Romance with a travel twist
Helen Raine thinks out of the box for an eccentric, original and impressive Valentine’s trip away from the unimaginative, run-of-the-mill table for two. From underwater hotels to indoor skydiving, an Arctic igloo, haunted castles and a wagon-ride in the wilderness, emotions are destined to soar.
V-day is approaching and, with it, the insidious pressure to dredge up some act of unparalleled romance to impress your other half. Unless you want to end up exchanging sweet nothings over a rather unimaginative table for two, you need to act now. Think out of the box with a trip away at one of these eccentric locations.
I’d like to be... under the sea
If you are a keen diver, you should have started saving up a while ago, because Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida, offers the diving adventure of a lifetime. To get into the lodge, you need to scuba dive through the tropical mangrove of the Emerald Lagoon down to six metres. The underwater accommodation lodge is cottage sized, with hot showers and round windows that let you watch the fish finning past outside and, rather unnervingly, other divers peering in. Entrance is through an ingenious opening on the seabed and once you’re in, there aren’t going to be many people to disturb you.
Jules’ claims to be the only underwater hotel in the world and has also served as a research site for space travel and marine biology. A couples’ package costs €600 and includes accommodation, a pizza delivery, breakfast, diving and all gear (larger groups get a better rate). Romantics can upgrade to filet mignon and key lime pie for an extra $140. Non-divers can also stay for an additional training fee and you can get PADI certification while you are there. www.jul.com
Has your partner always wanted to fly a helicopter? www.experiencemad.co.uk will let you take turns at the controls of a chopper (from €200 for 30 minutes). There are 10 locations available across the UK, so the flight could be over the Chiltern Hills, the rugged Northumberland Coast, or along the cliffs of the South Coast.
Alternatively, if your idea of fun is being blasted into the air by a giant fan, which will blow your jowl against your ears, then try indoor skydiving (perhaps as a precursor to the real thing). You’ll be launched into a vast air tunnel by an instructor and will need to keep the right body shape to allow you to rise. The current ‘two for one’ offer means that the experience will cost €60 for a couple. It’s located in Manchester and Milton Keynes.
Perhaps the most exciting option for an adventurous couple is “coasteering”. The sport combines swimming, traversing and cliff jumping and you can try it on Cornwall’s beautiful coastline. An instructor will take you through blowholes, into caves and up cliff faces; even a hardened adrenaline junkie will find their blood pumping. It might be a bit chilly for a Maltese in February though, so maybe, forget Valentine’s and book for the summer months. A half day costs €80.
Hotel Kakslauttanen’s Igloo Village
There’s one huge romantic advantage to taking a holiday inside the Arctic Circle; you’ll need to cuddle up to keep warm. The Hotel Kakslauttanen in Lapland, Finland, is capitalising on that with a snow chapel, an ice bar and a variety of chilly outdoor pursuits such as snow-sculpting classes, ice swimming through an ice hole with a trap door, ice-karting down phenomenally fast slopes, or snowshoeing.
When it comes to getting warm and cosy, they’ve got it covered. After a smoke sauna, you can stay in a heated glass igloo, where, from the comfort of your bed, you can watch the Northern Lights flicker through the glass dome, or a snowstorm rage across the plain. There’s also a turf chamber with a sauna and Versace bathroom. The really adventurous should try the snow igloos, illuminated by lights mounted in ice. Woollen socks, a hood and a down sleeping bag are provided. www.kakslauttanen.fi
You can afford a carriage
Being in the wilderness is a great way to connect with your partner, and The Cape Town Carriage Company has thrown a historical experience into their package. You will drive your own covered wagon through beautiful Napier, along a trail used by the early pioneers. When you reach camp, you can cook on a communal fire and then sleep in the wagon. It’s possible to ride part of the way to explore the countryside. Unlike the settlers, you’ll have a back-up vehicle further behind in case anything goes wrong. The high points include swimming in lagoons and watching South Africa’s native birds foraging in the plains. Trail boss John Foster runs the tour, sporting a beaten safari hat and a stiff moustache; apparently his word is law. Prices start from €240 for two adults. www.ctcco.co.za/napiertrails
If you think a little fear will throw you into one another’s arms, book in at Castle Leslie. It’s a spectacularly beautiful hotel in County Monaghan, Ireland, where you can spend the day wandering the grounds and experiencing a “piece of Irish heaven”.
In the winter, the castle serves mulled wine by a roaring log fire before you retire to one of the 20 eccentric bedrooms (think four posters and damask wall hangings in dark crimson), which have baths to wallow in and Victorian plumbing to marvel over. Come nighttime, ghosts are complimentary and include a monk that frequents the banqueting hall, a crying child (I imagine most parents can do without that), and a previous owner who was killed in the war. Lady Constance haunts the Mauve Bedroom so you can always put in a special request for that room. Prices start at around €130 per room, including breakfast, but there are also Valentine’s Specials, which include candlelight dinner, a glass of bubbly, chocolates and roses (in case the ghosts don’t cut it) from €155.