In her latest novel, Circling the Sun, author Paula McLain—who wrote the 2011 bestseller The Paris Wife—tells the story of the 20th-century adventurer Beryl Markham, the British-born aviator who was the first ever woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean east-to-west. The fictionalized version of Markham’s story tells of her young life in Kenya and her bohemian escapades, including her involvement in a love triangle with the hunter and photographer Denys Finch Hatton and Out of Africa scribe Karen Blixen.
What’s most striking about Markham—who wrote her own memoir, West with the Night, in 1942—is her taste for exploration. Here, in the spirit of her muse, McLain shares her own shortlist of favorite destinations, ripe for exhilaration and adventure.
The Masaai Mara, Kenya
In her 1942 memoir, West with the Night, Beryl Markham writes about her adventures as a bush pilot in Kenya…recounting nights spent out under the stars, with only a good fire and her rifle to protect her from, say, a curious leopard. I had a luxury tent along the Mara River, with an intimate view of hippos and crocodiles and black-faced vervets—and though I didn’t feelquite so bold as Markham, looking up into her same African stars, or over the same golden savannah that spoke to her heart definitely woke up the adventuress inside me. A stirring and magnetic place.
San Sebastian, Spain
Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lolled in the sun at the Playa de la Concha, one of the most glorious beaches in the world, back in 1925, when he was furiously writing The Sun Also Rises. I went stalking their shadows, so to speak, and instantly lost my heart to the diamond-sharp glittering of the Bay of Biscay, the off-the-hook shopping, and the long evenings strolling from one pintxos bar (the Basque version of tapas) to the next, easily the most delicious food I’ve had in my life.
Frances Mayes put this gem on the map with Under the Tuscan Sun, and though it probably won’t be flying under the radar again anytime soon, it offers so much charm I didn’t care. I was happy to be lost in the town’s pell-mell grid of steep, cobbled, medieval streets, and to walk back (full of gelato) to a rented Etruscan farmhouse through an ancient olive grove, for an aperitif and perfect sunset. Yes, please.