For hundreds of years, the feast day for Saint Valentine has been associated with romantic love. Originally, it was a day to exchange hand-made valentines – letters or poems expressing love and affection. The British Library holds a Valentine’s Day love poem written by the Duke of Orleans for his wife way back in 1415 when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
These days, Valentine’s Day has become somewhat commercial, an opportunity to market heart-shaped goods to consumers. But there’s no need to spend a fortune on chocolates and jewellery and stuffed bears. What really matters is spending time with a loved one and showing him or her that you care.
For me, the ideal way to spend Valentine’s Day is to visit somewhere beautiful and dreamy. Here are my top five places to visit in Europe that are guaranteed to make your date inspiring, memorable and sublimely romantic. It is no coincidence that several of these places feature in my novels, for where better to set a love story?
Every year on Valentine’s Day, lovers come to Chełmno to visit the St Mary’s Assumption parish church, where a relic of Saint Valentine’s (a skull fragment) is kept in a silver reliquary. The town has wholeheartedly embraced its connection with the patron saint of love, with romantic adornments on everything from fences to benches. Even the tourist trail to see the best sights of this picturesque town is heart-shaped. During the Valentine’s Festival there’s a plethora of cultural offerings, from street entertainment to art exhibitions, culminating in an evening music concert lit by candles laid out in the market square in – you guessed it – the shape of a heart.
Venice, City of Love, was my main inspiration for my novel The Echoes of Love. I first visited the city as a young child. Then, as now, I was enchanted by the beauty of the city. I remember standing in the main square, the Piazza St Marco, looking up at Saint Mark’s Basilica and feeling I had entered another world. Of course, the most romantic date in Venice is a gondola ride along the waterways, drifting along and gazing up at the amazing architecture – or simply into the eyes of your beloved.
Oia, Santorini, Greece
Welcome to the hillside village of Oia, on the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea. This is where I honeymooned; this is where I set part of my novel Aphrodite’s Tears. Here it is all about the views: of the pretty village, with its dazzling white houses, and of the bluest sea and sky. Each evening lovers walk to the Sunset Serenade point on high to see the stunning sunset; you just can’t tear your eyes from the sky, which is daubed in such vivid colours, like an artwork.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
This 19th-century palace, commissioned by the King of Bavaria in honour of the composer Richard Wagner, is known as ‘the fairy-tale castle’. Walt Disney helped to make it iconic when he used it as the inspiration for both Cinderella’s and Sleeping Beauty’s castles in the 1950s’ films. The panoramic views from this hilltop castle are nothing short of spectacular, with the Alps behind and the lake of Forggensee in front, but it is the castle that draws the eye. It’s a fantasy made real – and here it is easy to believe that dreams really do come true.
The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
The Alhambra, which features in my Andalucian Nights trilogy, is an amalgamation of fabulous Arabesque palaces and a fortress complex built by the Moors on a steep wooded hill. Rising upon its reddish crag, the palace is straight out of the Arabian Nights, and is startling in its beauty and its impact on the imagination. Here, within the silent walls, among the ghosts of emirs and beautiful princesses, romance dwells.
Does Valentine’s Day awaken the wanderlust in you? Where would you love to visit on this special occasion?