ROMANTIC ESCAPES FROM RUSSIA TO BORA BORA
If one were to define February, it would be bubbly champagne, delectable chocolates, pink hearts and red velvet roses — for it’s the month of love.
But when a loved one’s Valentine directive is “send me no flowers,” it just may be time for a seductive escape.
Along those lines, we traveled to the top of the world, the edge of the earth and all corners in between seeking those perfect “Do Not Disturb” getaways.
LAS VENTANAS AL PARAISO
LOS CABOS, MEXICO
First stop: caliente country. A journey south of the border has an entirely different meaning when the name of one’s final destination translates to “the windows to paradise.”
Though less than two hours from San Diego by air and situated equidistance between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, Las Ventanas al Paraiso is the child of neither, but rather a destination unto itself.
Designed for those who take their pleasure seriously, the resort is so intrinsically romantic that it could be a substitute for a first kiss. And in actuality, the Mediterranean-Mexican architecture of Las Ventanas was, indeed, conceived with the curves of a woman in mind.
The pamperfest begins upon arrival. There is no need for check-in, there’s no reception desk (those details were taken care of long ago).
Nor is there a door at the resort’s entrance, just an open-air lobby showcasing the paradisiacal view — a serpentine series of waterways seemingly spilling into the sea.
In truth, there is little need for lovebirds to leave their room. An oversized terrace allows sunbathing by day and under-the-stars dinners each night. And should the stay be in a luxury suite, vacating it is even less tempting — with the privacy of an open-air shower and one’s own swimming pool.
The eventual lure is the resort’s signature feature — an infinity-edge pool and its beach beyond — where pool and beach butlers anticipate needs before guests consciously acknowledge them (freshly cleaned sunglasses, lemongrass popsicles, even chilled Evian body spritzes). Trained with impeccable precision, the five-star resort’s butlers seem to have a patent on pampering.
However, it’s Maria Elena Soto, the designated Director of Romance, who helps capture the hearts of the most romantic of visitors.
From the simplicity of having a couple’s favorite song playing when first entering their room to hiring a small plane to fly overhead with a banner touting a declaration of love trailing behind it, Señora Soto is a dream-maker. It’s possible to arrange for a heart of bougainvillea flowers to appear on the bed at turndown, as easily as it is to have a Mexican caballero, bearing an engagement ring, ride to the beach on a white horse as the couple dines solo on the sand.
At Las Ventanas, cupid’s checklist is limitless.
SAN CLEMENTE PALACE
Steeped in radiant renaissance — complete with the palace-lined Grand Canal, impeccably attired gondoliers and tales of legendary resident Giacomo Casanova (the notorious womanizer of the 1700s) — Venice is undeniably history’s timepiece.
Removed from the remainder of the country by both distance and water, the city seems a world apart from Italy. But it is not.
For in Venice, it’s tradition to giggle over gelato, toast with a glass of Martini & Rossi Bianco at a Piazza San Marco café and sneak a kiss standing atop the Rialto Bridge — all to musical serenades.
To say the Italian city is romantic would be redundant.
Venice is compact, and it’s surrounded by water. With no motorized vehicles, the only way to explore is on foot or by boat.
But the tiny terrain plays continual host to day-tripping tourists, on-the-move locals, hundreds of pigeons and oblivious lovers — all making a nearby, but quiet, escape even more appealing.
“You are out of the world,” says head concierge Pierluigi Santini of San Clemente Palace. Yet, the private 17-acre island, devoted exclusively to a historic retreat dating from the 12th century, is only 10 minutes from the vitality of Venice.
Transformed from a former Camaldolesi monastery, it opened as the area’s newest luxury resort less than five years ago and simultaneously reflects its ancient history and today’s newest dreams. Nestled amongst its 21st-century amenities — outdoor pool, golf, tennis and spa — is the Church of San Clemente (a consecrated Catholic church founded in 1137).
The resort is attuned to romance. “Whatever a guest would like – we are 90% able to accommodate,” states Santini. In the name of love, the concierge has assisted in a marriage proposal as a helicopter hovered above Venice as easily as he has arranged for a Catholic couple’s marriage to be blessed by the church.
His recommendation: an evening gondola ride through Venice in silence (no request for the gondolier to sing), hearing only the sounds of the water lapping against the vessel.
GRAND HOTEL EUROPE
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Called the “Venice of the North,” Russia’s magical city sits astride the Neva River and boasts of countless canals that are crossed by more than 300 bridges and adorned by 500 palaces.
St. Petersburg’s history reads like a Harlequin romance story, with the intrigue only the czars and czarinas of an imperial past can provide. Its traditional offerings are unmatched: meals beginning with caviar, vodka so smooth it glides along the throat and summer days that never end (called “White Nights,” the translation means around-the-clock sunlight).
But it is winter season that showcases Russia, Dr. Zhivago-style. Fur-snuggling, horse-drawn sleigh rides through freshly powdered forests; enchanting evenings of ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre and having the Hermitage without crowds (summer can mean multi-hour waits simply to enter the building) — this is the Russia of lovers.
At the very heart of St. Petersburg is the Grand Hotel Europe, the city’s lavish, art nouveau-style landmark whose history is intimately intertwined with its royal surroundings. Noted as the country’s first five-star hotel, The Grand’s guests have included Czar Nicholas II, England’s Prince Charles, the composer Tchaikovsky (who spent his honeymoon at the Grand) and most recently, Pink Floyd.
Its location on Nevsky Prospekt is prime, for it is the city’s most prominent promenade. Nearby neighbors include Winter Palace Square (home to the Hermitage), the Russian Museum and the multi-colored Church of the Resurrection — spires of this visual showpiece peek above the tree tops of the adjacent park (visible from several of the hotel’s luxury suites).
The average winter temperature hovers around 19 degrees F., allowing the additional appeal of the Grand Hotel Europe’s outdoor ice bar (the city’s first). Red-and-black Cossack-attired waiters deliver caviar, vodka and champagne to ice tables sculpted completely and expertly by master carvers. Should the weather warm, the bar is re-created over night from ice blocks cut from the Neva.
But when the sun sets and the chill sets in, the cream of St. Petersburg society and the city’s visiting connoisseurs collect in the warmth of the Lobby Bar. Located at the base of the Grand’s sweeping red-carpeted staircase, it’s dark, it’s cozy and it is the place of romantic rendezvous.
INTERCONTINENTAL LE MOANA RESORT BORA BORA
BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
Over-the-water bungalows of the South Seas island of Bora Bora ease the transition from grand to sand.
It is not without merit that the secluded island has long had the reputation as earth’s Garden of Eden, for it is in Bora Bora where unadulterated pleasure meets paradise.
Like a priceless Gauguin painting, the diminutive 6 by 2.5-mile island is spellbinding — lush jagged mountains ringed by coral reef, granulated sugar-white beaches and a sea reflecting so many shades of blues and greens, it rivals any artist’s palette.
Bora Bora’s Matira Point has been long recognized as French Polynesia’s most beautiful site. Two pristine beaches form the picturesque point: a windward beach on Taahana Bay and a leeward beach on its namesake Matira Bay.
This is the location of the InterContinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora. Defined by its tasteful blend of French flair and Tahitian style — tranquility comes naturally and romance flourishes here.
“Residence” in one of the bamboo bungalows is magical and mystical. When former guests talk about the experience, they recall birdsong at dawn, the rustle of the bungalow’s thatched roof when trade winds cool the island and sounds of drums at day’s end signaling sunset.
However, romance of the stay extends well beyond its audible murmurs. For at Le Moana, it’s possible to indulge in a wake-me-up lagoon swim (descending into the water from the suite’s private ladder), enjoy cocktails while watching exotic marine life collect beneath the living area’s glass coffee table and paddle a canoe to a motu for a private picnic.
Bora Bora’s over-the-water, under-the-stars experience showcases authentic paradise, underscoring James Michener’s proclamation of longing.
“Anyone who has ever been there wants to go back..”
IF YOU GO
Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Los Cabos, Mexico
Tip: Consider off-season travel (June 1–Oct. 15). Though the weather is warmer, savings at Las Ventanas can be as much as 35%. Daily summer rates start at $500.
San Clemente Palace
Tip: Weatherwise, spring and fall are the best times to visit. Summers can be hot and packed with tourists, and though winters are typically damp and foggy, the conditions add a certain mystique to the ancient city.
Grand Hotel Europe
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tip: Tourist visas are required. It’s wise to spend the extra money to have a visa service process the document, rather than working directly with the Russian Embassy or consulate.
InterContinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora
Tip: Break up your trip. After a long flight from the West Coast, consider a one- or two-night stay in Moorea or Tahiti before continuing to Bora Bora.
THE MOST ROMANTIC. . .
Table for Two
Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Los Cabos
Silver-and-linen settings, toes in the sand and torches lighting the way to an isolated table on the beach define this unforgettable meal. Only two couples dine al fresco by the sea each evening, making well-in-advance reservations mandatory.
Hotel Hana-Maui, Hawaii
Located on the outdoor deck of some of the sea-ranch cottages, the view overlooks the sweeping, green expanse of the massive grounds and the crashing ocean beyond.
InterContinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora
Served on the terrace of the over-the-water bungalow, breakfast is delivered by members of the Polynesian-attired wait staff who arrive in a flower-adorned outrigger canoe.
Grand Hotel Europe, St. Petersburg
Sunday’s Jazz Brunch at L’Europe Restaurant features caviar and sushi bars, an omelet station, a chocolate fountain and flowing vodka and champagne in the hotel’s Art Deco dining room.
Chateau de la Messardiere, St. Tropez
Showcasing surrounding vineyards with a Bay of St. Tropez backdrop, suites opening to the resort’s heated mirror pool offer this prime perch from which to savor a glass of Beaujolais.
Maui’s road to Hana is legendary — innumerable waterfalls and countless hairpin curves negotiated in a breathless tropical terrain. Like a magnificent rainbow, the reward at its end is this hotel and its sea ranch cottages sprinkled throughout land reminiscent of a Hawaiian land baron’s ranch. The isolation is romantically addictive.
Chateau de la Messardiere
St. Tropez, France
Like a fairytale castle, turret-adorned Chateau de la Messardiere is found atop a forested hill overseeing the French Riviera. The locale’s history is intertwined with celebrities. When Brigitte Bardot filmed 1957’s And God Created Woman in the coastal town of St. Tropez, it transformed the fishing village into one of the jet set’s most fashionable haunts. Since that time, the July/August high season translates to colossal crowds (100,000 on any given day), making a “Chateau escape” all the more desirable. Though only one minute from the beach and two minutes from the village, it is light years from the chaos.
InterContinental Hong Kong
Sporting a Kowloon address and extending into Hong Kong Harbor, the location is unmatched. Only blocks from the shopping and activity of Nathan Road, guests can certainly choose to be in the middle of Hong Kong’s action. But if one desires a more reserved stay, the view alone can keep a couple occupied for days. The piece de resistance is the Lobby Lounge. Known for its panoramic, floor-to-ceiling views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island, the evening laser show featuring Hong Kong’s skyline is magical.
La Jolla, CA
Anyone who has walked the streets of this Southern California village sitting astride America’s own Riviera knows of the “Pink Lady of La Jolla.” A one-time hideaway of elite stars of the 1930s from Groucho Marx to Mary Pickford, today’s celebs are equally enchanted — as are its loving patrons. A cozy enclave overlooking La Jolla Cove, its most romantic offering is at day’s end in the living room style lobby — enjoying a drink as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean while listening to a pianist.
San Ysidro Ranch, A Rosewood Resort, Santa Barbara
Nestled in the foothills between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific, the 500-acre ranch-turned-retreat was formerly a citrus orchard. Its romantic heritage is exceptionally exclusive. John and Jacqueline Kennedy honeymooned at San Ysidro Ranch is 1953. And Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier exchanged vows in the wedding garden at one minute after midnight on a clear evening in 1940. The “Midnight in Montecito” package helps today’s lovers replicate this romance of yesteryear.
Local travel writer Cynthia Dial shares the secrets of her profession in her smart, easy-to-read handbook, Teach Yourself Travel Writing. Written for the traveler as well as the would-be travel writer, the inside info ranges from preparing a story to packing for a trip.