Juliet Kinsman: Ambience is everything for a Valentine's getaway

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The Independent Travel

Valentine's Day is looming.

Perhaps you're wondering if a card will cut it, or whether you should have thought about booking a swoon-inspiring escape. The word "romance", though, is a tricky one. It might conjure up a scene of you both lying contented on an aorta-red velvet sofa sipping prosecco by a roaring fire. Yet, all too often, a romantic escape means being surrounded by bored-looking couples in a zero-ambience restaurant awkwardly holding heart-emblazoned menus. Gazing into each others' eyes? It's just as likely that you'd be wondering if you'd remembered to record EastEnders. Like the term "luxury", that which denotes sex appeal is subjective.

When we started Mr & Mrs Smith almost a decade ago, our mission was to tip off couples about where best to spend a weekend. Was the boudoir too good to leave? Was there an element of surprise, or a few considerate details that would leave you entranced? Would you feel relaxed?

I'm still a sucker for a stylish suite with a roll-top tub at the end of a big bed; I'm not so fussed about hi-tech trimmings. However, a friend of mine was once horrified at experiencing this very scenario. "It was the weekend of the X-Factor final and we had no TV," he gasped. "And having to wash in front of a new lover?" A hotel that doesn't try too hard (but hard enough) to make our hearts swell is best. Effortlessly aphrodisiacal is the trick, see: Cowley Manor (Cotswolds), The Pig (Hampshire), Strattons (Norfolk).

A cosy room or suite with a sofa for cocktails by candlelight; wellies that incite romping in the gardens; classic movies that beg to be watched from write-home-about beds clad in fine linens. (Beware those giant TVs: when Sky Sports flicked on during our last romantic escape, I could have checked out, driven home and done two loads of laundry before Mr Smith noticed I was no longer in a fluffy robe in the ensuite bathroom.)

Sure, you'd be hard pushed to beat sipping bubbly from an infinity pool at Jade Mountain in Saint Lucia, say, where suites are fully open to the elements. But you don't need to head to the Caribbean for heart-stirring gestures. Modern B&Bs that simply offer a great late, lazy breakfast are a tonic. Romance is about escaping the ordinary. Simple touches such as just-baked breads and cute hand-labelled jars of homemade jams can be Cupid's weapon. Jardins Secrets in Nîmes had my pulse quickening with its heart-shaped butter pats. (And I haven't even mentioned the arsenal of urbane hotels that come stocked with choc-body-paint and batteries-included "romance kits". The Kiki de Montparnasse treats available at Smyth Tribeca in New York are reason alone to stay.)

Whether it's super-luxurious facilities or just a perfectly pulled pint with your significant other that tickles your ticker, as long as an abode has all senses sated and brows unfurrowed, chances are love will be in the air.

Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guides