We asked the people who should know—the people whose songs, whose perfumes, whose fashions, whose words, and above all, whose taste—define the very essence of romance.
ALEXANDRA PENNEY, author of How to Make Love to a Man and Sexiest Sex of All
Planning a trip for my fiancé's 50th birthday (at the time he was just my boyfriend), I asked him whether he preferred Venice or Paris. A surfer, he wanted to go where the waves were highest. I did an Internet search and found a house near the Pipeline, on Oahu's north shore. I told the owner I wanted to rent it for one night.
"Why one night?" he asked. "It's heaven here." We took it for a week.
The house was all white, one step up from a shack, and directly on the beach. Dennis surfed; I watched. We drank rum with fresh juices all day, with a little time out for a Mexican dinner. (I'd never done this in my life.) Then we would walk on the beach alongside people riding horses as the sun went down. It was a bathing-suit week. We never wore shoes.
RAOUL FELDER, divorce lawyer
The Staten Island Ferry that cost a nickel when you were unspeakably and painfully young, your arm around a girl with long black hair that blew in the sea breeze, telling her poetry and lies. A close second is the Rainbow Room on a winter night when the city is spread out below like a diamond-studded carpet and the snowflakes float past like drifting flower petals while the band plays "Sophisticated Lady"...making you think of a night 30 years ago on the Staten Island Ferry.
BOBBY SHORT, cabaret singer
Romance?I'd head straight to the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Book the Grace Kelly suite. It has a private garden with outside dining and a groovy Jacuzzi. Room service is superb, in case you wish to curl up in front of the fireplace. And be sure to bring your favorite CD's. Days?You can stroll through the hotel gardens and watch the swans glide by.
ALAIN DE BOTTON, author of On Love and How Proust Can Change Your Life
Three years ago, I went with my then-girlfriend to Aswan. Coming from England in the winter, I found it paradise on earth. It never rains. There aren't even clouds. It seems a promise of permanent happiness.
All our best moments were clichés, like watching the sun set over the hills or sitting on faded Edwardian furniture at the Old Cataract Hotel and being served cucumber sandwiches with tea. Since my girlfriend spoke Arabic, we could wander off into the back streets and find great restaurants where tourists never go. We hatched plans of buying a house in Egypt, one of those daydreams you think up while traveling.
Unfortunately, the relationship did not survive, proof that romantic moments don't necessarily mean anything.
DAN SAVAGE, syndicated sex columnist
A couple of weeks into our relationship — this was in 1995 — my boyfriend and I went to Rousay, one of Scotland's Orkney Islands. It has about 10,000 birds and only 20 or 30 people.
We flew to Edinburgh, took a train through the Highlands, then a ferry to Kirkwall and another to Rousay. Since it takes so much effort to get there, the natives are charmed by visitors rather than sick of them. We were the only tourists. We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast, a prefab building with a little pub.
The landscape consists of rolling hills, with views of the North Sea and the Atlantic. It's melancholy and timeless. We explored little coves where seals sun themselves; on one side of the island is a huge, steep cliff. You can get so lost.
VERA WANG, fashion designer
Paris is my second home. Everything about it is wonderful: the food, the wine, the shopping. ... I love walking there. My favorite walk was with my husband seven years ago. We took our infant daughter out for her first stroll under the chestnut trees in the Trocadéro. The memory still brings a smile.
ARTHUR GOLDEN, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
In Kyoto, on the grounds of a Zen temple called Nanzen-Ji, is an extraordinary inn called Kikusui. As at most Japanese inns, the routine is to wash before bathing and bathe before dining. When you're completely clean, you submerge yourself in very hot water. First you stick one foot in until it looks as if you're wearing a red sock, and then follow with the rest of your body. Then you pour cold water over yourself, and you feel extremely relaxed. After the bath you put on the yukata, a cotton robe, and dinner is brought in. It's hard to imagine a more sensual delight.
MISH TWORKOWSKI, jewelry designer
Two moments come to mind, one almost spiritual, the other very sensual. The first was on a luxurious two-week boat trip from Portofino to Positano. As the sun set over the Italian coastline, we came upon a group of porpoises that followed us and played in our wake. The porpoises seemed like treasures; they were magical.
The other experience was skinny-dipping at Le Colombier beach in St. Bart's. I love to go in summer (no one seems to realize it's almost the same temperature as in winter). We were alone on the beach. Skinny-dipping is amazing because you can't often allow yourself to do it. It's so secret.
HELMUT NEWTON, photographer
Although I am not a romantic person and know little about romance, I would suggest couples check out the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel. With one of my very powerful telescopes, installed on one of my terraces, I can look right into the windows of this beautiful and charming hotel.
GEORGE LANG, owner of Café des Artistes, New York
When we arrived at Acapulco's Las Brisas, my wife, Jenifer, and I experienced the swooning that 19th-century aesthetes attributed to a perfect poetic vision: a room decorated with flowers in a style Mexicans alone could achieve. The bed had welcome home spelled out on it in tiny yellow wildflowers. Even our marble-and-granite bathroom wore a garland.
The only sounds we heard were the rustling of the fan palms and the birds flying past, murmuring enviously.
At night, we reclined on our terrace with the heavens above and the pool shimmering below, while the hibiscus floating in the water playfully imitated the stars in the sky.
JO MALONE, perfumer
I went to Cap Juluca, in Anguilla, with my husband for a two-week holiday last winter. We had the most beautiful suite right on the ocean, where the white, white sand meets the blue, blue water.
When you come back from the beach at the end of the day, two women will draw a bath for you. There's always a bottle of wine chilling and little scented candles lit around the tub. Dim the lights and, from the bathtub, you can see stars. Sometimes we had massages on the terrace.
Once, just after sunset, we decided to go skinny-dipping, since we noticed that there were never any people on the beach then. It turned out to be the one night that everyone walked along the beach to dinner. We were stuck in the water for an hour and a half. By the time we made it back to the suite we were freezing — and the warm bath came in very handy.
JULIE WILSON, cabaret singer
I met an adorable Frenchman on New Year's Eve 1951, in London. I had just finished my run in South Pacific and we went to St.-Paul-de-Vence, a small village on the Côte d'Azur. I can't forget the brilliant bougainvillea and the smell of jasmine in the air. The breathtaking views, the hills flowing down to Nice and Cannes, the gorgeous blue-green sea — they all made St.-Paul-de-Vence seem like a landscape that could come only from the imagination of people in love. My Frenchman still keeps in touch.
SIRIO MACCIONI, restaurateur, Le Cirque 2000, New York
For me, the most romantic place is Mondo X, in Cetona, a town between Siena and Rome, in Tuscany. It's a former Franciscan convent. I am so taken by the beauty of it.
I was first there in 1982 on a family trip. My children were still young enough that they were doing what I told them.
It has one of the best restaurants in Italy, also called Mondo X. A French writer once said the food is prepared by angels. It is wonderful, simple food that you're lucky to find.
CANDACE BUSHNELL, author of Sex and the City
About eight years ago, I went with a boyfriend to the Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc in Cap d'Antibes, France. We were breaking up.
It didn't help to be at a place so beautiful and glamorous. Besides, we met other couples there, and the guy I was with kept saying how wonderful this other woman was because she spoke very quietly (and I spoke very loudly).
A romantic place can't make up for a damaged relationship; in fact, it makes things worse. When you're somewhere like that and it's not working, then you know you have a problem.
I'd go back, though. Everything was perfect except the person I was with. It's a fantasy place — until you get your bill. (But he paid it.)
GEORGE JONES, country-and-western singer
Three years ago, Nancy and I were in Switzerland for my tour and we were flown in a helicopter to the top of a high mountain in the Alps. Waiting for us was a spread of cheese and wine in front of a huge fireplace. The air smelled so clean, and Nancy and I fell in love all over again.
JEAN-PAUL GUERLAIN, master perfumer of the House of Guerlain
The most romantic place is where the woman with whom I'm in love is. And if we're apart, I always travel with a photo of her, as all men in love do. I also travel with a small bottle of her perfume. When it's dark and I'm lying in bed and I can't see the photo, I bring the perfume to my nose and she is there with me.
I also respond to the smells in nature. I have a plantation on Mayotte — an island near Madagascar — where I go about six times a year. When I pass through the grove of ylang-ylang trees in the evening, my heart starts beating faster. And the tuberose in Coimbatore, a city in southern India, takes me to heaven.
SUSAN MINOT, author of Evening
One of the most romantic places I've ever been is the plateau of Thaba-Bosiu, the sacred burial site of the Lesotho royal family.
You walk up a very steep path to get to the top of the plateau. There is no vegetation — maybe four or five trees within hundreds of miles — no animals. There was no wind. It was like being on a silent stage set, very still and surreal. There was no one else around.
I was falling in love with someone at the time. He was there with me.
MARC PORTHAULT, owner, Porthault linens
The most romantic place I have ever been is Auron, a village in the Alpes-Maritimes. I was on the coast for work, and found a free weekend to ski. It was in 1960; I was 30.
While in Auron, I spotted a very pretty young woman. I didn't know how to approach her. I was intimidated since she was with her father and her brother. Then, after skiing, her brother invited me to play Foosball, and I was able to say a few words to her. Her name was Françoise. She was from Èze, near Nice.
The next morning, I saw to my horror that they were loading their bags into a car and putting the skis on the rack on top. They were leaving.
I jumped into my car and followed them. All of a sudden, their skis came loose and flew back toward my car. No damage was done, but her father stopped and rushed over, apologizing profusely. He had elegant manners, very old-school, and insisted I come to his house for a drink whenever it was convenient. As he said this he handed me his card.
Shortly after, Françoise became my wife. And every Christmas, we return to Auron to ski — now with our three children and six grandchildren.
Oahu (Alexandra Penney) To rent a house on the north shore, contact Homes & Villas in Paradise (800/282-2736, fax 808/262-4817; http://planet-hawaii.com/homes-villas). Weekly rates start at $1,400.
New York (Raoul Felder) Reopening soon under new ownership, the Rainbow Room (212/632-5100; dinner for two $125) will retain its revolving dance floor and Art Deco feel. Unfortunately, except for Friday nights and Sunday brunch, it will be reserved for private functions. (The Rainbow Grill, formerly the Promenade Bar, will be open nightly.)
Los Angeles (Bobby Short) The Grace Kelly suite at the Hotel Bel-Air (310/472-1211; $350) — where she stayed when she was in town for the Oscars — has a Jacuzzi and French doors opening onto a secluded courtyard (all rooms have CD players and Bulgari bath amenities).
Aswan (Alain de Botton) Though now a Sofitel, the Moorish-style Old Cataract Hotel (20-97/316-001, fax 20-97/323-510; doubles from $164) still serves up afternoon tea and splendid Nile views.
Rousay (Dan Savage) After walking the island's heather-speckled moors, you can warm up with a glass of local malt whisky at the three-room, family-run Taversoe Hotel (phone and fax 44-1856/821-325; doubles $84).
Paris (Vera Wang) Rest your feet in the flower-filled courtyard of Park Hotel (33-1/44-05-66-66, fax 33-1/44-05-66-00; doubles from $350), steps from the Trocadéro and home to Alain Ducasse's famed namesake bistro.
Kyoto (Arthur Golden) The rooms at Kikusui inn (81-75/771-4101, fax 81-75/752-0052; doubles from $215) all have private baths and futons that roll out onto tatami mats.
Amalfi Coast (Mish Tworkowski) Yacht charterers Camper & Nicholsons (561/655-2121, fax 561/655-2202; one week $45,000 for eight people, including crew) can arrange a sailing from Portofino to Positano.
Monte Carlo (Helmut Newton) Unless you're an exhibitionist, you might want to keep your shades drawn at the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel (33-4/93-28-66-66, fax 33-4/93-78-14-18; doubles $195).
Acapulco (George Lang) At Las Brisas (52-74/696-900, fax 52-74/846-071; doubles from $265), breakfast comes via a pass-through window (so you don't have to answer the door), and dinners can be served on your casita's terrace.
Anguilla (Jo Malone) Marble tubs for two (with pillows) make Cap Juluca's bathrooms the sexiest in the Caribbean (264/497-6666, fax 264/497-6617; doubles from $510, including breakfast). Two miles of crescent beaches lie outside your villa.
St.-Paul-de-Vence (Julie Wilson) Set on an acre of pine forests, the 85-room Le Mas d'Artigny (33-4/93-32-84-54, fax 33-4/93-32-95-36; doubles from $224) has suites with pools surrounded by hedges — bathing suits optional.
Cetona (Sirio Maccioni) Sit down to champagne-spiked risotto and beef braised in red wine at Mondo X (39-0578/238-261, fax 39-0578/239-220; dinner for two $147; doubles from $510), a seven-room guesthouse and restaurant.
Cap d'Antibes (Candace Bushnell) The Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc (33-4/93-61-50-91, fax 33-4/93-67-76-04; doubles from $340, no credit cards) was once a summer retreat for Sara and Gerald Murphy and their literati friends. The 22 acres of gardens are yours for the strolling — in moonlight if possible.
Mayotte (Jean-Paul Guerlain) On Mayotte, the only French island in the Comoros, your best bet is a bungalow at the Jardin Maoré Hôtel (296/60-14-19, fax 296/60-15-19; doubles from $135), on an isolated beach.
Lesotho (Susan Minot) Thaba-Bosiu is a 10-minute pony ride from the thatched-roof Mmelesi Lodge (266/357-215; doubles from $67, including all meals).
Auron (Marc Porthault) From your balcony at the 26-room Hôtel Savoie (33-4/93-23-02-51, fax 33-4/93-23-04-04; doubles from $72), you can gaze south toward the Alps.