Can You Feel The Love? By Lauren Steventon

Lauren Steventon picks up cupid’s bow to pinpoint some of the most romantic escapes from around the world….

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no avoiding it….St. Valentines Day is fast approaching. If you haven’t thought about a romantic getaway yet, our choice below will leave you with no excuses.

Hôtel Pavillon de la Reine, Paris, France

You can’t talk about Valentine’s Day without mentioning Paris, City of Love. Fear not, there’s still a way to enjoy that old-fashioned French amor while avoiding cliché. Le Pavillon de la Reine is tucked away in Le Marais, on Place des Vosges, the very square that has played home to Victor Hugo and Madame de Sevigny. Surrounding it are fashion boutiques, excellent restaurants (try L’Alivi on Rue du roi de Sicile for surprisingly delicious Corsican fare in a simple setting) and even some actual French people.

Last September, rooms were overhauled by Didier Benderli at a cost of about €120,000. Rustic flagstones and beams sit side by side with elegant greys, lilacs and neutrals. The 54 bedrooms are super private and boast features such as four poster beds, beamed ceilings or beautiful patterned wallpapers. The new Carita spa has just two treatment rooms, so book in when you book the room.

Wandering the streets around here feels like Les Liasons Dangereuses meets Fashion Week. Hip young things mix with beret-toting old men, all meandering through street upon street of classic Parisian abodes (the Pavillon itself was built in 1605). The same mix of modern and classic Paris extends into Le Pavillon de la Reine: not too fashiony, not too cool, but not too old-school Paris either. Just elegant, and just right for a cosy trip à deux.

Tel: +33 (0) 1 40 29 19 19

www.pavillon-de-la-reine.com

Villa la Vedetta, Florence, Italy

Romance rules Florence. From Botticelli’s ‘‘The Birth of Venus’’ in the Uffizi, to memories of Michelangelo, or E.M. Forester’s Lucy Honeychurch (A Room With A View), and even the ‘‘living statues’’ of cupid who pose for pictures with amorous tourists….yes, this is a city to fall in love in, and with.

It’s not just due to the history (Florence has also had its fair share of power-hungry families), but the classical beauty: the architecture is enough to melt the hardest of hearts. One of these beautiful buildings is Villa la Vedetta, a neo-renaissance villa with just 18 rooms, moments from Piazzale Michelangelo and the Ponte Vecchio. The villa is set above the town, offering guests sweeping panoramic views of Florence.

A stroll around the private parkland and Italian gardens surrounding the hotel is very romantic. The setting is lovely and complements the elegant interiors perfectly. When you’ve finished whispering sweet nothings amongst the foliage, head to stylish Onice restaurant where Florentine haute cuisine is accompanied by the best Italian wines.

Head poolside at this time of year simply for the view, as the entire Florence skyline is there, with all the big-hitters (The Duomo, The Campanile of Giotto, The Santa Croce Church) in pride of place. Now that’s a romantic picture!

Tel: +39 055 681631

www.villalavedettahotel.com

Lucknam Park, Bath, UK

Driving up the mile-long, tree-lined driveway to regency manor house Lucknam Park is romantic in itself, an act worthy of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. This is the place for classic romance, old-school style: all set in 500 acres of gardens and parkland.

The 42 rooms and suites are classic rather than old-fashioned, and you really could be waking up in an Austen novel, amongst the thick curtains, comfortable furnishings and, in some, four poster beds. Public areas boast chandeliers and roaring fires, perfect for afternoon tea, snuggled together on the sofa.

It’s just five minutes from Bath, but if you prefer to hole up and spend some quality time, there’s plenty to do at the hotel, from horse riding to herb gardens. There’s also a spa (added in late 2008) and the Park restaurant serves up delicious-rather-than-too-fussy Michelin-starred cuisine.

Tel: +44 (0) 1225 742 777

www.lucknampark.co.uk

Riad Noir d’Ivorie, Marrakech, Morocco

The first person you’ll meet from Riad Noir d’Ivorie isn’t in fact a person at all….it’s a donkey. When the roads of the Medina become too narrow for your car, Couscous the donkey (okay, and two hotel staff) will meet you to take your bags down the winding alleys towards the hotel.

Open the plain wooden door of Riad Noir d’Ivorie and – wow….you enter into a huge traditional riad, full of African-inspired treasures from Morocco and beyond. Perfectly located for exploring the Medina (and beyond – owner Jill or manager Damian will mark up a map of their favourite places), it’s also a place for chilling out and relaxing. Marrakesh is blistering in summer, so Febuary is a great time to visit, and Riad Noir d’Ivorie has both sun terrace and fireplaces.

You can have dinner in, but it’s more fun to head out and then come back for a cosy cocktail in the bar before bed. There are just nine rooms – including three suites overlooking the pool. The Elephant Room has a silver alloy bath big enough for an Arabian princess and her retinue – perfect for lovers.

The sights, the sounds, the smells: Marrakech is a sensual place, and the old-world of the Medina oozes romantic charm, despite the locals whizzing around on their electric bikes and donkey carts. Even in the chaos of the souks, you’ll suddenly come across beautiful archways, tiny temples and genuine workshops where men and boys practice ancient craftwork techniques. The perfect place to get lost with someone you love.

Tel: +212 (0) 524 380 975

www.noir-d-ivoire.com

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort, Los Cabos, Mexico

You’re on to a sure thing when a hotel has a dedicated Department of Romance. Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort, is situated in Los Cabos, Mexico, bordering the sea of Cortez and the jungle, with a healthy bit of white sand in between. The name means ‘‘window to Paradise:’’ a bold claim, but then they might just be onto something….

The hotel has been built with the local environment in mind, constructed by hand with finishing touches like coloured glass windows by Mexican artisans. The adobe and rough wood buildings blend in with the environment, and inside the 71 suites you’ll find traditional floors, wood-burning fireplaces, and even personal telescopes for whale (or celeb) spotting.

Spend your days exploring the jungle, mountains or ocean: wildlife abounds in the latter and there are opportunities for snorkelling, scuba-diving and wildlife tours. This is also the ‘‘Marlin capital of the world,’’ so any adrenalin junkie guys or gals, pick up a rod! Back at Las Ventanas, relax in the spa, where treatments are inspired by traditional Mayan techniques, based around the four elements and using different herbal blends depending on your needs. There is a selection of restaurants but for the romance wow-factor, take the option to dine privately on the beach, or cook up a storm for your loved one in the herb garden with the help of Executive Chef Fabrice Guisset.

If that doesn’t sound romantic enough on its own, the Department of Romance is always on hand to make your loved one swoon: salsa lessons, amorous picnics and cruises – and what girl could say no to a Mexican Cabellero riding in with the engagement ring?

Tel: +52 624 144 2800

www.lasventanas.com

Frégate Private Island, Seychelles

‘‘Fancy jetting off to the private island, darling?’’ Is there anything more romantic? Too bad we don’t all have our own personal island idylls! Well, turn that frown upside down because Frégate Island Private in the Seychelles offers guests a taste of their very own island paradise.

There’s plenty of pristine environment and wildlife to get close to (perhaps a little too close sometimes: don’t be shocked to find a lizard in your bedroom) and Frégate Island Private has taken pains to ensure that conservation and respect for the island and its inhabitants are top priority. There’s a resident ecologist on hand to make sure it all goes to plan, and to show guests around this amazing ecosystem.

Just 3km squared, the island houses 16 villas and only up to 40 guests at any one time. Each villa has a private pool and enough garden foliage and privacy to make the outdoor shower a real possibility. Everything you’d expect from an island escape is firmly in place: PADI dive courses, yacht charter, deep-sea fishing…. Any land lubbers can spend the days exploring the lush vegetation on a nature walk, lazing on the seven dreamy beaches or partaking in tennis, yoga or mountain biking – or just relaxing, of course! The Rock Spa uses local ingredients, grown on plantations found on the island. These plantations also provide vegetables and spices used in the yummy cuisine served up in the restaurants, or for private dining options anywhere on the island. You won’t want to leave!

Tel: +27 21 556 99 84

www.fregate.com

Desert Nights Camp, Wahiba Sands Desert, Oman

What could be more romantic than sleeping under the stars in a private tent in the heart of the Arabian desert? Step back to a time of nomadic traders, Bedouin tents and wide open sky at Desert Nights Camp in the Wahiba Desert, Oman.

This is most definitely not roughing it – banish any images you might have of soggy and sleepless childhood camping trips. The tents at Desert Nights Camp, while simple, each have bedroom, en-suite bathroom, living area with TV and DVD, and air conditioning – all with spectacular views over the desert – and the restaurant is an actual building. However, this is still the desert, so there aren’t a huge amount of extra facilities….but that’s why you’re here, right?! Get out and enjoy the dunes by camel, quad bike or 4×4.

By night, the camp comes together for drinks, dinner and entertainment provided by local musicians. One thing you’ll notice is how quiet it is out here – and so relaxing. One to tell those future grandkids about….

Tel: +968 92818388

www.desertnightscamp.com