Who said it's the thought that counts? Throughout history, romantics have constructed elaborate monuments to show just how much they cared—though the love-story endings weren't always so happy.
Thornewood Castle, Lakewood, Wash.: Built with three shiploads of treasures from Europe
When his wife expressed a desire for a castle of their own, early-20th-century millionaire Chester Thorne—one of the founders of the Port of Tacoma—didn't need to think twice. He commissioned noted architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter to indulge his bride's wish and sought out the finest European materials. The resulting 54-room Tudor-Gothic manor brings together three-inch-thick solid oak doors and a grand staircase from a 16th-century English manor; red-brick facing from Wales; stained glass from the collection of an English duke; and Florentine marble for the fireplaces. Three supply ships transported the precious cargo to Washington State via Cape Horn. But Thorne's ambitions went beyond the castle walls; he enlisted the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm (of Central Park fame) to design a formal English garden complete with wisteria and climbing hydrangea—and then hired a staff of 28 gardeners for the upkeep. Eight available suites start at $275 a night; 253/584-4393, thornewoodcastle.com.
Petit Trianon, Versailles, France: A re-gifted, hedonistic hideaway for many loves
Louis XV originally commissioned this Ange-Jacques Gabriel–designed "little" chateau on the grounds of the Palace in 1762 for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. But the king's beloved passed away four years before the building was finished, so he presented it to his next mistress, Madame Du Barry. The elegant, neoclassical manse achieved most of its notoriety, however, when young Louis XVI gifted it to his bride, Marie Antoinette. She wasn't exactly known for her gratitude. From 1774 until the couple's violent end, the ostentatious queen used the house as an escape from the formality of court life, open only to her inner circle—mostly a circle of rumored lovers. Marie let her imagination run wild; notable touches included a table carved with images of her pets, a lantern adorned with paste diamonds and symbols of Cupid, and mirrored shutters in her private quarters to deflect prying eyes. Petit Trianon is open as part of a complete Versailles tour or independently; tickets are $24 and $13, respectively, 011-33/1-30-83-78-00, en.chateauversailles.fr.
Coral Castle, Miami, Fla.: A lovesick man's secret 28-year handiwork
Ed Leedskalnin became engaged, at the age of 26, to his true love, 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs. But she had a change of heart—the day before the wedding ceremony. Ed fled from his native Latvia, eventually settling in Florida, where he began construction of a monument to his lost gal. From about 1923 until his death in 1951, Ed—who stood just over five-feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds—single handedly carved, sculpted, and moved over 1,100 tons of coral rock, usually under cover of night, with just a lantern to guide him. Since no one ever saw him actually construct the castle, and there was no visible machinery on the property, Ed's methods remain a mystery; rumors persist that he accomplished the feat using "magnetism," "perpetual motion holders," or even supernatural abilities. When asked how he did it, all Ed ever said was: "It's not difficult if you know how." And when asked why he did it, he would answer that it was for his "Sweet Sixteen." Open daily for tours; $9.75 for adults, $5 for kids 7-12, 305/248-6345, coralcastle.com.
Kodai-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan: A wife honors her husband and his love of tea
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th-century warlord, made his name as one of Japan's great unifiers by consolidating political clans, reforming class structures (including the ban of slavery), and waging war on neighboring countries. Often on the go, he would exchange letters with one of his favorite wives, Nene, the daughter of a samurai—and a valuable source of strategic advice and connections. After Hideyoshi's death, Nene built this complex, in what's present-day eastern Kyoto, in his memory. The main temple houses artwork and lacquer furnishings and is surrounded by a memorial hall with carved images of the couple, a mausoleum, a bamboo grove, and several formal gardens said to have been designed by 17th-century Zen landscape architect Kobori Enshu. Nene paid tribute to Hideyoshi's fondness for tea ceremonies by installing two still-functioning tea houses. Open year-round, $7, 011-81/75-561-9966, kyoto.travel.
Sweetheart Abbey, Dumfries, Scotland: A widow's heartfelt shrine
This tale is unmistakably medieval. Noble-born Devorgilla of Galloway's response to her husband's death was to embalm his heart and place it in an ivory casket, which she then carried around with her at all times. Devorgilla performed many charitable acts in memory of her late husband, including founding this Cistercian monastery—named Dulce Cor, Latin for "Sweet Heart"—in 1273. Originally spread over more than 20 acres, the Abbey complex included a large, English-style church with carved columns, a 92-foot-high bell tower, and residential quarters for the brothers. When the widow died in 1289, she was buried in front of the abbey church's high altar, still holding on to her husband's enshrined heart. Over the centuries, the Abbey changed hands and purposes, until it fell victim to the Protestant Reformation of the mid-1500s. Today, visitors come to roam the elegant, well-kept ruins, which include the red-sandstone shell of the church and its lovely arch-lined nave, and a stone effigy of Lady Devorgilla clutching her beloved's heart. Abbey grounds are open year-round, $4.75 for adults, $2.90 for kids. 011-44/1387-850-397, historic-scotland.gov.uk.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India: An iconic memorial built by a crew of thousands
When his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died while giving birth to their 14th child, 17th-century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered the creation of this marble mausoleum and surrounding gardens. For 22 years, thousands of craftsmen worked on the Taj Mahal and its intricate inlays, bas relief, and accents of precious and semiprecious stones. Centered on a dome-topped tomb, the structure features Islamic minarets, Persian and Hindu decorative touches, and a façade elaborately carved with prayers. The beautifully decorated tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are just decoys; according to Muslim tradition, their bodies actually lie together in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber, with their faces turned toward Mecca. Though the Shah clearly preferred Mumtaz to his other wives, he did acknowledge them (and Mumtaz's favorite servant) with several smaller tombs, which sit past the vast garden complex. Open Saturday through Thursday, and at night during the full moon; $16.50, incredibleindia.org.
Boldt Castle, Heart Island, N.Y.: A millionaire's 120-room gift to his wife
What better place for a love monument than an island shaped like a heart? This Rhineland-style castle was the fancy of millionaire George C. Boldt—proprietor of New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel—who built it for his wife, Louise. Beginning in 1900, over 300 carpenters, stonemasons, and artisans worked on the six-story, 120-room castle, which includes turrets, a drawbridge, gardens, and a dove cote. During construction, the Boldt family would summer on the island, holing up in the castle's Alster Tower. When Louise suddenly died, a devastated George ordered that all construction cease immediately. The family never returned to Heart Island, and the property remained abandoned until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took control and launched a restoration project. Open daily from May 7 to October 16, $7 for adults, $4.50 for kids 6–12; boat tours from the U.S. and Canada also stop at Heart Island, and docking for private boats is available, too, 315/482-9724, boldtcastle.com.
Kellie's Castle, Perak, Malaysia: An ill-fated mansion with tunnels and a rooftop courtyard
In 1890, Scotsman William Kellie Smith arrived in northwestern Malaysia to make his fortune in the rubber and tin industries. He settled into a Moorish-style manor on a knoll by the Kinta River with his lass Agnes and their daughter. The couple struggled for years to conceive another child until finally, in 1915, their son Anthony was born. To celebrate, Smith laid the groundwork for an elaborate new brick mansion to be adorned with flourishes like a rooftop courtyard, a second-floor indoor tennis court, tunnels, and secret rooms. But the project was plagued by problems from the start, when an outbreak of Spanish flu killed many of the southern Indian laborers. In 1926, Smith himself died in Portugal, where he went to collect his castle's elevator, which would have been the first in Malaysia. His heartbroken family returned to Scotland, leaving the rambling (and some say haunted) house—which is also referred to as Kellie's Folly—to become a tourist curiosity. Open daily, admission $1.30, 011-605/365-1336, tourism.gov.my.
Chandor Gardens, Weatherford, Tex.: An Englishman's floral tribute to his Texas bride
Douglas Chandor, who painted portraits of luminaries like Winston Churchill and the British royal family, fell for Ina Kuteman Hill, a young lady from Weatherford, Tex., about 40 minutes outside Fort Worth. After they married in the 1930s, the couple moved to her hometown, where Douglas channeled his artistic talents into creating this 3.5-acre passion project. Work continued until Douglas's death in 1953; the gardens were carved out of what was once rocky terrain and cow pastures, and then filled with a series of walkways, tiered fountains, a grotto, labyrinths, and Chinese- and English-style arrangements. After Ina's death in the 1970s, the sanctuary went into some decline, until a local couple and restored it to its former glory. These days, the Chandor Gardens and family home are open for tours and for weddings. Garden open daily, adults $5, children 12 and under free (house tours are extra), 817/613-1700, ci.weatherford.tx.us.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens, Salzburg, Austria: An ornate mansion that inspired a couple's 15 babies
This baroque mansion and its accompanying gardens were a lavish gift from Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau to his mistress, Salome Alt (hence the original name, Altenau Palace, or Schloss Altenau). After working its magic on those lovebirds—who eventually had 15 children—the place was passed down to subsequent Prince Archbishops, each of whom made his own changes to the site. The massive Salzburg fire of 1818 prompted another round of rebuilding. While the current palace bears little resemblance to von Raitenau's original, visitors can still spy an 18th-century staircase replete with carvings and sculptures, an elaborate marble grand hall, ornate stucco work, and the gorgeous gardens. The main building now houses government offices, while concerts, weddings, and other events are regularly held on the grounds. You may recognize the gorgeous gardens, filled with topiary, statues, and fountains, from the "Do-Re-Mi " number in The Sound of Music. Palace open Monday–Friday, gardens open daily, free, 011-43/662-8072-0, visit-salzburg.net.