A FINE ROMANCE: SEVEN ROMANTIC GEMS
It seems like every hotel worthy of the name is pitching a Valentine's Day deal in this year of the recession. But the fact is that the best romantic getaways are romantic year round, not just on February 14. So forget about the legions of mediocre hotels and their bean counters tarting up rooms with champagne and chocolates to boost the bottom line.
Here are seven of the most romantic places I've ever stayed. And I was fortunate to enjoy them in true romance-mode, with my wife. The litmus test: they're good enough for a great honeymoon (first or second) but not necessarily magnets for honeymooners, which is another matter indeed. And needless to say, there are no bargains to be had on February 14. So book for a month or two from now. These are published prices, so you can expect to do better.
THE HOTEL: Auberge St. Antoine, Quebec
ROMANCE FACTOR: Quebec City is arguably the most romantic city in North America, a movie set that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cobblestone streets of Old Town, the cafes and bistros, and the views over the St. Lawrence are a treat, especially if you can avoid the summer influx of tourists. The Auberge St Antoine is a restored maritime warehouse with thick stone walls, antiques and river views. The goose down duvets and Bose sound system are added benefits. A boutique hotel worthy of the name.
DETAILS: Doubles from $169 CN ($139) saint-antoine.com
THE HOTEL: Ladera, St. Lucia
ROMANCE FACTOR: Situated about 1,000 feet above the Caribbean, adjacent to the twin peaks of the Piton Mountains, Ladera is justly famous for its dramatic rooms, because each one lacks a fourth wall, allowing Caribbean breezes to enter. The resort is set on a sheer jungle-clad cliff face, so privacy is not an issue, and the private plunge pools are terrific. The views are Edenic and the nightly serenade of tree frogs the best kind of music.
DETAILS: A one-bedroom suite with plunge pool from $380. ladera.com
THE HOTEL: Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi, Italy
ROMANCE FACTOR: There can be no better place to sip Limoncello than a balcony at the century-old Santa Caterina, a grand dame that clings to a cliff side on the Amalfi Coast. Your day starts with a stroll through a citrus grove to a private beach and saltwater pool. And you return from the beach via a vintage glass-walled elevator to your bougainvillea-covered terrace and understated room outfitted with 19th century antiques and handmade tiles. Or you could make like Brad and Angelina and reserve the Rome and Juliet Chalet, a tiny honeymoon house set in the orange groves. It's La Dolce Vita writ large.
DETAILS: Doubles from 240 euros ($313) hotelsantacaterina.it
THE HOTEL: Grand Hotel du Lac, Vevey, Switzerland
ROMANCE FACTOR: An 1868 hotel that was the setting for Anita Brookner's novel Hotel du Lac, it has a storybook location on the shores of Lake Geneva in the quiet Swiss city of Vevey. Across the lake are the snow capped Dents du Midi in the French Alps. By day, sailboats tack and forth between countries, while at night, you can see the lights of Evian in the distance. The hotel itself was recently refurbished to its "Grand" stage and is posh, plush and suitably clubby. The fabrics, wallpaper and linens are of the finest quality, the bathrooms marble enclaves, with high ceilings and French doors onto balconies overlooking the lake. You're 40 minutes from the ski slopes and about the same distance to Geneva. I once spent Valentine's Day in this hotel and I've never forgotten it.
DETAILS: Doubles from 425 CHF ($366); hoteldulac-vevey.ch
THE HOTEL: Sonnenalp Resort of Vail, Vail, CO
ROMANCE FACTOR: The Sonnenalp, in the heart of Vail Village, has always struck me as the American hotel that comes closest to approximating the true European ski hotel experience. Credit the Bavarian owner, Johannes Faessler, who's done more than merely doll up his female staff members in dirndls (though he has done just that). The Sonnenalp's staff exudes the quiet confidence of Swiss hotel school training. And if you're a devotee of the Alpine aesthetic, you'll probably like it here as much as I do. There are the bright white plaster walls highlighted with carved wood and a few fussy Alpine antiques in the hallways. It is impeccably kept and exceptionally tasteful. There's a word class spa, and rooms have corner fireplaces, balconies, and heated bathroom floors.
DETAILS: Doubles from $310, including a bountiful breakfast; sonnenalp.com
HOTEL: Hotel San Regis, Paris
ROMANCE FACTOR: A converted mansion on a quiet street in the 8th arrondisement, it has good service, rooms with antiques, marble baths and a very old fashioned feel. It's almost a stage set, right down to the couple I saw one lunchtime in the formal restaurant. Dressed to the nines, they may well have been having their weekly assignation. The fact that they appeared to be in their seventh or perhaps eighth decade mattered not at all. The San Regis is a five-star property, but priced considerably less than the venerable Paris' palace hotels. It is a classic small luxury hotel, the kind that the whole concept of boutique hotels was seemingly based on. My wife and I cocooned here for three or four nights a few winters ago and it felt like it was our own pied-a-terre. Rent "An American in Paris," or maybe "Gigi" before you go and you'll be in the right frame of mind.
DETAILS: Doubles from $412 including continental breakfast; hotel-sanregis.com
HOTEL:One Aldwych, London
ROMANCE FACTOR: It's very quiet, elegant and minimalist, with a great, professional staff. They actually care about the details and it shows. One A is a stone's throw from Covent Garden and the theaters, and is convenient for most anything I want to do in London. That might include swimming, which I've done in the hotel's 56-foot-long pool that's outfitted with underwater music (Mozart works surprisingly well with the side stroke). London has been off limits to all but the deep-pocket set for too long. But with pound taking it on the chin, it's time to return.
DETAILS: Doubles from 195 UK Pounds ($290) onealdwych.com