Whether you’re happily attached, a cynic or a singleton, if you simply love Europe then Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to plan a trip by train.
Forget flowers, chuck the chocolates and treat yourself to an adventure by rail this 14 February. Giving yourself a trip somewhere special is an act of love in itself, as far as we are concerned, whether you are heading off on a solo adventure, taking a beloved friend somewhere beautiful or doing the romantic thing. Avoid some of the usual red heart hotspots, and head to some of these, our top choices for alternative Valentine’s Day destinations.
Whether you’re dancing on your own or with a loved one, make sure you do so sur le pont d’Avignon, the city’s famous Saint Benezet bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site. While Avignon’s medieval monuments and leafy squares are perfect for a quiet escape, for an intimate village with a difference, cycle 40 mins north to the town of Roquemaure, for the annual and world’s only kissing festival, La Festo di Poutoun. Far from just celebrating snogging, the festival is held in honour of Saint Valentine, a former Roquemore resident, and the arrival of the Saint’s remains in the village in 1868. Expect 19th century costumes, markets, and some serious smooching.
Those seeking a wild Valentine’s Day need look no further than dreamy, untamed moors of Dartmoor. Accessible by train via Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Ivybridge or Plymouth, this national park is the perfect place for walking lovers. Wild ponies are the only likely intruders you’ll have wandering through the rugged terrain of hillsides, tors, and moors. Trade manicured gardens and been-there-done-that bouquets for an exciting walk on the wild side.
Freiburg, in Germany’s southwestern Baden-Württemberg state, is gateway to the Black Forest. This national park, with its 24,000km of hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing trails, is an adventure and nature lover's paradise. Fall in love with Freiburg’s stunning landscape with the 250km Southern Black Forest Cycle Route, following largely flat terrain through farmlands and ancient woodlands. Freiburg is also pretty hot stuff in that it is actually Germany’s warmest city, boasting more than 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. Fill yourself with sun, sights, and of course, slices of Black Forest gateau. You might also want to consider a trip to the Rhineland-Palatinate region, also known as Germany’s Romantic Region.
Marseille is a port city you can’t help but fall in love with. Grit and grandeur go hand in hand in Marseille, a city that feels like a marriage of opposites making it both overwhelming and intoxicating. The beating heart of the city is undoubtedly its Vieux Port (old port), where restaurants and bars make it the perfect place for people watching, or enjoying the sunset over the Mediterranean. You can also get to grips with the very heart of civilisation here too at the superb Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée at the mouth of the harbour.
Strasbourg might be known as the Capital of Christmas, but for ten days in February the city trades holly for hearts with its annual Strasbourg Mon Amour festival, 7-16 February 2020. While the event’s programme of concerts, river cruises, dinners and romantic walks is enough to make anyone feel amorous, it’s the city itself that offers romance around every corner. With its Grimm-fairytale half-timbered houses, Gothic cathedral and winding cobbled lanes, it’s no wonder Strasbourg’s list of lovers includes Napoleon and Josephine, Honore de Balzac and Eve Hanske and Victor Hugo and Juliette Drouet.
While Turin might have given birth to Italy’s iconic Fiat cars, this is a city where taking it slow is the way to go. This elegant city combines Parisian tree-lined boulevards with Viennese art-nouveau buildings, all while being completely singular in its progressive food, arts and music scenes. Turin is both traditional and forward thinking, particularly as a leading destination in the Slow Food movement. Whether you shop for fresh produce in the Mercato di Porta Palazzo or sip coffee with some Torinese chocolate in the pretty Piazza San Carlo, experience la dolce vita in a city that knows the value of enjoying life’s small pleasures.
Image credits top to bottom: Two bicycles in Avignon iStock ©anamejia18, Dartmoor National Park iStock ©Matt_Gibson, St Märgen in the Black Forest iStock ©thelinke, Cathedral de la Major in Marseille iStock ©ivansmuk, Water canal in Strasbourg iStock ©Razvan, Mole Antonelliana in Turin iStock ©egadolfo