Romantic destinations

There’s no doubt about it: travel can be romantic.

So, at this time of year when love is in the air, here’s some of our favourite romantic destinations:

1.Venice, Italy – if romance has an ideal backdrop, this is it. Venice seems to emit a romantic energy. No wonder it is known as the City of Honeymoons.

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2. Crete, Greece – what a wonderful island. Rugged scenery, friendly people, wonderful food and an amazing culture.

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3. Lattari Mountain villages, Campania, Italy – within sight of the Amalfi coastline, yet a land lost in time. These villages spell out romance with a capital ‘R’.

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4. Schafberg Mountain, Austria – rising up from the waters of the Wolfgangsee, this mountain takes you to a land above the clouds. In season, catch the Schafbergbahn train to the top and behold the Hotel Schafbergspitze on its snowy peak.

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5. El Maresme costa, Catalonia – Barcelona and the coast to its north are as romantic as anyone could wish

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6. The Gower, southern Wales – a misty and mystic wonderland of green lowlands, rocky peaks, beaches, ancient castles and standing stones, the Gower is good for the soul.

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 7. Lake Bled, Slovenia – commonly described as one of the most beautiful places on earth, Bled has all the ingredients for a romantic stay.  Simply stunning!!

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8. Florence, Italy –  To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain

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9. Athens, Greece – the ancient wonders of this captivating city are matched by the warmth of its people, the superb food and the excitement of the bubbling metropolis.

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10. Rome, Italy – the Eternal City spells romance and excitement at every turn.

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11. Niagara Falls, USA – another honeymoon favourite for a reason. There’s something about Mother Nature at her grandest.

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12. London, United Kingdom – the ‘Capital of Capitals’ has an appeal that must be experienced to be fully understood. We defy anyone to step off the plane at Heathrow and not feel immediately that the city is special indeed.

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13. Prague, Czech Republic – a cobblestone wonder that is as romantic as you will find anywhere.

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14. The Isle of Capri, Italy – every visit to this emerald island will feel like falling in love.

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15. Utah’s national parks – The Coyote Buttes – and who didn’t love cowboy movies?

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16. Scotland, United Kingdom – a rugged landscape, where the air is crisp and the whiskey is smooth.

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17. Paris, France – a perennial favourite with lovers, lose yourself in the boulevards and architecture (but watch the drivers)

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18. Copenhagen, Denmark – the dock of the bay at Nyhaven, one of the many charming highlights of this elegant and friendly city.

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19. The Dolomites, Italy – this limestone mountain range in north-eastern Italy is a favourite with the ski crowd, but its beautiful, rugged landscape is dotted with romantic cabins where solitude comes free of charge.

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20. The North Coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom – scenery to die for.

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Barcelona Features Romance

An encounter with a brazen lady

Naples: the skin tingles.

Description: chaotic but edgy and sensual.

Question: How could we have avoided her for so long?

Answer: In past visits, we’d stuck to the well-worn tourist trails leading to Italy’s Sorrentine peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

Result: I was always curious about Napoli and its reputation for being exactly the opposite of elegant Florence, tendy Milan and stately Rome.

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My curiousity increased with tales of cruise ship tourists refusing to disembark there, apparently rattled by fears of pickpockets, mafia and drug wars.

This city had long intrigued me. It is often described as “beautiful chaos”. But, what exactly did that mean?

Sorrento and the Amalfi, I was told, were like the southern belles of Italy – alluring in their pastel colours and genteel manners. Naples flirted openly – suggestive and gritty.

Yet, intriguing or not, we never found our way to the city under Mount Vesuvius until Gert’s car GPS experienced problems on the way from the ruins of Herculaneum.

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Suddenly, we were tangled in the urban canyons of suburban Naples – and our senses were on overload.

Street drama

The area was the very epicentre of Neopolitan life played out on crowded and dilapidated streets, with just a hint of danger.  Sue gently pushed her handbag out of sight beneath her car seat.

It was in-your-face and overwhelmingly loud – a warren of narrow roads and lanes, confusing street signs, poverty, drying laundry, rubbish and graffiti.

Neopolitan men in sweaty singlets, trucks overladen with fresh fruit, kamikaze motorcyclists on footpaths; women in traffic-stopping tight shorts and heels, road signals that no one seemed to obey – all wrapped in the smells of coffee and pizza.

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The streets were a bewildering maze of traffic, charging heater skelter everywhere, without  the semblance of order or marked lanes.

We’ve survived the craziness of New York City taxis; the insanity of downtown Bankok; the wall-to-wall vehicles of Los Angeles; and the free-for-all that is Paris traffic, but we’d never seen anything like the streets of Naples.  This was a whole new league.

The streets were  a knock-down, winner-takes-all competition, where the first person to blink lost.

How, I wondered, could anyone be indifferent to this raucous streetscape. Surely, it was either appalling or captivating!

Either way, it was a remarkable experience and, unlike those cruise ship tourists, I was excited by the intense, heaving humanity around me – and keen to see more.

Later, we sat in a quiet hillside coffee shop where a shrine to the Madonna looked down on us from a roadside tree and the city spread out below – from the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and the Lattari Mountains.

Admittedly, the cityscape was somewhat blurred by a soupy smog not uncommon in Naples.

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Young boys kicked a football on the concrete beside us and the rich sound of Italian voices provided a soundtrack that was somehow perfect.

We had been thoroughly enjoying the solitude and intoxicating traditions of the Lattari villages. These are our type of places.

However, the contrast of Naples and its gritty excitement also touched something inside us – possibly a yearning for a long-passed youth.

I made a mental note to return if possible – to ‘See Naples and Live”.

Note: the writer was flown to Europe by Scoot Airlines

 

 

Anti pickpocket products Naples

Culture and coffee in romantic Vienna

If you enter the words “elegance” and “romance” into Google, there’s a good chance the answer will be “Vienna”.

Throw in sophistication, culture, history and coffee houses and you’re getting close to the charm of the Austrian capital on the Danube.

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A cityscape characterised by magnificent baroque buildings has something for everyone – from outstanding museums and galleries; striking palaces; a famous opera house; and the gothic Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Culture oozes from the cobblestones  walked at times by the likes of Beethoven, Strauss, Mozart and Haydn.

Today, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  is world famous, as is the Vienna Boys Choir.

Stunning Schoenbrunn Palace – with its Gloriette monument, maze; Palm House and zoo –  is recognised instantly, as is the eye-opening Hofburg Imperial Palace.

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And tucked between the famous buildings is the quaint Vienna beloved by the locals, with coffee houses, tea rooms and wine taverns standing side-by-side with modern restaurants and shops.

Whatever your taste, Vienna is a feel-good city.  The uniquely Viennese charm is the perfect medicine for whatever ails you.

You lose your breath at the beauty of Italy; you marvel at the grandeur of London; you glow at the romance of Paris; and you sway to the beat of New York City.

In Vienna,  you feel a better person just for visiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Romance Vienna

The romantic call of carousels

You’re never too old for the magic of a carousel.

Perhaps it’s being part of such a long lost craft, or just plain nostalgia for the joys of childhood, but finding wonderful old carousels has become something of a travel ritual for us

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Photo courtesy Popular Mechanics

Carousels are particularly ingrained in European culture and we’ve seen some beauties in France; the United Kingdom; Denmark; Germany; Italy and Catalonia.

They also remain popular attractions in Northern America and Australasia.

Knights go round

Known as ‘roundabouts’ or ‘merry-go-rounds’ in many countries, the carousel was first developed as a cavalry-training device in Europe and the Middle East.

Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another – which doesn’t sound easy.

By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that was rotated by an operator or a team of horses. The steam-powered mechanical roundabout is believed to have appeared about 1861.

These days, carousels come in all shapes and sizes, which is all part of the appeal.

Tivoli’s high flyer

For example, Tivoli amusement park, at Copenhagen, Denmark, boasts one of the world’s tallest swing rides in the ‘Star Flyer’ – or Himmelskibef – an 80 metre (260 feet) high carousel that provides commanding views of the city centre.

 

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

The ‘Star Flyer’ recently celebrated its 10th birthday.

Shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Carousels are numerous in France.

We found many scattered across Paris.

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Photo courtesy Utrip blog

Probably the most striking setting is the Eiffel Tower Carousel, on the Champs de Mars – a green park that runs down to the Eiffel Tower.

A beauty in Florence

In the magnificent city of Florence, Italy, a superbly restored wooden carousel is a highlight of the Piazza della Republica.

This is the antique carousel of the Picci family, which has operated the ride for four generations.

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Photo courtesy Jorge Royan and Wikimedia

On London’s southbank

On our last visit to London, we were delighted to come across a traditional carousel on the Thames Southbank, near the London Eye.

Covent Garden has also been the site of numerous carousels over the years.

Colourful carousels of Barcelona

Like the surrounding city, the carousels at Sould Park amusement area in Barcelona are boldly designed and adorned in bright colours.

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Photo courtesy Mr Richochet and Flickr

In Berlin, Germany, the traditional carousel has been taken a step forward with the high flying ‘Merlin’s Apprentice’ swing ride at Legoland in Potsdamer Platz. We didn’t test ride this one, but it sure looks spectacular – especially for the young.

An Aussie gem

One of the most striking carousels we’ve seen holds pride of place in the Darling Harbour entertainment precinct at Sydney, Australia.

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

Horses for this rare Edwardian carousel were carved in London in about 1885 and the steam engine was made about seven years later at Norwich, England.

Imported to Australia, the carousel was given a galloping motion in about 1910 and became widely known for its appearances at country fairs and agricultural shows throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Central Park’s indoor carousel

One of the highlights of wonderful Central Park, in New York City, is the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, that dates to 1908.

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

This indoor attraction is one of the biggest carousels in the US.

Jet-powered?

While discussing carousels with friends in the US, we were told about a jet-powered attraction that was given a test run several years ago by the  Madagascar Institute, an arts collective based at Brooklyn, New York City.

Apparently, the aim was to fit jet packs on the backs of each user, stand clear – and hope.

Our friends were unsure how well it worked, but the idea certainly took the ancient carousel to new heights.

(Main page photo: Classic Carousel, Tivoli, Copenhagen. Copyright: Memorable Destination)

 

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Romantic Bath: celebrating Jane Austen

The grand English city of Bath – with its beautiful Georgian buildings and sweeping thoroughfares – seems the perfect setting to remember one of the great romantic novelists.

Jane Austen Centre is dedicated to celebrating Bath’s most famous resident – staging ongoing exhibitions and playing  centre stage at the Jane Austen Festival, held  over two weeks each September since 2000.

While millions of travellers flock to the springs from which the Somerset city takes its name, it’s certainly worth finding your way to the Gay Street townhouse that offers a step back in time to the days of Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Jane Austen paid two long visits to Bath towards the end of the 18th century, and from 1801 to 1806, the city was her home. For a time, she lived in Gay Street.

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Enjoying the period atmosphere

On arriving at the centre, we were greeted by Martin, the costumed ‘man-on-the-door’ and were taken on a fascinating journey through the author’s links with Bath and the impact that the city had on her writing of books such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

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We were given a snapshot of life in the Regency times – the fashion, food, society – everything that would have inspired Austen’s novels.

And to create a more genuine period atmosphere, were invited to don coats, hats and bonnets – while Sue and our delightful English cousin, Jan, posed coyly behind typically 18th Century fans. Our Australian Socceroos scarf added a more modern touch.

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Before departing, we signed the visitor’s book with a flourish, using a feather pen and nib dipped in ink.

A majestic location

Jane Austen Centre can be found at Bath, in Somerset, UK. The centre is broadly located between two of Bath’s architectural masterpieces, Queen Square and the Circus.

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Bath is located about one-and-a-half hours from London by train.

Road travel between the two cities usually takes just over two hours.

 

 

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Bath Romance

For an unusual gift, try a Welsh love spoon

We have close ties with Wales.

But it’s a lot more than just family links that keep bringing us back to this wonderful part of the planet.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe have been fortunate to travel the length and breadth of Wales – and each time we have new experiences, find different attractions and explore ever more memorable destinations.

It’s far more than just the intriguing history, the warmth of the people and the intense pride in their heritage.

As we found on our most recent visit to the remarkable Gower area of southern Wales – with its standing stones and other monolithic structures – there is also deep and important local belief in folklore and Celtic mysticism.

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Beauty and history merge at Gower

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One particular Welsh tradition has spread world-wide -and is a great gift idea for just about any occasion

‘Love Spoons’ are carved from wood, contain special decorations and were traditionally used as a gift of intent.

In much the same way that today’s young men might bring gifts of flowers, chocolates or even jewellery to their beloved, ‘Love Spoons’ were traditionally used by a suitor to show a girl’s father that the would-be husband was capable of providing.


There are similar traditions in Scandinavia and some parts of Eastern Europe, but Welsh ‘Love Spoons’ stretch back as far as the 17th Century and were originally used to eat cawl soup, a Welsh stew made from vegetables and lamb.

The earliest known example is in a museum at Cardiff and is from 1667. Later, the spoons became a symbol of romance and had certain symbols with specific meanings: a heart for love; a lock for a promise of security; a horseshoe for good luck; a cross for faith; and bells for marriage.

Creating these spoons is now seen largely as a folk craft, but they adorn the walls of even the most modern  Welsh home or apartment – and there are entire galleries devoted to showing and selling them

Ours draw us closer to family and also bring back memories of this glorious and often-mysterious  lush green land across the seas.

If these traditional spoons catch your fancy, but you are not likely to head for Wales anytime soon, they can also be obtained online.

How to get there

Wales is only a few hours drive or train trip from most of the UK’s big cities. Many international airlines fly direct to and from Cardiff.

Romance Traditions Wales

An iconic and romantic English sight

You may not yet have visited Shaftesbury – but you probably know it well.

Although only a dot in the scenic English county of Dorset, an image of Shaftesbury has spread around the world over the past few decades.

Known world-wide

And it’s all because of one local street – the iconic Gold Hill, which is so quintessentially ‘Olde England’ that it has adorned movies, TV, magazines, calendars, postcards and countless chocolate boxes.

In the UK, Gold Hill is almost a household name because it was the main setting for a Hovis Bread television commercial, directed by Ridley Scott in the 1970’s and since voted England’s favourite advertisement of all time.

The steep cobbled street with a medieval wall and unbelievably picturesque  views from the top, has been aptly described as “one of the most romantic sights in England”.

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Seeing Gold Hill at first hand was, however, only one of the pleasant surprises that awaited us in Shaftesbury.

We also discovered Number 5, an elegant Bed and Breakfast that exceeded our every expectation.

The stunning Dorset countryside, with its intense greenery, narrow roads and thatched-roof cottages, is a delight in itself.

More than half the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a fact that is easily understood as you reach Shaftesbury, perched high over the Blackmore Vale and part of the River Stour basin.

And for anyone with even a passing interest in history, this town has a fascinating story to tell.

Once a Saxon fort

Shaftesbury dates back to a hillside fort established in 880 by King Alfred the Great as part of defences against raiding Vikings.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Alfred and his daughter founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888.

A wall from the abbey ruins now runs alongside Gold Hill and the story of what is described as ‘Saxon England’s foremost Benedictine nunnery’ is now told in a museum located on the site.

Later, King Canute of England, Denmark and Norway, died in the Abbey in  1035 and local word has it that his heart was buried at the site.

The abbey was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1539, but Shaftesbury went on to become an important market; a stop-over for coaches; and a centre for the production of hand-made buttons – an industry which was eventually decimated by automation.

Number 5’s central position

We arrived at Shaftesbury late in the afternoon and found our Bed & Breakfast as mist started to swirl up from the Vale below.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Number 5  B&B is a beautiful 1820’s  building  which has been lovingly restored by its owners, Trevor and Kate Toms.

The building is centrally located in Shaftesbury’s Bimport, opposite the Trinity Church where we were able to leave our car in a secure parking area.

We were warmly greeted at Number 5, which is stylishly and tastefully furnished.

Our room had a lovely ensuite bathroom, TV, tea and coffee facilities, complimentary WiFi, yummy chocolates and home-made biscuits.

A short stroll

After enjoying a cuppa, we were off to explore the town, take an obligatory photograph of Gold Hill and check out the site of the former Abbey before dark.

From there, it was a short stroll to a local Indian restaurant for a meal before retiring to the comfy bed at Number 5.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBreakfast the next morning was served in a bright and warm guest dining room and Kate informed us that all the produce came from the local farmers market.

We were quite sorry to leave Number 5 and Shaftesbury; both of which  we recommend without hesitation.

Where it is

Shaftesbury is in northern Dorset, at the intersection of the A30 and A350 roads.  From London, the 110 miles takes about two-and-a-half hours.

Trains run from London’s Waterloo Station to Salisbury in Wiltshire, a trip of about  one-and-a-half hours.  It is then a further one hour by bus to Shaftesbury.

Number 5 B&B is located at 5 Bimport, Shaftesbury.

Bound for the coast

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAfter leaving Shaftesbury, we headed down ever-narrowing roads toward England’s southern coastline.

Dorset features prominently in Sue’s family tree so we were keen to see the home of her ancestors, the nearby market town of Sturminster Newton, before heading into Cornwall.

But that is a story for another day.

 

Ian Roberts

 

 

 

 

Features Romance Shaftesbury