Run out of ideas for Valentine’s Day? Why not ditch the chocolates and flowers and book a romantic break instead?
Cliveden House, Berkshire
There’s an area of Berkshire that’s turning into a foodie paradise.
The Roux family kicked it all off back in 1972 with the Waterside Inn, then Heston Blumenthal launched the infamous Fat Duck, both in Bray, and nine miles down the road in Marlow, Tom Kerridge opened Hand & Flowers, the first pub ever to receive two Michelin stars.
And now, the latest chef to pop up in the rolling hills of the beautiful Berkshire countryside is Andre Garrett. Already a Michelin-starred chef, it’s just a matter of time before he garners awards at his new home in the relaxed splendour of Cliveden House.
His menu is mouth-watering, from the vegetarian dream that is sneakily undersold as a “salad of roast winter vegetables and leaves”, to the fillet of Cumbrian Longhorn beef, complete with smoked bone marrow with oxtail, roast carrots and pommes mousseline.
But perhaps what’s even more eye-opening is the fact that at lunchtime, you can opt for a £28 three-course Market Menu. Even on a Saturday.
As for the rest of Cliveden, you couldn’t ask for more grandeur. The privately-owned five Red Star award-winning hotel oozes old-time sophistication. Originally built back in 1666 as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Buckingham, it’s played host to pretty much every monarch since George I.
Wall-to-wall wood panelling teams up with ceilings so high, Cirque du Soleil could practise their backflips inside. And stepping into the bedroom, don’t be surprised if you feel ever so slightly like a Borrower.
The bed is so tall you actually have to climb up into it.
Fans of the walk-in shower will need to step back in time and instead, recline in the enormous marble-top bath.
The grounds, owned by the National Trust, are sprawling. The spa, with both indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi and hot tubs, is not to be missed. And staff, at every twist and turn of this elegant establishment, are welcoming and wonderful.
Doubles from £252 per night with breakfast. Book with Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com; 0845 034 0700) for the best available rates, money back with every booking and a free extra on arrival.
My boyfriend and I are not talking to each other. In fact, we haven’t exchanged a word for the past 45 minutes.
But there’s not a whiff of tension in the cedarwood-scented air as we sink into a cavernous pool of pummelling water jets, before relaxing on heated stone beds, illuminated by a strip of low-rise flickering flames.
We’ve been stunned into silence by the opulent four-floor ESPA Life spa at London’s five-star Corinthia hotel, where minutes can very easily turn into hours as both time and stresses easily evaporate.
Like moles burying our way into a sleek, monochrome marble burrow, we have little intention of returning to the outside world anytime soon.
Perhaps it’s in the fabric of the Thames-side building, which was once used as offices by the Ministry of Defence, but this historic property is a master of discretion – which probably explains why A-listers such as Johnny Depp and Rihanna make this their pit-stop when visiting the capital.
With two excellent restaurants on site – Massimo, which specialises in simple but excellent Italian food, and the Northall, where Garry Hollihead has created a menu of fine British fodder – there’s little need to leave this comfortable enclave.
We head to the David Collins-designed Massimo - a glorious emerald green and gold Art Deco-inspired space, where a sharing platter of crudo (raw seafood) and oysters is followed by wild seabass served with a lemon sauce, carved up at our table.
Our meal ends with a nightcap in the Bassoon bar, an elegant take on the clandestine, underground jazz haunts of old, where cocktails have been inspired by musicians and composers.
When we leave, romance is definitely in the air – but it’s the Corinthia that’s become the new object of my affections.
But of course, I haven’t said a word to my boyfriend.
Doubles from £335 with breakfast. Visit www.corinthia.com or call 020 7930 8181.
South Sands Boutique Hotel, Devon
Maybe it’s the bracing sea air, or the sense of fun the seaside evokes, but there’s something wonderfully romantic about a weekend on the coast – especially when you’re holed up somewhere as picturesque as South Sands Boutique Hotel.
The promise of top quality seafood and gorgeous scenery entices my fiance and I to this secluded corner of Devon, tucked on to the edge of South Sands bay, a couple of miles from Salcombe.
The hotel opened in 2010 and still feels fresh and new. The decor’s bright, contemporary and awash with nautical charm, and the atmosphere’s relaxed.
When it’s warmer, diners can eat on the terrace overlooking the bay.
But right now, the log fire in the bar’s more inviting and we enjoy a cosy drink before tucking into a delicious meal of king prawns and fish pie for me, and an “incredibly tender” steak for him.
There’s also lots to explore in the surrounding area. The South West Coast Path, described as one of the UK’s most stunning walks, can be joined just half a mile away, and there’s also a Blue Flag beach nearby.
We spend the morning pottering around Salcombe, a quirky seaside town full of pastel-coloured terraces and assorted shops and cafes.
The obligatory cream tea and some local fudge are the perfect final sweet treat for the weekend, before catching our train home, rosy with sea air and amour.
Doubles from £150 per night with breakfast. Visit www.southsands.com First Great Western trains run direct services from London Paddington from £17.60 each way. Visit www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk or call 03457 000 125.