When the kids finally moved out of the house, we missed them, of course, but we were excited to reclaim some time for ourselves. We could begin the day slowly and leisurely with no plans other than to focus on being together as we hadn’t been in years. Spontaneous trips out of town, a staycation at the local B&B, or just indulging a bit beyond what previous parental limits would typically allow with kids back at home.
With some time now under my belt as an official empty nester, I’ve come to appreciate different destinations in a new light. Certain places simply speak differently to an empty nester couple looking to refocus on romance. Whether you’ve recently sent off the last from the pack or are anxiously counting off the days (not that we did that!), here are a few favorite spots for romantic trips to take as empty nesters.
8 Romantic Getaways for Empty Nesters
Big Sur, California
Rising to the sound of chirping birds, we too were as free as they were since our young ones had left the nest. Our first morning at the adults-only Ventana, we donned our plush robes and retreated to our peaceful private balcony, surrounded by nothing but hills and trees. A large tray arrived with a beautiful breakfast of omelets with Humboldt Fog cheese and a house-made granola parfait with honey yogurt and berries. We sipped coffee and relished the quiet.
Set within the backdrop of 160 forested acres and the Pacific Ocean, Ventana’s sophisticated though serene zen-like atmosphere lends itself to doing absolutely nothing or everything. Our hard choices included whether to float in the infinity pool, explore one of Big Sur’s many hiking trails, or experience some sensual literary and artistic history at the eclectic former home of writer Henry Miller. For our second day, we booked the Falconry Experience. For 90-minutes, Master Falconer Antonio Balestreri introduced the hawks and falcons, demonstrating the role of raptors in the Big Sur environment. The experience included a “meet and greet” with one of the birds, flight demonstration, and a “hawk walk,” a short hike accompanied by a special flying guest.
After a gorgeous late morning hike overlooking the ocean at Pt. Lobos, we returned to the resort to soak in the Japanese baths, then headed to the spa for a massage. Blissed out, we toasted each other at sunset with cocktails around the resort’s communal fire pit. It doesn’t get much more romantic than the dinner we later savored at Deetjens Big Sur Inn. We shared the Spicy Seafood Saffron Paella made with Mexican chorizo, chicken, clams, mussels, Tiger prawns, calamari, and other fish, seasoned with tomato saffron sauce–definitely enough for two. With its low ceilings and candlelit tables, it was like dining in a cozy home, but with someone else doing the dishes as we headed to bed.View Hotel
Taos, New Mexico
El Monte Sagrado Spa and Resort
Locals had encouraged us to schedule an “intuitive counseling” session with Blue Spruce Standing Deer, an artist from the indigenous Tiwa tribe and musician born and raised at the Taos Pueblo. Standing Deer, we were told, had the ability to hear beneath the words that people speak to him. He would lead us in a ritual to celebrate our recent life change and significant right of passage as empty nesters.
We decided instead to nurse our inner spirits at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Just a short walk to town, El Monte Sagrado is a true oasis of New Mexican spirit and calm. We began our stay strolling through the lush gardens and sacred grounds to the soothing sound of water cascading from a waterfall. As an eco-hotel, it’s all about elegant southwestern rustic luxury with its world-class spa. Its salt water pool and hot tub were enough to keep us on the property, but we opted to visit Standing Deer’s birthplace and the subject of numerous Ansel Adams photographs, the thousand-year-old adobe Taos Pueblo. The rapids were somewhat calm the next morning when we joined a group to raft on the Rio Grande, where we stopped for lunch on the side of the river to replenish and chat with our fellow river rafters.
It’s fun to check out the local crafts, jewelry, and art in the shops around the Taos Plaza. We bought a pair of Taos-made moccasins, and a locally-produced chile ristra, a string of chiles that New Mexicans typically hang on their fences to bring good health and good luck.
At Lambert’s in the plaza, the cuisine leans toward international with a hint of local flavor, but the ambiance is pure Taos. We sipped margaritas on the secluded patio and sampled the New Mexico Green Chili Stew made with cheddar and Oaxaca cheeses, pico de gallo, and crispy tortilla strips. After dinner on that warm New Mexican night, we headed back to our luxury digs breathing in that distinctly Taos scent along the way.View Hotel
North Hatley, Quebec, Canada
When the family nest was full, we used to visit Manoir Hovey each summer with our children until they grew up and no longer cared to vacation with their parents. English Gardens on the 30-acre property in North Hatley hug the shores of Lake Massawippi, in rural Quebec’s sleepy Eastern Townships. After the U.S. Civil War, wealthy southern loyalists from south of the Mason-Dixon Line refused to summer on Yankee land. They crossed the border into in North Hatley where, to this day, southern accents mix with the Quebecois of weekenders from Montreal.
Built as a private estate modeled after Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia home, tall white pillars support the Inn’s wide lakefront verandah. The architecture reflects the area’s southern ancestry, today experienced more as a blend of early American and local French Canadian influences.
Though the Inn is not for couples only, there are plenty of opportunities for romantic solitude. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed many cocktails in Adirondack chairs perched on the lawn overlooking the lake. Although there are a number of charming restaurants to sample in this quaint town, Hovey’s restaurant is a culinary destination that attracts guests from other parts of North Hatley and nearby towns. A perfect day begins with a full English breakfast featuring ingredients straight from the local French larder, like the Abbey St-Benoit gruyere cheese in the leek and mushroom omelet, or the Saskatoon berries and sea buckthorn in the pancakes. Sea Buckthorn, I learned when I asked, is not from the sea, rather it is a small, locally-foraged orange berry whose juice tends to be tart with an aroma a bit like passion fruit.
In the warm-weather months, we swam and canoed in the lake, dipped in the pool, hiked and biked 13 kilometers along the Grandes-Fourches network trail, a section of which follows the old railway along the Massawippi River from North Hatley to Sherbrooke. We’d first stop in town at Épicier JB LeBaron to buy a loaf of French bread and a roasted chicken for a noon picnic beside the river along the bike route. In winter, we once bundled up for a sleigh ride, but if you’re up for it, there’s skating on the property’s own seasonal lakefront ice rink. After a day in the brisk winter air, it felt good to peel off the jackets and gloves and cuddle up by a roaring fire in our elegant English-style room, or curl up with a book in the library, perhaps with an afternoon aperitif.View Hotel
We arrived hungry late one night at the Wheatleigh after the kitchen had closed, but the staff rustled up sandwiches and delivered them to our room for a midnight picnic. A grand French country chateau nestled within 22 acres overlooking the Berkshire mountains, the Wheatleigh is soaked in luxury and guests feel it all over the property.
Experience a practically private dinner of acclaimed modern French gastronomy in the romantic Portico, the height of intimacy with only eight tables. Autumn brings the high season crowds, but it remains a wonderful time to visit when the New England leaves change to brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. We set out on some mini road trips to nearby towns to enjoy the fall colors and also sample the region’s small antique shops and art attractions. Venture off the beaten path to Goshen where my artist friend Danielle Mailer crafts iron “sculptural cutouts” of leaping female figures, and stop at Nodine’s Smokehouse, a local favorite for Berkshire ham and homemade duck liver mousse with port wine to enjoy at home.View Hotel
The ubiquitous “Nantucket Reds” — distinctive salmon-pink color pants and shorts, produced and distributed by Murray’s Toggery Shop on Main Street – -would be Nantucket’s unofficial uniform if there were one. Sporting these “Guaranteed to Fade” togs or the equally preppy Madras patchwork pants is like a right of passage with the well-heeled preppy set who’ve summered on the island for generations. The more beat up and faded, the greater the status. Preppy attire is optional and so is a car when visiting this little island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.
At the secluded waterfront Wauwinet, an exclusive enclave nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Bay on the northeast corner of the island beside the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, the pre-arrival concierge will plan your entire stay in advance so all you need to think about is romance. Take the ferry from Hyannis, and upon arrival, you’ll be whisked off by complimentary shuttle to your luxurious island retreat. A day on Nantucket might include lounging at one of the Wauwinet’s private beaches on the Atlantic Ocean or Nantucket Bay, paddling together on the water in a kayak or exploring the island by bike.
It’s a bit remote, which is what makes the Wauwinet quiet and romantic, but if you feel like shopping or exploring “in town” as locals call it, the hotel will shuttle you there by private jitney or in their boat, the Lady Wauwinet. Early risers should definitely partake in a local tradition — heading to the Downyflake for a box of fresh doughnuts. Wander the historic downtown cobblestone streets with their grey shingled houses and visit the Jared Coffin House, the oldest house on the island. On Main Street, you’ll find the “Three Bricks”, a series of three identical brick Victorian mansions whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck built in 1837 for his sons. Look up to see the “widow’s walks” platforms atop the peaked roofs of many of the 19th-century residences. Folklore has it that these were built as observation decks for wives to watch for incoming whaling ships, hoping their husbands had returned from sea.
From the mid-1700s to the late 1830s, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. Pop into the Whaling Museum to learn about some of the local lore that inspired author Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.
To pass their time at sea, some whalers and lightship mariners crafted Nantucket Lightship Baskets, labor-intensive handwoven rattan or cane baskets with wooden bases adorned with scrimshaw pieces. First created over 150 years ago, they are still in production and you can see them at the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. You won’t find a more genuine and distinctive local handicraft, but you’ll need deep pockets to purchase one.
Unwind from the shopping spree back at the Wauwinet with a complimentary afternoon glass of port accompanied by cheese. Cap off the day with a sumptuous dinner at Topper’s, the hotel’s restaurant whose seasonal locally sourced cuisine is so local that the Retsyo Oysters on the half shell were cultivated just 300 yards away.View Hotel
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
The Old Inn on the Green
We’ve experienced every season at this lovely historic New England inn, a former stagecoach relay. In winter, nothing says cozy like lingering over a four-course dinner in one of the inn’s dining rooms, each with fireplaces and lit entirely by candlelight. In summer, we dined outside under a white canopy on the garden terrace before heading to a play at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, music at Tanglewood or a dance performance at Jacob’s Pillow. Up the Inn’s 18th century staircase, each of the restored antique-laden rooms is different. We once stayed a few steps away from the Inn in one of the six period-style rooms at Thayer House — the Inn’s separate guest house. Either way, The Old Inn on the Green is a warm home away from home and a centrally-located base for enjoying the best of the Berkshires.View Hotel
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Belmond Maroma Resort and Spa
When we needed to escape the east coast winter, we’d set off for a few days to The Maroma Resort and Spa, about half an hour south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya. The total chill out with beach walks, great food, and an occasional Mezcal did the trick.
Guests are greeted with a rum punch before checking in to one of the luxury rooms and suites set among lush jungle-like gardens. Whitewashed low buildings with thatched roofs line the winding paths that lead circuitously down to a long stretch of white sand beach. We’d veg out much of the day on a lounge bed under a palapa –an open-sided shelter with a thatched roof made of palm leaves — where the “ice cream man” came by in the afternoon to offer complimentary ice cream cones.
The resort’s alfresco beachfront breakfast will always be, hands down, my favorite meal of the day, often filling enough for some people to skip lunch. La Tia Dalia, a.k.a. The Tortilla Auntie, brings her on-site handmade fresh tortillas and hot Mexican chocolate to your breakfast table as she has each morning for 19 years. We didn’t always wait until 5 p.m. to begin sipping cocktails on the same patio, often accompanied by chips and guacamole, assorted ceviches, and once, even a sampling of fried grasshoppers. (Not bad, and no, they don’t taste like chicken.)
When I thought I couldn’t get more relaxed, a post-Margarita, post-sunset treatment in the candlelit Kinan Spa would push me even further into the bliss zone. If it’s warm enough and not too breezy, local fish and seafood or traditional Mexican fare served outdoors is a romantic way to cap to the day at El Restaurante or the more casual El Sol.View Hotel
The Allison Inn and Spa
In the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s wine country, we felt as though we’d suddenly stepped into the French countryside less than an hour’s drive beyond Portland. The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg is nestled within the Valley, acclaimed as one of the world’s leading producers of Pinot Noir.
Escaping to the Allison for a luxurious weekend retreat means spa pampering, meandering together along the footpaths of the resort’s landscaped gardens, exploring the beautiful region’s scenery, and of course, wine tasting. Entering the property, guests drive past seven scenic acres of estate vineyards, all within arm’s length of snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, lush farmlands and 200 nearby vineyards. At the end of the day, dinner at the Jory is a true farm-to-table experience as the chef’s garden is literally out the back door. And of course, one must indulge in some wine pairings to accompany the local organic cuisine.
When it comes to wineries, it’s tough to narrow it down to just a few. The Willamette Valley Vineyards near Turner offers weekend wine dinners, and Eyrie Vineyards was the first pinot noir producer in the area, while Domaine Serene Winery is known for its Chardonnay.
Summer, especially Memorial Day weekend, is peak season so book early for that period. Consider visiting in May during Oregon Wine Month when some wineries and restaurants schedule special events.View Hotel