Romantic escapes: Love is all around

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With less than a week until Valentine's Day, it's still not too late to treat your sweetheart to a romantic escape. Rhiannon Batten recommends some British breaks to warm the heart

We say

Sometimes roses just won't cut it. There's nothing like a heart-shaped balloon or sagging soufflé to deflate a girl's – or boy's – passion on the most amorous of saints' days. To spoil your Valentine, treat them to a romantic weekend away. Choose with care, though. Steer away from the more commercial breaks and book something you know he or she will genuinely enjoy. If you're stuck for inspiration, read on for our pick of the love bunch.



They say

"The roots of St Valentine's Day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on 15 February. A young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year. Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men)." From www.americancatholic.org

"When she took her opposite place in the carriage corner, the brightness in her face was so charming to behold, that on her exclaiming, 'What beautiful stars and what a glorious night!' the Secretary said 'Yes,' but seemed to prefer to see the night and the stars in the light of her lovely little countenance, to looking out of the window." Charles Dickens (Our Mutual Friend)

"Marriage is like the Middle East – there's no solution." Shirley Valentine.



And so to bed...

If size counts, then Thornbury Castle is the answer to your Valentine's dreams. This decadent Tudor retreat in the south Gloucestershire countryside once hosted Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but don't let that ill-fated marriage put you off. Today, guests can sprawl in what is claimed to be the UK's biggest bed – a 10-foot wide whopper. The Tower Room, home to this record-breaking crib, is booked this weekend, but if you have your heart set on making your loved one king or queen of the castle, there are still plenty of standard rooms available. The Tower Room is also free on other dates this month. Doubles start at £190 with breakfast, the Tower Room from £750 (01454 281182; www.thornburycastle.co.uk).



A dirty weekend?

Romance doesn't have to mean white sheets scattered with rose petals. If you're of a more adventurous persuasion, consider heading to Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, to join Action Outdoors' small group Valentine's Wilderness Weekend (028 4483 2894; www.actionoutdoors.info). Available this Saturday and Sunday, the break's £135 per couple fee covers kayak hire, a guided paddle to Salt Island, a campfire dinner, chocolates, champagne, cooked breakfast and a paddle back to the mainland. Wilderness expert Chris Armstrong will also instruct you how to build your own shelter to sleep out under the stars. There's no electricity on Salt Island but if the weather's bad, there's a bothy to shelter in.

Keep smiling through

"Whatever you decide to do, don't forget to pack your sense of humour," says Dave Waters, host of a special School of Life "Conversation Dinner" at London's Sanderson hotel on Valentine's Day. "It's through your shared sense of mischief and irreverence, especially around the clichés of Valentines, that you avoid turning this celebration of love into a sombre, worthy yawn-a-thon." The Conversation Dinner will cover topics from sex and infidelity to intimacy and commitment. Tickets cost £70 per person, including a three-course meal (020-7833 1010; www.theschooloflife.com). Valentine packages at the Sanderson cost from £365 for two, with breakfast (020-7300 1400; www.sandersonlondon.com).



Hop on the love wagon

Made exclusively for the travelling community between the 1950s and 1970s, Vickers Waggons are the closest British caravan design ever got to the Airstream trailer. It feels like stepping inside a Wurlitzer. The restored "Vickers Romany Caravan" in the north of Shropshire boasts a reflective interior almost completely covered in mirrors, glass, chrome and stainless steel. Hidden among the bling is a cosy woodburning stove. Outside there's a separate toilet and shower – and access, by rowing boat, onto a private lake. Any four-night break booked before 12 February (and started by 25 February) costs £247.86; quote "Cariad" (which means love in Welsh) and hope your sweetheart packs their shades (01239 851410; www.underthethatch.co.uk).



The food of love

If the way to your other half's heart is via their stomach, then give the journey added sparkle with the Food of Love package at Swinton Park this weekend. One of Yorkshire's grandest – and greenest – hotels, the 18th-century castle is offering the breaks from £495 for two, including a one-day Food of Love course in the hotel's cookery school , plus lunch, dinner and B&B (on the Friday or Saturday night). Want extra romance? Massages for two can be arranged – or even some help setting the right scene to pop the question (01765 680900; www.swintonpark.com).

A book at bedtime

If your relationship needs to turn a page, look no further than the Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel in London, where doubles start at £143, room only (020-7636 5601; www.radissonedwardian.com). Set in bookish Bloomsbury, the hotel styles itself as a readers' retreat, with an installation made from pages of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and a book club whereby guests are given a copy of the hotel's Book of the Month (this month's choice is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake). It's ideal territory for anyone who refuses to curl up in bed without a book, and a good base for a book lovers' weekend in the capital. Time your stay to coincide with Love Hurts, a Valentine's-themed poetry reading on 12 February at Keats House in Hampstead (020-7332 3868; www.keats house.cityoflondon.gov.uk).



Slope off with other singles

One possible solution if your love life has taken a downhill turn: Glencoe Mountain Resort in the Scottish Highlands is hosting a "ski dating" event on 13 February (01855 851226; www.glen coemountain.com/ski-date). For £10 you get to ski, snowboard or sledge down the main run and then share the T-bar up with a potential suitor. Daters will be paired with a different partner each time and then asked to fill out score cards; if there's a match, staff will let you know. A glass of après-ski bubbly is included.



What Google will tell you

"Inverlochy Castle has impressive royal roots. In September 1873, Queen Victoria spent a week painting and sketching here and wrote in her diary, 'I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.' A private residence until 1969, Inverlochy Castle is now one of Scotland's finest hotels." From a recent list of the most romantic spots in the UK on www.visitbritain.com.



What Google won't tell you... until now

"There's no more romantic train in Europe than the vintage British Pullmans and the 1920s blue-and-gold Wagons-Lits of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The train worked its very special magic: without any prior intentions Nicolette and I got engaged half way across a snow-swept Brenner Pass. A wife and two kids later, I can honestly say that it was one romantic trip where I got more than I bargained for!" – Mark Smith, "the Man in Seat 61".

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