What makes a city romantic is in the eye of the beholder. Avoiding the usual suspects, we went in search of a few less obvious options – and a smattering of the tried and tested.
Small but perfectly formed, the Belgian city of Bruges just oozes charm, whether you’re dining in style, cosying-up in quaint cafes, sampling some of the world’s best beers or enjoying a chocoholic’s idea of heaven. Set within a 15th century town house transformed into contemporary luxury, De Tuilerieen (www.hoteltuilerieen.com) has rooms from £290. Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) fares start from £70.
Set in the Peak District, Winster is hidden amongst limestone hills, surrounded by glorious scenery and boasts some 70 listed buildings, such as the Old Market Hall – dating from the 17th century – while the village has one of the most impressive street scenes in the area with the main thoroughfare a confection of impressive buildings and picturesque cottages. Losehill House Hotel and Spa (www.losehillhouse.co.uk) is the only four-star property located within the heart of the Peak District National Park and has rooms from £190.
Considered one of the most beautiful in England, Ludlow is a thriving medieval market town and an architectural gem with a lively community, numerous festivals, and the stunning countryside of south Shropshire and the Welsh Marches on its doorstep. And, for the foodie, this place has a reputation for the quality of its produce. The Charlton Arms Hotel (www.thecharltonarms.co.uk) has rooms from £100.
Retreat to Auld Reekie
From its medieval Old Town to the elegance of Georgian neoclassical buildings, Edinburgh packs a punch when it comes to style, great nightlife, wonderful culture, superb restaurants and more than enough to make a romantic getaway as full-on or as laid-back as your heart’s desire. Six Brunton Place (www.sixbruntonplace.com) is a five-star guest house of original marble fireplaces, ornate cornices and a magnificent cantilevered stone staircase rising within the 30ft high flagstone entrance. Rooms start from £110.
Bath is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water and visit centuries-old Roman Baths. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, this is a city where an independent, creative and unique style combine to make it one with plenty to attract lovebirds. The five-star Gainsborough Bath Spa (www.thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk) has romance in spades – not to mention being the current AA Hotel of the Year – with rooms from £255.
Few places shout ‘glitz’ and ‘glamour’ like Monte Carlo but you and your loved one can still soak up the grandeur of Monaco’s administrative centre. The principality is, of course, famed for its swanky casinos and for hosting perhaps the most iconic of the Formula 1 set pieces (27th May) but it also offers lush gardens, the cathedral (the last resting place of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco) and, should your bank balance stand it, shopping on another level. Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com) has three nights in a four-star hotel from £450 including flights.
Hung up on History
Bisected by the River Danube (think medieval castles and rolling hillsides), the Budapest districts of Buda (the hilly bit) and Pest (the flat area) are connected by a 19th century chain bridge and have a history stretching back to Roman Times. One of Europe’s grandest cities, spend a few days exploring late Gothic Roman Catholic churches, turreted fortresses and the spectacular Buda Castle before bathing in the Szechenyi thermal medicinal bath (the largest in Europe) and sampling eating options spanning no-frills lunch venues to Michelin-starred gems. Cresta (www.crestaholidays.co.uk) has three nights in a four-star hotel from £330 including flights.
Spice it up
With spice markets, colourful souks, charming riads and a network of mosques, palaces and gardens – not to mention Medina, the bustling walled medieval city dating back to the Berber Empire – Marrakesh has a stylish, eclectic appeal that has attracted the glamour set for decades. Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk) has three nights staying at the Riad Fleur D’Orient from around £500 including flights.
The Sound of Salzburg
There are not many places that boast a musical heritage spanning Mozart to Julie Andrews but Salzburg – draped in an Eastern Alps backdrop – is something of a gem for culture vultures. Medieval and baroque buildings abound but Austria’s second largest city is also one of regular festivals, the Hellbrunn Palace (a lovely 3.5km cycle ride from town), a fabulous cafe culture and the Mirabell Gardens where, should the fancy take you, you can burst into a chorus of Doe, a Deer – that scene from The Sound of Music was filmed there. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and BA (www.ba.com) have fares from £100. The five-star luxury of the Hotel Goldener Hirsch (www.goldenerhirsch.com) is yours from £210.
Temple to Love
It’s probably the most iconic monument to love in the world and, if you plan your visit carefully, time spent at the Taj Mahal is a magical experience. Combine the city of Agra (home to the tomb Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan created for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal) with stops in Delhi and the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur on a tour of Rajasthan. Operators include TransIndus (www.transindus.co.uk) and Cox & Kings (www.coxandkings.co.uk) with eight-day trips starting from £1,360 including flights.
Two to Tango
Okay, you’re unlikely to make for the Argentine capital for a short break but as part of a longer trip Buenos Aires is one of the world’s great cities. It has a swaggering style, a confident, self-assured personality, sprawling boulevards, leafy neighbourhoods straight out of Paris or Madrid, fabulous steaks and fine wines, two of among the best football teams in the world and, oh yes, the passionate tango! Flights from Gatwick start at £670 with Norwegian (www.norwegian.com). Tour operators specialising in Argentina include Pettitts (www.pettitts.co.uk) and Veloso (www.veloso.com).
The US cities of Charlotte, Savannah and Charleston combine to offer a world of colonial decadence, Antebellum elegance, historic plantation houses, sumptuous gardens and fascinating museums chronicling the Deep South. Saga Travel (www.travel.saga.co.uk) has a 14-night tour in which you’ll trace the history of Georgia and the Carolinas from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond before learning about Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy in Atlanta. Prices start from £2,899 including flights.
Montreal and Quebec City are two of Canada’s most interesting urban destinations. The first is a vibrant metropolis with a charming multi-cultural vibe matched with great dining and a buzzing nightlife, while the latter boasts plenty of architectural gems and unravelling historical tales provided, by 400 years of history, which is at its most appealing as you stroll around the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec. Canadian Affair (www.canadianaffair.com) has a six-night trip from £725 including flights.
Words by: David Leck
Images licensed by Ingram Image