A romantic holiday is a relationship milestone, right up there with meeting the family and your first shared hangover.
Whether it’s an anniversary, honeymoon or spontaneous break, the blueprint is the same: somewhere with glorious sunsets, quiet except for clinking cocktail glasses and the hiss of retreating surf. Somewhere so achingly romantic, your beloved is inspired to bestow endless foot massages.
Or so the fantasy goes. The truth is, classically romantic destinations can be lethal for love. Anywhere known for being a lover’s paradise – sensuous Paris, the Italian countryside, Thailand’s honeymoon-friendly islands – deflates passion faster than a text from your crazy ex.
I should know. I’ve had arguments on France’s Côte d'Azur, watched my crush cry over their ex in Tuscany, and given a boyfriend the boot in Paris. The relationships were probably teetering on the brink, but something about the commodified experience of romance gave them a final, fatal nudge. A scarlet-sheeted boudoir here, a splash of prosecco there, being badgered to buy a rose… with all those clichés in one place, my romantic trips turned into parodies of love. Cue self-examination, binge-drinking, and sleeping on opposite sides of an ugly four-poster.
Avoiding petal-strewn sheets and honeymoon suites won’t save you. Quintessentially romantic destinations also teem with the most insidious enemies of love: other couples.
Romance is an intimate retreat. Canoodling as you ponder your story within the universe's vast fabric. So nothing kills the mood faster than honeymooners smooching six inches from your sun lounger or tickle-fighting in the steam room. When swarming with couples, even sophisticated locales have the ambiance of a frenzied chimp mating season.
Even worse than besotted honeymooners are those couples staring silently at their menus. Ignoring one another, as you and your beloved are destined to do in decades to come.
So where's a love-flushed couple to go? Away from anywhere that declares itself ‘romantic’. Far from resorts adored by honeymooners. Somewhere a little rough around the edges, so you can build memories and let romance happen, rather than suffocating it under the weight of a thousand champagne truffles.
When my boyfriend and I were rained out of a jungle lodge in Borneo, romance was far from our minds. A storm was shaking the corrugated metal roof of our shack so loudly we couldn't sleep. Insects scuttled inside our hut to escape cascading mud. We spent the night telling jokes by the glow of a mobile phone and watching ants march past our heads.
When morning came, we left the swampy wilderness lodge and checked into a hotel in Sandakan. It was chintzy, old-fashioned and the frayed bedspread gave off wisps of dust when we sat down. But it was dry, and we'd made it! We curled up in the hotel verandah over lukewarm rendang, laughing about the storm and the bugs and our escape from the mud. Somehow, in this creaky hotel, we'd found our place: wonderfully unglamorous, and forever part of our little love story.
Years later, I'm yet to sip a sunset cocktail that matches it.