While renovating a bed-and-breakfast in California's Sierra Nevada, Maddy Breyer finds herself falling for the local sheriff.
That fictional location is as rugged and beautiful as the real thing for author Stacy Finz, whose debut novel, "Going Home," features a young woman who moves to the fictional small town of Nugget, California, to start over.
A veteran food writer and obsessive traveler, Finz left a career writing about crime when she realized that she'd rather write happy endings.
"It's wonderful to disappear into this fictional world I've created that's happy and good," she says.
Take this romance writer's advice: Now that the kids are back in school and the weather is no longer threatening to melt everything in sight, you and your sweetie can finally rekindle the romance with a real-life spectacular fall weekend. Here are Finz's seven favorite romantic autumn getaways.
Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is paradise for the couple looking for a romantic weekend. The full spectrum of different wine varieties ensures that there's something delicious for every palate.
"You get to sample so many different wines," says Finz. "You'll be able to taste a little bit of everything."
This little town about 60 miles west of Reno inspired Finz to create the fictional town of Nugget in her book. Wear your favorite pair of sandals for a little bit longer and take advantage of the warm weather that is just now hitting California.
"In the fall months we have what's called 'Indian summer' and that's some of our warmest, clearest, most beautiful months," says Finz.
Spend the weekend at the Gray Eagle Lodge, where you can take a break from doing the dishes and enjoy the included breakfast and dinner. Pack a romantic picnic lunch and take a picturesque horseback tour around Gold Lake.
"There are campgrounds and hotels and you can even rent cottages," Finz says. "There's a mill pond there and during the warm months, it's a beach. It's so picturesque."
While many movies have been filmed against the stunning Montepulciano backdrop, Finz loves that this town in southern Tuscany has retained its culture and romance.
Montepulciano's car-free square policy is perfect for encouraging visitors to walk through the artisan shops, restaurants and stunning historic churches. This hill town is perfect for visitors who want to experience a more intimate side of Italy.
"It is so picturesque," she says. "It maintains that celestial charm."
After a day on your feet, wash the dust of the streets away with a relaxing thermal bath or a couple's massage at the town's luxurious spa. For a mouthwatering meal, visit Osteria Acquacheta, praised for its unbelievably delicious steaks. When Finz and her husband visited, the waiter crouched down beside them, handed them a pen and paper, and asked them to draw a picture of the size of steak they wanted. Moral of the story: Draw a very, very big picture.
Cuddle up with your beau in a horse-drawn carriage tour of this historic gold-mining town an hour east of San Diego. Commemorate your journey to the past with an old time sepia portrait in historic costumes. Just make sure to bring the horses a crisp sweet apple from one of the famous nearby orchards.
"This time of the year is apple season and you can't go through downtown without being bombarded by apple everything," says Finz.
Visit Julian Pie Company for some mouthwatering Dutch apple pie that may make you want to stay in Julian forever.
Moustiers Sainte-Marie, France
Finz and her husband splurged on this romantic getaway to try some of the best food in the world. They quickly fell in love with the Gorges du Verdon, France's stunning 700-meter-deep river canyon.
This fairytale town is crowned with a star covered in gold leaf that local legends say was hung there by a knight during the Crusades. The rest of the southeastern French town is just as magical.
Take a class together to try your hand at creating the town's renowned pottery at Ateliers Bondil. The famously brightly colored pieces will be a sweet alternative to the traditional touristy souvenir. Stay in a rustic room at La Bastide de Moustiers, where you can feast on Chef Christophe Martin's plum pie or rich beef tenderloin.
Wake up to a beautiful view of the countryside, where Finz says, "In fall you can see the lavender fields."
While vacationing in Boston, Finz and her husband decided that it would be nice to visit Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. They both fell completely in love with Nantucket, so much so that the island is making a brief appearance in Finz's fourth book.
"Being from the West Coast, Nantucket is magical," says Finz. "The architecture is so different from anything we have in California."
Breathe in the fresh ocean air and join the festivities at the Cranberry Festival, where locals harvest 195 acres of cranberries and then celebrate with cranberries in all forms: chocolate covered, breaded and juiced. (It's already happened this year but make plans for next year!)
"It's to me what a romantic fisherman's village would look like," says Finz. "The first time I saw it, it took my breath away."
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
As a writer, Finz notes this old cowboy town as the place she'd visit if she were writing a western. She and her husband visited to experience life at a dude ranch, and then promptly became enamored with the culture and the natural beauty.
"I'm obsessed with cowboys and horses and cattle, and Jackson Hole is that place," says Finz. "It has major natural beauty. The mountains always look like they were dipped in snow."
Once the stars come out, dress up for a show at the Pink Garter (don't forget to grab a drink at its speakeasy cocktail lounge, the Rose) to hear fabulous live music or screen a captivating film in a classy environment.
Finz recommends that visitors see as much of the beautiful landscape as possible.
Adventurous couples can snuggle together in a toasty yurt after an afternoon of skiing. Less outdoorsy folks can instead opt for a day of yoga instruction and wine and cheese tasting before settling in for the night.