Beachview Drive, 912-291-4300, www.oceanlodgessi.com/index.html) on St. Simons Island, where just 15 luxury suites are offered.

Accessible only by boat, Little St. Simons Island (www.littlestsimonsisland.com) is a privately owned barrier island resort, where the all-inclusive Lodge on Little St. Simons Island (1000 Hampton Club Marina Drive, 888-733-5774), features six special cottages. Activities include guided nature walks, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, shell collecting, bicycling and birding.

On privately owned Sea Island (www.seaisland.com, @SeaIslandResort), find luxury accommodations at the Cloister (100 Cloister Drive, 855-572-4975), where you’ll also find Georgia’s only Forbes Five-Star restaurant, the Georgian Room, known for “refined Southern” cuisine and world-class wine.

Step back in time to discover agricultural areas once dotted with rice and cotton plantations. Brunswick’s Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation (http://gastateparks.org/HofwylBroadfield) produced rice until 1913 and is now open to the public as a Georgia State Historic Site.

The St. Simons Land Trust Cannon’s Point Preserve (www.sslt.org/pro_cannons_point.php, @SSLandTrust) is both the site of a wildlife preserve and 19th-century plantation ruins.

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center (912-635-4444, http://gstc.jekyllisland.com, @GASeaTurtles) on Jekyll Island is home to Georgia’s only sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education facility. Learn about endangered marine animals and tour the state-of-the-art hospital.

New Zealand

Halfway around the globe, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand (www.newzealand.com, @PureNewZealand) is made up of two major islands — North and South. As one of the last lands to be settled by humans, New Zealand developed distinctive animal and plant life, making it an ideal destination for adventurers, wildlife lovers, and wine and food enthusiasts. The climate ranges from subtropical to Alpine with abundant biodiversity with flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet.

Because of the distance, most visitors plan on 10 to 14 days. Flights from the United States land in Auckland, a bustling harbor city with easy access to the area’s attractions. City-center hotels include the Sofitel Viaduct Harbour (21 Viaduct Harbour Ave., 64-9-909-9000, www.sofitel-auckland.com, @SofitelAKL) in easy walking distance to restaurants, shopping and the Sky Tower, along with knowledgeable concierge services. (Note: 64 is the country code for calling New Zealand.)

Begin by taking a tour of Milford Sound, described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World with spectacular scenery and wildlife. The BBQ bus and boat tour takes visitors by land and sea and includes a beach barbecue lunch (64-3-442-1045, www.milford.net.nz/).

Another spectacular site, the Bay of Islands, combines 144 islands and can be toured by ferry, chartered boat or sea kayak. Expect to see penguins, dolphins and whales. Conservation camping is available with cabins and tent sites (64-9-407-0300, www.doc.govt.nz/).

Christchurch is a little bit of England enjoyed by punting on the River Avon (64-3-366-0337, http://welcomeaboard.co.nz/punting/), where accommodations and restaurants abound. Pick up gyros and salads from one of dozens of Greek restaurants specializing in local lamb.

Ski season in New Zealand begins in June. But for the winter sports enthusiast, glacier excursions are available year-round on the Franz Joseph Glacier, along with walks and climbing lesson at this World Heritage site (64-3-752-0763, www.franzjosefglacier.com, @NZGlacierGuides).

For Tolkien fans, tours to Middle-earth (64-9-410-6561, www.redcarpet-tours.com, @RedCarpetTourNZ) and the film sets will bring you to the pastoral countryside and hobbit houses. Even if you are not a fan, the landscape is a treat.

For wine lovers, consider the 240-mile New Zealand Classic Wine Trail (www.classicwinetrail.co.nz) with over 100 tasting rooms open to the public. Along the way, you’ll have countless opportunities to explore the scenery, wildlife and culture of New Zealand. The area has a strong sense of terroir, with impeccably paired food and wine.

Visit Marlborough Sound, where Captain Cook first found refuge. For the adventurous, head to D’Urville Island and the D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort (1211 Rai Valley, 64-3-576-5268, www.durvilleisland.co.nz).

MORE:

AJC Travel Guide 2015: Nine ideas for singles

AJC Travel Guide 2015: Nine ideas for groups

AJC Travel Guide 2015: Nine ideas for families

Photos: AJC Travel Guide 2015

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