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Escaping To Nature: Nature and Romance on Jekyll Island

Without the roses and wine, what is it about escaping to nature that fuels a romance?

The thought of ditching your cell phone, leaving a hot bath miles away and getting “back to nature” may scare those who enjoy the amenities of modern life. But escapist trips filled with rustic adventures are catching on for couples seeking to rekindle a spark. For these couples, seclusion in the wild is the ultimate solution for romantic reconnection. 

An emerging hotspot for romance is Jekyll Island off of Georgia’s southern coast. “We sit the furthest north on the island,” says Stephanie Noble, director of sales and marketing for Villas by the Sea. “We have very much a tropical landscape here — it feels very secluded.”

In fact, Jekyll Island is a state-owned park and a natural barrier island for the state of Georgia. Noble says that it is one of the few islands in North America where sea turtles choose to make their nests; the island is also home to a rich shrimping industry. Birding is also a big draw on Jekyll island; it was recently named an official birding destination in Georgia by the Audubon Society, and each October it hosts an annual birding festival.

“We are the closest resort to Driftwood Beach,” Noble says. “You can do a sunset horseback beach ride, or a nightly turtle walk to view the nesting turtles laying eggs.” One of the most popular boat rides from Villas by the Sea is the Salt Marsh Nature Tour, which takes visitors through tidal creeks and explores the tides, food chain, vegetation, birds, mammals, shellfish and finfish of the marsh areas.

Of course, the natural part of the experience is complemented by services like private in room massages, dinner casino cruises, golf for two, or tennis for two at Villas by the Sea. Noble says that the resort’s two-day, two-night Romantic Getaway package, which includes carriage rides and a spacious one-room villa, have been increasingly popular.

“It’s just the seclusion of the island, and of Villas by the Sea,” says Noble. “If you go to any hotel on the island you can see everything about them, the parking lots, the rooms, everything. Here we have landscaping all around and it is so plush; we have palms and big live oaks and natural foliage.”

Certainly another key to the appeal of Villas by the Sea is that all of its condo units are individually and privately owned. “They are spacious and personally decorated,” Noble says. “Each one is unique. It really gives you the feeling of privacy and makes you feel special and individual.”

Untamed Romance

Anders Brown, an outdoor education guide for New Zealand Sea Kayak Adventures, has seen romance blossom in the most untamed destinations in a land known for its wild beauty and pristine views.

“Most of our clients are couples,” says Brown, who has led dozens of adventure tours through breathtaking destinations like the Bay of Islands. “It’s the direct appeal of having the feeling that you’re far away from everything else. Being outdoors anywhere provides that feeling, so there’s nothing to distract you from your beau,” he adds.  

Brown explains that distractions such as work, email, family commitments, or even the modernity of buildings are reminders that you’re in a place inhabited and created by other people. A flowing river or a quiet hiking trail is so far removed from these daily distractions that it allows you to hone in on the one person experiencing it with you.

Standard vacation resorts with poolside dining and massage therapists on the top floor often attract crowds of couples looking for the same thing — to relax and revive their passion. But many eco-tourism and nature-tourism organizations continue to see couples sign up for their trips.

“More and more couples want to get away,” says Katy Drechsel, manager of field seminars and special events at the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. “The vacations they’re choosing now are different. They’re going camping more. You’ve done Vegas and you’ve done New Orleans. Now you’re ready to become a little quieter.”

Although the exotic thrill of experiencing the international outdoors might enhance that romantic spark, there are plenty of destinations within the U.S. that provide the same atmosphere.

Carl Strycharske, whitewater rafting instructor for Blue Ridge Outfitters, has led over 100 trips on the rapids in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Over 50 percent of his clients are couples from 19 to 60 years old, and romance happens at every age. He suspects that there’s something in the water — seriously.

“Water is an aphrodisiac. It’s the most natural phenomenon in nature,” says Strycharske.  “A lot of it has to do with the sounds it produces…like water rushing over rocks. A waterfall always brings to mind a tropical paradise.”

Perhaps it’s the rushing water or maybe the playful atmosphere of the river, but on almost all of his kayaking and white water rafting trips, Strycharske observes romance.

“I see couples splashing each other, and a lot of flirting happens. I also see the younger guys trying to impress their partners by paddling extra hard up stream.”

At the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, couples might renew their spark by taking a walk in the woods, but they also learn about the environment that cultivates that spark.  For example, couples are led down a rocky mountain stream by a guide who is an expert in the topography and wildlife of the land. While observing a flock of sheep migrate down the hill, participants learn why the sheep move the way they do.

But does learning about sheep really fuel the fire in a romance? Drechsel thinks it might.

“It’s the fact that you’ve been outside and experiencing something together all day,” she says. “And the laughter…when a couple comes back laughing and holding hands, you know that they’re relaxing and enjoying each others’ company. It’s a way to get back to who they are with each other.”

Unlike some outdoor campgrounds, the Rocky Mountain Nature Association provides access to tap water and bathrooms in addition to the educational tours.

“Couples like it because it’s a place where they can be removed from the world but close to amenities if they want them.  And they like the idea of going somewhere new and learning something together,” says Drechsel. “We also get some retirees. Life-long learning is a big thing for a lot of people right now.” 

Learning about your destination while you’re there seems to be an integral part to many romantic trips to nature. Founded in 1990, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is one of the largest and oldest ecotourism organizations in the world dedicated to generating and disseminating information about ecotourism. According to TIES, a recent trend within the ecotourism field is the eco-wedding. 

“Many people have been seeking eco-friendly/organic/natural/responsible options for their weddings,” says Ayako Ezaki, Asia Pacific Coordinator for TIES. “Escaping to quiet islands and remote natural areas for weddings has always been popular, but the latest trend is to incorporate the principles of ecotourism, wellness eco-travel, and socially and environmentally responsible travel into your wedding and, in many cases, honeymoon plans.”

Based on his experience in New Zealand, Brown warns that the sparks don’t automatically fly the moment you step into the wilderness. There are going to be moments of discomfort because just like romance, nature is unpredictable.

“Romance stems from the physical opportunity of not being in the proximity of others. But you both have to want to go there, and you both have to want to be there in order to make it romantic,” says Brown. “It’s a mindset.”

When the mindset is there, the rewards can be great and extend to daily life after you return home.

“The most attractive aspect of nature travel is that it offers amazing and unique experiences you can share and enjoy together,” says Ezaki. “Your trip is more memorable when you have experiences to talk to each other about afterwards, tell your family about after you get home, beautiful sceneries to remember – as well as photos to share – and, if you are adventurous nature travelers, some extraordinary stories to tell.