Thursday, 14 May 2009
This Valentine's Day, forget Paris. Rome is such a cliché. And there's nothing romantic about Venetian gondolas when a thousand other couples are doing it too. True romance requires a dash of originality so head to one of our top alternative romantic destinations.
Cuddling up on the pier to eat hot chips straight from the paper as the winter waves crash onto the pebbly beach beneath - what could be more romantic than that? There's nothing like a good dose of fresh sea air to get you in the mood, and Brighton in February has plenty of that.
Take your Valentine for blustery walks along the sea front and seek refuge from the wind in the Royal Pavilion. Oddly incongruous with its English seaside location, the pink domes and minarets of the building were once the seaside home of George IV, the extravagant king of Great Britain, Ireland and Hanover from 1820 to 1830. Buy trinkets for each other in the Lanes, home to over 200 independent shops, and the more bohemian outlets of the nearby North Laine where more than 300 outlets are squeezed into an area of just under half a square mile.
Later, either head out to experience Brighton's legendary nightlife, or go for a more intimate evening with oysters and Champagne in Riddle & Finns followed by a film in the Duke of York's Picturehouse cinema, Britain's oldest cinema. Make sure you reserve one of the cosy sofas for two in the balcony area.
Frequently labelled the most romantic city in North America, Québec City hits its romantic peak in February this year when Valentine's Day coincides with the end of Winter Carnival, the largest winter carnival in the world. Founded in 1608 as a fur-trading post, Quebec City is one of North America's oldest cities and the only one north of Mexico with a city wall.
The narrow cobbled streets of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town make a picturesque course for the city's horse-drawn calèches to follow, and there are more romantic hotels than you can shake a box of chocolates at. Try to stay at the Auberge Saint Antoine if you can. Located in a historic warehouse in the old port area, the boutique hotel is frequently rated as one of the best hotels in Canada and is something of a landmark in the city.
Beyond the hotel, check out the winter sports, snow sculptures and canoe and dogsled races of the Winter Carnival. Take part in the Snow Bath event if your Valentine antics leave you a bit hot under the collar. Otherwise, take the funicular from Dufferin Terrace and explore the core of the old town.
All too often overlooked by those not in the know, a mini cruise provides the perfect opportunity to devote all your attention to your partner. Your transport, meals, entertainment and sightseeing are all discreetly taken care of for you and you can be as sociable or as coupley as you please. There's no pressure to do anything - you can bed down in your cabin venturing out only to eat and admire the sea view, take part in shore excursions and onboard nightlife or adopt a healthy mix of everything.
A mini cruise is the perfect, unhurried way to see a chunk of the Mediterranean. Cruise ships usually leave from a European port, such as Barcelona, then spend two, three or four nights at sea. A typical itinerary might include Barcelona, Ibiza and Marseille or Cannes, Florence/Pisa (Livorno) and Rome (Cittavecchia) or a number of Greek islands. Alternatively head to Bilbao, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge or the Channel Islands for shorter cruises departing from the UK.
With evidence of human habitation dating back to 4000BC, Damascus vies for the title of oldest continually inhabited city in the world. One of the city's many ancient stories tells of the Prophet Mohammed looking down on the old town as he returned from Mecca. Legend has it that he refused to enter Damascus on the grounds that he only wanted to enter paradise once.
The romance of the Orient is alive and well in Damascus. The sense of history crammed into the compact old town is palpable. The old city centre encloses several souks and bazaars, important mosques and shrines and winding alleys within its old city walls. Throughout it all pervades the colourful street life, with vendors, hawkers and the wailing call to prayer. Set up camp in a traditional coffeehouse and soak up the atmosphere.
Northern Lights in Norway
The only thing better than cosying up in a cold climate is cosying up in a cold climate with the Aurora Borealis shimmering above. The sight of one of nature's most spectacular phenomena is guaranteed to spark romance. Although a sighting can't be guaranteed, going in February won't harm your chances. In fact, it's considered one of the best times to see them.
Hurtigruten runs a number of ocean voyages along the coast of Arctic Norway where sightings of the Northern Lights are common. All of their voyages take in Tromso, a major Aurora Borealis research centre thanks to the frequency of light displays the region experiences during the winter months. Hurtigruten boats offer wake-up calls so you won't miss any Aurora activity, even if it happens at 3am. Plus, being on a ship greatly increases your chances of seeing them as the level of light pollution at sea is minimal. The hours of daylight in February in Norway are about the same as those in the UK so you'll have a good amount of time to take in the views of Norway's rugged coastline too.