In the last decade, the digital camera, Facebook and twitter have successfully destroyed the last vestiges of romance. It was not very long ago when two lovebirds witnessing a magnificent sunset felt compelled to hold hands and smooch. Ah, the glory days! Today, the compulsion is to take out the camera phone and upload the photo with comment to the world of online (read unreal) friends. No one is interested in being in the moment. No one is interested in just sharing the moment with the person they are with. Everyone simply wants to record and share with the vast jaded masses online. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. The technology that has allowed us to connect to untold many across the miles simultaneously disconnects us from the people and the place right in front of us. In this brave new world, romance is fizzling out.
As I have spent the last few years travelling, I often get asked by friends and acquaintances what is the most romantic place I have ever been or the most romantic thing I have ever done. Whether someone is planning a honeymoon, trying to impress a new crush or patch up an old love, I always have my personal treasure trove of ideas at the ready.
For travel newbies in search of romance, Paris and Venice are safe bets. Traditional and cliché yes, but there is a reason they are never out of style. Both cities are built with an eye for detail and beauty. The magic of these two dreamily romantic towns is found by simply getting lost and discovering. Moreover, as generations of lovers will attest, to be kissed on a gondola while gliding through the Venetian canals or to be held tight on one of the magnificent bridges which cross the river Seine (Paris) is a highlight in anyone's romantic life.
For the active and adventurous couples, I usually recommend a few days hiking through the red rock ancient city of Petra, Jordan, or the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey. In Petra, taking a picnic basket and finding a high perch point overlooking one of the famous architectural sights is a heady blend of history, mystery and romance. In Cappadocia, the pre-dawn hot air balloon followed by a champagne breakfast is an amorous-inducing winner every time.
For sheer opulence there is the Andronis luxury suites in Santorini, Greece, or the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India. Set on the caldera of a volcano overlooking the royal blue waters of the Aegean Sea, the Andronis Suites takes the prize for the best in-house couples massage. The view, the air, and the sensuous and strong touch of their Greek god masseurs create the perfect ingredients to a loving vacation.
In Rajasthan, the Taj Lake Palace resembles a multi-layer wedding cake floating on a lake. Filled with old-world Maharajan charm, this opulent hotel was made famous by the James Bond movie Octopussy. The carefully manicured open-air courtyards and unmatched white-glove service is more than enough to win over even the most jaded well-heeled couples.
A driving getaway has a particular romantic appeal as it provides the freedom to roam together. My two favourite drives in the world would have to be the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Highway 1 in California. Both the main ways and the impromptu side trips in these regions inspire roadside hikes and picnics. Pause, reflect and refresh.
In Italy, the Amalfi adventure involves stopping off in magical-sounding towns like Positano, Sorrento or Ravello and finding your favourite pasta trattoria or wine cellar.
On Highway 1, right after Carmel en route to Big Sur there is one of the most drop dead gorgeous bridges in the world. Stopping for a special massage and hot tub soak at Esalen, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, is the must-do on this drive. Both these routes are best done in a convertible as the salty wind blowing in your face and hair is part of the romantic allure.
For a more offbeat romantic experience, walking the well preserved colonial town of Cartagena in Colombia or sailing on a Felucca on the Nile near Aswan, Egypt, would be my top choices. After decades of drug lord rule, Colombia is open for love birds and the UNESCO World Heritage Sight of Cartagena is the star. Rainbow- coloured buildings, open-air cafés and many leafy plazas have made Cartagena a famous romantic destination. Bonus for us Jamaicans, it can be done as a long weekend by connecting through Panama City.
Few experiences can top sailing down the Nile on a small private Felucca. A surprisingly inexpensive endeavour, a young Egyptian man will typically take you past some of the ancient sites and desert landscapes that have made Egypt famous as the cradle of civilisation. Best done at dusk when you can catch the changing light and be part of a sea of feluccas with their distinctive white sails gently swirling around you.
A more recent discovery was the Rocky Mountaineer Train in Western Canada. Last summer a special friend and I took this magnificent luxury liner for two days from Vancouver to Banff traversing the Canadian Rockies. The upper part of the train carriage is made entirely of glass, allowing you to take in the spectacular landscape of lakes and mountains. Extended train rides conjure up both romance and nostalgia. Interestingly, the passengers tended to be either honeymooners or recently retired couples, so there was a sense of a shared romantic journey. Appropriately, the older couples were often sharing advice for love's longevity with the younger ones.
For the romantic naturalists, I usually recommend a safari in the Serengeti, Tanzania, or chillaxing for a few days in a glass igloo to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights in Saariselka, Finland. These are the kinds of once-in-a-lifetime trips where photographs do not even begin to capture the experience of being there. Imagine holding a loved one tight as you wake up in a tent to the roar of a lion or peep outside to see a grazing giraffe a few feet away.
Closer to the North Pole, two can snuggle up under a thick, warm blanket while staring through thick weather-protective glass to see the mystically moving colours of the lights dancing in the clear night sky. The Aurora Borealis, best seen in the spring or fall, is a completely natural phenomenon caused by the collisions of electronically charged particles from the sun as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. In Serengeti or Saariselka, Nature provides the stimulus. You and yours provide the romantic response.
Rockhouse in Negril and Geejam in Portland are my two go-to places in Jamaica for romantic trysts. In both properties the villas blend naturally into their surroundings. At Geejam, the setting is the tropical rain forest. At Rockhouse, the setting is the cliff and white rocks. In these local hideaways, there is an easy-going vibe of understated luxury. Endless hours are spent on villa patios. At Geejam, it's all about the private hot tubs amidst the lush greenery — clothing optional. At Rockhouse, it's about sitting on the Adirondack chairs gazing over the cliff at the sunset. In both resorts, the absolute discretion of the staff means that players can show up with one delightful love one week and another delightful love the next. It's all irie.
Yet for all the beauty, grandeur and romance in any of these treasured places, it's all meaningless if when we get there all we do is act indifferent, or irritated, or get lost in the i-Phone. No place is so stunning that on its own can resurrect an unromantic heart. Romance to be felt has to be believed in. Romance to be felt has to be enthusiastically committed to. For romance to be felt, the participating parties have to go offline.
The most romantic place in the world is actually any place where a deep, meaningful and focused conversation is taking place. That conversation is when you look into each other's eyes and laugh and share and touch. It's the moment when yesterday's regrets and tomorrow's fears disappear and you have only each other. You only have now. Those moments are so deliriously happy that it seems incredible that we would give them up so easily, without even glancing back at what used to be. As the sterility of the unreal washes away the passion of the real, let those who remember hold each other tight.