Top 10: Unusual romantic destinations
Keen to escape the crowds this Valentine’s Day? Ramp up the romance and avoid straying into cliché country with these top offbeat trip ideas.
This phoenix of a city has risen from the ashes left by WWII bombing raids to become one of Europe’s most elegant destinations. An Old Town crammed with ravishing architecture coupled with a picture-perfect riverside location makes the ‘Florence of the Elbe’ the perfect setting for a romantic break.
Stroll hand-in-hand around the Altstadt, taking in the meticulously restored baroque flourishes of the Zwinger (Sophienstraße, +49 351 4914 2000) and the Frauenkirche (Neumarkt, +49 351 6560 6100), then nab a table at the candlelit Moritz restaurant (An der Frauenkirche 13, +49 351 417 270) for a night of good food, fine wine and romance
Where to fly to: Dresden Transfer time: 2 hours
You might know it as the clubbing capital of Europe, but all that hype around the party scene detracts from the White Isle’s real attractions. Away from the tourist-jammed hubs of Ibiza Town and San Antonio, Ibiza is one of the most peaceful and – yes – romantic islands in the Med. Think sleepy Spanish villages, endless deserted coves and delicious seafood served at rustic coastal restaurants.
Temperatures are still balmy in the winter months and the waters off glorious lesser-known beaches such as Cala Carbo and Cala Xuclar should still be warm enough to paddle in. The northern and western portions of the island are the most rural, with acres of pristine forest to hike through and a collection of rural hamlets to explore.
Where to fly to: Ibiza Transfer time: 2 hours 25 minutes
It’s often overlooked by the hordes headed for Amsterdam’s world-famous canals, but if you’re looking for an offbeat Valentine’s break then Rotterdam will wow you with its electric atmosphere. The best way to see the city centre is on Line 10, a historic tram that departs regularly from near the Spido dock on Willemsplein.
Try riverside café De Ballentent (Parkkade 1, +31 10 436 0462) for a slap-up meal overlooking the water, then book into the completely unique Euromast hotel (Parkhaven 20, +31 10 436 4811) and wake up to some of the best views in the city.
Where to fly to: Rotterdam Transfer time: 1 hour 5 minutes
This Disney-esque land of turreted castles, rolling forests and sunlit vineyards oozes romance at every pore. If your other half is an active type then why not escape the city and explore Luxembourg’s undulating countryside by bike? This pint-sized country boasts over 600 kilometres of cycle trails, and there are numerous rental outlets in Luxembourg City.
On your two-wheeled adventure, don’t miss the unspoiled town of Echternach as well as the 16th-century Royal Palace (17 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes, +352 474 8741) and the fairytale Château de Vianden (Montée du Château, +352 834 1081).
Where to fly to: Luxembourg Transfer time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Florence stands with Paris, Venice and Rome as one of the world’s most romantic destinations, but it’s easy to escape from the loved-up pack and discover a quieter side to this renowned Tuscan city. While most visitors climb the 500 steps to the top of the Duomo, only a few venture up to the lofty Piazzale Michelangelo to admire some of the best views in Tuscany.
You’ll find equally stunning vistas from the rooftop of the Westin Hotel (Piazza Ognissanti 3, +39 055 27151) – the ideal spot to enjoy an aperitivo, or even to pop the question. For a Valentine’s night meal, book in advance to secure a table at local favourite La Giostra (Borgo Pinti 12, +39 055 241 341), one of the city’s true hidden jewels.
Where to fly to: Florence Transfer time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Ireland’s capital is perhaps the ultimate Valentine’s Day destination. Why? It’s home to the remains of St Valentine, gifted to 19th-century Irish Carmelite John Spratt and now housed in a shrine at Whitefriar Street Church (56 Aungier Street, +353 1 475 8821).
If a pilgrimage to the saint’s grave seems a solemn way to spend most of the romantic day of the year, Dublin has plenty more to entertain couples. Its live music scene is legendary – try The Cobblestone (77 North King Street, +353 1 872 1799) for traditional folk, or see a selection of the hottest new acts at Project Arts Centre (39 East Essex Street, +353 1 881 9613).
Where to fly to: Dublin Transfer time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Most people head to Scotland’s ravishing capital during festival season in August, but there are plenty of reasons to pay Edinburgh a visit over Valentine’s as well. Top of the list is the city’s lengthy list of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Try the fabulously creative 21212 (3 Royal Terrace, +44 131 523 1030) for subtle flavour combinations and melt-in-the-mouth textures. Then work off those calories with a frosty romp up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano overlooking Edinburgh. Just remember to wrap up warm.
Where to fly to: Edinburgh Transfer time: 1 hour 20 minutes
It’s less than an hour from London by plane, but this rural Channel Island idyll has its own unique climate and way of life. Soak up the old-world atmosphere of St Peter Port, the coastal capital, before heading off to explore the cliff-top trails that snake around the island. For a true Valentine’s Day treat, plan a day trip across to the little island of Sark.
The cave-pocketed coastline makes this bucolic isle one of the best places in Europe to try coasteering – a combination of swimming, climbing and cliff-jumping – although if you’re not quite up to the challenge then top-class restaurants such as Beau Sejour (Sark, +44 77 8144 6437) and La Sablonnerie (Sark, +44 1481 832 061) offer an alternative form of entertainment.
Where to fly to: Guernsey Transfer time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This flamboyant firecracker of a city knows just how to wind visitors round its little finger. Set the mood with a sunlit wander through the Royal Palace’s Jardines de Sabatini to the Templo de Debod – an Egyptian archaeological relic relocated to Spain in the 1960s and now one of the best spots in Madrid to enjoy a romantic tryst.
Exotic spa Fusiom (Calle Alcalá 55, +34 91 524 0275) is the place to unwind and enjoy some R&R before donning your glad rags and heading out to see a world-leading flamenco show. The Cardamomo (Calle Echegaray 15, +34 91 805 1038) and Corral de la Morería (Calle de la Moreria 17, +34 91 365 1137) both combine mouth-watering food with prestigious live acts.
Where to fly to: Madrid Transfer time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Famous for its high-end jewellers, chocolate shops and sophisticated bars, Switzerland’s most scenic city is unashamedly luxe. Get Valentine’s Day off to a delicious start with a hot chocolate at Philippe Pascoët’s chocolaterie (Rue Saint-Joseph 12, +41 22 301 2058), one of the most jealously guarded locals’ secrets in Geneva.
Where to fly to: Geneva Transfer time: 1 hour 25 minutes