With Valentine’s Day falling mid-week this year, there’s not one but two possible weekends to make the most of the annual love fest. And there’s really no excuse not to, with our selection of romantic hotels to impress partners of all persuasions. Architecture buffs, art fans and would-be Attenboroughs, step this way…
You’ve mused your way around an art gallery or two, but how about staying in one? Head to South Africa and start with Cape Town, home to an emerging ‘First Thursday’ scene, landmark new museums such as the Zeitz MOCAA and hotels including Ellerman House. As well as flaunting coastal views of Bantry Bay, this old-school stay boasts a 1,000-strong collection of paintings and sculptures, its own gallery space and an in-house art guide – with free tours included. Team it with a stay in the Cape Winelands, where polished retreat Delaire Graff Estate has a private collection of predominantly South African artists, such as William Kentridge, Lionel Smith et al, amassed by its jewellry entrepreneur owner, Laurence Graff.
Where do you take the ‘who wore it best?’ winner in your relationship? The Henrietta in London, surrounded by Covent Garden’s boutiques, was dressed by French cool person and interiors master, Dorothée Melichzon. Rooms modelling hues of rose, navy, baby blue and pink, matched with deco-style bathrooms, will win over the coolest clotheshorses. We love the headboards inspired by the market’s porticos and the bar overseen by the Experimental Cocktail Club (which Melichzon’s mari founded, along with two other friends). Like her style? Flit over to Paris – where the Experimental Cocktail Club was born – and check in at Hotel des Grands Boulevards, Grand Pigalle or Hotel Panache: all clothed by ‘the ‘Chzon’, too.
Align your stars by heading to the Sahara – the largest desert in the world – where nature’s firmament shines bright. In Morocco, Dar Ahlam is built within the ramparts of a 19th-century kasbah, with shaded terraces and a centrepiece pool gathering around dusky pink walls. Dine alfresco amid the dunes, lying back on Berber cushions to marvel at the sky, then return to TV-free rooms, light a fire, and sling the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign around the door. For the last word in romance, couple it with a stay at one of Marrakech’s romantic riads, where you can test your relationship’s mettle by navigating around the souks.
Nothing says ‘I love you’ like waiting outside high-street changing rooms to give a thumbs up (or down) to the latest fashions. So, why not treat credit-card-inclined loved ones to a stay at stylish Little Albion Guest House in Sydney’s Surry Hills, an area whose transformation continues apace with edgy new boutiques replacing the historic rag-trade warehouses. This dashing, budget-friendly creatives-magnet reflects the trendsetting streets nearby: you’re two blocks from up-and-coming Crown Street and just over a kilometre from the Intersection, where Oxford Street’s international labels meet indie designers on Glenmore Road.
The Pacific coast of the Americas teems with marine life at this time of year. Along California’s 840-mile stretch, gray whales migrate from December until late March on route to the warmer seas of Mexico. But you can also spy humpbacks, blue whales, dolphins and killer whales at other times, especially around Monterey, which offers marine-biologist-led tours all year round. A short drive south, check-in to Ventana Big Sur for ultimate panoramas of the Pacific. Or follow the whales to Baja California in Mexico, where a pod of beach-sited stays means you’re never more than a fin-flick away from the coast.
You can’t spend all of Valentine’s Day getting lost in each other’s eyes; some might prefer to get lost in a page-turner, too (after all, we’ve always had the hots for seeing Mr or Mrs Smith engrossed in a book). For the literary-minded, we’d recommend putting a bookmark beside Place to Read, a pared-back private home in Iceland’s north, whose alien landscape wouldn’t look out of place among the pages of Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury. But, while this bibliophile’s basecamp has an honesty bar, well-stocked library, and plenty of nooks and cosy crannies, there are outdoor activities to inspire romantic stories of your own: we’re thinking fjord-trekking, whale-watching, the Northern Lights…
WANNABE FOOD CRITICS
If your date stalks superstar chefs, navigates restaurants with a Michelin-star map and forks through nascent food trends, treat them to a dining experience to suit their – finely honed – tastes. Hampshire-based haunt Heckfield Place has the culinary guidance of Michelin-acclaimed chef Skye Gyngell, who brings her green-fingered alchemy from Petersham Nurseries and Spring at Somerset House to create sustainable dishes using the spoils of the hotel’s fertile estate. Restaurant Marle’s earthy menu pairs meat and fish with farm-fresh veggies, and guests-only Hearth rakes its ingredients over coals to make warming rustic fare. Tour the farm and wine-whizz Louise Gordon’s gleanings, too, and you’ll both leave thoroughly satisfied…
If your loved one fantasises about Norman Foster and throws terms like ‘finial’ and ‘façade’ around, you need a gestalt stay that’s conceptually cool on a human-scale. Amid Florence’s floridity, Riva Lofts is a burnished mini-breaker with polished-concrete flooring and statement seating where swooshy veils screen beds and light pools in all the right places – the impressive work of architect, Claudio Nardi. Renaissance romance is a short walk away – Brunelleschi’s Duomo, the gaudily Gothic Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the Romanesque Palazzo Vecchio – but, after such a rich feast, you’ll be glad of this pared-back palate-cleanser.
Yes, you met in your local, but a couple of Kronenbergs down the pub won’t cut it this year. New York’s Roxy Hotel has two bars, a jazz lounge and an old-school cinema under one roof, paving the way for a full-night’s entertainment with minimum effort. The Roxy Bar’s red-brick backdrop and leather button-backs set the tone for a night of classic cocktail clinking – start with signature sipper Roxy with rum, sour cherry, cinnamon, lime and pineapple. Then, descend into boîte-style jazz bar Django for finger clicking and unruly rhythms, before nightcaps at late-night lounge Paul’s. Bonus: your room is a bleary stumble away.