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Destination I Do
Monday, January 4, 2021

World’s Most Epic Places to Elope

Words by Blair deLaubenfels

Extraordinary Elopement Locations Seen Through the Eyes of Today’s Top Photographers

When it comes to finding the most epic places on earth to elope it is best to turn to top photographers who’ve seen them from every angle. From the mountain tops of China and the U.S. Rockies, to the beaches of Mexico and Bora Bora, we’re giving you a peek at the most beautiful backdrops and venues anywhere, captured by some of the world’s best wedding photographers. If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable location, keep reading and be amazed by all the gorgeous places the world has to offer.

1. San José del Cabo, MX

Deserving of its name, the One & Only Palmilla in San José del Cabo is a luxury resort with numerous elopement locations to choose from. Get married in their gardens, iconic chapel, or right on the beach and book one of their spectacular oceanfront villas or suites for an unforgettable honeymoon. 

“The most unique and special aspect of eloping here is that you can marry in the beautiful open-air chapel on property.” Says Ben Chrisman from Chrisman Studios. “For New Yorkers, Francesca and Chris, this union was just the two of them. After their ceremony, they had margaritas at the bar before embarking on several hours of portraits around One & Only Palmilla. They ended the evening with a private dinner for two by the beach.”

2. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco City Hall is a destination unto itself. Gilded and grand, with four stories of white marble, California couples flock to it for easy elopements in elegant style. Many say that there is no courthouse equal to it in all the world. No wonder it’s called “A Palace for the People.”

“Life is all about special moments with the ones you love.” Says Erin Chrisman from Chrisman Studios.  “Right after their ceremony, Joe scooped Miles up in his arms and carried him down the steps – a lighthearted moment that represented all the love and joy they felt that day.”

3. Big Sur, CA

Wild and windswept Big Sur, California is one the most popular beach settings in the U.S.. The road is winding, the waves get big, and the sunsets are spectacular. No matter what time of year you decide to elope, the area will abound with wildlife and the sound of crashing waves will fill your ears. Stay at one of the nearby famous hotels or luxury Airbnbs and take your shoes off for your one-of-a-kind beach ceremony.

“In July, at the height of the pandemic shutdown, Los Angeles couple Audrey and Jason, along with their one-year-old daughter Alexandra, decided to hop in the car and head north up the coast, to marry at a private estate in Big Sur,” recalls Ben Chrisman from Chrisman Studios.”They both work in the film industry, had been engaged a long time and were ready to finally make it official. They married cliffside, in a sweet ceremony with just the three of them. Afterward, they had a dinner of takeout pizza, which was about the only kind of catering you could find in Big Sur at the time, as most of the restaurants were still closed.”

4. Santorini, Greece

Celebrities around the world flock to Santorini for its breathtaking views and opulent accommodations. One such property is the four-star Aenaon Villas perched high above a famous caldera with a large infinity pool. The Elidami Villa has its own plunge pool, a view that can only be experienced, and an ultra-modern look, making it our favorite of these seven phenomenal villas.

“Aenaon Villas is a breathtaking venue on top of the cliffs of Santorini. On one side the cliffs fall steeply for hundreds of feet into the sea, and on the other, the steep hillside obscures the back of the venue, so it’s a wonderful hidden gem,” says Andy Gaines. ”However this makes it tricky to get a nice wide image that shows the venue off. I knew the couple would love a photograph that could do that and the only option was to run about half a mile up the coastal path to the adjacent mountain. I went up there as the sun was setting to capture this image of the guests enjoying their reception on the poolside terrace.”

5. Bali, Indonesia

On beautiful Benoa Beach in Bali, the Hotel Nikko Bali has spacious ocean-view suites with soaking tubs that look out at the water. Their wedding packages include everything you need for a wedding with six to 20 guests, including pre-wedding spa services, sparkling wines, florals and cake with Balinese girls dressed in ceremonial attire to walk you down the aisle. Explore the beach, run in the waves, and get your photographer to capture the magic of your wedding from every gorgeous angle.

“This image was taken from the tenth floor of the hotel using a long lens. I communicated with the couple by walkie talkie telling them when to walk along the coastline which was approximately 300meters away from me,” recalls their photographer, Edwin Tan.

“During our photoshoot after a heavy storm, the couple and I found a very unique tree alone on the beach. It thought it would create the perfect shape to contrast with the clouds above and capture the beauty of their warm and windy wedding day in Bali," says Edwin.

6. Shenandoah National Park, VA

One of the most famous parks in the U.S., Shenandoah brings couples from Washington D.C., Richmond and all over the East Coast to say “I do” against a jaw dropping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With plenty of rustic accommodations in the park, and hundreds surrounding it to fit every style, you’ll find great places to stay and dozens of scenic places to visit.

“Jaimie and Yves wanted to celebrate their union in a majestic natural setting, surrounded by mountains and sky,” says Brittany Diliberto of Bee Two Sweet. “We suggested a favorite spot overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, which fit their vision. We hiked up to the steep cliff where we captured the beautiful, joyful connection of this stunning couple. The smoke from raging west coast wildfires had drifted across the country during this time, lending a soft, magical quality to the mid-day sky.”

7. Bora-Bora, French Polynesia

A true tropical paradise, Bora Bora is encircled by smaller islands and reefs where accommodations are places that dreams are made of. Crystal blue waters hide a natural aquarium of tropical fish, and if you’re staying in an overwater bungalow you’ll be seconds away from a diving experience like no other. Wedding professionals here are ready to take you to one of several private islands to say your vows and to bring you back in a boat with flower leis and cocktails, Polynesian-style.

“Anne and Conrad eloped at the Four Seasons Bora Bora where they were swept away to a traditional Tahitian ceremony on a secluded beach,” recalls Brian Callaway from Callaway Gable. “After the wedding they were brought back to the Four Seasons in an outrigger canoe paddled by a local Tahitian, as is the custom. You can see Mt. Pahia, the right side of the extinct Bora Bora volcano, and the Four Seasons over the water bungalows in the background. We asked the man paddling the canoe to take a wide circular route so that we could get all of this into the shot. The idea was to tell their story in one photo.”

“After their wedding in Western clothes, Anne and Conrad changed into traditional Tahitian wedding outfits. We wanted them to be in a location that felt more like Bora Bora and less like a resort. Today, this continues to not only be one of our favorite photos from the shoot, but it is Anne and Conrad's favorite as well,” says Brian Callaway.

8. Civita di Bagnoregio, Umbria, Italy

On the way to Todi, Italy, and the remarkable Villa Tre Grazie, there is a pedestrian bridge designed for local foot traffic that leads up to the medieval town of Bagnoregio, Italy. The town sits perched on top of a hill and clings to the edge of a cliff, looking out over vast valleys with expansive views. Once part of a primary Etruscan road leading to the Tiber Valley and Rome, Bagnoregio is now a destination unto itself that draws visitors the world over while Villa Tre Grazie with its 10 bedrooms and sprawling private grounds remains the perfect place for elopements and weddings of up to 20 guests.

“We took a mini adventure to Civita di Bagnoregio on our way to Todi and found this spectacular place for portraits, recalls Jos Woodsmith from Jos & Tree. “Nested on a hilltop overlooking the Tiber valley, the villa was built in the16th century and is surrounded by an olive orchard, a fruit orchard and gardens with a swimming pool and bathhouse with no end to the stunning backdrops.”

9. Castle ruins, Dingle, Ireland

Dingle is an artistic town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way filled with interesting shops and iconic pubs. Surrounded by windswept beaches and historic sites, couples will find castle ruins, charming country houses and absolutely spectacular scenery for their elopement photography along with dozens of comfy inns to choose from for their honeymoon. The castle pictured here is private and can be accessed through Elope to Ireland while many others nearby are open to the public.

The Emerald island has so much to offer for couples who are really looking for an adventurous and unique elopement experience,” says Egle Laukyte from White Cat Studios. ”This wedding was coordinated by the amazing Annie at Elope to Ireland. She has helped the couple find all the suppliers for their elopement including this hauntingly beautiful castle.

10. Dubai, UAE

Anantara Resort is located on the East Crescent of Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeirah. Connected to the sophisticated mainland by a 300-metre long bridge and subsea tunnel, the resort’s accommodations include over-water villas with lagoon views and glass floor panels that act as indoor aquariums. Try to venture out to the gorgeous desert for epic elopement photos if you can tear yourself away from truly unique and opulent accommodations. 

According to the couple’s photographer, Edwin Tan, they drove 30 minutes away from the Anantara Resort out into the middle of the desert to capture “the blue sky and the yellow desert which made the pre-wedding shots colorful and spectacular.”

“Seeing this gorgeous corner balcony at the Anarata Resort I knew I just had to get this dramatic shot,” says Edwin. “Climbing over a tall wall to get this angle I knew it would be worth it and the couple loved the results.”

11. Phuket, Thailand

Dotted with dozens of beachfront resorts and villas, Phuket sits on the Andaman Sea full of marine life and famous remote island adventures. With savvy wedding coordinators specializing in small events, you can turn your planning over and enjoy a truly stress-free wedding day. The best time to visit is November through February making it an ideal getaway for couples in the Northern hemisphere looking for sunshine during the coldest months of the year. 

“After an official ceremony on a beach in Phuket we had a couple of hours before sunset to explore,” recalls Edwin Tan.”We hired a long tail boat and simply asked our new Thai friend to take us somewhere remote and beautiful. I love these spontaneous, unplanned moments - a perk that comes with an elopement.”

12. Yuan Yang, China

Known for its extraordinary rice paddy terraces built by hand over 600 years ago, Yuanyang county in Honghe Prefecture lies along the Red River in the Yunnan Province of China. Much of the area is a World Heritage Site with mind-boggling backdrops and sunset views that make it a photographer’s dream and a popular destination for elopement and wedding photography.

“We’ve been eyeing this location for some time and after showing the couple the location, they confirmed our package, booked tickets, and started planning for an epic shoot,” says Edwin Tan. “When we arrived at 5 AM to grab the morning sunlight, we saw two cute little girls in local attire. They were mesmerized by the wedding gown so I asked them to hold the train for this photo, which made it all the more wonderful.”

13. North Cascades, WA

Just shy of three hours from Seattle, the evergreen forests and spectacular mountain views of Washington’s five-star Cascade Pass Trail provide peace, quiet and beautiful backdrops for wilderness elopements. The trail is six and a half miles and rated moderate, making it the ideal place for couples who hike regularly and love the outdoor experience only the Northwest forests can bring. 

The wedding planner chose the location: Cascade Pass Trail which turned out to be a breathtaking backdrop. “The couple is on a mission to visit every National Park in the US, and hadn’t been to the North Cascades yet,” says Cameron Zegers. “It’s wonderful showing them my neck of the woods.” 

14. Haiku-Pauwela, Hawaii

Haiku Mill is Maui’s popular paradise for weddings and elopements. A picturesque luxury venue with a secret garden feel, couples can get married surrounded by fragrant flowers and tropical vines under twinkling crystal chandeliers. Just off the famous road to Hana, photographers with local knowledge can take you to dozens of secluded waterfalls and ocean beaches for iconic photographs of the two of you in love.

“A lovingly restored old sugar mill, Haiku Mill is one of the most spectacular venues in Hawaii, hands down,” says photographer, Melia Sorenson of Melia Lucida Photography. “Brides and grooms make their entrance through a vine strewn archway toward the ceremony site where old-world European elegance meets the tropical jungle to create a magical combination. I’ve photographed numerous weddings here and have never tired of its charm and beauty.”

15. Budapest, Hungary

The Fisherman’s Bastion and The Halászbástya Étterem restaurant are lovely beyond words. The Bastion itself is a rare fantasy of Eastern European architecture with turrets and winding marble stairways, and the restaurant is a wonder that all people deserve to experience at least once. Of all the places in all the world to get married and be photographed this is without a doubt one of the most lavishly elegant and utterly romantic.

“This iconic location, the Fisherman’s Bastion stands above one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest,” says Tünde Koncsol. “The venue resembles the incredible palaces shown in fairy tales and boasts a picturesque view of the city away from the crowd and the noise.” These beautiful brides chose the elegant and exclusive venue at my suggestion and it was a perfect fit as every inch enchants.” 

16. Hāna, Maui

The road to Hana is a wonderland of waterfalls and exquisite beaches with 52 miles of hairpin turns and 59 stone bridges. While many of the most popular stops are shown on tourist maps, many are hidden away and only known to locals. We suggest you find yourself a photographer who knows the area well to ensure your photos capture the pristine beauty of this extraordinary place without all the tourists in tow.

“This photo was captured in remote East Maui, in the Kīpahulu District, along the road to Hāna,” says Angie Nelson of Angela Nelson Photography. “While driving back from the couple’s intimate ceremony - which was at another secret waterfall - we pulled over and the couple hiked down to this small pool at the bottom of a 100 ft cascade.”

17. Havana, Cuba

With its old-world colonial architecture, vintage cars, beautiful beaches and delicious cuisine, Cuba is an off-beat and charming country to tie the knot. 

The weather remains warm all through the year and you’ll find many areas for waterfront elopements that are much less crowded yet no less magical than many popular getaways. Get a travel agency to handle your paperwork and details, and show up 72 hours before your ceremony for a stress-free and wonderful wedding day.

“We spent a couple of days in Cuba with this just married couple and we’re able to get some killer shots in the old centre of Havana,” says  Ralf Czogallik from Eppel Fotografie. “I love the red elements in this frame and also the old building with its historical facade. The backdrops throughout the city made it easy for me to capture photos like these where the couple just crossed the street and looked amazing.”

Photos courtesy of (in order of appearance): Chrisman Studios (1st, 2nd, 3rd);  Andy Gaines (4th) ; Edwin Tan (5th, 10th & 12th); Bee Two Sweet (6th); Callaway Gable (7th); Jos & Tree (8th) ; White Cat Studio (9th); Ed Peers (11th); Cameron Zegers (13th); Melia Lucida (14th); Tünde Koncsol (15th); Angie Nelson (16th); Eppel Fotografie (17th)

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