In a heated scene in the new HBO film, Hemingway & Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway locks Martha Gellhorn in her hotel room in Spain. He knows his lover well: with a violent war ensuing outside, she’ll step right into the crossfire if given the chance. Gellhorn, a war correspondent played by Nicole Kidman, pounds on the door, furious at her captor/protector.
But when the real-life Gellhorn wasn’t immersed in war (she reported on nearly every major conflict in her lifetime), she often locked herself up — in rural retreats all over the world. Ever in search of a serene place to write, Gelhorn had simple criteria. She needed sun, and plenty of it, preferring to write in a bathing suit. Volcanoes suited her, though normal mountains would do, too.
Above all, Gellhorn liked places that were hard to reach, so that few people could reach her, leaving her time to write and wander. Here are five places where this legendary writer found escape around the world.
San Francisco de Paula, Cuba
When Martha Gellhorn joined Hemingway in Havana, she took one look at the messy room he was renting at the Hotel Ambos Mundos and decided to get out of the city. Finca Vigia, in nearby San Francisco de Paula, charmed her from its perched on a hill overlooking Havana and the sea. The garden was overgrown and the paint peeling, but Gelhorn saw promise in this limestone estate. Hemingway resisted at first, but would go on to live there for more than two decades. Take a day trip outside of Havana to see the old Finca, now a museum.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley was virtually empty when Gellhorn and Hemingway were invited to sample The Sun Valley Lodge, a new Swiss-inspired resort. They joined Hollywood luminaries like Dorothy Parker and Gary Cooper at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, hiking along the creeks and reading in the bright, open plains of Idaho. It was here that Martha became a “devotee of the horse” and learned how to shoot on hunting trips with Hemingway’s young sons. Stay at the iconic lodge, built in 1936, where the halls are lined with photos of illustrious past guests.
If grey weather was Martha’s enemy, the Morelos Valley of Mexico was her Eden. Cuernavaca, often called the land of eternal spring, was this itinerant woman’s home for nearly four years. The palm trees, morning glories, and “billiard table” lawns delighted Martha, as did the looming volcanoes. Stop by the Palace of Cortes, where you can see the murals of Diego Rivera, whom Gellhorn once interviewed after climbing a ladder to catch the famous artist at work.
When Gellhorn traveled to East Africa late in life, she was sad she had not come sooner. “This is my place,” she wrote a friend upon her arrival, before getting a swift start surveying places to live. Her first choice was Nyali, on the north coast of Mombasa, where the white sand beach stretched endlessly. Snorkeling in the cool waters of Indian Ocean became Martha’s daily ritual. Ride on a glass-bottom boat in Nyali, where you can admire the reefs that lured Gellhorn into the cool sea, or spend a day snorkeling in the marine park in Shimoni.
In her seventies, Gellhorn sought a hideaway closer to London, her home base. She chose the Welsh countryside, where the fog from the Bristol Channel sometimes enveloped her “tiny insane cottage.” Gellhorn tended Albertine roses and, on clear days, wandered around for hours. Chepstow is now a prime place for a long walk in Wales, as it’s the beginning of the Wye Valley Walk, the newly extended long-distance footpath between Wales and England.