Paris? Pah! Venice? It’s been done. Here are some slightly more alternative suggestions for a romantic getaway
Love is in the air, everywhere you look around. Maybe. Depends on who you are and what stage of your life you happen to be in. Maybe you’re at that point where everything’s new and exciting, where every touch is electricity, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and cliches spout like fountains from the cold, hard pavement of your soul.
Or maybe you’re in a relationship with alcohol and pizza. That’s okay. We’ve all been there.
That said, those of you of a cynical bent might want to look away now because we’re going to be looking at places for a romantic getaway.
Lying just south of Florence, its far more celebrated cousin, Siena is a little gem. Set high on a ridge in the middle of Tuscany, its medieval city is a delightful blend of the romantic and the gothic.
Siena cathedral dates from the 13th century and, with its manic blend of gold and marble, is reckoned to have one of the most impressive interiors in Italy (and if you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ll know that’s quite something).
The focal point of the city, the Piazza del Campo, is a huge, oddly-shaped semi-bowl that rises from an ornate water drain on one side. Unimpressive though this sounds, the whole place exudes an oddly calm elegance, despite the fact that there are bars and cafes on all side.
The sheer size is one thing, but the other is the feeling that Siena is a city made to relax in. You won’t have to claw your way through a field of selfie sticks, or queue for hours to get a glimpse of a part of a work of art you feel like you have to see.
You can just take your time, have a coffee and sit, or, if the mood takes you, head out into the surrounding hills for some fresh, Italian air to work up an appetite for a long, leisurely meal in the evening. If that doesn’t sound like heaven, I don’t know what does.
St. Petersburg, Russia
It’s northern Russia. It’s February. It’s sodding freezing. But surely that can add to the romance of a place, particularly when that place is as fine and storied as St. Petersburg?
Imagine waking up to see the snow falling on the grand, 19th-century buildings in all their pastel colours, before wrapping up warm and putting on one of those furry Russian hats to head out and explore the city. The sky is a vivid blue and the cold bites your cheeks, but no matter; you can always stop in somewhere for a warming cup of Russian tea to revive you.
Why not try some outdoor ice-skating in Moskovsky Victory Park or on Elagin Island where fairy lights are draped through the trees to light your way around? After all that, you can finish up in one of the city’s scores of fabulous cocktail bars before heading back to the warmth of your hotel. The Russian soul does have a romantic side, you know!
The Iberian peninsula has a multitude of beautiful, historical and romantic cities – Barcelona, Seville and so forth – but our tip is Lisbon. Portugal’s capital is relatively small, with around 3 million people living in its wider area, but it is also the oldest city in Western Europe, predating Rome by hundreds of years.
There are architectural sites in the city that date back to around 1200 BC, making the Roman ruins that are also prevalent throughout the city seem sprightly and modern by comparison.
One of the best ways to see the city is to jump on tram number 28 as it shudders and rattles its way through the city. It passes most of the major sights, from the grandiose Portuguese parliament building, past the cathedral and on towards the Graca district, which is full of lively cafes and bars, and finishes up in the area around the Martim Moniz square, an area of immigrants and artistic spaces.
The cathedral that you head past seems more like a castle than something ornate the likes of which Prague or Paris would throw at you, and the Church of St. Anthony was built on the site the saint himself was born. He’s now the patron saint of the city… as well as being the patron saint of lovers.
If you picture a southern US city, you might very well picture something like Savannah, Georgia. Long avenues of wooden, 19th-century houses; civic buildings styled on European equivalents, but with subtle colonial twists.
There’s a boardwalk on the beachfront, River Street with its restaurants and art galleries, and a real feeling of grandeur running through the Savannah Historic District, a two-and-a-half square mile area of 18th- and 19th-century houses, squares and parks, all linked with cobbled streets.
Around 17 miles from Savannah is the beach resort of Tybee Island, and this, again, retains its pretty, historic roots. There’s a pier and a pavilion, plus a landmark lighthouse. Every summer there are parades and parties, but in February it’d make for romantic, windswept walking before heading inside for some fresh, local seafood and something warming to drink.
February might be the perfect time to go to this Caribbean paradise; temperatures are relatively cool compared to the rest of the year (between 25 and 30 degrees centigrade) with the odd gentle shower to freshen things up now and again.
It’s a beautiful island, more mountainous than many others in the region, and this gives it an added smattering of piratey charm; in fact, were Guybrush Threepwood real, I’d say this would be the Caribbean island closest to his heart (and bonus points if you get that reference).
Because of its varied history, St. Lucia is a bit of a melting pot of everything from music to food. Typical cuisine is a combination of West African, French and Indian influences, which means everything from seafood to curries, via rice and peas and thick vegetable soups.
It’s also a place where, if you want to go full-on luxury, you absolutely can. There are four- and five-star hotels dotted about the island with verandas overlooking sandy coves, or private pools for you to relax by. After all, if you’re going to do a romantic trip, you might as well do it properly, right?
I’m almost certain you’ve never heard of this place, but that’s okay, neither had I until I started researching this article. It’s a small town in the Alsace region of north-eastern France, surrounded by vineyards producing gallons of Riesling, and the town itself looks very much as it did in the 16th century.
Miraculously, it avoided being damaged at all during World War II, and is officially a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association.
Walking around, you may feel like you’re on a film set; it does have an almost Disney-like quality, and it’s no surprise that the town (along with the nearby town of Ribeauvillé) served as the aesthetic inspiration for Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast.
As for places to stay, there are a number of small, pretty hotels priced around 70 euros for a double room, right in the centre of town. When you’re not romancing it up, why not explore part of the Alsatian Wine Route?
In the Riquewihr-Ribeauvillé area there are 11 other villages whose main industry is wine-making, and local vintners will generally be happy to let you sample their delicious wares and buy a selection directly from the cellar.
Located in the Okayama Prefecture in the south-west of Japan, Kurashiki is an unusual town for Japan, as it is built on a canal. It’s lined with 17th-century wooden storehouses, while willow trees drape themselves peacefully from the banks into the water. The storehouses were originally used to store rice, but are now chic, bespoke designer clothes shops, as well as a wide selection of tea houses, restaurants and art galleries.
One of these galleries was, in fact, Japan’s first-ever museum of Western art. The Ohara Museum of Art was opened in 1930 and now includes works by Gaugin, Renoir, Matisse, El Greco, Monet and others.
If art isn’t your thing, then feel free just to stroll the streets of this area – the Bikan – where you can also stay. It’s marvellously peaceful. All cars have been banned, and electric lights and cables are also hidden to preserve its historical feeling.
Choosing a ryokan (a traditional inn) as your place to stay means being treated to traditional Japanese baths and tea ceremonies, as well as elegant meals and the chance to walk through gardens that are as calm and stately now as they were 400 years ago.
This one really is a luxurious treat, although you’d maybe not think that of Mozambique. It’s one of the world’s leading eco-friendly beach resorts, and is home to an incredibly diverse range of coral, reef-dwelling fish and turtles.
The island itself is located in the Quirimbas archipelago off the north-east coast of Mozambique, close to its border with Tanzania. The environmental project was set up in the late 90s in collaboration with the London Zoological Society, and the – small, exclusive – resorts there do their part too.
You’ll be able to while away your time on the beaches, the warm Indian Ocean lapping at the perfect, soft, white sand, or you can have a go at scuba diving to see the perfectly preserved reefs. If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, get your hotel to make you up a picnic of delicious local foods (tropical fruits, seafood and spicy meats) and head into the mangrove forests in the centre of the island.
Or you could just totally over-indulge yourself, and toast sunset after sunset with a selection of barbecued delights and endless cocktails. What are romantic trips for if not to be utterly decadent?
York is strangely overlooked (to my mind) as a city-break destination. Maybe it’s because it’s a long way from the more touristy parts of England (i.e., London and the south). Maybe it’s because the North seems wet and cold (although no more than anywhere else, really). Maybe it’s just lack of awareness.
I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s a lovely place. Ancient, grand, tumbledown and quaint, with a whiff of hipsterism (they have Viking beards, if nothing else).
Granted, in February, chances are it will be wet and cold, but that shouldn’t stop you sallying forth to explore its magnificent cathedral, its Roman fortifications and Medieval walls and gates. The cathedral, York Minster, is the biggest in Northern Europe, and its Great East Window – dating from 1408 – is the largest expanse of Medieval stained glass in the world.
The whole building truly is a mighty statement. It takes the breath away even now; I can’t begin to imagine how some pastoral pilgrim would have felt, having first seen it from miles away, to stand in the shadow of a building so vast, so powerful, so imposing, that it must indeed have seemed like the very house of God.
From there, have a poke around The Shambles, one of York’s 14th-century streets, and often voted Britain’s most picturesque, before stopping off for a cup of tea (or a pint) in one of the town’s many excellent cafes and pubs.
Feeling posh? Head to Betty’s Tearoom to indulge in a spot of afternoon tea and cake in a fin-de-siècle atmosphere that’ll have you laughing coquettishly while flirting with the strawberries and cream, before popping into the grounds for a spot of croquet. Or something. Jolly good.
The beautiful, baroque city of Salzburg was, as many people know, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and my God do they milk it. But as soon as you’ve got past the barrage of Mozart stuff that the tourist shops are hawking, it truly is a gorgeous city.
Pretend you’re a prince or princess while strolling the streets around the castle. Stop into the steamy warmth of a local hostelry from some mulled wine. Gaze out over the wintry streets from the glow and coziness of your pretty hotel room.
You could head out of the city and follow in the footsteps of the Von Trapp family by merrily tramping your way through the Alps, although in February you’ll need some waterproofs. Or if you want to be horribly cliched you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
The Mirabell Palace has huge, landscaped gardens to walk through and, when you’re done with the grandeur and pomp, head into the new town to investigate the large student scene happening now.
As a student-heavy city, Salzburg has developed a number of artisanal coffee shops, underground brewery pubs, cute little restaurants and experimental cocktail bars. After you’ve tired of the culture and need to warm up, what better way to do it than by investigating this scene before trudging back up into the old town and collapsing into bed?