While we tend to think most of romance around Valentine's Day, our favorite romantic getaways are guaranteed to rekindle a long-standing romance, or kick a new one up a notch, all year long. Whether you choose to cuddle up on a gondola ride in Venice; snuggle under a blanket on a caleche ride in Quebec City; dance cheek-to-cheek in Buenos Aires; spend long days canoodling on spectacular islands like Bora Bora, Santorini, and Nevis; cruise magical Halong Bay; or discover breathtaking Dubrovnik together, you're bound to feel a renewed (or new) sense of intimacy with your partner. Of course, no list of this sort would be complete without a nod to Paris, the epitome of romantic getaways (and site of countless marriage proposals), but dear Santa Barbara, closer to home, is just as ripe for a tryst, with countless spas and vineyards in the vicinity that are sure to help you and yours relax — and lose your inhibitions.
1. Buenos Aires, Argentina
As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango — and there’s no better place to practice your moves with your partner than on a romantic getaway to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of this incredibly sexy dance. Watching expert tango dancers spin around the dance floor at one of the local venues here is already hot stuff — women dress the part in fishnet stockings, heels, and high-slit dresses, while men don tailored suits and cravats — but taking to the floor with your honey can make the temperature go higher still. Play the voyeur at neighborhood spots like Bar Sur (www.bar-sur.com.ar), or, put on your dancing shoes and trot your stuff at Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso (www.torquatotasso.com.ar), which also offers lessons for first-timers. When you need to rest your feet, this Paris of South America has a lot more to tempt visiting lovebirds, from elegant turn-of-the-century mansions and tree-lined boulevards reminiscent of European cities like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, to cozy bistros in trendy neighborhoods where diners linger over long meals. Plus, with the peso so low nowadays, this city — which once rivaled Manhattan in terms of price — is extremely affordable.
2. Bora Bora
If there’s one destination to blow your savings on in the name of love, this tiny, pricey South Pacific island is it. Novelist James A. Michener described Bora Bora as, “the most beautiful island in the world” and visitors to this romantic getaway's far-flung shores rarely disagree. So small that the island road is a mere 19 miles long, this Polynesian idyll sits 143 miles northwest of Tahiti and boasts the best that nature can offer: a high-mountain center cloaked in jungle, a superb cobalt lagoon, a colorful coral reef, and pristine stretches of bone-white sand dotted with fallen coconut husks. When you’re not discovering the many bounties of this island paradise, hang out at the local watering hole, Bloody Mary's (www.boraboraisland.com/bloodymarys), where Pierce Brosnan has been known to woo his leading lady, or send off the sun with a sunset catamaran cruise. Come nightfall, few can resist bedding down at a lavishly appointed over-the-water bungalow.
3. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Couples in search of romance are flocking to this wondrous city on the southernmost stretch of Croatia’s coast, as enchanted by its beauty today as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who once proclaimed, "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik." The city has been magnificently restored to its former glory to emerge as one of the most fashionable vacation spots in all of Europe. Dubrovnik's resurgent popularity should come as no surprise, however — this “jewel of the Adriatic,” as the coastal resort town is often referred to in tourist brochures, is breathtakingly beautiful and a magnet for dreamy-eyed lovers in search of a romantic getaway. The city's fortified old town overlooks the dazzling Adriatic from a shelter of limestone cliffs and its marble-paved streets are lined with marvelously preserved churches, stately palaces, squares, and terracotta-roofed townhouses. Meanwhile, down below, along the seaside coast, fine beaches beckon — as do a slew of offshore islands — making Dubrovnik uniquely appealing to just about any taste.
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4. Halong Bay, Vietnam
Now that you’ve found your knight in shining armor, put his dragon-slaying skills to the test in this ancient dragon’s lair near the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. Indeed, “Ha Long” means "where the dragon descends into the sea" and, once you're sailing the enchanting emerald-green waters here, you'll easily understand why the bay is believed to have been formed by the thrashing of a dragon's tail. It’s a sight that confirms this corner of Vietnam’s status as one of the most romantic getaways in Asia; undoubtedly the country’s most mesmerizing natural setting, this UNESCO-protected area is dotted with grottoes, some 3,000 limestone islets (only one of which is inhabited), and often shrouded in mist, which only adds to its mystique. While day trips are available, we strongly recommend booking an overnight cruise to experience the bay's phenomenal sunset and sunrise, as well as more of its splendid landscapes. Our favorite agencies for 2-day cruises are Emeraude Classic Cruises (www.emeraude-cruises.com) and Buffalo Tours (www.buffalotours.com).
If you’re craving a Caribbean getaway that’s just as high on romance as it is on R & R, look no further than darling Nevis (pronounced n-EE-vis), the sister island of St. Kitts. A quiet, old-Caribbean charm reigns on this 36-square-mile patch of land that famously produced Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Nowadays, cocooning lovers can hole up on romantic getaways in converted plantation houses — rather than sterile high-rise beach resorts — where atmospheric verandahs, louvered windows, and four-poster beds guarantee your hours, if not days, will be spent canoodling. Should you decide to leave your room, the island’s scenery is equally entrancing: Disused stone sugar mills are now overgrown with vines, lush island paths invite hiking and horseback riding, and sugarcane fields lead to remarkable restaurants serving fine Creole fare. Add in the fact that Nevis is still relatively difficult to get to (you have to change planes in St. Maarten, Antigua, or Puerto Rico), and you’ll be looking at spending serious quality time with your sweetie — without having to share him or her with other vacationing sun worshipers.
6. Paris, France
Parisian culture seems inherently designed for romance, with countless settings tailor-made for those only-in-the-movies-type kisses: manicured gardens with perfect make-out benches lie around every corner; lamp-lit pedestrian quays along the Seine invite stolen smooches; and majestic plazas and tucked-away squares like Place des Vosges offer storybook backdrops for marriage proposals. A perch atop any of the city’s famous ponts (bridges) are also sure to get your heart racing: linger on Paris's oldest bridge, Pont Neuf; check out the animated arts-and-music scene of Pont des Arts; or take in the phenomenal views of the Eiffel Tower from the elaborate Pont Alexandre III. Undoubtedly, for some, the height of a romantic getaway here can be found at the top of the Eiffel Tower itself; coordinate your viewing with one of Paris’s lovely sunsets, and the city will blush pink right along with you.
7. Quebec City, Canada
With its homegrown French language, colonial architecture, and horse-drawn carriages, Quebec City is inherently designed with romantic getaways in mind. Encircled by ancient stone ramparts, and speckled with lovely squares, quaint cafés, and striking historical buildings, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also blessed with a phenomenal natural setting above the mighty St. Lawrence River, with plenty of vantage points from which to view the coursing waters. Each season brings its own special charms, too: While summers encourage late-night lingering over wine at outdoor cafés, the chilly winters give lovers all the more reason to snuggle up under a blanket in a horse-drawn caleche or get cozy with a delectable fondue for two at a first-rate French restaurant. No matter what time of year you choose to visit, stay in a quaint 17th-century auberge (inn), complete with wood-beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls to round out the otherwordly experience.
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8. Santa Barbara, California
Bona fide beach town, the Santa Ynez wine-producing region next door, and loads of spa retreats within driving distance . . . it’s no wonder California’s Santa Barbara gets our nod in the romantic getaways department. Its splendid location, between palm-fringed Pacific beaches and the evergreen Santa Ynez Mountains, quaint Spanish- and Mediterranean-style architecture, gourmet fare, and posh hotels have attracted West Coast residents for quiet weekends for decades. And no wonder: From wine-tasting in one of the country’s largest wine-producing regions and supping on sublime organic foods, to enjoying massages for two and strolling barefoot on the beach at sunset, a visit here is an undeniably heady experience. Tack on an outing in a hot air balloon — a favorite local activity — and you’ll be guaranteed to swoon over the scenery, as well as your companion!
9. Santorini, Greece
Some may think island romance is overrated, but then they’ve probably never been to Santorini. The most visually stunning of all the Greek Cyclades, this beguiling honeymoon spot has all the trappings of a dream vacation: Postcard-perfect cliffside villages, exotic black-sand volcanic beaches, transcendent sunsets, luxurious cave-rock hotels, dramatic striated red-and-gray cliffs stretching to the sky, and the Aegean’s finest wineries. Built atop volcanic ashes — on the ruins of what some theorize to be the lost city of Atlantis — the resplendent whitewashed beauty’s remarkable physical characteristics — its jagged cliffs, dark volcanic rock, and crescent shape carved out by the sea — are manifestations of its eruptive history. These days, romantic getaways to Santorini are more likely to incite personal passions, whether on a visit to the enchanting cliff-side village of Oia, gazing at mesmerizing sunsets over the Aegean, or simply absorbing the best of Mediterranean romance in all its glory.
10. Venice, Italy
An extraordinary waterfront wonderland where ancient palazzi seemingly float above water, Venice manages to be both serene and seductive all at once. While its labyrinthine cobblestone streets certainly encourage lovers to stroll hand in hand, it’s the city’s iconic gondolas that really up the romantic ante. Picture yourself, a due, tucked in an intricate, hand-carved boat, and punted along dreamlike canals by a young Italian gondolier who serenades you as you glide under delicately arched bridges — the aptly-named Bridge of Sighs among them — and past flower-laden balconies. Other Venetian draws sure to set your heart aflutter include sipping Bellinis to the sounds of classical music in the majestic Piazza San Marco or catching a view of spires and rooftops from atop the Campanile di San Marco.
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This story, "Top 10 Romantic Getaways," originally appeared on ShermansTravel.com.