Tales of travel throughout the ages are rich with stories about wonderfully inspiring, brave and elegant women taking on the world, discovering new lands, defying and defining laws, rules and limits. As the world celebrates women for all of their glorious achievements across the globe, we are taking time to commemorate all of the exceptional women who’ve shaped the world as we know it and the destinations they are most closely connected to... it’s Mother Earth after all.
La Fiermontina, Italy
Not only one of our favourite luxury Italian hotels, La Fiermontina is an inspired ode to a much loved woman. An evening stroll on the silvery cobblestones of Lecce’s historic town led French businessman, Giacomo Fiermonte past the ‘For Sale’ sign outside a 17th century house. He bought the property and lovingly restored it to pay tribute to his maternal grandmother, Antonia Fiermonte. Born in Puglia, Antonia joined the legendary Parisian art scene in the early 1930s, amidst the birth of Modernism, Dadaism and Surrealism. Today, La Fiermontina houses art from Antonia’s favourite art movements and many sculptures of the female form, while a portrait of the lady herself hangs in the hotel lobby. It is touching to consider that, centuries later, Antonia’s passion and a grandson’s desire to keep his family name alive have survived to this day to become synonymous with gracious hospitality, style and classic Italian beauty.
Queens of the Caribbean
Anne Bonney and Mary Read are two names that might be familiar to connoisseurs of Caribbean history, but their story deserves worldwide recognition. History is overflowing with stories of male explorers taking to the high seas and discovering new territories but, just as they thought the Earth was flat, the male narrative of navigation is not the whole picture. Anne Bonney and Mary Read are two of the most notorious names in the history of travel but their true stories have been washed away with the sands of time. Anne Bonney was known as a woman “with a fierce and courageous temper” from the earliest years of her life, in the 1600s. Going against her father’s wishes, she eloped with her beau, James Bonney, and fell in love with their life at sea. Together they travelled to New Providence, in the Bahamas, in search of treasure. True to form, Anne grew tired of the cowardice she perceived in James and joined another pirate ship, where she scaled the ranks, and lead many raids on Spanish treasure ships in Cuba and Hispaniola (today known as the Dominican Republic).
Like Anne, Mary Read was known for her ruthless nature and passion for adventure. From a young age Mary’s mother had disguised her as a boy, knowing that life was easier for young males in 16th Century England than it was for girls. Educated and employed Mary had a wider understanding of the world than many of her peers. In her early twenties, Mary grew tired of Plymouth’s hum-drum happenings and decided to board a Dutch merchant ship heading for the Caribbean, once again disguised as her male alter-ego ‘Mark Read’. During this time, Mary learned to fight, in exchange for teaching the sailors French. Upon arrival in the Caribbean, Mary’s ship came under attack from pirates and, having lost the battle, they were forced to join the crew of another ship in subservient roles.
It was here that the fate of these two fascinating heroines became intertwined, as none other than Anne Bonney held a senior role on the commanding pirate ship. Upon discovering ‘Mark Read’s true identity, Anne became protective of her female counterpart, as she greatly admired Mary’s bravery and recognised their kindred spirits. In October 1720, the ship was anchored off Point Negril in Jamaica, where the large crew of male pirates had departed to sample the local rum. A British Navy ship launched an attack, leaving only Anne and Mary to defend the vessel. It is not known for certain what happened to the two women, but they are credited with having been among the first to step upon many of the Caribbean’s most beguiling islands, including Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands.
We couldn’t celebrate International Women without admiring the first lady of aviation, Amelia Earhart. Perhaps unfairly, Amelia Earhart’s story is overshadowed by her mysterious disappearance during a flight in 1937. Prior to this, Amelia Mary Earhart had achieved many incredible feats and dedicated herself to her passion - aviation. An avid reader in her childhood, Amelia was a bright and inquisitive child. Interestingly, her first introduction to an aircraft was at the age of ten, but it wasn’t the instantaneous affection one might assume. A courteous glance at the rickety ‘lump’ of wire and wood and Amelia was already on her way back to the merry-go-round. It would be another thirteen years before Amelia would take to the skies. In the time between Amelia served as a nurse during World War One, having been horrified at the poor standard of care she felt soldiers were receiving. Throughout her youth, Amelia kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about women who’d been successful in male dominated fields.
Testament to her strength and determination, she survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and received her pilot’s licence thereafter. Charles Lindebergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927 and Amelia, already causing waves in the aviation industry, was selected as the first women to complete the same journey. Having left Newfoundland twenty hours and forty minutes earlier, she touched down in Burry Port, South Wales with her name assigned to history. A ticker-tape parade and reception at the White House greeted her upon return to the United States. Amelia’s entrepreneurial attitude continued to thrive as her celebrity image allowed her to be one of the first to benefit from the emerging advertising and endorsement culture within America, lending her name to many engineering and fashion products. Amelia went on to break new ground for women pilots across America, and throughout the world, completing the first solo flight across the North American continent and back, in addition to being the first to fly from Hawaii to California. A passionate advocate for female pilots, Amelia once famously refused to fly an actress to open a race event that had banned female drivers. Of course, Amelia’s incredible life met a tragic end before the second World War, but her legacy as a feminist icon remains as iron-clad as her spirit, determination and success.
María Eva Duarte de Perón, better known as Evita, was Argentina’s most famous and revered First Lady for good reason. Beautiful and elegant, her subjects were dazzled by her natural charm but Eva’s beauty was more than skin deep. Her husband was Argentine President, Juan Perón, who revolutionised Argentina with his desire to eliminate poverty and dignify the working class, but it was Eva’s surpassing of the expectations of her role that really caught Latin America, and history’s, attention. During the six years of the Perón presidency, Eva became a powerful political force in her own right, fighting for worker’s rights, running the Ministries of Labour and Health and becoming a champion of women’s suffrage in Argentina by founding the eponymous Eva Perón Foundation. Eva also founded and managed Argentina’s first organised political party, the Female Peronist Party. Eva’s attitude to political and cultural issues was a revelation for the early twentieth century. For so long the customs of South American life had been for women to adhere to traditional roles, yet Eva was a visual and vibrant example of a woman paving her way in the world and having a positive impact on her surroundings.
Eva’s unique approach to public life led to her being spoken of in saintly terms, and it was common to find her picture hanging next to images of the Virgin Mary in many homes throughout the land. Her work with her foundation took her to some of Argentina’s poorest districts, where she would openly embrace the people she met and allow them to kiss her cheek – a significant gesture for a woman of her status. Eva would personally dress the wounds of the sick and touch the hands of hospital patients; a symbol which resonated deep in the heart of a formally divided nation. Due to the work and health care provided by the foundation, inequality within Argentina’s health service was almost eradicated. The affection that the Argentinean people held in their hearts for their beloved Evita led to her being given the official title of ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ before her death from cancer at aged just thirty-three. Eva Perón’s story inspired the famous ‘Evita’ musical, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which went on to become an Oscar winning film starring Madonna.
Rebellious, colourful, talented and brave, Frida Kahlo represents much of what makes Mexico such an inspiring destination. Born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, Frida overcame polio, bullying, neglect and even a near fatal car accident to become a celebrated artist and modern feminist icon. Her colourful designs took inspiration from Mexico’s traditional folk and Mayan traditions, but her passion to present the female form in a true and honest way was entirely her own.
Frida openly embraced her strong, masculine, looks and flew in the face of the ‘prefered’ female aesthetic of the 1940s western world. Frida’s work remains on display throughout Mexico and she is a celebrated artist and writer throughout the world. Despite her work receiving critical acclaim during her lifetime, and being displayed in many noted galleries throughout the world, Frida remained loyal to her homeland, as it was here she felt most inspired and most secure. A lover of food, as a direct rejection of the diminutive silhouette defined by the popular European fashion houses of her age, Frida revelled in Mexico’s fiesta culture. Frida’s legacy as a frontier feminist is cemented in her desire to educate local women, encouraging them to express themselves through art and publically rejecting stereotypes.
The Greatest Symbol of Love - Taj Mahal, India
Attracting over eight million visitors a year, India’s Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It is often said the building was commissioned by an Emperor for his favourite wife, but the truth is far more endearing and a fine celebration of femininity. Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor and oversaw what was considered a ‘Golden Age’ for Mughal architecture. With four wives, mostly pre-arranged and political partnerships, Shah Jahan seems a strange candidate for consideration as one of history’s great romantics. However, the archives state that he had expressed little desire to exercise his polygamous rights and desired to share a traditional marriage with a partner of his choosing. His first three wives were betrothed to ensure the security of the throne, being daughters of political allies, but it was a young woman of Persian decent to whom the emperor’s heart truly belonged.
Feeling guilty that he could not provide her the unique status (as his wife) that he felt she deserved, Shah Jahan gave his young bride the title Mutaz Mahal Begum meaning ‘Chosen One of the Palace’. Mutaz was given the finest residence in the palace and none of his other wives were provided with such elaborate dwellings. Mutaz spent her life surrounded by gold, precious jewels and rose water fountains. In their nineteen years of marriage the couple had fourteen children together and Mutaz was refered to as the emperor’s ‘Cradle of Excellence.’ Tragedy struck during the difficult birth of their final child, a daughter named Gauharara. Mutaz died after suffering for many hours, during which time her eldest daughter took to the streets to give precious gems to the poor in the hope it would inspire the Gods to look favourably upon her mother, and Shah Jahan descended into a deep grief that threatened his empire as he entered a year of secluded mourning.
When he returned to public view, his hair was grey, his spine crooked and his face visibly worn. He was described as having been paralysed by grief and stories of his weeping fits shocked a nation. His beloved wife’s death had a profound effect on his personality for the rest of Shah Jahan’s life and, despite being in the midst of a significant military campaign, he threw himself into the planning and construction of a mausoleum and gardens of mourning for his late wife. The Taj Mahal took more than twenty-two years to complete and there is some debate the origins of the name, but ‘Taj’ is thought to be a colloquial abbreviation of his wife’s first name, Mumtaz. Shah Jahan desired the elaborate monument to reflect Mumtaz Mahal’s beauty and it is fitting that this exceptional setting is still today considered something greater than an artistic architectural feat, but an embodiment of love and devotion. The monument is admired the world over, just as Shah Jahan surely desired his wife to be.
To visit the destinations associated with these most inspiring international women please call one of our expert Travel Consultants on 01244 897 505.