Valentines Day. It’s a bit marmite, isn’t it? Some go all in, others think it’s over commercialised nonsense. I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m not a fan of traditional romance, red roses and cuddly toys don’t do it for me. But in a busy world, I think Valentines Day can be a sweet reminder to get back to basics and invest time and attention on the people we love.
Or, in the places we love. And, lets be honest, any excuse to plan a little getaway. There is a well worn list of Valentines travel ideas. The European cities, the luxury hotels and so on. Nothing wrong with any of ’em, but not for me. Here are my Valentine picks.
The German city break: Leipzig
For me, no travel list is complete without a German destination. Step forward, Leipzig. The old town with its trademark squares and streets connected by a series of arcades and passage ways, is perfect for strolling. Elsewhere, the historic city zoo boasts an indoor rainforest and plenty of indoor enclosures, including a brilliant monkey house.
Leipzig is also a city with a thriving creative and arts scene. If you like art on a massive scale, head out to the Leipzig Panometer, where lighting effects, sound and a 3,500 meter square panorama create an immersive, other-worldly experience. Pick up lunch at the Panometer café and then make the hour-ish stroll through historic neighbourhoods back into the centre. Round the day off in a traditional cellar bar or in the unique Bayerischer Bahnhof, a former rail station turned restaurant and brewery and producer of a local speciality beer called Leipziger Gose.
The UK city break: Newcastle
For a small city, Newcastle packs a big punch. Once an industrial hub, the Ouseburn area is now home to a free-to-visit city farm, the country’s largest independent art and design gallery in the form of The Biscuit Factory and plenty of pubs and cafes. The Ouseburn is also home to Newcastle’s hidden heritage, the Victoria Tunnel. Book a guided tour to walk through the Ouseburn Valley to the tunnel entrance and then under the streets of the city, whilst hearing how the tunnel went from a feat of engineering to an air raid shelter to a tourist attraction…including memories of war time couples who did their ‘courting’ in the tunnel and tales of missing light bulbs. Yes, the two are connected.
For a place to stay or just a drink with a view, I can personally recommend the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead. The quayside location on the Gateshead side of the river is within easy access of all the city attractions, guest facilities include a pool and sauna and the bar features floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views up the River Tyne and across the iconic Tyne Bridge. Lovely.
The Cheesy Break: Disney Paris
I know I said I’m not one for run-of-the-mill romance and Disney-plus-Paris is a bit cliché, but give me this one. Disney is fun, and is there a cuter couple than Mickey and Minnie? With Paris and La Vallee Village shopping experience nearby, there’s plenty going on if you don’t fancy Disney all day. This is the place to be if you want to go all out, in February the Valentines theme is strong, with everything from love themed Disney merch through to French eclairs with a valentines twist.
On a practical note, the reality of Disney can involve a lot of queuing. I say, don’t let that dampen the spirits. Take it as time to chat. Life is busy and when else do we get parked with someone we love and literally nothing else to do? Every cloud. Plus, if you still fancy your significant other having spent a chunk of the day in line whilst wearing faintly ridiculous mouse ears, you’re onto a winner.
The Far-flung One: Orkney Islands
Granted this one would take some planning, but those adventurous enough to make the journey are rewarded with a warm welcome from the locals, miles of wild coastline to explore and a rich history to delve into. Much of the accommodation here is self catering and feature an open fire or wood burner. Perfect to cosy up at the end of the day.
For a concrete example of how the greatest relationships can sprout from the humblest beginnings, visit the Italian Chapel. Created from two humble Nissen huts, the chapel was shaped by Italian POW’s who were brought to the islands to work, under the leadership of artist Domenico Chiocchetti. The result is a tiny chapel that wouldn’t look out of place on an Italian hillside.
All very interesting, you might think, but what is the Valentines travel connection? Well after the war, the islanders took stewardship of the chapel. The Italian POW’s were traced and returned to the island as welcome guests. And an enduring friendship between a small Italian town and a small Orcadian island was born. It still endures. If that isn’t testament to the idea that love conquers all, I don’t know what is.
All this talk of love and romance and I promised you a story about lime pickle. How can there possibly be romance in a condiment? Well, Mr THL and I have struggled a bit with the idea of romance over the years. He’s not always that good at it and my idea of romantic isn’t always standard. I used to feel a bit disappointed about it all. Then Mr THL went out to collect a take away one weekend and took a while. Because he’d gone back to pick up a pot of lime pickle when he realised we didn’t have one. He knows its the one I like best, and unbeknownst to me , always made sure I got it. Even if it meant asking for it, pestering the guy who served him or even driving back and picking some up.
So if a dozen red roses and a trip to Paris is your idea of romance, that’s great, But if it isn’t, don’t worry. Sometimes romance comes down to something really simple. Like a pot of lime pickle.