By Randy Yagi
As the calendar page flips to February, many couples are still undecided on how to celebrate Valentine's Day. Instead of the tried-and-true presentations of chocolates, roses, wine and a candlelit dinner at a favorite restaurant near home, why not get away from it all, where bedside roses seem to be fresher, and wine and chocolates seem to taste that much better. And with just a few weeks before one of the most romantic days of the year, it also might be a good idea to consider a completely new and exciting place to rekindle or reaffirm a couple's love for one another. While some of these suggestions may be better known than others and others might be completely unfamiliar, here are five top destinations to consider this year for a surprise romantic getaway.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Famed for its stately mansions and cobblestone streets, as well as its fabulous lodging, cuisine and classic Southern charm, Charleston is clearly one of the world's most romantic cities. But further south lies another historic city that in many ways, can be just as romantic yet with a remarkably slower pace than its larger and far more famous destination. Second only to Charleston as the oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort is also well known for its wealth of antebellum homes, along with so many other historical sites that its entire 304-acre central Historic District is both a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Contributing to the immeasurable charm of this Low Country destination are some of the most romantic bed and breakfasts in the country, such as Anchorage 1770, Cuthbert House Inn, the Rhett House Inn and the elegant Beaufort Inn. In addition to romantic dining at such places as Saltus River Grill and Breakwater Restaurant and Bar, couples can enjoy activities like boat tours from the Downtown Marina and entertaining carriage ride across many important points of interest, including the John Mark Verdier House, Beaufort Arsenal, First African Baptist Church of Beaufort and the Milton Maxcy House. Lastly, visitors may also be interested to know that many famous movies were partly filmed in Beaufort and its surrounding area and the impressive list includes "The Big Chill", "The Great Santini", "The Prince of Tides" and the most famous of all, "Forrest Gump", with recommended movie tours available from Beaufort Tours.
Carmel Valley, California
Consistently mentioned as one of the most romantic places in America, Carmel-by-the-Sea is renowned for its charming boutique stores, stately elegant accommodations and spectacular ocean vistas. However, another equally impressive, yet slightly less familiar destination lies further inland - the breathtaking Carmel Valley. Acclaimed for its many wineries and pastoral landscapes, as well as extraordinary dining and lodging at places like Bernardus Lodge and Spa and Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel Valley has a little of everything for a secluded getaway. The collective winners of numerous travel awards, Bernardus Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch both feature a wealth of impressive amenities, like gourmet dining at Lucia Restaurant and Valley Kitchen respectively, sophisticated accommodations, world-class spa treatments and of course, impeccable service and hospitality. In addition to indulgent spa treatments at Bernardus Spa or Spa Aiyana, and superb wine tastings onsite or at places like Holman Ranch and Bernardus Winery, couples can also enjoy a number of other activities, such as a scenic ride in a Mercedes-Benz convertible or SUV, horseback riding through the Santa Lucia Mountains, a fascinating Bee Experience or even a magical day trip or longer down to Big Sur, to enjoy its incomparable ocean vistas and scenic pit stops at iconic places like Bixby Bridge and Pfeiffer Beach, as well as recommended stops to newly reopened restaurants like Nepenthe Restaurant and the Sur House at Ventana Big Sur. Bolstered by a multi-million dollar resort re-imagination, the ultra-romantic Ventana Big Sur features a stunning new look, with a revitalized Social House and aforementioned restaurant, 59 glamorous guestrooms and suites, the luxury Spa Alila and the gorgeous new Redwood Canyon Glampsites.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Possessing elements of a classic hidden treasure, Elkhart Lake is a small village with Old World charm, a single stoplight and a captivating body of water that bears its name. Located about halfway between Green Bay and Milwaukee in northwestern Sheboygan County, Elkhart Lake and its friendly residents have been attracting visitors since the late 1800s, who came to enjoy the lake's purported healing powers and the grand resort hotels that emerged during the Gilded Age, like Siebkens Resort, Victorian Village Resort and the stately Osthoff Resort, with amenities like a French cooking school, exceptional dining at Lola's on the Lake and Aspira Spa, recently named the No. 2 ranked luxury spa in the country. While the namesake lake itself is a premier attraction, with water recreation and stunning vistas everywhere, the village itself is filled with whimsical charm, from distinctive B&Bs and romantic restaurants to boutique shops and galleries. Other local activities may include a round of golf at Quit Qui Oc Golf Course, hiking along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, year-round entertainment at the Victorian Village Theater and visits to nearby attractions like the Wade House featuring the Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum, as well as Road America, the legendary setting for one of the world's fastest permanent race car tracks and host to several well known celebrities over the years, including Ashley Judd, David Letterman, Tom Cruise and the late Paul Newman,
Grand County, Colorado
With snow covered peaks and breathtaking natural beauty, Colorado is unmistakingly blessed with a multitude of romantic destinations, such as Aspen and Vail. Yet the Centennial State also possesses many lesser-known, yet phenomenal places like Grand County, where couples can literally take the road less traveled. Situated a few hours west of Denver and accessible by car, shuttle services like Homes James Transportation Services or passenger rail, Grand County might be best known for Winter Park Resort, the state's longest continuously operated ski resort and one of the most affordable. However, this sparsely populated county with less than 15,000 residents is also home to must-see communities like Granby and Grand Lake, that serve as western gateways to Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the largest and most visited national parks in America. Named after Colorado's largest natural body of water and with romantic lakeside hotels like the Western Riviera, Grand Lake is clearly a year-round destination, having earned the nickname of the "Snowmobile Capital of Colorado", as well as the setting for both the world's highest yacht club and the highest altitude golf course in the country. Also not to be overlooked is the nearby town of Granby, particularly for its world-class lodging at the historic C Lazy U Ranch, one of the top resorts in the country and named the No. 2 Destination Resort by USA Today 10Best. Family owned and operated since its opening in 1919, the 8,500-acre ranch features 40 single occupancy cabins, a private 4-bedroom luxury home and an impressive collection of seasonal or year-round outdoor activities, including horseback riding, Orvis fly fishing, tennis, swimming, sleigh rides, ice skating and award-winning spa treatments at Lazy You Spa.
Saratoga Springs, New York
A popular destination for more than 200 years, Saratoga Springs is best known for its many mineral springs and its legendary race track. However this picturesque city located in the southeast edge of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York is more alluring than ever as a romantic destination, particularly with a growing array of spa and lodging options, most notably the recent grand reopening of the landmark Adelphi Hotel and the highly anticipated new Spa Renewal Wellness Retreats at the Gideon Putnam this spring. First opened in 1877, the Adelphi is the oldest hotel in the city, yet has been stylishly reinvented after a $28 million renovation, with 32 luxurious rooms and suites with elegant furnishings and complimentary bottles of the city's famous Saratoga Spring Water, a grand ballroom, and superb dining options like the Blue Hen and Salt & Char. Set in the heart of the city's vibrant downtown area, the Adelphi is within walking distance of many popular spa facilities, such as Sanctuary Spa of Saratoga Springs, Saratoga Day Spa and Zen Again Spa, along with a few more romantic dining recommendations, like Boca Bistro, Chianti Il Ristorante, 15 Church and a bit further but worth the time, the Mouzon House . Additionally, in a city nicknamed "the Spa City", Saratoga Springs has many other exceptional places to stay and spa facilities to enjoy, including the all-suite Pavilion Grand Hotel near Skidmore College, Saratoga Casino Hotel and the aforementioned Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Spa State Park, home to the renowned Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa. While a visit to the legendary Saratoga Race Course might not be practical on a romantic getaway, other suggested activities may also include the Saratoga Winery, a stroll through Congress Park to sample the naturally carbonated waters from Congress Spring or even a couple's round of golf at the Saratoga National Golf Club.
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