Thursday, June 2, 2022

5 surprisingly romantic cities (that aren’t Paris)

 Paris, Venice and Rome are all top destinations among those seeking a romantic break with all the bells and whistles but what if you're after a more subtle romance? Here we've narrowed down the five best destinations you probably haven't considered for a tender-hearted getaway... 

Charleston, USA

Charleston, USAf11photo/Shutterstock

Why it’s packed with romance: This southern belle of a city has all the right ingredients for a romantic break: good food, pretty streets to saunter around and water views. Founded by the English in 1670, the small and genteel harbour city in South Carolina’s low country is steeped in history. Its quaint downtown has cobblestone streets, complete with old gas lamps, and pretty pastel-coloured townhouses. Hop on a horse-drawn carriage tour, if the mood takes you, or simply wander.

A hand-in-hand stroll along the Battery, a Civil War seawall and now a promenade, is a must. You can gaze across to Fort Sumter and at some of the city’s most amazing antebellum mansions that flank the harbour. Punctuate your explorations with plenty of stops for iced sweet tea or classic mint juleps – The Cocktail Club’s roof terrace is a top spot for balmy evenings.

The dinner for two: Charleston has a burgeoning reputation for its food scene, from traditional BBQ joints to award-winning restaurants that elevate southern favourites. For the hottest table in town, go to Husk. Its version of the iconic deep south dish, shrimp ‘n’ grits, along with a few killer cocktails in its atmospheric bar will finish your evening off on a high note.

The hunker-down hotel stay: The Governor’s House Inn, a grand Georgian manor house in a historic residential district. Rooms have four-poster beds, some with fireplaces, and there’s a lovely antique-filled parlour and porch for relaxing in. Breakfast on traditional southern dishes such as grits, biscuits and fried green tomatoes. And don’t miss an aperitif in the bar before you venture out for the evening – complimentary wines are accompanied by devilled eggs and pimento cheese.

How to get there: Fly to Charleston via Atlanta or Charlotte. British Airways launches direct flights to Charleston International Airport in April.

Parma, Italy

Parma, Italycge2010/Shutterstock

Why it’s packed with romance: If you and your love adore food and opera, small but perfectly formed Parma is the place for you. The Emilia-Romagna city is renowned for its gastronomy – it’s the home of Parma ham, parmesan, and Barilla pasta. It’s also the home province of composer Giuseppe Verdi. The gilded 19th-century Teatro Regio, built under orders of Napoleon's opera-mad wife Marie Louise, is the place to see one his works. Parma also has oodles of art and architecture – it was birthplace of Renaissance painter Correggio, whose fresco fills the Duomo’s dome.

Start your explorations with an espresso in central hub Piazza Garibaldi. Then spend a morning in Palazzo della Pilotta complex – the former palace of the Farnese family houses several museums and a beautiful wooden theatre. For a romantic stroll, wander over the Verdi Bridge to the grand public gardens of Parco Ducale. Next, head to Piazza del Duomo to admire the medieval splendour of the 12th-century Bishop’s Palace, the striking baptistery (an octagonal structure made from Verona pink marble) and the Duomo.

Main sights ticked off, head to an enoteca to tuck into chunks of aged parmigiano reggiano and paper-thin slivers of prosciutto di Parma washed down with lambrusco. The light and slightly fizzy red is another local delicacy.

Palazzo alla Rosa PratoPalazzo alla Rosa Prati/

The dinner for two: Depending on how the mood strikes you, the city has plenty of options. For a smart but relaxed trattoria try La Greppia – their handmade pastas (tortellini, cappelletti, and anolini) are divine. Or for a blow-out gastronomic extravaganza go for Michelin-starred Parizzi.

The hunker-down hotel stay: Elegant and historic residence Palazzo alla Rosa Prati is a fabulous base for exploring Parma. It’s right in the heart of the city’s old centre with views of the magnificent cathedral. Choose between a room, suite or apartment, all of which are generous in size and decked out with period furnishings. The suites and apartments have kitchenettes, or you can breakfast in the on-site café.

How to get there: The city is halfway between Bologna and Milan and can be easily reached by train.

Bath, UK

Bath, UKBGphotographer/Shutterstock

Beautiful buildings, snug pubs, pretty parks, and countryside strolls within striking distance. The spa town has long drawn romantic types: it was where the 18th-century social set came to see, be seen and snare a good catch. Bath’s grand Georgian architecture is one of its best assets – its most famous crescents, Royal Crescent and The Circus, are simply stunning. Step inside Number 1 Royal Crescent to see how the Georgians lived.

Stroll on to explore Bath’s wealth of brilliant stores – design lovers shouldn’t miss ultra-cool Danish store HAY while book lovers will be spellbound by the brilliant Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. But the big draw, of course, is The Roman Baths, one of Britain's most significant historic sites. Be sure to step inside the gothic Bath Abbey next door too then make like a Roman and spend a blissful few hours wallowing in the mineral-rich spring waters at the Thermae Spa. The rooftop pool with its city views is a highlight, but it can get busy.

Head down to the river for a drink at The Boater, a few steps from Pulteney Bridge (which was inspired by Venice’s Ponte Vecchio), or follow the Bath Skyline Walk. The six-mile route, just a short stroll from the centre, takes you onto the skyline hills and through meadows and ancient woodlands.

The dinner for two: Chef Chris Cleghorn earnt Bath's only Michelin star in 2018 for good reason – sample his accomplished cooking at The Olive Tree. The menu is deeply seasonal and packed with local produce. Opt for the seven-course tasting menu to see the breadth of the kitchen’s flair – it could feature brill on the bone with leek, black garlic, nasturtium, mussel cream or grouse with Jerusalem artichoke, kale, elderberries, and bitter chocolate. There’s a vegetarian one too. With attentive yet relaxed service and a cosy interior, this is a lovely spot for a special meal.

The hunker-down hotel stay: Set on the grand thoroughfare Great Pulteney Street, the boutique townhouse Number 15 Great Pulteney is a gem of a hotel with a lovely little subterranean spa of its own. The 40-room hotel offers cosy doubles right through to grand suites with incredible views over Great Pulteney Street. If you’re staying on a weekend, be sure to book in for brunch at the hotel’s charming Cafe 15 – free-flowing prosecco, house wines and virgin or bloody mary accompany tasty brunch classics.

How to get there: Great Western Railway has trains from London Paddington to Bath Spa station. Bristol airport offers a connecting bus service to Bath every 30 minutes, taking just under an hour.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estoniakavalenkava/Shutterstock

Why it’s packed with romance: Couples new or old will be hard-pressed to resist the charms of this Baltic beauty where medieval treasures and modern pleasures combine seamlessly. Tallinn’s tiny Old Town remains almost perfectly preserved and it is this labyrinthine network of timbered merchant houses, imposing city walls complete with fairy-tale towers, lofty church spires and narrow cobbled passages that entices couples. It’s especially magical during winter when fairy lights twinkle, snow sits on the roofs and its candle-lit cafés come into their own.

Spend your break perusing the UNESCO-listed centre’s many museums, churches, galleries, and shops. Head up to the top of the gothic Town Hall for fantastic views. Then catch your breath over a dreamy hot chocolate at the delightful Anneli Viik Chocolates. At the end of the day, wind your way up the aptly named Long Leg Street (Pikk jalg) to the highest part of the old town and Toompea Hill – it’s the best place to watch the sun sink behind the city’s ramparts.

At night, head to Kalamaja, a revitalised industrial area just a 10-minute stroll away from Old Town that’s now a creative hub and rammed with great places to eat, drink and shop as well as museums and galleries.

The dinner for two: Sleek design and innovative cuisine make NOA Tallinn’s most exciting place to eat. Expect an eclectic menu studded with Estonian and international flavours – dishes change often but you might see the likes of sea urchin with lemon and Unagi eel with sushi rice. With views across the Bay of Tallinn to the Old Town, it’s got a special location too.

The hunker-down hotel stay: Expect plenty of period charm mixed with modern design features at The Three Sisters, a boutique hotel housed within a beautiful 14th-century building in the heart of Old Town. There are 23 rooms and suites in the old merchant’s house, each of which is unique in design. Be sure to dine in the hotel’s well-regarded restaurant Bordoo, which serves up Estonia and Scandinavia-influenced cuisine in a gorgeous, historic room. For a relaxed drink, head to the atmospheric Konyak bar. Its impressive wine and cognac list was compiled by a top Estonian sommelier.

How to get there: Easyjet and Ryanair have flights from London Gatwick, London Stansted and Edinburgh.

Brighton & Hove, UK

Brighton & Hove, UKMitotico/Shutterstock

Why it’s packed with romance: Just a stone’s throw from London, fun-loving Brighton is the ultimate seaside getaway. The south coast city has long shed its reputation as a “dirty weekend” getaway for secret trysts and now attracts a cool crowd in search of a mix of hedonism and culture.

The creative enclave has art, music, food and drink scenes to rival London. Not only that but Brighton also has the beach, pier (complete with kiss-me-quick charm), grand Regency squares and the South Downs on its doorstep. You’ll discover some excellent independent and vintage shops as you explore too – if you’re feeling especially romantic treat your loved one to an antique or piece of jewellery from the Lanes. These little alleyways and 'twittens' just north of Brighton pier are lined with charming stores. Or win them over with a sweet treat from creative chocolatier Choccywoccydoodah.

Brighton’s most famous historic landmark is The Royal Pavilion: a grand mock Indian Palace built by George IV in the 18th century with sumptuous interiors to match. But the distinctly modern observation tower – the British Airways i360° – is the place to get the ultimate view of the city, sea and rolling green hills. Be sure to walk west along the seafront to Hove to find pretty beach huts, characterful pubs and independent coffee shops galore. You might need some caffeine to fuel your nocturnal adventures – Brighton is a party city after all.

Artist Residence BrightonArtist Residence Brighton/

The dinner for two: You’re by the seaside so it has to be a slap-up seafood dinner – book a window table at The Salt Room for views of the Brighton seafront and West Pier ruins while you dine on fresh fish cooked over coal. Or pull out the big guns and try for a table at 64°, an innovative open kitchen by Great British Menu 2017 winner chef Michael Bremner.

The hunker-down hotel stay: Cool, cosy and arty, the Artist Residence Brighton is the perfect place to snuggle up to your loved one on your seaside jaunt. Be warned though with sea views, an excellent cocktail bar and restaurant you may find it hard to leave. As you’d expect, many of the rooms feature original artist murals and all have a wonderful, quirky design. If you’re after sea views as you soak, opt for a Bigger Sea View room which have bathtubs in the bedroom.

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