It may seem perverse to start with Shakespeare’s most tragic play as the perfect place to propose, get married, or honeymoon, but if you put aside the whole “drinking poison/kissing poisoned lips” thing, Romeo and Juliet remains a love story par excellence. Set in Verona, Italy, this tale of forbidden passion across two feuding families remains the byword for romantic, no-holds-barred amore. Verona itself is almost obscenely blessed with medieval architecture—don’t miss the Piazza dei Signori and the mini-“Colosseum,” called the Arena. And if you really want to recreate the famous balcony scene, head to Via Cappello, where “Juliet’s House” features an honest-to-goodness balcony and courtyard below (ignore the fact that the balcony was added in 1936 for the tourists).
Dorset, United Kingdom
Few writers have created a fictional landscape so fully as Thomas Hardydid in his “Wessex” novels. Roughly corresponding to the English county of Dorset in the southwest of the country, Hardy’s Wessex is a magical landscape of rolling hills and old churchyards, of hay bales and country fairs, and seems to harbor more tragic love stories than a romance novel conference. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the heroine’s love for the priggish Angel Clare is continually thwarted by both the rake Alec D’Urberville, and by ill-fitting floor coverings (Tess writes Clare a note explaining herself, but she slips it under a loose carpet; he never sees it, and tragedy ensues). Make for the seaside town of Bournemouth (Sandbourne in the novel) as a start, then head west into “Wessex” proper—in the 122 years since the publication of Hardy’s greatest love story, much of Dorset remains unspoiled and breathtakingly beautiful.
If Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds still brings to mind Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward hamming it up in the California desert for the 1983 TV miniseries (they used it to stand in for Australia), don’t let the Hollywood setting put you off. The novel itself—a book Germaine Greer calls “the best bad book I ever read”—revolves around the love between hardscrabble Meggie Cleary and the flash, hairless prelate Ralph de Bricassart. But it’s the setting that almost steals the show: the Australian Outback. Some point to the real town of Walgett in western New South Wales as a basis for the town called Drogheda in the novel. A full 400 miles northwest of Sydney, Walgett can be a trek to get to, but it’s worth it—think mile after mile of sand, sheep, hills, and gum trees (not to mention kangaroos and dingoes—but keep your babies close, if your love has progressed that far).
Atlanta and points south, Georgia, USA
It can be easy to forget that Margaret Mitchell’s potboiler Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936—most of us probably think first of Clark Gable’s pencil-thin moustache desperately trying to attach itself to Vivian Leigh’s coquettish pout in Victor Fleming’s 1939 movie. The other star of the film (and the novel) is the state of Georgia—specifically Clayton County, south of Atlanta—a place of plantations and hoop skirts and Confederate soldiers in hospital wards. Whooshing through it all is the irascible Scarlett O’Hara and her quest for the passionate love of the roguish Rhett Butler. The Margaret Mitchell House in downtown Atlanta is a good starting point on your trip. Then, head south along Tara Boulevard, off Interstate 75, and imagine yourself in mid-19th century America as the moment it comes to its painful rebirth.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Who said romance should be limited to the so-called “adults” among us? One of the most tear-jerking novels of recent times, The Fault in Our Stars, came from the pen of John Green, YA author and online vlogbrother extraordinaire. Any writer who can fill Carnegie Hall for a celebration of a paperback release is clearly on to something—his “Evening of Awesome” in New York last month featured his fellow vlog (and actual) brother, Hank, as well as Neil Gaiman, and hundreds of Nerdfighters (adherents of the Green brothers philosophy on life) and was predicated on the publication of the soft cover version of The Fault in Our Stars. The story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two cancer-ridden teens in love, brought young adults and old adults to buckets of tears throughout 2012—scenes like the one in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam when the young lovers first kiss combined poignancy, comedy (an assembled crowd bursts into appreciative applause), and high romance. Amsterdam—city of canals, bicycles, and a host of sometimes more adult pleasures—neatly frames the burgeoning passion of Hazel and Augustus, and we can think of no more romantic place to share a first embrace, or the latest of many kisses.
This article was updated September 24, 2014
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