Fancy dinners on Valentine’s Day can be overhyped and considerably overpriced. How special is it, really, if you’re surrounded by couples doing the exact same thing as you? Instead, why not spend the evening planning a romantic trip at a time when it works best for you? And when the prices are not jacked up because of a marketing scam?
Here are my top 5 romantic destinations and experiences that won’t break your wallet:
Islands are made for romance: barefoot walks on the beach, dips in aquamarine waters, sunsets with palm trees and the caress of a warm salty breeze. Leave the big resorts to families and singles on the prowl and go small and intimate instead. I love the Beach House in Turks and Caicos. It has only 21 suites, each with its own name instead of a number. The British-Colonial style interior adds old-world mystique to the romance. They have a good French restaurant and, if you feel like it, you don’t have to leave the premises during your entire stay. But if you get sick of the menu, you can walk down the beach to the Gansevoort next door. Their restaurant is on another level, if a lot more pricey.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
A crackling fire, a big sky full of stars, an owl hooting in the trees, and a pristine lake just below you, perfect for skinny-dipping in the morning. Camping in the wilderness is a great way to recharge your relationship while unplugging from the distractions of modern life. You can stay close to home or go far. You don’t have to be much of a hiker to enjoy a weekend in the great outdoors. Spend your first night in a tent in the woods then follow up with a night in a B&B pampering yourself. After a day of roughing it, the cheapest motel would look like a palace. I love camping in Montana and Colorado for the beautiful lakes and in Utah for the red, Marcian landscape.
SMALL EUROPEAN TOWNS
Medieval European towns bring out the romantic in men and women alike. The grandeur of old buildings, the narrow cobblestone streets, the watchtowers and steep rooftops, the history—it’s all there. I love Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart. There are so many hotels to pick from. I prefer staying in the old town, in a building dating back centuries, with creaking wood floors and a tiny window overlooking the town’s rooftops. Take a hike to the Salzburg Fortress for magnificent views of the city and a journey back in history. In the evening, go to a classical music concert in one of the opulent music halls. Eat decadent Austrian sweets for breakfast or with your afternoon coffee before going back to your hotel room for a nap in the gloaming.
CASTLES, LIGHTHOUSES AND INNS
You don’t have to be a fan of Downton Abbey or Victorian bodice rippers to be seduced by the prospect of spending a few days with your Valentine in a castle, a lighthouse or any structure built centuries ago. For a first class dip into historical romance, I recommend El Far Hotel on the Costa Brava of Spain. It’s housed in a 17-century inn perched on a cliff over the Mediterranean. Right next to it is a working lighthouse, a 15-century watchtower and an Iberian archeological site dating back to the 6th century B.C. The hotel has only nine rooms, decorated in white and blue. My room had a large stone terrace with panoramic views of the sea, the beach and nearby towns. The perfect spot to admire the sunset with a glass of a local Empordà wine. And if you’re willing to walk for 20 minutes through the woods, you’ll find a secluded cove where you can take a morning swim without anyone in sight.
Paris is a category of its own. It’s a romantic cliché for a reason and one that’s not to be missed. Leave the sightseeing to tourists and just walk the streets together, aimlessly getting lost in the City of Love. Stop for lunch at a sidewalk café in a cobblestone alleyway and indulge in a long meal, getting tipsy on a bottle of French wine. At night, stroll along the banks of the Seine. Make sure to stop in the middle of one of the bridges to take in the city with its famed lights. Find a dark bistro or cabaret where you can sit at a corner table and sip cognac while listening to old French ballads. And if you find yourself nostalgic for New York-style pizza, don’t worry. The owners of the Pink Flamenco Pizza Parlor on Rue Bichat have figured a way to bring romance to the most mundane of experiences—grabbing a slice of pizza and eating it on the go. At the Pink Flamenco, you can place your order, take a pink balloon, and walk along the Canal Saint-Martin—a picturesque canal lined with art galleries and warehouses converted into trendy lofts. The bike delivery boy will locate you by the pink balloon and present you with your slices.