Lusting after Europe's romantic vibes but don't want to break out the passport? These experiences will whisk you a world away for the weekend.
Europe holds a powerful place in our collective romantic imaginations. We picture ourselves falling in love as we motor around the streets of Rome, proposing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and celebrating anniversaries in sun-soaked ancient Mediterranean cities. But with revolving COVID variants, lockdown uncertainties, and the everyday practicalities of life that keep us grounded, catching that flight may be a deal-breaker for couples wanting to getaway.
Believe it or not, the United States offers up destinations with European culture. So for couples wanting to feel like they traveled far this winter without the hassles or cancellations, here are crave-able bucket list alternatives much closer to home.
Top Picks for You
When You Want to Sip Wine in a Castle in Tuscany
WHERE: Castello di Amorosa in Napa, California
In the heart of California wine country, this “Castle of Love” is styled like a 13th-century Tuscan castle, right down to the hand-chiseled stones and imported old materials and furnishings. After 15 years of construction, this medieval replica has over 107 unique rooms surrounded by an award-winning winery. Walk the drawbridge over the moat and marvel at the ornate details of the Great Hall, armory, towers, and the somewhat bawdy vision of hell in the chapel’s painting. After Castello di Amorosa, head to nearby Healdsburg for a trendy and inviting dining, shopping, and art scene.
INSIDER TIPSplurge for one of the upgraded tours that let you get down into the cellars, drink from the barrels, and check out the torture room. The day is complete if you can snag a seat in the sun in the courtyard.
When You Want to Live Like the Rich and Famous at a French Chateau
WHERE: Oheka Castle in Long Island, New York
Completed in 1919, Oheka Castle was one of the premier residences of the country in the Roaring Twenties, hosting celebrities, visiting dignitaries, and royalty with all the excess of the age. This French-styled chateau, painstakingly restored, still hosts the rich and famous and has been featured in everything from Citizen Kane to Gossip Girl. Whether you stay at this elegant hotel or simply take in a tour, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of the Gilded Age.
INSIDER TIPBe sure to make time for the formal sunken gardens, upper lawn, and terrace, all of which boast the traditional French aesthetics of Oheka in their style and maintenance. Staying on-site makes it easier to maneuver around wedding schedules.
When You Want to Ski the Alps
WHERE: Vail, Colorado
This Colorado town was designed specifically with a ski resort in mind. Without remnants of a Western mining town, its planners got to run with their love of the Bavarian and Tyrolean regions of the Alps. Low-angled timber roofs with fanciful architectural details dominate several of the base’s villages. You’ll be hard-pressed to find too many places that don’t offer schnitzel, pretzels, wursts, or fondue. The area’s genuine love of Pepi Gramshammer, the world-class Austrian alpine skier and supporter of Vail in the 1960s, keeps this connection from turning gimmicky.
When You Want to Play Lady or Lord at an English Manor
WHERE: Thornewood Castle in Tacoma, Washington
As “the house that love built,” this private residence with overnight rooms is a perfect romantic getaway. Thornewood Castle is a 400-year-old Elizabethan manor that was dismantled and brought, piece-by-piece, from England in 1907. The staircase and sitting rooms will give you some Downton Abbey vibes, while the red-Welsh brick and twelve-chimneys demonstrate its Tudor roots.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss the “secret” sunken gardens and, if the weather permits, guests rave about picnicking in the hidden corners. The other treasure you should wander and find is the extensive, private collection of medieval stained glass spread around the property.
When You Want to Wander the Streets of a Romantic Spanish City
WHERE: St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously settled city of European origin in the United States, established by the Spanish in 1565. And while the city’s history has changed occupational hands many times, it retains Spanish design, architecture, and cultural celebrations. Stroll narrow Aviles Street, the oldest in the country, and treat yourself to a carriage ride past the historic lovers’ balconies before a sunset sail.
INSIDER TIPThe “Love Tree” on Cordova Street, where a palm and oak tree intertwine, is an area tradition for happy couples. Don’t miss watching the Bridge of Lions go up to let boats in and out of the harbor. Residents say it’s good luck to kiss when the drawbridge is open.
When You Want to Visit a Charming French Palace
WHERE: The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina
Based on the royal residences of the French Renaissance, the largest home in the United States drips opulence. The Biltmore House, home of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, includes soaring turrets, sculptures, gardens, intricate woodwork, and the Vanderbilt’s extensive art collection. The house is available for tour, but guests have to stay at the nearby village (yes, it has its own village) if you want to make this iconic stop at the Biltmore an overnight. Hiking, fine dining, a winery, and a spa make it easy to fill a weekend.
INSIDER TIPEleven types of tours are available, several self-guided. Get tickets to the rooftop tour to get access to otherwise off-limit areas. Three lodging options are available at the village, but the cottages offer a more intimate retreat.
When You Want to Experience Germany's Rhine Valley
WHERE: Hermann, Missouri
When settlers from Germany’s Rhine Valley got to eastern Missouri, it reminded them so much of home that they stopped, planted vineyards, and created one of the country’s oldest wine regions. Some of the industry’s leaders came from the area before founding Napa. Today, Hermann embraces this heritage. Take a trolley around some of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in the region before shopping boutiques or sampling from over 40 flavors of bratwurst at the Hermann Wurst Haus.
INSIDER TIPHermann sells tickets to several wine trails, including a Chocolate Trail around Valentine’s Day, that pair themed bites with their pours. Dinner at Stone Hill Winery’s Vintage 1847 Restaurant offers excellent views with Bavarian details and dining. Then head over to Concert Hall & Barrel Tavern, the oldest continuously operated bar west of the Mississippi, for the best people-watching.
When You Want to Sample a Nordic Adventure
WHERE: Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska
This ski resort’s chateau-style base may feel like the Alps, but the sea view from its mountain perch is all Scandinavian. And Alyeska Resort’s offerings are Nordically inspired. After a day of downhill skiing at Alaska’s favorite resort, guests can recuperate in the saunas, steam rooms, and hydrotherapy pools of the Nordic Spa. The resort provides Northern lights wake-up calls on request.
INSIDER TIPThe resort will arrange glacial boat tours, even in the winter, to view tidewater glaciers and sea life. And don’t miss the Girdwood pizza joint that Alaskans of the region always point out—Chair 5 Restaurant.
When You Want an Island Getaway at Spanish Tenerife
WHERE: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Beautiful beaches, Spanish art and architecture, and a party atmosphere are much closer than Spain’s famous Canary Islands. Puerto Rico checks all the boxes with a reasonably short flight and minimal time zone changes. Often overlooked as a part of the United States, this culturally rich destination offers the perks of an island getaway with the romantic, cobblestoned feel of a world apart in San Juan’s Historic District.
INSIDER TIPPuerto Rico has great beach resorts, but if you’re reading this, that’s probably not what drew you here. Get a feel for the pulse of vibrant San Juan nightlife and dining by staying in town for some of your trip. The historic Hotel El Convento has the open-air plan of the restored Carmelite convent in the heart of the historic Old San Juan.
When You Want to See the Alcazar in Seville
WHERE: Balboa Park in San Diego, California
Spanish architecture highlights San Diego’s history in this corner of the massive city park. Enter the park on the scenic Cabrillo Bridge and you won’t be far from the California Tower and below it, the Alcazar Gardens. Designed after its namesake in Seville, Spain, these gardens’ fountains display intricate Moorish-styled tilework. The El Cid statue nearby completes the Seville connection.
INSIDER TIPBalboa Park is San Diego’s cultural playground, full of museums and the city’s famous zoo. While you can make a day date (or more) of everything the park offers, don’t miss the Spanish Village Art Center near the zoo’s entrance. This colorful courtyard houses unique and independent artisans and several holiday festivals.
When You Want to Taste Seafood on a Greek Island
WHERE: Tarpon Springs, Florida
An hour north of Tampa, Florida, this city still resonates with its Greek immigrant community. Greek sponge divers and fishers came to this city in the early 1900s, ultimately giving this city the highest percentage of Greek-Americans in the country today. Check out the whitewashed buildings and lanes leading down to the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard. The shops and restaurants in the area are still owned and run by Greek immigrants and offer some of the country’s most fresh, authentic Greek seafood.
INSIDER TIPTake a water or sponge diving tour with one of the resident-owned boat lines. There are many solid choices for meals, but Dimitri’s on the Water serves fresh seafood with a romantic water view.
When You Want to Experience a European Culture You Won't Find in Europe
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
A list of American cities with European style wouldn’t be complete without New Orleans. What makes this city special is its ability to retain cultures, from Spanish and French occupation to the West African and Indigenous influences in Creole culture, and make them into something new. In New Orleans, you can eat French beignets, take in the Spanish architecture of the French Quarter, see a risque show worthy of Moulin Rouge, and sit down to a bowl of Creole gumbo. One thing is certain—New Orleans doesn’t feel anything like the rest of the United States.
INSIDER TIPStay at a hotel with romantic architectural details like ornate balconies. Go for experiences in New Orleans beyond the usual French Quarter: sign up for a cooking class, take a cocktail tour, and catch live jazz on Frenchman’s Street.