You finally made it: you’re canoodling on a Venetian gondola, while a musician croons a melody that seems composed just for you two. It’d be the most romantic moment of your life—if not for that stench from the canal and the bottleneck of gondolas up ahead.
Romantic destinations require three key ingredients: beauty, mystery, and a sense of exclusivity. But a foul smell can turn beauty into ugliness in a second, just as being one of thousands lining up to gaze upon a supposedly romantic sight can quickly rob it of its allure.
No one expects towns in the American rust belt or the cluttered backstreets of Mumbai to tug at the heartstrings in the same way as, say, Venice. Yet in some respects they have it easier. Destinations that lay a claim to romance are immediately held to a far more stringent standard. If those iconic hot spots don’t deliver a swoon-worthy stay, the disappointment can be akin to being jilted at the altar.
Paris, for example, may well have written the book on romance, but it sometimes feels like the clichéd Harlequin variety, especially during summertime around the city’s most famous sights, which lure every lovebird within 10,000 miles. The dispiriting result is hordes of camera-toting couples, jostling as they attempt to re-create scenes from Midnight in Paris or Amélie.
Similarly, trekking with your loved one to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu at sunrise seems like romantic nirvana—until you find your physical (and relationship) limits tested by being stuck for days in a 12-person group with a case of altitude sickness or vertigo.
After all, you can’t assume other travelers will be on board with your romantic plans. That’s a lesson Philadelphia-based T+L reader Nanette learned the hard way on a recent cruise: “I expected The Love Boat, but it just ended up being a crazy booze cruise,” she posted to Facebook.com/TravelandLeisure.
Anyone who’s tried to arrange a memorable moment for a paramour knows that romance is tricky to orchestrate. Some of the destinations on our list can live up to their reputations as dreamy getaways—it’s just a matter of navigating their hidden hazards. Others face greater obstacles. But the bottom line: with the right partner and a spirit for adventure, almost anywhere can be romantic.