As the editor of 'Brides' magazine, Sandy Boler spent 20 years checking into exotic hotels in pursuit of the ideal holiday for newly-weds. The only problem? She's always been alone in paradise...

The water was strewn with delicate petals of fragrant frangipani, and soft music played as I lay dreaming in my perfumed bath under a tropical, moonlit sky. I stepped out, draped provocatively in a tiny towel, and walked into the honeymoon suite, the great bed piled high with soft white cushions, the white sheets turned down invitingly, and looked around to find... no one. I was on honeymoon alone. Again.

The water was strewn with delicate petals of fragrant frangipani, and soft music played as I lay dreaming in my perfumed bath under a tropical, moonlit sky. I stepped out, draped provocatively in a tiny towel, and walked into the honeymoon suite, the great bed piled high with soft white cushions, the white sheets turned down invitingly, and looked around to find... no one. I was on honeymoon alone. Again.

I should have been used to it after years of travelling to the world's most romantic destinations, the most beautiful locations in various parts of paradise, always alone, but I still allowed myself a glimmer of hope. If not my husband, possibly a phantom lover, Gregory Peck or such like, would materialise like a will-o'-the-wisp, to complete the picture.

Honeymoons are my thing. I love them. Putting myself in the place of thousands of couples planning their dream honeymoon is a serious business and I take it seriously. But it's not always that simple. Honeymooning alone is an art, which is not come by without practise - and there can be many a pitfall on the romantic trail.

From the beginning, when I first started out as travel editor, later editor, of Brides, I thought it best to make my position clear. I didn't after all want people to think I was a woman on the prowl. So arriving in Mahe in the Seychelles I announced myself clearly as the lady from Brides. Odd looks followed until I discovered there had been a misunderstanding and they thought I was the lady from Bribes. Heaven knows what kind of story I could have got following that line, but the marriage sector called.

I was consigned to a sweet young man from the Ministry of Tourism, who proudly told me he was the brother of the Minister for Defence. He was to show me round the islands for the time I was there. Only an hour into our tour of the town, whom should I see but the then editor of House and Garden, a colleague and friend.

"How long have you been here?" he called out cheerily. "A few hours," I replied. "Good for you Sandy, shacked up with someone already I see." The next few days were spent trying to put matters right and reassure the terrified young man, but the minute night fell I was firmly deposited back in the hotel, practically under lock and key, where I lingered - romantically - alone.

On honeymoon in the Cook Islands - a much underestimated destination, a real paradise aching to be enjoyed - I lay in my beach bungalow listening to the ocean lapping on the shore and imagined different romantic leads for this particular paradise, on a sort of "horses for courses" basis. Trying to choose between Robert Redford, a younger version of course, Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp certainly passes the time. Maybe a swashbuckling Russell Crowe would be the ticket.

I take my research seriously. Beds for example. They must be double but they can't be too small and they shouldn't be too big. Or too soft, or too hard. The Goldilocks syndrome with a romantic spin. And waterbeds are definitely a no-no.

Pillows should be plentiful, made of goose feathers or down and dressed in white linen - although fine crisp cotton will do.

Flowers on the bed are also worth a mention. Some flowers are beautiful: a single gardenia or frangipani for example. Petals must be scattered in moderation and swept up swiftly when on the wane, one can easily skid on a dead petal. Ropes and garlands galore can be equally worrying. A bed over-garlanded may seem more like an assault course. Do you climb through them, take them down first, or leave them, only to find a tired-looking heap the next morning? Chocolates must be removed at once or eaten: leaving them on the pillow and forgetting about them can be disastrous. And the little paper mottoes, usually from Ralph Waldo Emerson or Emily Dickinson, are never to be taken seriously, especially on honeymoon.

There is almost nothing I will not do to further the cause of a glorious honeymoon. I have limboed alone in Trinidad and Tobago; sat on hundreds of balconies in touching solitude under starlit skies, and swum naked and alone in my own private plunge pool feeling faintly foolish.

I have also had my fair share of embarrassments. Arriving at Deogarh Mahal, the most wonderful Indian Heritage Hotel in Rajasthan, one of the first to convert from a private palace, I was greeted with a rain of bright orange marigold petals, which fell like a fine curtain from the battlements.

I was led through room after room, one more beautiful than the next: silver mirrored patterns on walls and ceilings, brightly coloured glass windows lit like jewels by the sun, beds draped with glorious rugs and bright coloured fabrics. I could hardly bear the suspense when at last they opened the door to show me what I thought promised to be the finest of all - the Vera Lynn room. Resisting the urge to weep with disappointment, I pointed out that though this could maybe appeal to a certain kind of English person, it was not ideal for a honeymoon couple. Army issue blankets do never a marriage make. My hosts got the point and in a trice I was installed in one of the most beautiful rooms in the hotel, glass and jewels and everything my heart desired. And all in the cause of my girls.

In Neemrana Fort, another fabulous fort-castle not far from Delhi, I was put in a nice room, which, I thought, could be made a bit more romantic with a little help. I draped the room with various scarves and textiles that I had collected en route. (Shopping to this extent could be more difficult on a real honeymoon - there are advantages to being alone.) I installed fragrant candles in every available niche and the transformation was complete as I sallied forth to dinner. After I had explained to my host that I was "on honeymoon" he insisted that I should be moved to the best room in the hotel. At once. I watched in dismay as the procession of startled servants, having dismantled my beauteous boudoir, marched to and fro across the dining-room bearing my rags and candles, which resembled the trappings of a hippie on the loose. In the end it was worth the humiliation when I finally retired to one of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen: white muslin curtains printed in blue Mughal designs by Brigitte Singh; a sleigh bed piled high with cushions; little arcades to the side. In true honeymoon fashion I didn't sleep a wink.

At this point maybe I should come clean about my own honeymoon. I never had one. We couldn't afford one and set off instead in a borrowed car, still in our wedding finery, to the south coast of England for two days at my parents-in-law's house by the sea. In January. The central heating was not on and the two lonely single beds, separated by a bedside table, were not the most welcoming. Not a gardenia in sight.

We had £32 between us and spent it on a set dinner in Chichester, worried throughout that the bill would be more than we had. Not surprisingly everything has looked up since. This may explain my sense of what you might call missionary zeal that I have brought, and still bring, to my quest for the perfect honeymoon.

I have even dressed for the part. A memorable trip on the Eastern and Orient Express took me from Singapore to Bangkok, an eastern odyssey if ever there was one. Always game to enter into the spirit of the thing, I took with me the beautiful embroidered Chinese coat that my great-grandmother had as part of her trousseau, in 1892. Thus attired, I swept into the dining-car, tried to add an air of mystery as I ate alone, and retired to my cabin. (They even had a white lotus flower here adding a romantic touch.) A knock on the door announced, not a handsome stranger, but a French TV documentary crew. In vain did I explain that I was no exotic Anglo-Chinese traveller but a solitary honeymooner, which confused the issue even further. I ended up doing an interview about nothing in particular. I was so exhausted by the events of the evening that when we stopped at a station en route for half an hour I decided to stretch my legs only to get mixed up with a colourful throng of transsexuals on the platform.

Although my mission could be, and is, described as "work", I do try to keep a sense of proportion. That is to remember who I am and what I myself could and could not afford. I have been amazingly lucky and try to remember this. However it is sometimes difficult to suppress a slight sense of guilt, which can on occasion rear its ugly head.

My stay in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, for example, nearly went badly wrong for just this reason. I had a suite to die for. It was glorious - spacious, beautiful, elegant and perfect for a city honeymoon like no other. Super luxury. While this great hotel buzzed below I was in a peaceful world of my own above. The next morning I went to Mass up on the Peak Road. The words of the lesson rang out like a personal condemnation. "Woe to those who walk in marble palaces. Woe to those who sprawl on beds of ivory." With the woes ringing in my ears I fled back down the Peak and begged to be given more humble lodgings. Luckily the manager restored my equilibrium and I managed another night in my none-too-earthly abode.

There are other, less obvious, reasons that you miss a man on honeymoon. Creepy-crawlies in the Far North Queensland rainforest almost spoiled my eco-romantic tree cabin at the Daintree Lodge, although to be truthful they were products of my lonely imagination. And it would have been exciting rather than nerve-racking to listen to the croaks and calls and tropical noises of the night à deux. I would love to have shared the blowing whales in South Africa as I watched from my heavenly room in the Plettenberg Hotel on my trip along the Garden Route. Putting the telephone to the window wasn't quite the same.

Not that I haven't looked at honeymoons from the man's point of view as well. It is obviously even more difficult to be a "man" on honeymoon alone when you are a woman. But venturing into "his" territory proved an unexpected and enormous success.

I had seen and been very tempted by pictures of a log cabin lodge in North West Canada. Very outdoors and very Ralph Lauren, it promised a unique mixture of outdoor sports such as fishing and kayaking, hiking and looking for the famous white Spirit Bear native only to this island. To balance this there was a spa and delicious fresh food, log fires and endless books and things to do. And so I bought my outdoor gear and set off. First to Vancouver, a beautiful and welcoming city where the food alone could have kept me feasting for weeks. Onward north to Prince Rupert where I transferred to a small 1949 de Havilland Otter floatplane, flying over countless tiny islands covered in forests, strung out along an endless sea.

Kingfisher Pacific Lodge was everything it promised - and more. In fact it was a huge barge converted with every luxury known to man, anchored on the water, because the Great Bear Rainforest is preserved. For the next few days I tried to do the "man" thing - with modest success. I went out and watched the deep-sea fishing, scores of salmon leaping on to the bait, often quickly put back in the water. I kayaked in my wet suit and watched huge eagles swoop down on salmon only to soar again, the fish clutched firmly in their claws. I saw whales nearby, sea-lions, otters and deer, and listened to the "laugh of the loon, the lunatic bird" so loved by TS Eliot. All this for "him", though I balked at the heli-fishing and the long wader boots.

The only time I came unstuck was when I volunteered for a fly-casting lesson after dinner on the deck. I thought I had the rhythm - 10 o'clock back and one o'clock forwards, or was it the other way round? All was going well until the hook caught my best pashmina on the backwards swing, lifting it effortlessly into the air and shooting it out towards the deep. It wouldn't have happened to a fellow.

I did once take my husband along - to Claridge's - as a treat. It all went well, we loved every moment and it more than made up for the débâcle of our own homegrown effort years before. The room was divine and the food exquisite. The only difficulty was whether to take the lift, surely the most beautiful lift in the world, or trip elegantly up or down the staircase like a modern-day Ginger Rogers. (This was my dilemma, not my husband's.)

After a wonderful night and a delicious breakfast we were due to return to the real world and our day jobs. The staff must have been fairly amazed when on being asked where we were going next my husband launched into a colourful and wholly fictitious account of an imminent flight to Florence. Unsuspecting, a few minutes later I announced I was going straight back to work.

You can't take some people anywhere.

Which brings me to the real-life honeymoon. Maybe people have changed, after all brides and grooms are older now and more sophisticated. But I have often wondered in certain designer and boutique hotels, which are the international dernier cri, or muted whisper rather, how some men would fit in. Looking round the most perfect, immaculate beautifully designed room in the Amansara in Siem Reap in Cambodia, I longed, absolutely longed, to stay there. And then I envisaged my husband in those pristine, minimal, disciplined surroundings. Blonde wood and modern shapes, nothing save some graphic flowers allowed their manicured space. Imagined his tie and shoes, his general paraphernalia destroying the perfect harmony.

It's no good. I shall just have to travel on alone.

TOP TEN HONEYMOON SPOTS

MALDIVES

SRI LANKA

MAURITIUS

THAILAND

USA

DUBAI

ST LUCIA

MEXICO

ANTIGUA

AUSTRALIA

Source: Kuoni

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE: HONEYMOON PACKAGES

FOR RICHER

The Turquoise Holiday Company (0870 443 4177; www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk) specialises in bespoke itineraries to destinations such as Australasia, the South Pacific and the islands of the Indian Ocean.

ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk), arranges no-expense-spared, tailor-made itineraries in luxurious surroundings all over the world, from the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Africa, Australia and New Zealand to destinations closer to home, such as France, Italy and Greece.

Farside Africa (0131-315 2464; www.farsideafrica.co.uk) offers tailor-made safari itineraries to a variety of African countries, such as Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Beach extensions to Kenya, Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean can be included.

Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) can steer you towards the most romantic hacienda in Mexico or a trek to Machu Picchu.

FOR POORER

Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.com) can find an ideal honeymoon to suit every budget. You can even get your wedding guests to contribute thanks to its dedicated wedding-list service.

British Airways (0870 24 33 406; www.ba.com) offers a dedicated Weddings and Honeymoon brochure offering a range of ideas for exotic nuptials, or for post-wedding relaxation in the likes of the Caribbean, Bermuda, Indian Ocean and the US.

Hayes & Jarvis (0870 333 3838; www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk) has destinations featuring a wide array of resorts and hotels in countries all round the world, including some more off-beat choices such as Venezuela, Honduras, Palau and Fiji.

Tradewinds (0870 751 0009; www.tradewinds.co.uk) has a dedicated Weddings & Honeymoons brochure featuring ideal spots for relaxation in the Caribbean, Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.

LOCATIONS, LOCATIONS, LOCATIONS

Pacific Resort Aitutaki (00 682 31720; www.pacificresort.com/aitutaki) PO Box 90, Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Bungalows start from NZ$710 (£264) per night including breakfast and transfers.

Deogarh Mahal (00 91 2904 253333, www.deogarhmahal.com), Deogarh Madaria, Rajsamand District, Rajasthan, India

Double rooms start from Rp3850 (£45) per night including breakfast.

Neemrana Fort Palace (00 91 11 2435 8348, www.neemranahotels.com (site under construction), Alwar (near Delhi), India

Double rooms from Rp2420 (£28) per night excluding breakfast.

Eastern and Orient Express (0845 077 2222, www.orient-express.com) One-way journeys between Singapore-Bangkok (or vice-versa) start from £960 per person based on two sharing a cabin in a Pullman carriage.

Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong (00 852 2522 0111, www.mandarinoriental.com) 5 Connaught Road, Hong Kong, China

Double rooms from HK$1920 (£132) per night including breakfast.

Daintree Eco Lodge Spa (00 61 7 4098 6100; www.daintree-ecolodge.com.au ), 20 Daintree Road, Queensland, Australia

Double villas from A$475 (£198) per night including breakfast.

Plettenberg Hotel (00 27 44 533 2030, www.plettenberg.com), Look Out Road, Plettenberg Bay, Western Bay, South Africa

Double rooms start at R2050 (£160) inc tax & breakfast.

King Pacific Lodge (001 604 987 5452, www.kingpacificlodge.com); city office at 255 West 1st Street, Suite 214, North Vancouver, B.C.

Due to its isolated location, it offers a minimum start of three nights all-inclusive package from C$3,900 (£1,567) per person based on two sharing. This includes the conservation charge, transfers, selected tours and activities.

Claridge's (020-7629 8860, www.claridges.co.uk), 55 Brook Street, London W1A. Double rooms start from £257 per night, without breakfast.

Amansara (00 855 63 760 333, www.amanresorts.com), Road to Angkor, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia.

Double rooms start from around $800 (£430) per night, half-board.

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