Winning tip: Valentine’s in Venice – I mean Aveiro
I told my fiancée we were going somewhere where we would drink wine on a gondola so she was a bit surprised when we got on a plane to Portugal and not Italy. I had to explain that I meant the Venice south of Porto – the pretty canal town of Aveiro. The stay there, I informed her, would be half the cost of the real Venice and just as nice – both of which turned out to be true. Aveiro also has pretty, colourful waterfront houses and loads of cafes and seafood restaurants hugging its extensive network of calm, peaceful canals. I risked being dubbed a cheapskate but we both loved it – a great romantic choice for a Valentine break on a budget.
Mimosas and seductive beaches, Côte d’Azur
Forget red roses, picture instead hills swathed in fragrant yellow mimosa. Mandelieu-la-Napoule is overlooked by the Massif du Tanneron, said to be the largest mimosa forest in Europe. More intimate than nearby Cannes, this Côte d’Azur gem nestled under the pine-swathed, extinct volcano San Peyre, also boasts the fairytale, medieval Château Napoule, which stands alongside one of several seductive golden beaches. Mandelieu was our base for a Valentine’s mini-break one February. It coincided with the town’s annual 10-day mimosa festival, a feast both visual and olfactory. Spectacular sunsets over the blush-red rocks of the Esterel massif added to the romantic vibe.
Romance in Rutland
If a stroll by a picturesque lake watching wildfowl against the backdrop of a deep orange sunset is your idea of romantic, a stay in Rutland, England’s smallest historic county, could fit the bill. To celebrate our wedding anniversary just after Valentine’s Day, we stayed near Rutland Water at the Rutland Hall Hotel (doubles from £109 B&B). As well as Rutland Water, we enjoyed exploring the small market town of Oakham nearby. Particularly impressive is the Norman Great Hall of Oakham Castle, included on the town’s heritage trail. Admission is free; it is also available for wedding hire.
Frozen lakes, hot cabin, Sweden
My perfect romantic trip is a Swedish adventure starting in Stockholm. In the day I’ll meander through the city window-shopping, visit the national museum and be inspired by Rembrandt, Renoir and Degas, making sure to stop for cosy fika (coffee and cake) breaks. Then at night I’ll watch the city come alive in moonlight with a romantic stroll in the snow after a candlelit dinner. The next evening I’ll catch the night train up to Luleå close to the Arctic Circle, spending time with my partner in our cabin and getting ready to explore the giant frozen lake on ice skates.
Candles and couples, Kotor, Montenegro
Perast, Montenegro, is historic, peaceful and relentlessly romantic. The Unesco-protected, car-free town climbs the hillside from the Bay of Kotor. Opposite, limestone mountains stretch down to the bay. Some Venetian palaces have been transformed into boutique hotels; others linger as crumbling memorials. Jetties radiate giving access, in summer, to sunbathing, swimming and boating. In the late afternoon, day trippers from Kotor depart and calm descends. Candle-topped tables line the waterfront, inviting couples to feast on fresh fish or sip a glass of local Varna wine. Eyes constantly savour the reflecting bay, towering mountains and two small isles, capped with charming chapels.
A roof terrace and a rising moon, La Gomera, Canary Islands
We had a wonderful holiday on La Gomera in the Canary Islands one year, getting there by ferry from Tenerife. The lack of direct flights from mainland Europe means the island retains its simplicity and charm. We spent easy days on the beach, swimming and eating fresh rolls filled with local avocados. One memorably romantic night, we dined at La Orquidea in the town of Valle Gran Rey. Sitting on the roof terrace overlooking the sea, we ate lenguado (sole) with the Gomeran speciality mojo sauce, and watched the reddest of sunsets followed by the rising of the full moon over the sea. Utterly unforgettable.
The lovely bones and Michelangelo, Rome
I could have stared into the eyes of Saint Valentine for ever … well, where the eyes would have been, at least. What’s claimed to be his skull is in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. A short walk along the river later, we were in the stunning Sistine Chapel. In the afternoon, we tried our hands at boating on the lake at beautiful Villa Borghese, and then took in the breathtaking views over the ancient city from the nearby Casina Valadier roof bar: a perfect spot for an evening cocktail. Before returning to our hotel, we had a relaxing night-time visit to the luxury De La Ville spa. Così romantico!
Cosy up with a cream tea, Dorset
I love walking with my partner along the beaches of Lyme Bay. On a good day you’ll see the stunning cliffs of the Jurassic coast, deep-blue sea and matching sky. On a wintry one, everything’s shrouded in atmospheric stormy grey. Keep walking from the visitors’ centre – it’s blissfully quiet this time of year. We love fossil-seeking and rockpooling, finding starfish and tiny, translucent shrimps. If you don’t have any luck with dinosaurs, you can alway take home a heart-shaped sea stone! To round off a glorious Valentine’s Day, warm up with a cosy cream tea in a Lyme Regis cafe or wander around the Town Mill craft workshops.
All romantic roads lead to Rhodes
Saint Paul’s Bay in Lindos, Rhodes, is beautiful. I went there with my husband-to-be when we were dating – it was our first holiday together. I’ll never forget swimming close to the mouth of the bay with him and watching a gigantic shoal of fish glide past. It was magical. We go back to Rhodes now as a married couple and always visit Saint Paul’s Bay to relive that wonderful first holiday.
A tandem cycle between the marvels of Berlin
The Unesco city of Potsdam is an easy train ride from Berlin. It’s ideal to explore by bike – in true romantic style, we took a tandem. Cycling through Sanssouci Park there are many fabulous buildings to marvel at, including Sanssouci Palace and the Chinese House. Equally thrilling was Glienicke Bridge, or the Bridge of Spies, as it was known during the cold war era. Prefer warmth? There’s plenty to do inside, including a film museum, the Barberini museum and cosy venues for kaffee und kuchen.