Don’t kill the messenger, but dare we point out that Valentine’s Day is just a month away? We know, the holidays are just behind us. But instead of pulling out the cliché chocolates, jewelry, and an overpriced dinner yet again, why not surprise your sweetie with the gift of travel? Here, seven spots sure to up the ante for amore in 2013, from a weekend jaunt to soak up the Southern charm of Charleston to a once-in-a-lifetime sojourn to the exotic horizons of Namibia. Wherever (or whenever) you go, we guarantee Cupid will approve.
Why Go Now: For a spot that’s as suited for sweet nothings as it is sweet tea, Charleston hits the mark. It’s impossible not to swoon over this Southern belle, whose Boone Hall Plantation hosted the secret nuptials of Hollywood heartthrobs Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively in September. But A-list glamour aside, Charleston beckons with an easy charm and laid-back vibe, as well as one of the hottest culinary scenes around—shrimp and grits are just the start. Prepare to fall as much in love with this lovely Lowcountry metropolis as you will with your honey.
What to Do: Stroll hand-in-hand along the city’s historic Battery district, brimming with Victorian homes and quaint shops. As the sun sets, settle in for handcrafted cocktails and fresh oysters—two sexy staples in this neck of the woods.
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Where to Stay: Romantic B&Bs abound in this fair city, but a perennial favorite where you can bed down (and snuggle up) in classic Charleston charm is Planters Inn, conveniently located near the Charleston Market. All rooms have four-poster beds and well-appointed décor, but to up the romance level, grab one with a fireplace and veranda.
Why Go Now: During the spring and summer, tourists flock to California’s North Coast, but during the winter, the art-centric town, affectionately known among locals as Mendo, beckons with a haunting romanticism. Bundle up for a beach stroll, with waves crashing dramatically against the rugged shoreline, and afterward, warm up by the fire with your beloved in one hand and a glass of wine in the other at any of Mendo’s cozy B&Bs.
What to Do: Build your shared art collection (or start one outright) at any of Mendocino’s myriad galleries; the Mendocino Art Center and the Artists’ Co-op of Mendocino, which offers free refreshments at gallery openings every second Saturday, are good bets. Seafood- and wine-lovers should check out the Wine & Crab Days throughout January.
Where to Stay: In the heart of Mendocino, fresh white décor and spectacular views of the Pacific make the Blue Door Inn an ideal home base. For an even more private getaway, savor the curves of Highway 1 along the way to the Elk Cove Inn & Spa. Located in the tiny town of Elk, the waterfront B&B features superb ocean views, handsome décor, and a Southern-centric breakfast buffet that’s famous in its own right, thanks to the inn’s ever-charming owner, Alabama native Elaine Bryant.
Why Go Now: Winter temps might be chilly, but the mood is always muy caliente in Seville. Located in the country’s Andalusia region, this charming Spanish gem, which also made our 2013 Go List, simmers with romance, from its plazas full of bougainvillea and orange trees (though they’re too bitter for eating) to baroque cathedrals to quintessential Spanish cuisine—tapas—that’s designed for sharing.
What to Do: Seville’s beautiful squares and narrow alleyways are made for arm-and-arm strolling; for a regal mode of transit, hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage through the scenic Maria Luisa park, site of the 1929 World Fair. Be sure to take in some flamenco, the fiery, foot-stomping dance native to this region of Spain that oozes with themes of love and loss.
Where to Stay: Just try not to gasp upon entering the lobby at the Alfonso XIII, a Moorish-designed stunner that recently unveiled a $25 million renovation. Rooms are simply exquisite, with scalloped headboards, marbled bathrooms, and verandas, and its art-lined common areas evoke the mystery and romance of Spain through the ages.
Why Go Now: Since the world is still spinning even after the much-anticipated end of the Maya long-count calendar on Dec. 21, this idyllic beachfront town in the Maya Riviera makes the perfect escape for celebrating your shared future. Another reason to visit Tulum now: The hype over 2012 has died down a bit, offering more privacy in this peaceful paradise of thatched-roof lodgings, an eco-friendly vibe, and lazy lunches of fresh ceviche and margaritas.
What to Do: Inspire envy in friends back home with photos of Tulum’s Maya ruins, with their temples, well-manicured grounds, and spectacular backdrop of the azure Caribbean. Or find your inner ohm with a private yoga class on the beach—or, if that’s too much effort, opt for a cocktail and a hammock.
Where to Stay: The "charming" in the Ana y Jose Charming Hotel & Spa is certainly warranted; simple, stylish décor, tasty, seafood-centric cuisine, and balconies throughout make the place feel like your own beach house.
Why Go Now: Even though uber-celebs Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie put it on the map with a 2006 visit, Namibia, with its epic vistas, red sand deserts, and upscale lodges, still feels like a delicious secret to discover. Located northwest of South Africa, Namibia hasn’t experienced the civil unrest of many of other African countries and boasts some of its most unspoiled landscapes, making it a soul-stirring destination for adventure-craving couples.
What to Do: From sand-surfing down the ochre dunes of the Namib Desert to searching for wildlife like the endangered black rhinoceros at Namibia’s most popular attraction, Etosha National Park, Namibia’s outdoor offerings are the stuff of lifelong memories. Share stories of the day while stargazing with your beloved and a bottle of South African wine.
Where to Stay: Create your own version of Out of Africa at Wolwedans, an exquisite property complete with luxury chalets that have en-suite bathrooms and wraparound verandas, gourmet African cuisine, and romantic extras like hot air balloon rides and candlelit dinners for two. Another indulgent spot: Serra Cafema, an uber-luxe, eight-room property in the northwest corner of the country.
Hampshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, England
Why Go Now: The English countryside is a ne’er-go-wrong pick for a dreamy getaway—and the soaring popularity of the hit series Downton Abbey makes a visit to the places where the show is filmed timelier than ever. Here, a simple stroll through the gardens or sipping sherry fireside takes on an extra-special air of regality and romanticism.
What to Do: Hardcore fans will delight in any number of Downton Abbey-themed tours that have popped up recently; book early, as they sell out often. And everyone, fan or not, will appreciate exploring the grounds of Highclere Castle, the fairytale-like 19th century property used as the setting for the series, which is also the part-time home of the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.
Where to Stay: Guests will find a regal reception at Tynley Hall, a majestic mansion with sprawling gardens, towering oaks, and a lobby that’s fit for a king. For a more modern-day experience, the exquisite Four Seasons Hampshire meets even the most highbrow tastes.
Park City, Utah
Why Go Now: Park City is an enchanting winter wonderland for powder-loving couples—what better way to warm up after schussing down the slopes than with your snow bunny and a hot toddy? Even the ski-averse will stay busy, from shopping along the bustling Main Street, to decadent spa treatments, to a thriving film scene, even when the world-famous Sundance Film Festival isn’t in town.
What to Do: By day, work up some friendly competition while carving up some of the finest powder in the country (newbies can pick up the basics during January, which is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month). For après, Main Street always delivers—a mandatory stop is the No Name Saloon, a friendly, no-frills joint that boasts the motto "Helping People Forget Their Names Since 1903." And for film buffs, the Park City Film Series, held at the Park City Library, showcases an excellent lineup of indie flicks.
Where to Stay: To avoid schlepping gear, the ski-in, ski-out Park City Mountain Resort can’t be beat; a triple lift on Main Street brings guests right to the expansive resort. At the swanky Sky Lodge, the party is always rollicking, with a large outdoor hot tub that’s now open to non-guests.
Photo Credits: Charleston: Courtesy of Planters Inn; Mendocino: Courtesy of Mendocino Art Center; Seville, Spain: Jiss | Dreamstime.com; Tulum, Mexico: Courtesy of Ana y Jose Charming Hotel & Spa; Namibia: Courtesy of Wolwedans; Hampshire, Berkshire, and Oxfordshire, England: dutourdumonde / Shutterstock.com; Park City, Utah: Photographer: Andy Miller