St Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages when the tradition of courtly love flourished and writer Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, championed affairs of the heart.
Today February 14 may be somewhat commercialised with teddy bears clutching hearts and inflated prices for a dozen red roses, but it still offers the chance to show your loved one just how much they mean to you. And what better way to do that than whisk them away for a romantic city break?
Cities close to home
Paris may be an obvious choice when it comes to romance, but it still melts hearts, and you can begin the seduction even before you leave the UK. Treat yourselves to a Victorian-style cocktail in The Booking Office bar at the stunning St Pancras Renaissance Hotel before boarding Eurostar to the heart of the French capital. As long as you book well in advance, you can dine at the Eiffel Tower and take a Seine River Cruise. Alternatively take a more avant-garde approach and stroll the Left Bank, stopping in romantic bars; hunt around the many vintage markets and enjoy a classic movie at an old-style cinema like Le Champo in the Latin Quarter.
A little bit more left field is the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where lovers can explore the Van Gogh Museum or Stedelikj Modern Art Museum, or browse the boutiques and curiosity shops around Nine Streets (a grid within the canal network). By night, book a dinner cruise by the risqué Supperclub with live DJs and dancing till late.
The Italian city of Venice has a history of famous lovers and romantics from Lord Byron, who used to swim down the Grand Canal, to Casanova, who was imprisoned in the Doge’s Palace. For maximum impact,arrive by natty water taxi across the lagoon from the airport and up the impossibly-narrow canals to your waterside hotel. There’s uber-romantic dining at Cips, the floating alfresco restaurant at Hotel Cipriani, art galleries galore, glass-making on Murano island and colourful houses and lace-making on Burano, not forgetting the famous gondola rides under the Rialto Bridge.
If you’ve seen the Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or ever been to the magnificent Catalan city of Barcelona, you’ll know this is an exciting city for lovers. Explore the Gothic Quarter, the Museu Picasso and Gaudi’s architecture, go designer shopping and dine late at 7 Portes, one of the oldest in the city.
Love in a cold climate
There’s something undeniably seductive about an icy destination. The chance to wrap up warm and explore frozen cities, drink hot toddies and snuggle up together under reindeer skins at an ice hotel, carved out and constructed from blocks of ice.
This winter has been one of the best to view the Northern Lights and Iceland is one of the key places to head for this romantic spectacle. Couples can spend a night or two exploring the capital, Reykjavik, seeing the Imagine Peace Tower cast its geothermally-powered beam of light into the night sky and taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon before heading to Akureyri, the Capital of the North and Lake Myvatn, a geological wonder renowned for its natural beauty.
Finland is also far enough north to catch the Aurora Borealis spectacle and you might just catch a glimpse from its cool capital, Helsinki, where you can spend your days exploring the Kiasmna Museum of Contemporary Art and bargain hunting around the vintage shops and art boutiques of the Design District. Don’t miss a romantic dinner at Olo, a low-key but achingly-stylish restaurant serving Finnish favourites such as reindeer.
Russia’s St Petersburg is blanketed in snow in February, making it the perfect city to take a horse-drawn carriage past splendid palaces, majestic cathedrals and frozen canals. Couples must also catch a performance of the Nutcracker at the Mariinsky Theatre and go skating together on one of the many outdoor ice rinks.
Montreal is the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec and has a vibrant food and arts scene which lends itself to romantic weekends. Snow lovers should head to Montreal Snow Village, the first of its kind in North America, located in the grounds of St Drapeau Park on St Helene’s Island. It’s made entirely of ice and snow and includes an ice hotel, polar snow igloos, a crystalline wedding chapel (just in case you decide to tie the knot), an ice restaurant, Le Kube Ice Bar and a heated outdoor Spa under the Stars.
New York is one of the most glamorous cities in the world, guaranteed to sweep your loved one off their feet. Despite its cutting-edge culture, the Big Apple does oldstyle romance to a tee with horse and carriage rides around Central Park, iconic sights such as the Empire State Building and ice-skating at the Rockefeller Centre rink. If you want something more hip, head to the boutiques, bars and clubs of the Meatpacking District for a super cool Valentine’s night out.
For a transatlantic trip in warmer climes, Miami's another high-octane choice for couples, for the art deco charm and chic clubs and bars of South Beach.
Cape Town is another certainty for Valentine’s sunshine, top cuisine and wines. If you’re feeling adventurous you can take the cable car up Table Mountain, site of many a wedding proposal, or hire a car and head off into the Cape Winelands for a romantic toast.
And if you’re prepared to travel half way round the world for your love, the Hawaiian city of Honolulu is one of the most romantic on the planet. Located on the main island of Oahu, this is the vibrant epicentre of Hawaii, from the underground bars of the Chinatown
arts district to the Hawaii Theatre. It’s also a fabulous jumping off point for a romantic trip round the islands.
The Turkish capital of Istanbul is widely known as the meeting point of East and West, but increasingly it’s where the ancient meets the brand new. The city is seeing an explosion of cutting-edge hotels, bars, boutiques and galleries, all vying for space with its spectacular Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, traditional hammams and Grand Bazaar. Or you can escape the crowds and enjoy the perfect picnic when you take a ferry up the Bosphorus to Anadolu Kavagi. The village is surrounded by wooded hills and there are great views from the Byzantine ruins of Yoros castle.
The Moroccan city of Marrakech is another exotic city of romance and intrigue. Its central square, the Djemaa el Fnaa, is a thousand-year-old carnival with storytellers and soothsayers, acrobats and mint tea-sellers. Its labyrinthine souks offer a blast of exoticism, but the great thing about this city is its many calm and totally-enchanting hideaways, from the Jardin Majorelle, formerly owned by Yves St Laurent to the many stunning riads (small hotels). Couples can also take a caleche (horse and carriage) out to the palmeraie (palm groves) surrounding the city or head out to the Atlas Mountains for a night under the stars.
For something further afield, Cuba’s capital Havana offers hopeless romantics the chance to travel back in time, with classic American Buiks and Chevvies on the road, perfectly-preserved colonial architecture and Che Guevara billboards. There are happening nightclubs and that famous Havana rum to keep things lively.
Or how about a trip to the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, renowned for its hot tango classes and the best steak restaurants in the world?
Living the high life
There are certain cities which shout out decadence. Edinburgh may still be in the grip of a Scottish winter in February but there are plenty of ways to live the high life – literally. For anyone who’s read David Nicholl’s novel, One Day, climbing Arthur’s Seat could be the start of a big romance with its majestic views of Edinburgh Castle, and the Old and New Towns.
There are plenty of top-notch places to wine and dine. Top of the list for many is the extraordinary Witchery by the Castle which also has fabulously gothic rooms or its sister hotel and restaurant, Prestonfield, with its private dining room, the Salon Privee, which has a 100% success rate for marriage proposals.
If you’re determined to follow the jetset, a honeymoon jaunt to Monte Carlo could be just the ticket. In this tiny principality of Monaco, you can arrive by helicopter, hang out in the casinos, dine at Michelinstarred restaurants and generally have a blast.
Prague is a European city that captures the imagination of couples who revel in the splendour of history. Spend a day in the historic part of Prague and take a romantic cruise on the river Vltava, then enjoy a candlelit dinner overlooking Prague’s glorious skyline, guaranteed to put you in the mood for love.
Or you can find your very own fairytale castle, such as the 17th-century Chateau Mcely an hour to the northeast of the capital, with a rejuvenating spa, chic salons, gourmet restaurant and Alchymist Club bar. Spa romantics can indulge themselves in a special Valentine’s Day wellness package with chocolate and honey massages, prepared for guests of the Krivan Hotel in the Western Bohemia spa town of Marianske Lazne. A number of relaxation and wellness stays for couples are also offered in hotels in the town of Luhacovice, in East Moravia.
Of course, for a true taste of the high life, Las Vegas is impossible to beat for overt decadence. Stretched limos, day-time pool parties with top DJs and private cabanas, incredible cuisine, outrageous suites and some of the best shows in the world, from Absinthe to Cirque de Soleil’s La Reve, just spell out high-rolling romance.
Valentine’s getaways facts
Paris: Fall in love all over again at Le Bristol Hotel, one of the first hotels in Paris to be named a palace. An overnight stay with American breakfast, a treatment for two at the Spa by La Prairie, a glass of Champagne and a Boucheron gift costs from €930 for two in a superior room. www.lebristolparis.com
Venice: Seasons (www.seasons.co.uk, 01244 202002) offers two nights in a garden view room with balcony and breakfast at Hotel Cipriani, with flights and transfers, from £1,072 per person.
Montreal Snow Village: Bon Voyage (www.bon-voyage.co.uk, 0800 316 3012) offers four-night Valentine’s breaks to Montreal, including a night at the Snow Village in a polar igloo and three nights at the historic Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, from £895 per person with flights.
New York: Celebrate Valentine’s Day in New York at the Philippe Stark-designed Hudson Hotel. The hotel has a neomodern design and is home to the Hudson Bar, one of New York’s hottest nightspots. Depart on February 11 with Letsgo2 (www.letsgo2.com,
020 3582 4492) for five nights, room-only, from £689 per person with flights.
Kasbah Tamadot: Head to the ultra-romantic Kasbah Tamadot in the Atlas Mountains just outside Marrakech, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition group (www.virginlimitededition.com, 0800 716 919). A Valentine’s package costs 2,330 euros per couple for four nights, with daily breakfast and dinner, bottle of Champagne, traditional Hammam spa treatment each and private transfers from Marrakech.
Las Vegas: Stay three nights, room-only, at the Palms Casino Resort with Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3865) from £865 per person with car hire and flights.