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Flights of fancy Posted On 07 February 2020

Forget the hearts and flowers. Chuck the chocolates in the bin. The road to your loved one’s heart is not in the clichéd, but more likely in an airport terminal.

Because nothing says modern romance quite like: “Get your case. We’re off.”

It may be Valentine’s Day this month, but early February isn’t generally the ideal time to risk an impromptu break – with a notable exception.

But unless your budget extends to a week on some tropical idyll in the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean, you’re probably looking at a European city break and nobody enjoys tramping around under a brolly, so far better to play the medium to long game and drop a couple of e-tickets or copy of a booking confirmation email in your Valentine’s card for a couple of days away when the sun might put in an appearance.

With romance your guide, where better to head for than Italy, particularly Verona, home to the ultimate star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet?

Less than an hour from Venice on the train and 30 minutes from Lake Garda, Verona is genuinely beautiful. The Piazza Delle Erbe is a delight, the astonishing Arena di Verona predates Rome’s Colosseum by 50 years and leads you nicely to the queue for Juliet’s House, that balcony and the statue of our tragic heroine, which, if you rub her right breast, will make you lucky in love (be aware this statue is a copy so it may not work – the original Juliet is in the Museum Castelvecchio after restoration).

If that’s not enough, Florence – home of the iconic Duoma, stunning Renaissance art including Michelangelo’s David and Ponte Vecchio – is just a three-hour rail trip away.

Obviously, Paris must be on the shortlist. Stunning, stylish, charming (just avert your eyes as you travel through Montmartre to the beautiful Basilica of the Sacre Coeur; parts of it are less than romantic), Paris is everything you hope it will be, largely because you know it so well from the movies.

Still ranked as THE place to propose, get married or honeymoon, the best time to visit the French capital is in the spring when even the oldest buildings in this architecturally perfect city look freshly washed. Intimate strolls with your significant other through the Bois de Boulogne, and along the Seine to the Pont Neuf district are recommended, as is a sunset cruise along the city’s majestic waterway – if the budget can stretch to it – for a different perspective of the city.

Speaking of waterways, don’t ignore Amsterdam, where the maze of slow-flowing canals, lined by trees and the towering centuries-old buildings, create an enchanting atmosphere. And if crossing one of the many illuminated bridges at twilight, just as the water takes on an orange glow, does not leave you a little weak at the knees then, quite frankly, you’ve become a lost cause.

And there lie the not-so-secret ingredients for a romantic getaway: charm and character. The old European cities – Vienna, Prague, Bruges for example – have it in bucketloads, while the ‘recently-accessible’ centres, such as Ljublana in Slovenia are catching up. Frequently overlooked in favour of nearby Bled, which is stunning in its own right, picturesque Ljublana has a wonderful vibe and is rapidly becoming one of the continent’s top foodie destinations.

Similarly coming up on the outside in the Romance Stakes is Santorini. The picture-perfect Greek island is now the wedding destination of choice and not just because of the climate. A dramatic, rugged coastline, cliff-hugging villages and probably the most famous sunset in Europe at the irresistibly photogenic Oia makes the ideal conclusion to anyone’s big day.

Or does it? Because for the ultimate romantic break you need to head north. To the Arctic Circle. For a scene straight out of Mills & Boon, picture yourself on a crisp cold night, thousands of stars twinkling like diamonds on a black velvet cloth, a snowy wilderness, a hot tub outside your own log cabin, two glasses of fizz and that most beguiling of natural phenomena, the Aurora Borealis, shimmering across the skyline.

But if a trip to Iceland (not that one) or Scandinavia for the Northern Lights ticks the boxes, avoid late April through to September because the hours of darkness diminish considerably.

However, as anyone who has been married for a long time will tell you: the secret to a long, happy and stable relationship is give and take. With that in mind we give you the compromise capital of Europe… Barcelona. Spain’s most popular tourist destination attracts thousands for its blend of culture, out-of-this world food and Antoni Gaudi’s mind-boggling architecture.

So, by day it’s Las Ramblas, the world-famous food market La Boqueira, and a trip to Gaudi’s as-yet unfinished masterpiece, the stunning La Sagrada Familia. And by night, Barcelona’s other ’cathedral’, the majestic Camp Nou, home to one of European football’s elite, FC Barcelona. And even if Barca aren’t playing, there’s always the behind-the-scenes tour and museum.

Who said romance was dead?

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