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5 Unusual Romantic Places to Start 2014

January and romance? It’s really not a thing, is it?  We’re cash crumpled after Christmas. More than a little despondent about the realities of our New Year resolutions. And the weather’s lousy.

I’m the last person to go all ‘Pollyanna’ on you, but buck up, catch the old grip and snap right out of it.

If ever there was a month to make a big gesture, it has to be January. Everyone’s battened down, moaning like it’s a career choice, it’s all gloom and doom …… ta, rah. Plus your significant other won’t be expecting it – they’ll be waiting for Valentine’s Day next month and surprising romantic gestures are far superior to doing something ‘because it’s just done then’ as far as I’m concerned.

If a romantic gesture doesn’t work now, I hate to say it, but -  the ship has sailed!

BORDEAUX

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French mayors fall into two categories, they’re either small despots or big thinkers. Fortunately for Bordeaux they’ve had the benefit of the latter and the Bordelaise are happy to credit him with returning their city to the type of loveliness and splendour you’d expect when you straddle the mighty Garonne and look towards Europe’s loveliest coastline. Bordeaux is one of my favourite European cities – it’s got trams, what can I say? It’s also got one of Europe’s longest shopping streets (vintage clothes lovers should gather round now). The city’s cathedral is currently being restored, but while you’re waiting you can visit plenty of other historic buildings not least of all the magnificent Port de la Lune and the opera house. Admittedly it’s a bit chilly in January but that doesn’t stop people eating outside and staring (French national pastime). Long romantic lunches are a speciality in Bordeaux – along with wine, obviously. And if you’re in need of memorable moments, forget jumping around in front of the Eiffel Tower, you want to get on your boots and splash about in Bordeaux’s Water Mirror.

CINQUE TERRE

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I’ve just finished reading Jess Walter’s ‘Beautiful Ruins’ and (as well as being oddly romantic and very funny) it reminded me of how strange and idiosyncratic Cinque Terre is. Strung along the gorgeous Ligurian coast, the five villages that make up this little pocket of Italy are loved by home-grown and otherwise visitors in summer. Not surprising really: the weather’s lovely. But at this time of year you won’t get much sun and happily you won’t have millions of determined trudging people walking the coastal path that links the towns of Cinque Terre. If you love walking and hand-in-hand strolling, quiet Ligurian dinners (the food is delicious here) and if villages-so-pretty-they’re-almost-impossible is your idea of romance; I can’t recommend highly enough – even in January.

FES

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North Africa is adored at this time of year, but most visitors are heading to Morocco and Marrakech. I prefer Fes (or Fez), personally. Singular, charming and where those in the know are buying property. Fes is wonderfully romantic. It has one of the biggest Medinas in North Africa which means an almost completely traffic-free space to wander around in and pretend you’re in a movie. The people are busy, cultured and unfailingly polite – there’s a Mediterranean temperament counterbalanced by exotic customs and traditions. The cobalt blue so characteristic of North Africa seems to have originated here – one of those colours you can never make work anywhere else. And the sociable art of eating has been perfected over centuries: nothing is rushed, everything’s shared and all senses indulged – how much more romantic could it get?

SALZBURG

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Unless you love ‘The Sound of Music’ or want to discover what it’s like to experience snow blindness, I won’t tell you to head to the hills in Salzburg at this time of year. What I will tell you is, being cosy and drinking cinnamon laced hot chocolate by a blazing log fire ticks just about every romance box I can think of. You can see the hills – and they’re astounding – but my choice for this charming part of Austria is to stay strictly downwind of the chill and go with mittens and strolling. The trick is to intersperse the cuddly, chocolate drinking experience with brisk walks about Salzburg’s old town which is just enchanting. Summer brings out the Julie Andrews devotees in their droves and should be avoided, so wrap up warm and be couply in January is my advice.

GRANADA

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It’s a city in Southern Spain and it’s beautiful, but what makes Granada so romantic is quite simply The Alhambra. This is the time of year when it’s relatively quiet so you can actually see the carvings and consider the complexities. You can wander around without the interference of loud guides drilling facts into gangs of foot-sore tourists. And even in January it’s all still lush and scented. Conveniently Granada has quite a few vantage points where you can look at The Alhambra from afar too – very romantic on a clear, starry night. And if tenderly sharing food is one of your things, you’ll be pleased to know that Granada is one of the few cities in Spain that still upholds the ‘free tapas’ tradition – you just have to buy the drink which is no hardship really.

So that’s my top five romantic destinations this January. Personally I feel almost inspired enough to sweep someone (anyone) off their feet and whisk them to foreign climes immediately. And honestly, unless they have a heart of stone, I can’t see how it would be possible to resist.