Celebrate Valentine’s Day in the Land of Amour.
No doubt about it, France radiates romantic ooh-la-la. Yes, St. Valentine lived here, in the Loire Valley, and his village, St.-Valentin, self-promotes itself as the Village of Love. And the medieval troubadours of Languedoc penned some of the earliest love songs. But it’s more than that. Somehow, the country’s lavish architecture, its flowing wine, its cafés with tables set for two, its voile-draped accommodations, and its sophisticated cuisine all converge, elating the senses. The only way to understand is to experience it yourself, arm in arm.
Snowy mountains cradle this charming, canal-laced hamlet just four hours from Paris via the TGV. Begonias and petunias overflow from window baskets and iron balconies, and ancient buildings harbor intimate restaurants and luxury inns. Nearby, swans float on Lake Annecy, its blue, blue waters considered Europe’s cleanest. Follow the lakefront paths, keeping an eye out for the Pont des Amours (Lover’s Bridge); legend says if you share a kiss there, you’ll be together forever.
Extend the lakefront romance aboard a dinner cruise, or find an intimate corner in Le Clos des Sens, a Michelin two-star overlooking the lake; the chestnut-shaded terrace is divine. Round out your fairytale getaway with a night at L’Impérial Palace, where balconies overlook the lake and couple massages are offered at the nearby spa.
There is no libation so associated with romance than champagne, whether it’s served chilled in an ice bucket, alongside strawberries and chocolate, or at the seductive hand of James Bond. So what better way to toast romance than to make a pilgrimage to France’s famous Champagne-Ardenne region, an enchanted realm of ancient villages, rolling vineyards, and champagne on every menu? Base yourself in the heart of it all in Épernay, where Avenue de Champagne hosts some of the world’s finest champagne houses, including Moët & Chandon. Tours are offered and include sample tastings.
La Briqueterie is a luxurious boutique hotel, spa, and restaurant in the heart of a champagne vineyard, perfect for a romantic tryst. Picture windows showcase gardens everywhere you look, while dinner at its Michelin-starred restaurant begins with a champagne aperitif in the winter garden, followed by dinner for two in front of the roaring fire.
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Evening street lights glow golden in this medieval market town in the heart of the Périgord, casting a magical spell. Intimate restaurants, cafés, and bars occupying ancient elegant abodes edge the lovely main square, Place de la Liberté, where tables for two beckon. The town may be most famous, however, for its Saturday food market, the perfect chance to fill up your picnic basket with spicy saucisson, shiny red tomatoes, local St.-Nectaire cheese, freshly baked breads, truffles, and foie gras. With your picnic bounty, head to the nearby Dordogne River for a gentle canoe ride past other enchanting, age-old towns. Canoë Dordogne rents canoes.
In this southern town, enjoy some of the local Sarladaise specialties (foie gras, confit de canard) at Le Présidial restaurant, housed in a 17th-century royal court headquarters on the edge of old town; the most romantic spot is its beautiful gardens. Au Grand Hôtel de Sarlat in Sarlat’s heart occupies a 19th-century manor house; the outdoor pool and whirlpool tub are downright sultry beneath a starry sky.
Cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, shimmering canals, arching bridges, and geraniums everywhere you look … some say this little Alsatian town is Europe’s most beautiful. You’ll be tempted to stroll hand in hand, admiring the scenery and stopping for an espresso here, a gelato there. But there’s more than meets the eye, including 7 Michelin-starred restaurants, lots of wine (it sits on the Alsatian wine route), and a slow-moving boat tour aboard a flat-bottomed boat through picturesque Little Venice.
Le Maréchal occupies a quartet of centuries-old Alsatian houses, where elegant rooms decked out with antique furniture hide behind the half-timbered façade. Yes, the floorboards are a little creaky, but that just adds to the charm. Its dreamy gastronomic restaurant, A l’Echevin, promises an evening of romance, whether by candlelight or on the waterside terrace.
The architectural symmetry and elegant detail of Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley is heart-stopping. And there’s nothing more romantic than rowing beneath its graceful five-arch galerie de bal on the River Cher (boats can be rented onshore) or strolling through the flowery gardens. Indeed, this site is infused with romance, considering its one-time owner King Henry II presented the château to the love of his life, Diane de Poitiers. His wife, Catherine de Medici, was, justifiably, not so happy about that; so when he died, Catherine expelled her. The nearby town, Chenonceaux (spelled with an “x”), makes for an unassuming but picturesque base.
Auberge du Bon Laboureur, just a stone’s throw from the castle, began in 1786 as a coach house. Now, it’s a rambling, chic abode, having since incorporated adjacent houses, a tower, and the old village school. Its restaurant, also called Auberge du Bon Laboureur, serves gastronomic cuisine—in good weather, linger over tantalizing courses in the tree-shaded courtyard, where white tablecloths, candles, and wooden floors set the mood.
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Once a separate village near Paris, this romantic hilltop quartier has kept its independent feel, with cobbled alleyways, tiny squares, and pocket gardens (even a small vineyard!). Here, too, on the nondescript Square Jehan-Rictus, you’ll come across an enormous wall, 416 feet square, created from 612 lava tiles. Across its face, “I Love You” has been written more than a thousand times, in 311 languages. It’s a lasting monument to love, and a popular meeting point.
Among Montmartre’s plethora of intimate restaurants and inns, rustic Seb’on has white-brick walls, handwritten chalkboard menus, and flower-filled watering cans. And Hôtel Particulier, occupying a 19th-century mansion with a lush walled garden, feels like your very own secret pied à terre.
It doesn’t get much more romantic than Èze, a hilltop village perched high above the French Riviera, with ancient stone houses clinging to the top of a green mountain peak. There’s not much here, really, other than romantic hidey-holes: cobbled terraces, outdoor pools, an exotic cactus garden, plus a fair share of dreamy restaurants and luxuriant hotels—all with panoramic views. Of course, you can always tour the nearby villages and beaches, each with their own charms. Then again, why would you?
One of the best spots to enjoy the views over a sumptuous dinner is Château de la Chèvre d’Or, with its pair of Michelin stars; the outdoor terrace in warmer months is blissful for an apéritif or after-dinner drink. The chateau offers an opulent overnight, though there’s also Château Eza, another ornate storybook castle infused with medieval character (and breathtaking views, bien sûr); the room with the Jacuzzi tub next to a roaring fire is simply indulgent.
Huddled on a cove along the English Channel, Honfleur’s medieval half-timbered buildings edge cobbled lanes, with flowers spilling forth from windows and doorways. It’s no coincidence that Impressionism was born here, as artists led by Charles Monet strove to capture the dazzling play of light and water in this picturesque realm. Watch the sun set over shimmering waters, then linger over a cocktail along the ancient harbor, its half-timbered buildings and luxury yachts reflected in the still waters.
An 18th-century Norman country house, Le Manoir des Impressionistes is located about a mile out of town, with fab views over the sea (perfect for sunset watching). The guest rooms have French antique furniture, full-length windows, some with sea views. The small restaurant is a gourmet experience, from the apéritif in the garden to sinful desserts made with local apples.
Romance dangles from nearly every leaf and bloom of this lavender-scented, olive-tree-dotted landscape in the south of France–from the glorious fields of red poppies to the sunny, blue-sky days and starry nights so elatedly depicted by van Gogh. Spend your days biking through this archetypal countryside, exploring red-roof-tiled villages, gathering picnic supplies in local markets, sipping espressos under plane trees, and slowing down to the pace of the season. Come evening, toast your love with a pastis, then burrow in for a long, wine-infused dinner as crickets serenade.
For an isolated Provençal experience, look no farther than La Bastide de Voulonne. Tucked away in lavender fields, this plane-shaded 18th-century farmhouse has been refurbished to perfection (and modern comforts), down to the ochre walls, lavender and blue shutters, and fountain splashing in the courtyard. Definitely opt for the long, lingering dinner for two in the dining room (designed around the old bread oven) or on the terrace; the masterful menu focuses on the freshest local produce around.
Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant fell in love in the movie Charade in this winter wonderland of a town, with its medieval heart deep in the French Alps. Take a horse-drawn sleigh to the lifts and spend the day on the slopes; some runs have majestic views of Mont Blanc. Then warm up along the village’s cobbled streets, where you can window shop, skate at the open-air ice rink, or find a hidden bistro or café and canoodle the night away.
Watch the snow fall from the picture windows of your luxurious mountain retreat at Les Fermes de Marie, a cluster of perfectly appointed rustic chalets just outside Megève. Cozy guest rooms harbor Savoie antiques, wood-beam ceilings, soft lighting, and plenty of faux fur. An enormous log fire sets the scene for romance in the gourmet restaurant.
As your fully equipped barge glides lazily down a Burgundy canal, sit back in your deck chair and take in the sun’s rays. Along the way, you’ll be treated to visions of flowery gate houses and castle-topped hills, towpaths for leisurely strolling or biking, and plenty of downtime to do nothing but read and sip kirs—that delectable chardonnay-and-cassis aperitif invented in Burgundy. What could be more romantic than that? Wine & Water offers all-inclusive barging packages.