Best places to fall in love
Come over weak-kneed and misty-eyed at the planet's best places to fall in love. From Lonely Planet's new book, 1000 Ultimate Sights, out now.
TOMB OF ABÉLARD & HÉLOÏSE, PARIS, FRANCE
Naming the most romantic spot in the most romantic city is a tall order. But the tomb of medieval lovers Abélard and Héloïse – ill-fated heroes of Paris' oldest love story – has at least a historic claim on the title. Theirs is a tale of an affair discovered: Abélard was castrated, Héloïse sent to a nunnery. But now they lie side by side in Père Lachaise Cemetery – along with Proust, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and other famous dear-departeds. Grab a map of the graveyard, pay your respects to the illustrious dead and leave a letter by the lovers' crypt – a tradition said to ensure you find your own soulmate.
Père Lachaise is located in the 20th arrondissement; the nearest Metro stops are Philippe Auguste, Père-Lachaise and Gambetta. See www.pere-lachaise.com.
HEART REEF, GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA
Why say it with flowers when you can say it with coral instead? Discovered in 1974 by a sharp-eyed pilot, Heart Reef, in the middle of Queensland's idyllic Whitsunday Islands, is Mother Nature gone all gooey. A 17m-wide run-of-the-mill outcrop when viewed from boat level, from above this particular isolated ring of reef appears distinctly, undeniably, romantically heartshaped. To coo at it yourself, board a floatplane, though it's just one of the attractions here: also look out for the luscious greens of the 74 islands, the sandy swirl of Whitehaven Beach, and a seemingly never-ending ocean of paradisiacal blue.
'EIFFEL TOWER', LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, USA
If you like love declared with actual, rather than metaphorical, fi reworks, it's got to be Vegas, baby. King of kitsch, incapable of understatement, brash and larger than life, Las Vegas puts the razzmatazz into romance. It's all fake – a city of 1.8 million in the desert? – so embrace it. Ascend the 140m replica Eiffel Tower for a dash of Parisian passion, and discover the city's most amorous aspect: a view of 'Venetian canals', Chapel O' Loves and the illuminated spumes of the Bellagio's fountains, performing a dreamy dance at regular intervals below.
The Eiffel Tower Ride costs US$10/15 day/night; the Bellagio fountain show happens every 15 minutes, from 8pm to midnight. Check out www.paris-lasvegas.com and www.bellagio.com.
PLAZA DE LOS COCHES, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
Cartagena oozes romance. Its walled old town is a pastel-hued warren of colonial mansions, blooming balconies and elegant towers – which is why it was used as a film set, for the 2008 adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera. It's the perfect backdrop for Márquez's amorous allegory; indeed, though it's not named in the book, Cartagena is clearly the town he had in mind. The Plaza de los Coches became the 'arcade of scribes', where the protagonist pens love poetry; as you pass the houses and horse carriages of the colonnaded square you may feel similarly inspired.
Cartagena, on Colombia's Caribbean coast, is hot year-round, though blessed by sea breezes; December to April is the dry season.
APHRODITE'S BEACH, CYPRUS
Commune with the goddess of love herself: according to legend, it was from the foam at Petra tou Romiou – Aphrodite's Beach – that the Greek deity emerged on a zephyr-blown scallop shell, having formed in the sea from Uranus' amputated privates. That the sand here was the stomping ground of a goddess is not hard to believe – the beach is a beauty, with Mediterranean turquoise-blue waves lapping a tumble of outlying rocks and an undeveloped stretch of shore. Bring a picnic, go for a paddle and make a sunset toast to Aphrodite, in her spiritual home.
Petra tou Romiou is on the B6 road between Lemesos and Pafos; the beach is accessible via steps near the cafe.
TAJ MAHAL, AGRA, INDIA
The world's greatest monument to love, or its most outlandish romantic gesture at least, is India's Taj Mahal, the marble materialisation of one man's passion for his beloved wife. When Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth, husband Shah vowed to build her the most beautiful tomb ever seen. It took him 22 years, but by 1653 he'd made good on his promise – and the Taj is no less magnificent today. Visit at dawn, when a pink glow warms the smooth white walls, to best appreciate the master craftsmanship of the inlaid mosaics and the graceful symmetry of the domes and minarets. Mumtaz would have been proud.
The Taj Mahal is open from 6am to 7.30pm daily except Fri-day. Agra is around 200km from Delhi.
HUÁNGSHAN (YELLOW MOUNTAIN), CHINA
The views from the country's 'loveliest mountain' are exactly what you want from your Oriental landscape: this is postcard China, a vista of karst mountains and pines enveloped in wispy mist, best enjoyed at sunrise. There are countless other tourists, but the (many) stone steps to Huángshān's summits – including 1873m Lotus Peak and 1683m Beginning to Believe – are still worth the crowds and eff ort for those views (cheats can take the cable car). Plus there's extra romance in these hills: keen couples buy padlocks and secure them to the handrails, tossing the key into the abyss below – thus securing their love forever.
Huángshān, in Ānhuī province, can be reached by bus (70 minutes) from Túnxī, which is on the train line to Shanghai.
ALLEY OF THE KISS, GUANAJUATO, MEXICO
Somewhere amid the colonial charm and mummy-filled catacombs of Unesco-listed Guanajuato, a tragic tale unfolds… Above the narrow Callejón del Beso – the Alley of the Kiss – two facing balconies almost touch. It was here that the daughter of a Spanish aristocrat, forced by her father to marry a noble, carried on hand-holding trysts with her impoverished true love living opposite. Predictably, this did not end well: Dad caught them at it, and plunged a dagger into her heart. Now couples exchange a kiss below those ill-fated overhangs to ensure 15 years of personal happiness; those who don't pucker up get seven years of suffering instead.
Guanajuato, in Guanajuato state, is virtually the geographic centre of Mexico and is 370km northwest of Mexico City (four hours by bus).
THE MEETING PLACE, ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL, LONDON, ENGLAND
The 9m-high couple canoodling beneath the station clock (a replica of the 19th-century original) makes an unambiguous statement: The Meeting Place, artist James Day's lovebirds-made-bronze, aims to sum up the romance of rail travel – and of this terminus in particular. St Pancras was almost demolished in the 1960s, despite its Grade-I listed Gothic facade and vastspanned train shed. Today it has been restored and embellished to become home to the cross-Channel Eurostar fleet. As you stand by the statue's huge embrace you feel not only the thrill of the pair's reuniting, but also the tantalising prospect of a whole continent beckoning beyond.
The Eurostar journey takes two hours and 15 minutes from St Pancras to Paris, and one hour and 51 minutes to Brussels. See www.euro-star.com.
JULIET'S HOUSE, VERONA, ITALY
Romantic by association if not in atmosphere, the Casa de Giulietta throngs with tourists eager to have their 'Romeo, Romeo' moment on its fabled balcony. The heaving terrace – which may or may not have been linked to a Juliet, who may or may not have existed – is attached to a humble 13th-century home, rumoured to have once been a brothel, now scrawled with amorous graffiti. For a more peaceful impression of the town that gave birth to Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, head up the Torre dei Lamberti: looking down on the alleys, ancient amphitheatre and the Adige River's bridges and bends, you can't deny the city's romance.
Entrance to the courtyard of Juliet's House is free; there is a fee to enter and stand on the balcony.
This is an extract from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Sights © Lonely Planet 2011.