THE 50 BEST ROMANTIC HOTSPOTS FOR LOVERS

If you think you can win over your valentine with a trip to the local curry house, think again, says Isabel Lloyd. Here's how to set the scene for romance...

THE PANEL

Stephen Bayley is a design consultant, cultural commentator and regular contributor to The Independent. Terry Durack is an author and food writer, and is the Independent on Sunday's restaurant reviewer. Jackie Hunter is editor of The Information. Lucy Gillmore, Sophie Lam, Aoife O'Riordain and Kate Simon all work for The Independent's travel desk. Tracey MacLeod is The Independent's restaurant reviewer. Caroline Raphael edits The Good Hotel Guide. Caroline Stacey is The Independent's food and drink editor. Thomas Sutcliffe is an arts broadcaster and The Independent's TV critic.

NB Prices quoted for hotels are per night, for a double room, on a B&B basis, unless otherwise stated. Prices for restaurants are based on the approximate cost of a three-course meal for two, not including wine, unless otherwise stated

1

BALFOUR CASTLE, ORKNEY

Really, there is no more romantic place to stay than a castle, with its Rapunzel-chuck-me-down-a-favour-my-lady connotations (see No 46). Caroline Raphael's choice describes itself, rather unsnappily, as "the most northerly castle hotel in the world", but she says it has a "magnificent, turreted 19th-century edifice in 30 acres of grounds on Shapinsay, a lovely Scottish island. The six bedrooms are all large; elegant furniture, rich rugs, and comfortable armchairs create an atmosphere of lived-in grandeur." Where: Balfour Castle, Shapinsay, Orkney (01856 711282; www.balfourcastle.co.uk). How much: pounds 200-pounds 240.

2

TEATRO GRECO, SICILY

Lucy Gillmore recommends paying your compliments to the goddess of love at this ancient Greek amphitheatre, where Woody Allen shot some scenes for his romantic comedy Mighty Aphrodite. "Taormina was originally a little hilltop village, no different from those on every other rocky knoll in Sicily. However, the stunning Teatro Greco, which overlooks the Gulf of Naxos and the snowy peak of Mount Etna, catapulted it to stardom." Where: Taormina, Sicily (tourist info: 00 39 0942 23 243; www.gate2taormina.com). Daily 9am until sunset. How much: 4 euros, 20 cents.

3

LA POULE AU POT, LONDON SW1

Terry Durack happily plumps for "London's quintessential French bistro, filled with mood, broad French accents and candlelight", as does Stephen: "The Poule is a Chelsea classic," he says. "It may be unchanged since a little before the beginning of time, but no one (or no woman who interests me) fails to be moved by its flirty gay French waiters, big flasks of wine and the seductive hubbub of people enjoying themselves." Where: 231 Ebury Street, London SW1 (020-7730 7763). Lunch daily 12.30pm- 2.30pm; dinner Mon-Sat 7pm-11pm, Sun to 10.30pm. How much: around pounds 70.

4

GORDON'S WINE BAR, LONDON WC2

Sometimes what you want from a bar is simple discretion. Jackie has the answer, in the shape of this venerable drinking destination, which serves nothing but wines, sherries, port and Madeira, and has nooks and crannies ideally suited to quaffing a deux. "I once worked there," she says, "and can assure you it was a hotbed of extra-marital afternoon assignations. Lovers would bag the darkest tables under the candlelit arches, keep the champagne flowing and linger until the last train was due out of Charing Cross." Where: 47 Villiers Street, London WC2 (020-7930 1408; www.gordonswinebar.com). Mon-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 12noon-10pm. How much: from pounds 11.50 for a bottle of decent red.

5

GRAND ESCALIER OF THE LOUVRE, PARIS

It's no great surprise that several of our panel plump for Paris as a romantic destination (see No 13 & No 25). Stephen Bayley is quite specific, however, choosing the main staircase of this huge museum as his "perfect place for a rendezvous, with an amazing sensation of art and power, plus great beauty, light and solemnity. Stare up at the Nike of Samothrake and think about Marinetti denouncing classical art in his Futurist Manifesto. Then slink away to the bar of the nearby Cafe Marly for a boisson."

Where: Musee du Louvre, 75058 Paris, France (00 33 1 40 20 53 17; www.louvre.fr). Wed-Mon 9am-6pm (Wed and Fri, to 9.45pm). Cafe Marly, 93 rue de Rivoli (00 33 1 49 26 06 60).

How much: Louvre tickets 8 euros, 50 cents.

6

LA MAISON D'ORSAN, BOURGES, FRANCE

Gardens are natural metaphors for love (think of Andrew Marvell's amorous poem "Thoughts in a Garden": "Ensnared with flowers, I fall in grass"), so Caroline Raphael recommends the Loire Valley, where "two architects, Sonia Lesot and Patrice Taravella, have recreated a remarkable medieval garden in an old priory. There are orchards, a rose garden, a kitchen garden, espaliered fruit trees, and seven guest rooms of a high standard. If the February weather is fine, meals will be served alfresco, under vine-clad pergolas." Where: Jardins du Prieure Notre-Dame d'Orsan, Maisonnais 18170, France (00 33 2 48 56 27 50; www.prieuredorsan.com). How much: 160-210 for a double room; breakfast Û18 per person; set menu dinner 85 euros (includes wine, water, coffee).

7

NEWGALE BEACH, PEMBROKESHIRE

"I know tropical beaches are particularly lovely," says Kate Simon, "but I can't help feeling that the wild beaches in the northern hemisphere are more romantic in essence. One of my favourites is Newgale, at the northern end of St Brides Bay and part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It's such a fabulous, vast expanse of sand, invariably windy and wild, often misty, and at this time of year you'll probably have to share it only with horses galloping along by the water's edge. Fabulous!"

Where: Newgale, Pembrokeshire, west Wales (tourist info: 01437 763110; www.visitpembrokeshire.com).

How much: free.

8

LA BOTTEGA DEL VINO, VERONA

Terry suggests you take your beloved on a visit to the home of Romeo and Juliet, where you can "create your own love story at this character- laden, 115-year-old osteria. Walking in on a busy night is like being embraced by all humanity. Black-waistcoated waiters rush by with platters of local salami and gorgonzola- topped polenta; fur-clad countesses dip into mighty stews flavoured with amarone, while star-crossed lovers of today stare dreamily into each other's eyes."

Where: Via Scudo di Francia 3, Verona, Italy (00 39 045 800 4535). Daily (except Tue) 10.30am-3pm and 6pm-12mdn't. How much: around 56 euros.

9

THAMES FOYER, THE SAVOY, LONDON WC2

"Behaving demurely for the afternoon never does any harm," says Caroline Stacey, "so for that authentic feeling of smouldering passion contained by etiquette, and the thrill of deferred gratification, book ahead for afternoon tea in a grand hotel. The beautiful Art Deco Thames Foyer at the Savoy is the perfect setting. A pianist tickles the ivories, accompanied by the tinkle of china and silver, and the sound of conversation murmured over scones and sandwiches." Where: Strand, London WC2 (020-7836 4343; www.savoy-group.co.uk). Tea served daily 2pm-3.30pm and 4pm-6pm. How much: set tea from pounds 24 on weekdays, pounds 27 at weekends; with champagne pounds 31.50 and pounds 34.50.

10

EVERYMAN CINEMA, HAMPSTEAD NW3

Thomas Sutcliffe suggests Hampstead's venerable movie house as an excellent Valentine venue, "not just because it programmes independently - so you can show off your cineaste sensitivity - but because it's one of the few remaining cinemas with `love seats': double-width seats to end arm-rest misery. Bold on a first date, perhaps, absolutely essential for a third or fourth." The 14 February programme includes the quirky Amelie at 6.30pm, along with Wong Kar-Wai's beautiful love story In the Mood for Love, at 9.15pm. The in-house cafe will also be serving free strawberries and cream with any purchase of champagne.

Where: 5 Holly Bush Vale, Hampstead, London NW3 (0870 066 4777; www.everymancinema.com). How much: love seats pounds 9 (pounds 7.50 concs).

11

THE VICTORIA AT HOLKHAM, NORFOLK

Jackie Hunter chooses this converted pub, "not just for the quirky, cosy rooms, but for its proximity to Holkham Sands, one of the most beautiful beaches in England. Stroll through the pine-forest, over the dunes, and write your names in the vast expanse of wet sand at low tide." The decor is colourful, colonial-luxe - Moroccan blues, velvets and silks, Rajasthan lattice work - the food simple English, done seasonally and well. Where: Park Road, Holkham, Norfolk (01328 711008; www.victoriaatholkham.co.uk). How much: pounds 340-490 for a Fri and Sat night package, B&B (single nights not available); pounds 110-140 per night Sun-Thur.

12

LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN, CORNWALL

Sophie Lam says that these huge and now-famous (thanks to the TV series and book) restored gardens are the perfect location for a romantic winter walk in Cornwall's mild climate. "Feel like Alice in Wonderland," she says, "as you saunter through subtropical forest, banana plantations, giant bamboo and exotic flowers. There's also an Italian garden, an alpine ravine and Victorian walled gardens to explore." Being surrounded by so much fertile nature should get you both feeling suitably fruity. Where: Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall (01726 845100; www.heligan.com). Daily except Christmas and New Year's Day, 10am-5pm; until 6pm in summer season. How much: pounds 5 adults, pounds 2.50 children (prices will change after 28 Feb).

13

ALLARD, PARIS

"You know that perfect Parisian bistro you have always looked for but never found?" asks Terry. "This is it. The dining rooms are golden-olden, the waiters are straight out of 'Allo 'Allo, and if you're lucky, you will be seated in the atmospheric front room with its zinc bar. The best thing is the food, most of which comes for two, including a roast shoulder of lamb, whole Bresse chicken with sauteed cepes, or whole Barbary duck with olives." Where: 41 rue St-Andre-des-Arts, 75006 Paris (00 33 1 43 26 48 23). Mon- Sat 12noon-2.30pm, 7pm-11pm. How much: from around 100 euros.

14

BARNSLEY HOUSE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE

"Barnsley is a country-house hotel of the most sybaritic variety in the Cotswolds, where country life is as much rock and roll as rolling acres," says Caroline Stacey. "It's a lovely stone house, with a garden famously created by Rosemary Verey, but it's in the funky, red, and craftily lit bar where glamorous guests gather before slipping off to their groovy suites. Join them for a drink even if you're not staying - as long as all the celeb residents haven't got there first. Combines top-notch luxury with a louche and modish vibe - sexy, perhaps, rather than romantic, but who are we to split hairs?" Where: Barnsley, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire (01285 740000; www.barnsleyhouse.com). How much: Martini pounds 7.

15

HOSPITAL DE LA CARIDAD, SEVILLE

Working on the basis that a brief reminder of one's own mortality should sharpen all the appetites, including the carnal, Stephen recommends combining culture and romance on a visit to the 17th-century church and "charity hospital", a "gloomy place in hot, bright Andalucia. Here you find the most depressing picture ever painted: Valdes Leal's Finis Gloriae Mundi. A rotting cardinal with his face fixed in the shriek of annihilation's awareness." Where: Temprado 3, Seville, Spain (00 34 95 422 32 32). Mon-Sat 9am-1.30pm, 3.30-7.30pm; Sun 9am-1pm. Bar Modesto, Calle de Cano y Cueto 5, Seville (00 34 95 441 6811). How much: Hospital, 3 euros; tapas at Modesto, around 12 euros a head.

16

CONVENTO DE SAO SATURNINO, NEAR SINTRA, PORTUGAL

What could be more romantic, thinks Caroline Raphael, than staying in a red-roofed, 12th-century convent, set on the slopes of a remote coastal valley west of Lisbon? As if the setting wasn't enough, the convent "has been turned into a very personal hotel by the architect Joao Kaditch, a medieval enthusiast, and his business partner, John Nelson Perrie, a designer. Interesting antiques fill the simple but comfortably eclectic beamed bedrooms, while outside you'll find gardens with geese and a swimming pool." Where: 5 Convento de Sao Saturnino, 2705 001 Azoia, Sintra, Portugal (00 351 219 28 31 92; www.saosat.com). How much: 145-160 euros.

17

A WALK IN VENICE

"Venice has few rivals as one of the most romantic cities in the world," says Aoife O'Riordain, "but the atmosphere can sometimes be hampered by the throngs of tourists. Eschew the overpriced and slightly cheesy gondola rides, and instead take a stroll through the city's twisting caruggi, or backstreets, after midnight. "It'll feel like you have the city to yourself." Now is a great time to visit, too, as the tourists won't arrive until after Easter, the cold weather keeps the canal stink at bay, and the winter mists over the lagoon make this city even more breathtaking. Where: Italy (tourist info: 00 39 041 52 98 711; www.turismovenezia.it/eng). How much: BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) has 13 Feb flights to Venice from London Heathrow from pounds 158 one-way.

18

THE SAMLING, CUMBRIA

Tracey MacLeod recommends lovers head straight for the Lake District, to the newly Michelin-starred restaurant at this luxe hotel perched high over Lake Windermere. "Stay over and you'll also benefit from triplex designer log-cabin bedrooms, and a hillside hot tub for night-time frolics," says Tracey. Dinner is likely to be a suitably aphrodisiac affair: a typical menu might include "hand-dived" scallops, double crown of free-range chicken with morel cream and asparagus, for two, and poached figs with a caramel crust. Where: Ambleside Road, Windermere, Cumbria (015394 31922; www.thesamling.com). Restaurant open to non-residents for dinner and tea daily, and lunch on Sundays How much: pounds 90, including coffee and petits fours. Double rooms from pounds 195-pounds 415 B&B.

19

TERRACE BAR, EDEN HOTEL, ROME

The Eden, one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Rome, is blessed not only with outstanding views of all the city's seven hills, but, according to the Villegiature Awards, the best hotel bar in Europe. Jackie is certainly a fan: "If you can't decide which view of Rome is best at sunset, why not have all of it? The panoramic aspect from this chi-chi top-floor bar is truly breathtaking - as are the cocktail prices, but somehow that fails to matter when you have the Eternal City spread out before you." Where: Via Ludovisi 49, Rome 00187, Italy (00 39 06 478 121; www.hotel-eden.it). How much: double rooms from 680 euros B&B; champagne cocktails from 15 euros.

20

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE, LONDON WC2

If music be the food of love, says Thomas, then you have no choice: "Book two tickets for the first night of The Magic Flute at London's Royal Opera House on 14 February (orchestra stalls, please - no penny-pinching when it comes to love). Send one to the object of your passions. Wait nervously to see if he or she dares/wants to find out who's in the other seat. If you're really besotted, throw in an airline ticket to Milan and a ticket for the newly refurbished La Scala." (And if you choose the latter, stay at the Four Seasons - see No 31). Where: Covent Garden, London WC2 (booking: 020-7304 4000; http://info.royaloperahouse.org). How much: orchestra stalls seats pounds 125-150 each.

21

MIDDLETHORPE HALL, YORK

"If you've cleaned up on the gee-gees, book the four-poster suite for two at this country-house hotel and spa close to York's world-famous racecourse," suggests Jackie. Middlethorpe, a stately William III building, was once home to the writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, but is now owned by Historic House Hotels and, says Jackie, makes "an elegant rural hideaway where you can relax over afternoon tea in a sumptuous, firelit drawing room. Wild horses will have to drag you away at the end of a cosy, restful weekend here." Where: Bishopthorpe Road, York (01904 641241; www.middlethorpe.com). How much: pounds 280 for the four-poster room.

22

JAMAICA INN, BODMIN MOOR

The writer Daphne du Maurier excelled at a type of dark, thrilling, dangerous romance, perhaps nowhere better than in her smugglers-and-lovers' tale, Jamaica Inn, which took its name from a coaching house that has sat on the same spot, high up on the moors, for more than four centuries. So go for a walk across the twisted, granite-strewn moor, then return to the inn for a warming drink, a peep at some of the du Maurier memorabilia, and then a nice, ahem, lie-down in the four-poster bedroom upstairs. Where: Bolventnor, Launceston, Cornwall (01566 86250; www.jamaicainn.co.uk). How much: four-poster room, pounds 100 a night B&B.

23

SKETCH, LONDON W1

"Mourad Mouzaz and Pierre Gagnaire's fantasyland complex is a magical rendezvous for the romantic," says Terry. "For the well-to-do, that means a table for two in the memorable splendour of the upstairs Library and Lecture Room (now Michelin-starred). For the yet-to-do, it's the creative, good-karma art-space of the Gallery, with its funky food and delicious music. And for the nothing-better-to-do, it's the exquisite little cakes, fragrant tea, and champagne in the romantically, whimsically detailed are-we-in-Paris Parlour." Where: 9 Conduit Street, London W1 (0870 777 4488; http://sketch.uk.com). Gallery restaurant open daily 7pm-12mdn't (continues serving drinks until 2am). How much: around pounds 70 (gallery dinner).

24

DUKES HOTEL BAR, LONDON SW1

Dukes was named as London Luxury Hotel of the year last year at the Good Hotel Guide's Cesar awards - but it's not the rooms or the restaurant in this intimate St James establishment that get Jackie's vote. She's heading for the bar and its famous cocktails instead: "It's a smart and rather proper hotel bar that's not obviously romantic at first glance. But the deliciously fiery martinis that the flamboyant Sicilian waiter prepares at your table will send any first-date shyness flying out the window. A great place for an ice-breaker." Where: 35 St James's Place, London SW1 (020-7491 4840; www.dukeshotel.com). How much: Martinis, pounds 14 each.

25

PLAYACTING IN PARIS

"You can go lowbrow or highbrow in Paris," says Thomas. "Replay the final episode of Sex and the City [and kiss your Mr Big on a bridge over the night-time Seine, preferably in the snow], or challenge your loved one to beat the record for racing through every room in the Louvre - nine minutes, 46 seconds according to Godard's Bande a Part. Demonstrate your reckless bohemianism and experience the bonding power of a shared Paris police cell." Just in case you can't get arrested and so find yourself without a room for the night, book the top-floor suite at the chic, whimsical Artus Hotel in St Germain. Where: 34 rue de Buci, Paris 75006 (00 33 1 43 29 07 20; www.artushotel.com/en). How much: junior suite 340 euros B&B.

26

HACIENDA BENAZUZA, SEVILLE, SPAIN

"A magnificent former oil press is now a luxurious hotel, in a village 20 minutes' drive from Seville," says Caroline Raphael. "There are courtyards, fountains, a large swimming pool, and pasha-style divans under canopies on lawns." Most of the other hotels featured here are small and intimate, but not this. With 43 rooms, you'll be one of a crowd; but as Caroline explains, it's the food that's the real aphrodisiac: "The main restaurant (an offshoot of Ferran Adria's world-renowned El Bulli), run by chef Rafael Morales, serves some of the best food in Spain." Where: Hacienda Benazuza, Virgen de las Nieves, Sanlcar la Mayor, 41800 Sevilla, Spain (00 34 955 70 33 44; www.elbullihotel.com). How much: menu du jour pounds 20 for two courses; pounds 25 for three courses.

27

SKI FROM WHITEPOD, SWITZERLAND

Okay, this isn't entirely an outdoors recommendation, but hey, it does combine camping with skiing - and that's about as outdoors as some people want to get. The Whitepod is a series of five domed, canvas bubble-tents on a mountainside above the Alpine ski resort of Villars; each one is decorated in true eco-chic style (sheepskins, light wood floors), is efficiently warmed by a wood-burning stove, and features a cuddlesome bed with stunning views of the snow piling up outside. Where: Villars, Vaud Canton, Switzerland (07787 515466; www.whitepod.com). How much: pounds 240 per person per night, including all food and drink, ski passes, ski guides and transfers from Geneva airport. Minimum stay two nights.

28

HOTEL DU VIN & BISTRO, BRIGHTON

Going for the classic naughty weekend in Brighton used to mean staying in a damp B&B with wonky floors. But the arrival of the classy-but-affordable Hotel du Vin chain in The Lanes put an end to that - and Tracey is a fan, both of the hotel and its classic-Ûo bistro. "Go for seaside sexiness in the raffish quarter of England's most raffish town," she enthuses; expect to find amorous delights such as oysters and steak tartare on the menu, plus (as you might expect from the name) an excellent choice of wine by the bottle and the glass. Where: Ship St, Brighton, East Sussex (01273 768588; www.hotelduvin.com). Daily for lunch and dinner (last orders 2pm and 10pm). How much: pounds 60.

29

RICK'S, EDINBURGH

"One of Scotland's coolest hangouts," says Caroline Stacey. "As well as the very happening restaurant, Rick's is an equally noisy bar. But even if it's not the place for whispering sweet nothings, the cocktails knock spots off much of the competition, and have the usual elastic and straps-loosening effect, helped by having to lip-synch or get very, very close to your date to make yourself understood. Having bedrooms, small and windowless as they are, on site never does any harm when you're thinking of getting horizontal." Where: 55A Frederick Street, Edinburgh (0131-622 7800; www.ricksedinburgh.co.uk). How much: classic Martini pounds 5.75.

30

PONTE VECCHIO, FLORENCE

The beautiful, medieval "old bridge" over the Arno was a favoured spot of Dante, perhaps the poet most commonly associated with love - whether unrequited or not. Florence being the tourist draw it is, Stephen is well aware that the Ponte Vecchio can be "a nightmare by day in high season (hucksters selling Prada handbag rip-offs), but at this time of year, or during a summer dawn or late night, you can appreciate why Dante stood here and felt so wistful about Beatrice. Sluggish Arno mocks us.'' Where: Florence, Tuscany, Italy (tourist info: 00 39 055 290 832; www.firenzeturismo.it). How much: free.

31

THE FOUR SEASONS, MILAN, ITALY

"A man can indulge his girlfriend's inner diva," says Jackie, "with a stay at this five-star hotel minutes away from La Scala. Converted from a 15th-century cloistered convent, it boasts vaulted ceilings with some beautiful original frescoes. Impressive yet intimate. I once saw Jack Nicholson there - and he must know a thing or two about seductive settings!" Rooms are classic Euro-cool, with neutral colours and deep, squishy upholstery; even the smallest are suite-like, featuring huge, soak-yourself-happy bathtubs and comfortable sitting areas. Where: Via Gesu, 6/8 Milano, Italy 20121 (00 39 02 77088; www.fourseasons.com/milan). How much: from 720 euros (520 euros weekend rate, excluding breakfast).

32

COUMINEOL STRAND, CO. KERRY

"Few films capture the rugged beauty of Ireland's most south-westerly tip as well as the David Lean classic Ryan's Daughter," says Sophie. "One of the locations used in the film is the picture-perfect cove of Coumeenole Strand, hidden under the imposing cliffs of Slea Head at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. On a sunny day it's one of the most perfect locations for a picnic, and weather (and wetsuits) permitting, even a wintry dip in the Atlantic. Just follow the signs to `Ryan's Daughter Beach'." Where: Fahan, Co Kerry, Eire (tourist info: 00 353 21 425 5100; www.corkkerry.ie). How much: free.

33

SUGAR HUT, LONDON SW6

"Push open the antique door and enter this darkly romantic Aladdin's cave of a bar/restaurant," says Terry, "practically pulsing to lush contemporary sounds. Everywhere you look, there is something to catch the eye - velvet drapes, exotic lamps, light fittings, a collection of buddhas, beaded table lamps, potted plants, and, naturally, mixed-gender lavs. Take a torch to see what you're eating - tiny spring rolls and coconut chicken soup - and whom you are eating it with." Where: 374 North End Road, Fulham, London SW6 (020-7386 8950). Daily 6.30pm-12mdn't (last food orders 9.30pm). How much: around pounds 50.

34

THE GUN, LONDON E14

Caroline Stacey recommends history-lovers head for this ancient riverside pub "where Nelson is supposed to have trysted with Lady Hamilton (though they wouldn't have had an eyeful of the Millennium Dome). Once something of a rough diamond, it has now been beautifully restored and given gastropubby polish to make a lovely and discreet destination. Cosy little rooms overlooking the river, with deep leather armchairs, log fires and good ales. For two people working in Canary Wharf it would be perfect for an illicit rendezvous - as long as your colleagues haven't had the same idea. There's a rickshaw to take customers back to the office - but then everyone would find out, wouldn't they?" Where: 27 Coldharbour, London E14 (020-7515 5222). How much: starters from pounds 4.50, main courses from pounds 12.50.

35

A KISS IN VIENNA

"Load up with das echte Sacher-Torte at the Hotel Sacher's cafe to elevate your levels of phenylethylamine," says Thomas, "and then go to stand in front of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss at the Osterreichische Galerie for 10 minutes. You might not be able to tell whether it's a sugar-high or love, but you'll end up dizzy all the same." Should you feel the need to lie down, totter back to a room at the Hotel Sacher, where the five- star surroundings, should prove romantically emollient. Where: Sacher-Eck cafe, Hotel Sacher, Philharmonikerstrasse4, A-1010 Vienna, Austria (00 43 1 51456 699; http://wien.sacher.com); daily 9am-1am. Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27, A- 1030 Vienna (00 43 1 79 5570; www.belvedere.at/en). How much: double rooms at the Hotel Sacher start at 320 euros B&B. Tickets to see the Klimt are 4 euros 50 cents (2 euros 50 cents concs).

36

HOWARD'S HOUSE, WILTSHIRE

For a combination of history, peace and intimacy in an attractive rural setting, Caroline Raphael recommends this small country-house hotel. "In a delightful village near Salisbury, this quirky, early-17th-century building, with its steeply pitched, broad-eaved roof, stands idyllically in a pretty garden near the little River Teff. The staff are attentive, the food in the restaurant is excellent, and the decor is charming, in a non-designer way." Where: Teffont Evias, nr Salisbury, Wilts (01722 716392; www.howardshousehotel.co.uk). How much: pounds 145 (pounds 165 for the four-poster).

37

ROYAL PALAIS, PARIS

"The gardens of the Palais Royal would be a perfect outdoors choice," says Kate, "especially if you're trying to take a romantic walk with children in tow (as I was recently). It's got diversions as well as space, including a sculpture park and a cordoned-off sandpit. I love the look of the place: it's a long, rectangular garden bounded by beautiful old arcaded buildings, with avenues of trees, scrubby, sandy earth that you can imagine someone striking up a game of boules on, and lovely fountains around which you can sit for a while. Beautiful (and I'm no great fan of Paris)." Where: Place du Palais Royal, Paris 750001, France (nearest Metro: Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre). How much: free.

38

INN ON THE GREEN, BERKSHIRE

"This `restaurant with rooms' is perfect for an overnight trip from anywhere in the south-east," says Tracey, "and has dirty weekend written all over it. The food is wonderful, too, under executive chef Garry Hollihead." The a la carte tends to feature signature dishes from Garry's tenure at the Embassy in London, such as fillet of venison "Wellington" with truffle sauce, but the romantically inclined may also want to try rock oysters with Merlot vinegar, or a cherry souffle with white chocolate ice-cream - all to be taken in a wooden-walled, white-linened room of suitably intimate proportions. Where: The Old Cricket Common, Cookham Dean, Berks (01628 482638; www.innonthegreen.com). Open for lunch Sat & Sun, dinner Tue-Sat. How much: pounds 80.

39

LE BAR DU SOLEIL, MARRAKECH

Okay, it's not in Europe, but as La Mamounia is possibly the most famous luxury hotel in Morocco, and over-the-top enough to make for a classic romantic destination - it's all marble, gilt, and fountains filled with rose petals - it's worth travelling that little bit further for. The terraced "sun bar" overlooking its fabulous, flower-filled gardens is where to take your loved one for a pre-dinner drink, particularly at dusk: listen hard, and you might be able to hear the resident nightingales singing. Where: La Mamounia, Avenue Bab Jdid, 40 000 Marrakech, Morocco (00 212 44 38 86 43; www.mamounia.com); bar open daily 10am-9pm (020-7619 0348). How much: starters from pounds 7; mains from pounds 12.

40

PROMENADE DE ANGLAIS, NICE

Stephen suggests art lovers should head for this seafront walk in the heart of the Cote d'Azur. "For me," he says, "this is the most romantic place on earth, particularly at dusk. Start your walk from the east end of the promenade, near the castle, and walk together towards the sunset. You'll be surrounded by heartbreaking views of the Bay of Angels, which inspired no less than Matisse, while beautiful people whoosh by in beautiful cars." Where: Nice, France (tourist info: www.nicetourisme.com). How much: free.and coffee; a daytime pot of tea for two is pounds 1.90.

41

HAMBLETON HALL, RUTLAND

If views are what get your beloved's heart beating, "Tim and Stefa Hart's archetypal country-house hotel has a stunning setting," says Caroline Raphael, "looking on to Rutland Water through a screen of mature trees. Inside, the decor is sophisticated (fine fabrics, good antiques and paintings, flowers everywhere), while the 17 bedrooms are suitably luxurious. Plus the restaurant has a Michelin star for its excellent British cooking (a set dinner costs pounds 35 per head), and there is a swimming pool and a tennis court in the 17-acre grounds." Where: Hambleton, Oakham, Rutland (01572 756991; www.hambletonhall.com). How much: pounds 186-pounds 650.

42

SCHoNBRUMM GARTEN, VIENNA

"Head out to the Habsburgs' summer residence, Schloss Schonbrunn," says Lucy, "an immense rococo wedding cake of a palace that looks as if it's been doused in English mustard. But rather than taking a tour of the interior, wander around the lovely baroque gardens, complete with maze and fountains, rolling parkland and woods. From the Gloriette, an ornate folly perched on a hill opposite the palace, there are lovely views out over the city." Where: Schlosspark Schonbrunn, Vienna, Austria (00 43 1 877 5087; www.schoenbrunn.at/en/). Daily 6.30am-5.30pm (or dusk, whichever is sooner). How much: adults 8 euros.

43

THE WITCHERY BY THE CASTLE, EDINBURGH

Bewitch your beloved, says Terry, at this wildly over-the-top restaurant- with-rooms on the Royal Mile in a 16th-century building: "The perfect lust-den" according to singer Dannii Minogue (and we're not questioning her expertise). "Choose from two dining-rooms," says Terry, "either the Secret Garden with its glorious painted ceiling, or the gilded, bejewelled, utterly gothic Witchery." After stuffing yourself on lobster, oysters and hot-smoked salmon, collapse in one of the tapestried suites . Where: Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (0131-225 5613; www.thewitchery.com). How much: dinner around pounds 80. Suites from pounds 275.

44

MILK & HONEY, LONDON W1

"Milk & Honey may be exclusive," says Caroline Stacey, "but it's not a members-only club. This is a bar you make an appointment for - it shows you're serious about a cocktail assignation. Once you've rung the bell to get in, gentlemen must remove their hats and abide by house rules. In its moody, between-the-wars film noir style, it's very cool. Caviar and oysters are the must-have bar snacks, and the cocktails are the absolute business, served to your booth from an inconspicuous bar in the corner (no vulgar display of options here)." Where: 61 Poland Street, London W1 (020-7292 9949; www.mlkhny.com). Non-members welcome before 11pm. How much: cocktails pounds 6-pounds 7.50.

45

CARNFORTH RAILWAY STATION, LANCASHIRE

Not just any old railway cafe, this. It's the one where two of film's most famously unfulfilled lovers met. "Okay, so Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard never had the option of spiced chicken toasted ciabatta and a cafetiere for two," says Thomas, "but the refreshment room in which they had their brief encounters has been refurbished and (should you want the place to yourself) you can book it exclusively. Be sure to meet first under the Brief Encounter clock." Where: Carnforth, Lancs (01524 732432; www.refreshmentroom.com). Tues- Sun 10am-4pm; also tonight from 7pm. How much: exclusive use, minimum spend pounds 200; Valentines' Night Menu, pounds 19.95 a head for three courses and coffee.

46

MYRES CASTLE, FIFE

The second Scottish castle on our list may be less turreted than Balfour (see No 1), but what makes this 16th-century hidey-hole unbeatably romantic is that you can have the whole place to yourself. A two-night Valentine weekend break gets you exclusive use of all five bedrooms, a library, study and drawing room, a staff of 10 to wait on your every whim, and dinner a deux - cooked for you by the castle's excellent chef. Where: Auchtermuchty, Fife (01337 828350; www.myres.co.uk). How much: pounds 3,000 for the weekend package (includes all meals and a bottle of champagne).

47

GO WUTHERING IN WEST YORKSHIRE

Make like Heathcliff to her Cathy (or Kate Bush to his besotted adolescent boy) and go roaming up on the wild and windy Pennine moors. Take the footpath from Haworth village to the ruins of Top Withens, the bleak farmstead that was reputedly the inspiration for Cathy's home, Wuthering Heights. Then, once you get to the point where you're too frozen with cold even to whisper sweet nothings, head back down to warm up in the Bronte Parsonage Museum - once home to the whole family, and still filled with their furniture and possessions. Where: The Parsonage, Church Street, Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire (01535 642323; www.bronte.org.uk). Open daily 11am-5pm to 31 Mar, then 10am-5.50pm. How much: museum entry pounds 4.90 (pounds 3.60 concs).

48

CIPRIANI, LONDON W1

"If you can't get to Harry's Bar in Venice, you can at least visit its London counterpart," says Terry. "Yes, it's very expensive, and yes, it's full of annoyingly rich people. But where else can you sit at low tables in a soft golden glow, sip peach juice and Prosecco Bellinis, do a Lady and the Tramp act with the strands of a divine spaghetti al'Amatrice, and indulge in the world's most seductive chocolate cake? Apart from Harry's Bar in Venice, that is." Where: 25 Davies Street, London W1 (020-7399 0500). Daily 12noon-2.45pm and 6pm-11.45pm. How much: around pounds 95.

49

GONDOLEN BAR, STOCKHOLM

Get his or her heart thumping by suspending them from a bridge over a sea channel between two of Stockholm's islands' and then opening a bottle of champagne. The Gondolen is a bar and restaurant in a long, narrow, 1930s structure that was built, as a kind of architectural afterthought, high up underneath the walkway of a pedestrian footbridge. You get there via a lift, then walk into what feels like the undercarriage of a plane to be surrounded by take-my-breath-away views of Lake Mala, the sea, and the domes of the city. Where: Stadsgarden 6, 104 65 Stockholm, Sweden (00 46 8 641 7090; www.eriks.se). Mon-Fri 11.30am-1am, Sat 1pm-1am. How much: whisky and soda, about 86SEK (pounds 6.50).

50

KEATS-SHELLEY HOUSE, ROME

Celebrate your love by visiting this British-run tribute, at the base of the Spanish Steps, to the most romantic of the Romantic poets. Keats stayed here for a year until his death from tuberculosis in 1821; now you can whisper "beauty is truth, truth beauty" in your beloved's ear as you wander through rooms filled with paintings, manuscripts, personal effects and memorabilia. Finish by taking in the view of the piazza below from Keats's narrow bed, the same view he would have seen as he lay dying. Where: Piazza di Spagna 26, Rome, Italy (00 39 06 67 84 235; www.keats- shelley-house.org). Mon-Fri 9am-1pm and 3pm-6pm; Sat 1am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. How much: 3 euros.

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