Valentine's special: Just the two of us: the same-sex guide to romantic holidays

The annual festival of love is not `just a straight thing'. Andrew Tuck finds desirable breaks for gay couples
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The Independent Online
When I call Rob Harvey, the director of the popular gay travel company Respect Holidays, he makes it clear that he is the wrong person to contact for a romance escape. "St Valentine's Day is a rip-off; it's the Hallmark holiday. I think of it as pretty much a straight thing."

I hope his other half wasn't looking forward to red roses on the 14th. Indeed, several of the supposedly gay, or gay-friendly, travel companies I contact seem to think that romance is old hat. They can find me raves and romps, but an intimate dinner-a-deux is off the menu. Feeling almost broken hearted, I finally meet Andrew Roberts, the director of the three- year-old gay travel firm Amro. "Yes, we do St Valentine's breaks," he says with pride. "The gay market is just like any other market: some people want adventure holidays, some want beach holidays, others want places that are romantic."

Many of the most lovey-dovey gay couples travelling with Amro are taking "commitment holidays", the gay equivalent of the honeymoon, and a booming business apparently, Roberts says.

People going away for the St Valentine's weekend should think big, he says. "Lots of the popular gay destinations in Europe are tacky and seedy. I would suggest that you went to Palm Springs in California instead. The weather at this time of the year is in the 70s and there are lots of upmarket gay resorts to stay in." His other top, smart, long-haul tip is Costa Rica. "It's somewhere a bit special and the Pacific coast, especially the town of Manuel Antonio, is coming up in the gay market."

Roberts says that he tries to deal with only gay owned and run hotels. The reason? Many straight-run establishments make gay people feel uncomfortable, often asking the guests, when checking in, whether they want single beds - even after they have made a joint booking. As someone who once had the task of trying to book into British hotels and b&bs as a gay couple for a report, I can tell you that twin beds can often be the least of your problems.

Even companies which you would imagine to be gay-friendly seem reluctant to go that bit further and actually court the pink pound for St Valentine's Day. When I type "gay" in to the lastminute.com website, for example, it finds a holiday in "gay Paris" and a bargain meal at the Gay Hussar restaurant in London.

But is America really as good as Roberts paints it? Well, yes, now you come to mention it. When you check into one of Ian Schrager's glamorous boutique hotels, such as Morgans in New York or the Delano in Miami, they make it clear that they are delighted to have gay guests in lots of small ways.

One of the most PC, yet oddly charming, is that the adult movies list has a gay section as impressive as its straight one. Although you may never want to watch one on a romantic break - or indeed ever - it's a little signifier that there's nothing you can do that will shock them, so just make yourself at home. And a list of the most romantic places in the world produced by the US website gay.com also seems to show that Americans think all the best places for lovers are over there. The ranking includes Hawaii, Provincetown in Massachusetts, Montreal and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Prague and Paris are the only European entrants.

That's too harsh on Europe. Many regular hotels in the UK and on the continent are really good at just treating people as they find them. It's hard to imagine a chic Paris hotel, say, turning their nose up at anyone that way inclined. And as someone who once had a romantic weekend in the grand Hotel Lancaster, let me tell you that Paris's magic works. We are still together.

Things are much improved in Britain, too. Craig Markham, the spokesman for Firmdale hotels - which owns such fashionable London addresses as the Covent Garden and Charlotte Street hotels - says anyone would enjoy a romantic break in one of his company's slick bedrooms. And gay couples might especially enjoy the St Valentine's weekend at the Charlotte Street address as they are screening that chic but camp classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. Who says romance is dead?

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Amro (0870 990 7404; www.amroholidays.com).

Respect Holidays (0870 770 0169; www.respect-holidays.co.uk).

Schrager hotels (www.ianschragerhotels. com).

Charlotte Street Hotel (020-7806 2000; www.charlottestreethotel. com). Rooms cost pounds 340 on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 February, and pounds 405 on Monday 14 February. You can also have a three-course meal and watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, without staying overnight at the hotel, for just pounds 30.

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