Traveller's Guide To: Romantic escapes

If Valentine's Day inspires you to plan an amorous escape, Aoife O'Riordain has some hot new ideas
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

I think I'm in love

Head for Gatwick tomorrow, having booked your ticket from London Victoria at gatwickexpress.com today. The normally unromantically expensive Gatwick Express has a two-for-one offer on open-return tickets, if you insert LOVE4U into the promotional code box. Once at the seductive Sussex airport, don't hang around: choose from British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ) or easyJet (0871 244 2366; easyjet.com ) to whisk you and your sweetheart to Marco Polo airport close to Venice.

"La Serenissima" might be obvious – and burdened with crowds of tourists and overpriced gondola rides – but the city offers plenty that is new to make the romantically inclined sigh. Philippe Starck is the man responsible for the old-meets-new look of the hotly anticipated Hotel Palazzina Grassi (00 39 041 528 4644; palazzinagrassi.it ) – his first foray into hotel design in Italy. Part-private club, part-hotel, guests get an intimate experience, akin to staying in their own waterside palazzo. Doubles start at €352 (£308) without breakfast.

Further down the Grand Canal, a room with a view can be had at the newly opened Centurion Palace (00 39 041 342 81; sinahotels.com ) a luxuriously renovated historic palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal in Dorsoduro. Doubles start at €250, room only.

Visit the neighbouring Punta della Dogana (00 39 04465 230 313; palazzograssi.it ), the former 15th-century Customs House whose renovation was completed last year by Japanese "starchitect" Tadao Ando. Along with the Palazzo Grassi, it is the new home for part of the François Pinault Collection and temporary exhibitions. It opens daily from 10am to 7pm except Tuesday and admission is €10. Stroll down Zattere at dusk, where you might be treated to a spectacular sunset over the Giudecca Canal. For more ideas, our latest 48 Hours in Venice ( www.bit.ly/LoveVenice ) can point you in some new directions.

Does Venice hold Italy's monopoly on romance?

No. The Amalfi Coast, Capri and Portofino are also the stuff of honeymoon brochures. Yet a lot of the rest of the country is often overlooked. Inntravel (01653 617 000; inntravel.co.uk ) has this year launched a one-week self-guided cycling holiday entitled "Piedmont's Rolling Vineyards", giving the opportunity for gentle exploration of this region acclaimed for its wine and gastronomy. The trip wends through an idyllic landscape dotted with vineyards, picturesque hilltop villages and hazelnut groves, set off by a backdrop of majestic Alpine peaks. The price is £698 per person, based on two sharing, including accommodation with breakfast, luggage transfers, maps, bike hire and two dinners – but not travel to Italy.

We want to be alone

Everyone's idea of a romance is different, but whether it's sitting under a palm tree with your beloved watching the sun go down, a long Chianti-fuelled lunch in an unknown trattoria or braving the wilderness in a two-person canoe, there's something out there for the two of you. Just make sure your travelling companion lives up to the location.

James Lohan, founder of the boutique and luxury hotel specialist Mr & Mrs Smith has a prescription for the ideal romantic escape. "It's got to be about how much mischief you can get up to. Make sure you've got a sexy bedroom, a big bed, a bath that fits two and a shower that you can both get under. Book a corner table in the restaurant and tuck yourselves away for the weekend." Try the Pulitzer in the immensely romantic city of Barcelona; Mr & Mrs Smith rates this as a "budget boutique" hotel and recommends a superior double room: "Touches such as the high-gloss black doors, which come with English-style brass knockers, and hinged headboards upholstered in vertical black pinstripe really stand out." The firm (0845 034 0700; mrandmrssmith.com ) offers these for £135, excluding breakfast. Members of Mr & Mrs Smith will get a welcome drink in the cocktail bar and a "surprise treat" in the room.

Romance on the rails?

Have a brief encounter aboard the Danube Express (01462 441 400; danube-express.com ), one of Europe's newest and most luxurious trains. Its latest itinerary is a 10-day Istanbul Loop from Budapest to Istanbul and back, with plenty of time to explore. The price is £4,930 per person based on two sharing, including return first-class rail travel from London to Budapest, accommodation on board and off the train, sightseeing, transfers and most meals. (For those who prefer to be alone, the company has some single compartments that attract no single supplement.)

More distant tracks?

The recently launched Monteverde Trainforest Railroad (00 506 2645 5700; trainforest.com ) offers a 90-minute route through the cloud forest of Costa Rica's Monteverde National Park at about 1,600m above sea level. From this replica 19th-century steam train, you can see hummingbirds, coatis, peccaries, capuchin monkeys and possibly the elusive quetzal. Tickets are $65 (£43).

Costa Rica gets back on the package holiday map later this year thanks to First Choice, which will operate charters from 2 November to April. An all-inclusive fortnight at the luxury Riu Guanacaste Hotel in Playa Matapalo costs £1,245 per person, including flights from Gatwick.

Neighbouring Nicaragua offers wild beaches, jungles, spectacular volcanoes – and relatively few tourists. Black Tomato (020-7426 9888; blacktomato.co.uk ) is offering the perfect getaway for intrepid romantics with its new eight-day itinerary exploring the highlights of this undiscovered gem, including activities such as volcano surfing and sunset kayaking, and a stay at a luxurious beach lodge. The price of £2,599 per person, based on two sharing, includes return flights from London, accommodation, transfers and some activities.

The South Pacific island archipelago of the Cook Islands offer some serious barefoot seclusion. Two new hotels present the perfect excuse for some exotic island hopping. Te Manava on Rarotonga's south-eastern coast offers villas with stunning views of the clear water of the lagoon beyond, while the aptly named Rumours of Escape on the breathtaking volcanic island of Aitutaki is a small cluster of beachfront villas that offer the ultimate sand-between-your-toes experience.

Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; bridgeandwickers.co.uk ) has a 12-night itinerary that visits both properties from £3,467 per person, based on two sharing including transfers and accommodation with breakfast. Flights cost an extra £985 per person, based on travel between 22 March and 15 June.

Room for two?

What could be cosier than a one-bedroom bolthole for the romantic duo? One of the newest historic properties from the Landmark Trust (01628 825 925; landmarktrust.org.uk ) is Queen Anne's Summerhouse in the heart of the Bedfordshire countryside. Here you can curl up in a one-bedroom 18th-century folly set in a secluded location. Prices start at £476 for a three-night stay for two next month.

The Boathouse is a diminutive hideaway on the edge of the River Blackwater in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland. It is on a large estate and has three miles of river frontage for romantic waterside rambles. It costs €186 per night through Elegant Ireland (00 353 1 473 2505; elegant.ie ). Cork is served from a wide range of UK airports.

Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; exclusiveescapes.co.uk ), which specialises in all things boutique across Turkey, is offering the stunning Salkim Evi villa near the mountain village of Islamlar for the first time this year. Twenty minutes' drive from Kalkan, this Thai-styled hideaway is set into a mountainside amid lush vegetation, with panoramic views of the beach and Lycian coast, its own swimming pool and deck. A week in August costs £1,350 per person, based on two sharing, and includes return flights from Gatwick (Heathrow and Manchester departures are also available), transfers, rental of a Suzuki 4x4 and daily cleaning.

Floating down the river?

One of the most romantic ways to navigate The Nile is aboard a dahabiyya, decked out in the height of colonial style. A sailing between Luxor and Aswan includes guided visits to all the major sights, including Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. Combine it with a stay at Cairo's first boutique-style hotel, the 1920s Villa Belle Epoque in the city's Maadi district.

Bales Worldwide (0845 057 0600; balesworldwide.com ) offers a 12-day Nostalgic Nile itinerary from £1,595 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, accommodation, transfers, most meals, guiding and entrance fees.

This year presents a unique opportunity to explore the Selinda Spillway that connects Botswana's stunning Okavango Delta with the Kwando/Linyati river systems. It has filled for the first time in 30 years. Between 23 May and 9 October Expert Africa (020-8232 9777; expertafrica.com ) is offering itineraries that include a four-day two-person canoe trip through the Spillway, where V C you camp on the riverbanks of the Selinda Reserve. (A team sets up camp each night for you.) Along the way, travellers will be treated to sightings of elephant, buffalo, cheetah, lion, leopard and more than 300 species of birds – and there is little chance of coming into contact with other people. The price of £2,689 per person is based on two sharing and includes return flights, five nights of accommodation, transfers, all meals and all guiding.

Star-crossed lovers?

Set in an isolated corner of the Thar Desert, The Serai (00 91 11 4606 7608; the-serai.com ) is one of the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan's most beguiling new properties. It's a collection of 20 creamy coloured tents but with a twist: there is nothing to disturb you out here. Instead, take advantage of romantic blazing campfires and an unpolluted desert sky. The Unesco World Heritage listed golden city of Jaisalmer is 40 minutes' drive away. Camel-trekking across the undulating desert is also on offer. Doubles start at 25,000 rupees (£338) with breakfast for a tent sleeping two.

Natural wonders?

Head for South America. At Iguacu Falls, the river Parana becomes a thundering curtain of water stretching for more than 3km and dividing the dense, jungle-clad corners of Argentina and Brazil. Last October, the landmark Portuguese colonial-style Hotel das Cataratas (00 55 45 2102 7000; orient-express.com ) on the Brazilian side of the falls reopened after an extensive makeover by Orient Express. Set inside the Iguacu National Park, its big boast is the breathtaking view from its extensive grounds, but there is also a host of outdoor activities on offer, including trekking and bird-watching, helicopter rides and rafting. Doubles start at $375 (£250) per night.

Buenos Aires offers the perfect complement for a trip to Iguacu: you'll be able to enjoy few smoochy nights in one of its numerous tango clubs. Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.co.uk ) offers three nights in Buenos Aires and two nights at the Hotel das Cataratas from £1,348 per person. The price, based on two sharing, includes return flights, transfers and B&B accommodation.

In Chile, consider the fabulous Secret Ranchito, a small cottage set in a meadow in the Patagonian Andes. It is part of Remote Retreats, the new collection from the "hip hideaways and boutique hotels" website, i-escape.com . At the Ranchito you can spend your days horseriding, fly-fishing, hiking the surrounding trails, rafting and kayaking. Prices start from £1,619 per person, based on two sharing on a full-board basis. Flights not included.

Up in the air?

Namibia's broad horizons are even more spectacular when seen from above. Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk ) has a new nine-night Namibian flying safari, with views of the dunes of Sossuvlei, followed by wildlife tracking in the Etosha National Park and Damaraland. The price of £4,395 per person, based on two sharing, includes return flights, accommodation, some meals and all activities.

Additional research by Simon Calder and Peter Harmer

Love islands: Straight to the heart

Secluded, romantic atolls are all very well, but to really lay bare your affection to a loved one, you could whisk them off to a heart-shaped island.

Nature's own love retreats can be found across the globe, from the Adriatic to Australia. A blip on the map of Croatia was recently revealed by Google Earth to be a diminutive heart-shaped island called Galesnjak, just off the island of Pasman. Uninhabited and barely half a kilometre in diameter, the only way to get to this privately owned isle is by chartered boat, with permission from the owner. A special and truly luxurious package is offered by Sail Dalmatia (0800 124 4176; saildalmatia.com ). A weekend on a crewed 60ft yacht costs €10,000 and includes full board for two people, airport transfers and a docking at Galesnjak Island.

Further afield, in Fiji the island of Tavarua is almost surreal in its heart-shaped perfection – a tuft of tropical green framed by white sand that shelves into coral-bedded turquoise water. It is home to just one resort that can accommodate up to 36 people at a time in beachfront bures (huts). (001 805 686 4551; tavarua.com ). Rates start at US$3,198 (£2,132) per person for seven nights' full board, return air fare from Los Angeles and transfers.

Finally, of the 74 stunning islands that make up Australia's Whitsundays ( whitsundaytourism.com ), one stands out for its romantic outline. Heart Reef is a tiny coral atoll of cookie-cutter precision near Hamilton Island. While you can't disembark on the island, you can snorkel around it. Better still, admire it in full from the air. Aviation Tourism Australia (00 61 7 4946 8249; avta.com.au ) offers helicopter flights over the reef for A$99 (£55) per person.

Sophie Lam

A passion for perfection: Maldives magic

Nothing says romance quite like a pristine beach swept with icing sugar-grade sand. The Maldives has long been the place to go for the ultimate in brochure-perfect shores. This archipelago of over 1,200 islands – some no more than coral blips in the water – is now more accessible thanks to three non-stop flights a week from Gatwick with British Airways (0844 493 087; ba.com ). A flight next month – when there is the unromantic risk of strike action – costs £648 return, though many couples go to the Maldives on package holidays.

The Maldives' more far-flung southerly reaches are still relatively free of resorts, although that is changing. One of the latest additions is the remote Alila Villas Hadahaa (00 960 682 8888; alilahotels.com ), an hour's flight from the capital, Male, followed by a 50-minute speedboat ride. It's worth the effort: the 50 villas here are the epitome of sophisticated castaway chic. The resort is also the first hotel in The Maldives to have been awarded Green Globe status for its construction methods. If that's still not secluded enough for you, staff can arrange to drop guests for a Robinson Crusoe-style picnic on one of the nearby deserted islands (you're given a mobile phone to ring when you want to be picked up). Scott Dunn (020-8682 5475; scottdunn.com ) offers seven nights from £2,995 per person, based on two people sharing for travel between 16 April and 15 June. The price includes return flights, transfers and accommodation with breakfast; if you prefer to construct your own itinerary, double rooms start at $945 (£630) per villa per night with breakfast.

Even further south, The Maldives' newest hotel below the Equator is Shangri-La's latest boutique resort. Villingili Island Resort & Spa (00 960 689 7888; shangri-la.com ), which opened last August, is a 3km sliver of fine sand with 17,000 lilting coconut trees in the southernmost Addu Atoll. All guests are loaned a bicycle to get around the island. The over-water villas offer direct access to the limpid coralline water, which teems with a rainbow of tropical fish and turtles. A colony of more than 1,000 spinner dolphins can often be spotted frolicking nearby. Doubles start from $1,200 (£800) per night. Until 9 May, Elegant Resorts (01244 897 515; elegantresorts.com ) is offering a seven-night holiday from £2,445 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights from London via Dubai, transfers and accommodation with breakfast.

Comments