I was recently asked how I would craft a Grantourismo-style romantic city escape or luxury honeymoon holiday, a break still focused firmly on love and romance but one that involves a little local travel, experiential travel, slow and sustainable travel, and a lot of food and wine. I chose a handful of our favourite destinations and these are what I came up with…
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Stay: The intimate ABaC Hotel, designed by architect Antoni de Moragas, has just 15 rooms, a spa with a Turkish bath, and sweeping city views.
Dine: After a meal at Michelin two-starred ABaC Restaurant on site, head to our favourite restaurant, one-starred Cinc Sentits for a decadent degustation expertly matched with local wines.
Experience: Barcelona is all about the food for us, so sample local produce at the markets, graze on small plates at the city’s tapas bars, and feast on creative contemporary Catalan cuisine by some of the world’s finest chefs. Going local: Head out at midnight for a late night (or early morning) bar hop in bohemian Gràcia. Try to return to this interesting neighbourhood during daylight hours too, so you can browse the art galleries and soak up the sunshine with the locals from cafe table on a sunny square.
Love and Romance: Savour the sunset as you stroll hand-in-hand along the seafront at beachside Barceloneta then tuck into fresh seafood at a simple restaurant in its narrow backstreets.
Where: Porto, Portugal
Stay: Modelled on a 17th century palace, lavish Hotel Infante Sagres is Porto’s most luxurious hotel, decorated in a sumptuous combination of antique furniture and contemporary works of design.
Dine: The hotel has an opulent restaurant serving scrumptious Portuguese cuisine, but it’s also worth taking a trip to restaurant DOC by Rui Paula in the Douro Valley for the creative food and breathtaking riverside location.
Experience: If Barcelona is all about the food, Porto is about the wine – and port wine. Do a tasting of Portuguese wines in Vini Portugal’s stylish tasting rooms before heading across the river to the old port house of Sandeman for a port tasting and tour of the atmospheric cellars.
Going local: Climb the skinny cobbled streets of the atmospheric old town, amble along the low key waterfront with its colourful façades and spectacular river vistas, then pull up a chair at a cafe for a cold glass of something.
Love and Romance: Porto oozes romance from every paving stone, but once you’ve had your fill of its hills take a wine-themed road trip to the Douro Valley wine region and stay at the majestic Hotel Aquapura, which also has a superb restaurant (we loved their Alheira country sausages), sublime spa and spectacular views.
Where: Venice, Italy
Stay: Boasting sublime Grand Canal views, the 15th century palazzo Ca’ Sagredo is part hotel and part museum, decorated with frescoes and statues and with significant 17th and 18th century paintings on the walls by artists such as Giambattista Tiepolo.
Dine: Restaurants don’t come more local than family-owned Antiche Carampane, one of Venice’s finest seafood restaurants, where a sign out the front warns there’s “No Pizza, No Lasagne, No Tourist Menu”.
Experience: Work up an appetite as you learn about the history of Venice while exploring the city on foot on a Renaissance-themed walking tour of its labyrinthine lanes, bridges and piazzas, and by boat with a day out on Venice’s lagoon, then have some finger-licking fun learning to cook Venetian cuisine with Countess Enrica Enroca in her Dorsoduro loft.
Going Local: Drop into wine shop MilleVini where owner Lorenzo can introduce you to the wines of the Veneto or get a more formal introduction on a wine bar hop with a sommellier on a Context tour.
Love and Romance: Take a vaporetto to the bucolic island of Mazzorbo in Venice’s lagoon for a long languorous lunch overlooking the vineyards at Venissa. If you don’t want the day to end, they also have rooms.
Where: Luang Prabang, Laos
Stay: A short stroll from the historic centre of South East Asia’s most romantic destination, Luang Prabang, is colonial-styled Luang Say Residence, set amongst lush landscaped gardens and boasting a big black slate swimming pool. We loved our Pioneer Suite with its décor inspired by 19th century French explorers; our review here.
Dine: Luang Prabang’s lovely leafy streets are dotted with superb restaurants, but one of our most delicious meals consisted of bowls of rich Lao Khao Soi at a simple, local neighbourhood eatery. Details here.
Experience: Languid Luang Prabang is best experienced on a lazy walk around the city to gaze at its glittering mosaic-covered temples and chat to the novice monks studying at tables in the temple grounds, rounded off with an icy beer by the Mekong River.
Going Local: Take an early morning saunter through one of the local fresh food markets then learn to cook the local food on an organic farm in the countryside or in a palm-frond pavilion at Tamarind cooking school.
Love and Romance: Hike up to Phousi Hill to for the hidden temples and shrines, golden Buddhas, and gorgeous Luang Prabang vistas – and watch the sun go down over the verdant little city.
Where: Bangkok, Thailand
Stay: Discrete, sophisticated and minimalist in style, sleek Maduzi Hotel in bustling Bangkok is ideal for couples seeking some space and privacy. It’s also located in our favourite area, a short stroll from Asok BTS/SkyTrain and busy Sukhumvit Road.
Dine: Graze on delicious street food on a walking tour led by local foodies, savour fine Thai cuisine in Bangkok’s fine diners, or tuck into your own food after a cooking course in Klong Toey.
Experience: Bangkokians love to shop, so participate in a quintessential Bangkok retail experience by browsing the vintage clothes and collectables at Bangkok’s hipster heaven Talad Rot Fai, the weekend train market, or shopping for cool clothes and Thai handicrafts at chaotic but fun Chatuchak weekend markets.
Going Local: Sip heady cocktails, soak up the buzzy atmosphere, or see local live bands in one of Bangkok’s quirky bars. Try dimly-lit Tuba for furniture shop atmosphere, Soul Food for funky foodie vibes, and Happy Monday for the DJ spinning indie music.
Love and Romance: Take a slow mosey around the lake in leafy Benjakiti Park, just across the road from the hotel, then for added romance rent a row-boat or for giggles, a swan-shaped pedal boat.
I’ve been using a handy tool to find and book luxury hotels around the world from my iPhone and I’ll be reviewing the Small Luxury Hotels of the World iPhone app over on Cool Travel Guide very soon. Do you use hotel apps on your iPhone or iPad? Got any favourites? Feel free to share yours in the Comments below.