(Bloomberg) -- There’s one proposal story that I’ll never forget, aside from my own.
A good friend was planning to propose in Rome—arguably one of the most romantic cities in the world—and had chosen to get down on one knee at the Spanish Steps. He had planned the whole trip as a surprise, and he didn’t tell his girlfriend where they were going—just that she needed a passport and weather-appropriate clothes. By the time they landed in Rome, it was all amore and baci and gelato until—wait for it—they stumbled upon another proposal right at Piazza di Spagna. Petrified to carry the ring any longer, my friend took his girlfriend back to the hotel, where he popped the question (oddly enough, on both knees) at the foot of the bed.
Guys: That story ended fabulously well. She said yes, they had one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen, and a few, happy years of marriage later, they’re still one of the best couples I know. But learn from his mistake and propose somewhere a little less obvious.
In case Valentine's Day has you thinking of your own magical moment, we’ve teamed up with Abbie Kozolchyk, author of National Geographic’s new book, The World’s Most Romantic Destinations (available here). She helped us narrow down a list of 50 stunning destinations that she curated for the tome to just nine perfect proposal spots. They’re all but guaranteed to get you the big answer you’re looking for.
Under the northern lights in Swedish Lapland
Remember the Ice Hotel? The one carved entirely out of ice that we told you about a few weeks ago? Turns out the staff is impressively adept at setting a romantic scene. There, said Kozolchyk, you can hire a reindeer sled to take you to a "glittering, Narnia-like national park" in Swedish Lapland, where your guide will set up a campfire and build a cozy fort for you to cozy up in. You’ll wait for the northern lights to do their thing while sipping Champagne under reindeer skins; once the sky starts twinkling, that’s your cue. The key, said Kozolchyk, "is to book through an operator [such as Off the Map Travel] that really knows what it's doing in this part of the world, where conditions are eminently changeable (but consistently gorgeous)."
Over dinner in a sandbar in the Philippines
The Philippine archipelago of Palawan—which consists of almost 2,000 islands—has some of the best beaches in the world. So it may come as a surprise that the destination’s best proposal spot is actually a bit off shore. Here, Kozolchyk said, you can stay at a resort on Lagen Island, a cluster of 18 overwater cottages tucked into limestone cliffs. They’ll arrange for a boat to take you to a secluded sandbar, where a dramatic meal awaits. “Depending on when you make your way over, there may be almost no ambient light—except for some glimmering plankton in this sea—so the candle-lit 'reveal' of your dinner spot is all the more dramatic,” she said. And in case you’d rather go for better visibility, Kozolchyk said a lunchtime proposal is just as spectacular. The only caveat, she joked, is that “the clarity and brilliance of the surrounding emerald water might rival that of the ring.”
Under a lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls, Zambia
This plot requires careful timing, as lunar rainbows take place only during specific dates around a full moon. Luckily, the riverside Tongabezi Lodge, in Central Africa's Zambia, helps you figure out the right travel dates to make it happen. Said Kozolchyk, “You can pop the question on a viewing balcony, with the mists and moonbow as your backdrop." Her alternate suggestion: Wait until you’re back at the lodge, where you can propose over a torchlit dinner on a sampan (a flat-bottomed boat) moored in the Zambezi River. Each course is delivered by canoe, and a Zambian choir can be on standby to serenade you with a round of Jason Derulo’s Marry Me.
At a Benedictine abbey on the Italian Riviera
Here’s how Kozolchyk said you guarantee privacy in picture-perfect Portofino. First, you stay at Belmond's Hotel Splendido, a knockout five-star resort with its own motor yacht. Then you charter said yacht to the tiny patch of pebble beach in front of San Fruttuoso—a stunning, secluded Benedictine abbey—where the property can set up a movie-worthy five-course meal. Pop the question at sunset and then celebrate back in your balcony suite (where previous guests have included everyone from George Clooney to Madonna). There will be nothing monastic about it, we promise.
On a hot air balloon ride over Australia's Red Center
You can hot air balloon in plenty of beautiful corners of the world, but few will be as visually stimulating as the Australian Outback. If proposing mid-air makes you nervous about somehow dropping the ring, Kozolchyk tipped us off to another good spot: the terrace of your luxury tent at Longitude 131, where she says “you'll have an unobstructed view of Uluru (aka Ayer's Rock),” a 550-million-year-old monolith that can inspire your eternal vows.
Against a Dubrovnik backdrop straight out of Game of Thrones, in Croatia
“Dubrovnik is insanely romantic, with or without HBO’s fictional overlay,” said Kozolchyk, but you don’t have to be a Game of Thrones super-fan to appreciate this jaw-dropping location. Still, you can take a cue from the cast by staying at their favorite seaside spot, Villa Orsula, a stone-faced manor whose concierge can point you toward the prettiest lookouts in town. (If it’s full, try the villa’s sister property, Hotel Excelsior, a sleek, mid-century-style boutique hotel that's about to reopen after a long-awaited renovation.)
At India's Taj Mahal during a full moon
Experts usually recommend that you visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise, but here’s an exclusive twist. “Book one of the few available nighttime visits to the Taj Mahal during a full moon, when the greatest Mughal monument to love goes from merely breathtaking to utterly otherworldly,” advised Kozolchyk. Reserve with your concierge or head here to make it happen; finding operators that offer full moon tours isn’t easy, and availability is thin. Also tempting: an in-suite dinner at the Oberoi Amarvilas, where Kozolchyk said the Taj Mahal-facing balconies were practically designed for proposers.
At Peru's little-known rival peak to Machu Picchu
The lost Incan citadel is a tough spot for private moments—what with all the crowds—but that doesn’t rule out a Peruvian proposal. According to Kozolchyk, you should check into the "enchanted forest-feeling retreat that is the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel," whose concierge can sign you up for some of the area's most limited-access hikes: one to Huayna Picchu (the tall peak in everyone's iconic images) or to Machu Picchu Mountain, which sits behind the ruins. Either way, she said, you’ll end up with a vantage that actually looks down onto the ruins, where the only other tourists you see will look like ants crawling the heritage site below.
From the skies over Saint Barthélemy
Most people who want to impress in St. Bart's opt for a yacht. Go the opposite route, recommended Kozolchyk, and take to the skies instead. Give the Beach Ambassadors a heads-up about your intentions, she said, and they'll craft a romantic message in the sand, so that you can see it from a Champagne helicopter tour over Flamands Beach. (It takes the pressure off coming up with the perfect words.) Then, on dry ground, the hotel will coordinate a private dinner on the beach—with a customized fireworks finish.