Anne Stott

Romantic Respites

Mykonos, Greece, Sedona, Arizona, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Mykonos, Greece,

There’s something in the air on Mykonos, the sun-washed island in the Aegean Sea that locals fondly call the “Pearl of the Cyclades.” According to myth, Greek gods and goddesses fought battles here, and the remnants of the classical culture inspire at every turn. Maybe it’s the effect of sunlight bouncing off the pearly-white churches mingling with the refreshing salt air. Whatever its source, this beautiful isle stimulates love.

Mykonos is truly the leisure and nightlife hub of the Greek isles. The beaches (some clothing optional) are among the most stunning strips of sand on the globe. Evidence of its archeological history, spanning an incredible 12 centuries, is displayed in museums that warrant a visit. Mykonos is adjacent to the small, holy island of Delos, where the god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis are said to have been born. Today the ruins of Delos are one of the most important historical sites in Greece.

The villages of Mykonos, even the relatively bustling Mykonos town (or Chora, akin to the capital) are full of Mediterranean charm among their cobbled streets. The hotels, restaurants and beachside shops offer a combination of modern-day conveniences and services intertwined with traditional hospitality and a languid pace of life. The center of the Chora’s artsy/tourist scene is Little Venice, a quayside jumble of shops, bars, open-air cafes rights at the water’s edge. This is the world’s best place for unwinding with a glass of ouzo.

The island has been a popular spot for gay and lesbian holiday-makers since the 1960s, and lesbian travelers will be delighted to find that there is quite a selection of gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodations. Elysium Hotel (off Agiou Ioannou Str., Mykonos Town, +30 22890-23952, elysiumhotel.com) is the best-known gay hotel on the island, and its futuristic resort style appears like a slice of the Fire Island Pines in the Aegean. This luxury hotel has a stunning panoramic view of historic Mykonos town, basking in the reflected sun off the sea.

Locals also recommend Zephyros Hotel (Paragka Beach, +30 22890-23928, zephyros  mykonos.com) a family-owned and -operated hotel built in the “white cube” style indigenous to Mykonos. About 5 km from Mykonos town, Zephyros is near the exquisite and tranquil Paragka beach, a U-shaped cove of azure water and golden sand. It’s also a short walk from the stunning and livelier Paradise and Super Paradise beaches (the latter a well-known gay beach where clothing is optional).

Gay-friendly restaurants and nightspots welcome visitors from all over the world, resulting in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. When you decide to take a break and refuel for your next outing, try Lotus (47 Matogianni St, +30 22890-22881), a quaint, open-air restaurant owned by a lovely Dutch woman who prepares the traditional Greek food fresh daily. The delightful Pasta Fresca Barkia (Kouzi Georgouli, in Little Venice, +30 22890-22563) offers both Greek and Italian cuisine in the heart of Mykonos town. It’s true: Greeks are very passionate people who gesticulate with every word, especially when offering you traditional Greek coffee and honey-drenched treats. Prepare to be welcomed as family.
After dinner, The Piano Bar (24 Anargiron St, +30 22890-23719, thepianobar.com), one of the best-known gay bars on the island, offers incomparable views of the sunsets. It also offers live cabaret with New York artists during the high season. Diva Bar (in Little Venice, +30 22890-27271) is specifically lesbian, and plays Greek music exclusively.

The Cyclades Islands are linked by dozens of ferries in the high season. Extend your honeymoon with a jaunt to Santorini, “the Jewel of the Cyclades,” a half-moon-shaped volcanic isle with marvelous scenery and an air of European luxury. Where Mykonos is bustling and cosmopolitan, Santorini is serene and traditional. Riddled with archeological sites dating back to the Minoan Bronze Age, Santorini is the best spot for exploring the past—and creating new memories together. —Vanessa Geiger

Sedona, Arizona

Feel like your wedding was an emotional whirlwind? Experience the real thing in the central Arizona resort town of Sedona, where New Age spiritualists have discovered a hotbed of endorphin-stimulating “vortexes.” Some locals believe that Sedona’s preternatural landscape—an unearthly skyline of red rock formations and desert canyons—hides a center of metaphysical energy that is funneled into invisible vortexes of motion. Whether prompted by Native American beliefs or cultivated by sixties-era Earth mothers, the energy is touted as an interactive force for people in its presence, and rumored to guide seekers toward the proper path in relationships.

Newlyweds rarely need such stimulation, but if you seek answers from beyond, Sedona Red Rock Jeep Tours (270 N. AZ 89A, 928-282-6826, redrockjeep.com) will help you find them. The sturdy jeeps ply the scrubby desert terrain, ferrying visitors to Sedona’s four main vortexes on its Original Vortex Tour: Airport Mesa (a center of “masculine” energy affecting self-confidence and strength), Cathedral Rock (with “feminine” energy encouraging introspection and compassion), Boynton Canyon (a mix of masculine and feminine energies that leads to balance in one’s life) and Bell Rock (another mixed zone with particularly strong energies).

Even if you don’t quite buy the transformational powers of Sedona’s vortexes, you’ll fall in love with the mystical scenery. Airport Mesa affords panoramic views of Sedona and the surrounding red rocks, while Cathedral and Bell Rocks—weathered, rust-colored buttes dotted with juniper and ponderosa pine—exemplify the Southwest vistas seen in dozens of Western films. Pink Jeep Tours (204 N. AZ 89A, 928-282-5000, pinkjeep.com) offers off-road excursions that snake through rugged backcountry and past the natural monuments. Or, glimpse the entire range from the air: Northern Light Balloon Expeditions (928-282-2274, northernlightballoon.com) and Red Rock Balloon Adventures (928-284-0040, redrock balloons.com) are the only outfitters that fly over the Coconino National Forest, which encompasses all of Sedona and the surrounding mountains.  Both offer flights at sunrise, lasting about an hour, followed by a picnic brunch (with champagne!) on the ground.

If you have your own mode of transportation, spend an afternoon in the tiny ghost town of Jerome, a former copper mining boomtown turned nascent arts colony perched on the side of steep Cleopatra Hill. One hundred years ago Jerome’s multiple saloons and gambling halls gave it a famously unsavory reputation, but today visitors will find a charming, quirky settlement with a handful of historic hotels, modern cafes and galleries featuring local crafts.

While much of Sedona’s desert is rough and exposed to the elements, its high-end resorts are anything but rustic. World-class lodgings nestled in picturesque canyons or along bubbling streams have turned this pioneer outpost into a destination for luxury travel within the past couple of decades. Many resorts and spas build on Sedona’s reputation as a place for spiritual renewal, and offer the creature comforts to ease your journey of personal growth. L’Auberge de Sedona (301 L’Auberge Ln, 928-282-1661, lauberge.com), a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, features 62 luxury cottages and 25 lodge-style guestrooms on the tree-shaded banks of Oak Creek. Jaw-dropping views of the Red Rocks greet guests from every angle.

L’Auberge offers two special packages for romance this season. The Sedona Snowmance option, valid through March 15, seems designed for active honeymooners: it includes a two-night stay, two ski lift tickets to the Arizona Snowbowl ski area in Flagstaff, $75 restaurant or spa credit and complimentary cider, tea and cocoa by the fire après-ski. The Amour package, offered on an ongoing basis, includes one-night accommodation, champagne and strawberries delivered upon your arrival and dining vouchers. Whatever the season, you’re encouraged to relax with a glass of award-winning local wine at the creekside Veranda wine bar and ward off the desert’s nightly chill at a crackling firepit table.

The gay-friendly Lodge at Sedona (125 Kallof Pl, 928-204-1942, lodgeatsedona.com) envelopes guests in an Arts and Crafts-style inn, surrounded by three acres of landscaped gardens. The on-site “meditative labyrinth,” a circular maze of stones, encourages inner reflection. Honeymooners seeking an extra shot of spiritual rejuvenation may opt for the Well Being package, which includes a room  for two, in-room massages, a vortex tour, and optional spiritual guidance sessions.

Sedona is about 25 miles south of Flagstaff via Rt. 89A and approximately 115 miles north of Phoenix. Visit the Sedona Chamber of Commerce (visitsedona.com) for the latest info on lodging, dining and playing in Red Rock country.  –Kat Long

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Arriving in Niagara Falls I felt almost giddy. It wasn’t just the bliss of vacation, or the magic of Canada. There is literally something in the air up there.

Thanks to the perpetual crashing of water upon itself—about 757,000 gallons per second, if you can comprehend it—the Niagara Falls air is flush with negative ions. That means we’re breathing extra-rich oxygen, leading to more energy, more enthusiasm, and what instantly feels like untethered euphoria. This natural high makes witnessing the nearly unfathomable beauty of Niagara Falls even more potent.

Niagara is actually two massive waterfalls. American Falls is on the New York side, with a section designated Bridal Veil Falls. Horseshoe Falls, named for its shapely curve, straddles the Niagara River that forms the border between the United States and Canada.

Majesty, unparalleled beauty, rampant negative ions—Niagara Falls puts any aphrodisiac to shame. Thus, it welcomes about 28 million international visitors a year, and has held the crown “Honeymoon Capital of the World” for nearly a century. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, so it’s easy for all to join the romantic merriment in this peculiar little town where the entire world seems to converge.

Visits to the falls themselves are as simple as walking or driving/parking along Niagara Parkway, and standing where millions of humans have stood awestruck before. There is a wide pedestrian promenade along the river, running about 25 miles north-south.

Head to the Table Rock Welcome Centre (6650 Niagara Pkwy, niagaraparks.com) for a falls sight that’s so close you wonder if you may get swept away. Get tickets to the Journey Behind the Falls inside (they include a much-needed, biodegradable poncho). You’ll take an elevator down 13 stories, where you’ll see the falls from a platform at its base, and witness its backside through two other tunnels. It’s a moving, dreamy, and briefly terrifying experience that should not be missed.

Tours to the base of the falls are via Maid of the Mist boats (maidofthemist.com), which can be joined at the north end of Queen Victoria Park, near the Rainbow Bridge (named for being a border crossing, not a Pride parade route). Because the river freezes in winter, this tour operates only during warmer months. It also launches on the American side.

Clifton Hill is the tourist area of Niagara, Ontario. Dozens of high-rise hotels dot the neighborhood, up a steep hill from the river. Among them are the Sheraton (6455 Fallsview Blvd, 888-238-919, sheratonfourpointsniagarafalls.com), Embassy Suites (6700 Fallsview Blvd, 800-420-6980, hilton.com) and Hilton (6361 Fallsview Blvd, 888-370-0700, hilton.com), as well as a few smaller chains and affiliates, like the Oakes Hotel (6546 Fallsview Blvd, 877-843-6253, oakeshotel. com). The tall ones have falls views, and with so much competition it’s easy to score a great room rate especially if you plan ahead. Visit during the chillier low season (which also means fewer tourists), and check for special promotions—especially you honeymooners!

Standing almost directly beside Horseshoe Falls is the 23-story Marriott Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel (6740 Fallsview Blvd, 888-501-8916, niagarafallsmarriott.com), which has reasonable rates. Inside you’ll find the usual pleasant amenities, like an indoor pool, restaurant with a view, and spa, but it’s all about what’s outside the window: A tremendous view of the entire gorge. You’ll have the perfect vantage point for the Winter Festival of Lights, which shines on the falls nightly from November through January.

Clifton Hill’s “attractions” really aren’t worth your time or dollars (Canadian and U.S. currency is accepted most places). Instead, head over to the area called the Q—that is, Queen Street, between Victoria and Erie Avenues—to see what the locals are up to.

Queen Street is home to local shops and restaurants; top among them is the unforgettably charming Paris Crêpes Bistro (4613 Queen St, 289- 296- 4174, pariscrepes bistro.com). As if you stepped into a Parisian corner restaurant, this French mother-and-son operation brings the best mussels, steak, wine, and of course crêpes to Niagara. It’s also open all year round, unlike a few of its fair-weather neighbors.

Many locally owned, gorgeous B&Bs pepper the Q’s residential blocks. One of the most popular is the gay-owned Greystone Manor (4939 River Rd, 905-357-7373, greystone-manor.ca), located on scenic River Road. It’s everything a romantic getaway spot should be—comfy beds, friendly hosts, and delicious homemade breakfast all in a restored century-old home.

Further north at 4303 River Road, you’ll discover the beautiful Cham Shan Buddhist Temple (905-371-2679, chamshantemple.org), a noteworthy change of scenery. Its colors and peacefulness complement the natural wonder of Niagara Falls at the other end of the road, whose perpetual flow of water reminds us not to take for granted life’s natural highs.  –Kelsy Chauvin
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