The Most Exotic Place You Can Travel To Sans Passport
When it comes to reconnecting with your significant other, nothing does the trick quite like a break from your everyday lives, relaxing, eating, drinking, and exploring somewhere new. But if you think you need to travel to another country to enjoy exotic landscapes, beaches, cuisines, and adventures, think again. The Hawaiian island of Maui offers an authentic experience, and all you have to do is venture off the mainland (or, as the locals refer to it, the contiguous United States).
Sure, Hawaii was the vacation spot in the ‘90s and may bring back memories of family trips, but up-and-coming art communities, quaint surfing towns, boutique hotels, organic, farm-to-table dining experiences, and Instagram-worthy landscapes make this island worth discovering — or rediscovering — with your loved one. Trust me, I did just this a couple of months ago. Whether you want to take on a few trails together or would prefer to simply sit on the beach, I’ve rounded up the must-see attractions that will make Maui top of your travel list.
Photo: c/o the Fairmont Kea Lani
If you’re looking for luxury and romance, you can’t beat Wailea, nestled on Maui’s south shore. There’s a reason why honeymooners and A-listers alike flock to the famous secluded beaches. In fact, on CondeNast Traveler’s 2018 Readers Choice Awards list, five of the 10 Hawaiian hotels that made the cut are all located in Wailea — and that includes the Fairmont Kea Lani. The all-suite hotel boasts stunning oceanfront views by day and dramatic sunset views at night. It features 413 one-bedroom suites and 37 villas, with bathrooms that are bigger than some studio apartments in NYC. (Also nice: They are fully stocked with Le Labo Rose 31, the signature Fairmont scent created by the New York-based perfume house.)
The Fairmont features three pools, including an adults-only pool lined with private cabanas, and a beautiful, secluded beach. Travelers are also encouraged to stick to their fitness routines. Aside from the typical fitness amenities, the hotel connects guests to activities they enjoy while also taking in tropical surroundings (think sunset yoga, water workouts, and canoeing), and thanks to the Fairmont Fit program, clothing and equipment can be delivered right to your room (meaning you can save room in your suitcase for more swimsuits). But if you’re really hoping to recharge, I recommend booking a couple’s treatment at the Willow Stream Spa, where pampering meets ancient Hawaiian traditions for a truly Zen-like experience.
Amazing amenities and services aside, the restaurant in the Fairmont is worth a visit even if you don’t wind up booking a room. Kō was one of the top three dining experiences I had while on the Valley Isle. Its focus is on sustainable, locally-sourced cuisine — with 90 percent of the fish, beef, and produce on the menu sourced locally — and a menu that is inspired by the island’s culture and history, specially from the Sugar Cane Plantation Era. The restaurant’s most famous dish, Ahi On The Rock, You Sear It, lives up to the hype, as fresh raw fish is brought out accompanied by a hot stone for you to sear it yourself.
Photo: c/o Katrina Mitzeliotis
If you’re looking for more of an unconventional experience, head straight to Pa’ia, a funky surfer town located on Maui’s North Shore. The little town is home to picturesque beaches and bold waves where local surfers and sea turtles flock the coastline. Boutique hotels, like the Pa’ia Inn, have more of a hip, trendy vibe that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from the island. Surf shops line Main Street and offer a variety of items, from jewelry to chocolate to textiles, all made locally in Hawaii, and right down the street is the Flatbread Company, where you can enjoy a drink at the bar and feast on pizza that exceeded my NY expectations. Keep strolling and you’ll get to Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon, a lively establishment that sites Willie Nelson as a mainstay.
Photo: c/o Kāʻanapali Alli
If an endless stretch of beach and bountiful sunshine is what attracts you to the island, head to Kāʻanapali on the western side of Maui. I checked into Kāʻanapali Alli, in a vast condo that featured a fully-stocked fridge. The luxury beachfront condos are perfect for both couples and groups looking to settle into a cabana on the beach or soak in one of the property’s many hot tubs. But what makes this place truly special is the grill master service, where guests can head to a beachfront grill for a sunset dinner; a grill master is there to assist with cooking up a fresh meal.
You’ll also want to make time to see the thriving marine life that lives beneath the surface of the water here, and snorkeling with sea turtles is an experience unlike any other. I opted for the Trilogy Excursions Discover Kāʻanapali Trip, where we set out on a catamaran and were given equipment before exploring the protected bays of West Maui. Here, I came within arms distance to the turtles as they floated above the coral, and we were fortunate enough to return to the coastline as a school of dolphins swam alongside the boat. (In the winter months, whale watching is popular, too.) However, If you want to spot sea turtles on the shore line, head to Ho’okipa Beach, not far from Pa’ia, where windsurfers are plentiful and sea turtles are known to camp out in the early morning hours.
Also not to be missed on the western shore of Maui is Lahaina, where you can rest beneath the vast banyan tree. The historic town (and former capital of Hawaii) offers up the liveliest scene for those looking for some fun in Maui after dark. It hosts a slew of shops and lively restaurants, including Fleetwood’s, a multi-level restaurant owned by Mick Fleetwood, the drummer from Fleetwood Mac. Go for the live music and you may get lucky enough for a visit from Mick himself.
Photo: c/o Katrina Mitzeliotis
While you can certainly check into a luxury hotel and feel completely content without ever leaving your beach chair, you would miss out on the diverse landscape and stunning views that one can only appreciate if they explore Maui and all it has to offer. Renting a car and setting out on the Road to Hana, a scenic highway, is one of the most famous ways to explore the island. Another popular destination is sunrise at the Haleakala Summit; just be sure to reserve a spot in advance if you’re planning to make the trip sans tour group, as they book up quickly.
For food, a true farm-to-table experience awaits at O’O Farms, located 3,500 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Haleakala volcano. The eight-acre farm in Kula is owned and operated by Pacific’O, a popular beachfront restaurant in Lahaina, and they offer two daily tours, a coffee tour and a lunch tour. Both tours culminate with a fresh meal served family style beneath a trellis on long wooden tables. The gourmet experience offers sweeping views of lush greenery and the famous Maui coastline, offset by the foggy Haleakala summit that looms in the distance beyond the farm.
Photo: c/o Maui Tropical Plantation
For some real romance, head to The Mill House for dinner on the Maui Tropical Plantation. The dreamy setting nestled in the Waikapu Valley looks like the location of a Bachelor finale, and the expansive grounds offer a slew of photo ops. Led by Executive Chef Jeff Scheer, The Mill House offers one of the best culinary experiences on the island — and dinner here is not to be missed. Scheer and his team dream up innovative, seasonal dishes inspired by locally-grown ingredients, which are sourced from the plantation grounds and surrounding farms. Feast on bone marrow, taro leaf risotto, and sugarcane-infused cocktails (so good!) while sitting next to the lagoon, taking in the stunning views of the West Maui mountains. Plus, between us, it’s the perfect place to dream up a destination wedding, with a quaint garden equipped with a private gazebo, rustic indoor venue, and vast fields.