With Valentines weekend just around the corner, there are some fabulous place to take your loved one. Some of you may prefer to stay local and dine out, but for the most adventurous couples, there are some great cities in Europe that are only a few hours away on a plane, and a great place to make cultural memories. I have been lucky enough to tick off a few countries from my bucket list, which I would love to share and recommend with you.
For the past 2 years me and my boyfriend have spent our Valentine’s weekend in Dublin, and its most definitely one of our favourite cities. Flights from Manchester with Aer Lingus are only a 58 minute plane journey, so it’s easy to get there, no fuss and no jet lag. We always stay at The Morgan Hotel in Temple Bar which is right in the hub of all the traditional Irish pubs and bars. The hotel is a good hour long journey from the airport, but there’s something about Dublin, which is clean, crisp and always sunny every time we have visit.
The Morgan Hotel is the same hotel group as the Sanderson Hotel in London, so it’s ultra-modern, decked in purple and white furnishings and a very lively bar area. We booked the Executive Suite which has its own kitchen, living area and double bedroom. The miniature White Company toiletries are always a treat and perfect for a quick soak after travelling.
We head straight to the bar and order some cocktails and Bellini’s before heading out for a stroll around Temple Bar. I’m not a huge fan of Guinness so I stick to Desperado’s or Magners. There is something about Dublin that makes you want to drink more masculine drinks, it’s a refreshing change from Cosmopolitans! Dublin is usually around 3-5 degrees in February so don’t forget to wrap up for bar hopping and strolls along Lovers Bridge. Lovers Bridge is just off concourse from Temple Bar, and has hundreds of padlocks which have been locked with people’s initials on them, to declare their eternal love. Of course we did this on our first visits and tried to find our padlock on our second visit, but there was so many it was impossible to locate. Definitely a must see visit for a romantic, memorable experience.
After drinking copious amounts of the tequila infused beer, it was time to head back to the hotel for a quick power nap, relaxing bath and get ready for our valentines dinner. We booked the Rustic Stone restaurant on South Georges St in the centre. We are both huge steak lovers, and this was our mecca. There is a great variety of different cuts of steak, I always go for the rump or the fillet, it’s the most versatile cut and best served medium rare which I love. All steaks arrive raw, on a hot plate, with miniature ramekins of salt and pepper for seasoning, so you can cook your own steak to your own taste.
We finished off our meal with a bottle of Argentine Malbec red wine, and chatted into the late evening. After all, we did have a later morning flight, so it was back to the Morgan hotel for a nightcap and snuggle up for a bit of TV in bed. Dublin is great for city to do lots of pub hopping, drinking in some of the country’s most famous bars and having a good old Irish knees up!
I remember visiting Rome for the first time on a school trip when I was 13 so my memory was very fuzzy about what to expect the second time around. We landed in Rome and checked in the Grand Hotel Plaza which has been featured in many films. The décor is simply stunning. When you only have a few days in a European city though, you just wanted to check in and get out, especially as there was so much I knew I wanted to see in Rome. WeWe arrived at The Met Bar in central Rome for a spot of lunch. The temperature is mild and cool, so just to mix it up, I opted for a cheesecake dessert, and I decided to order a bottle of Gewurztraminer, which is a dessert wine. Its super sweet, strong and perfect with a creamy treat. We dined, chatted and went back to the hotel to get ready for our valentines dinner. My boyfriend had booked the Ristorante Aroma which has stunning breathtaking views of the coliseum. There were only a few tables in the restaurant, all with window views. Probably one of the most romantic places I have ever dined in, overseeing the whole of Rome. Funnily enough, my boyfriend and I were both handed different menus, mine had no prices on, but his did. This was done on purpose so that us ladies can pick and choose and not have to worry about the prices, in this restaurant it was the men’s duty, obviously! The perfect dining destination to be wined and dined although it was expensive.
The following day we headed back to the Coliseum to have coffee and lunch at Café Bar, with another amazing view of the famous derelict historical landmark. Since watching the Sky series of Spartacus, I was dying to venture inside to see the blood stained pits where the Gladiator’s prepared to fight for their lives. Fiction brought to fact. It was a very emotional afternoon. Somehow, I could feel the anguish, the pain and the bravery that existed once upon a time in this ancient landscape.
There is something very holy, and historic about visiting Rome. Next on our list was the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel. I am a catholic so this was very important to me to visit this holy place. We were lucky enough to have a full tour of the chapel and its surroundings, they have since stopped tour visit due to wear and tear of the original state of the building, so I have great memories of this special visit. . Rome is most definitely a sight-seeing and cultural place to visit. It’s rustic, dusty, and old and still in its rural state of ancient times which makes your feel very lucky, and very privileged to live in the generation we live in.
I visited Milan straight after spending two days in Rome, and the contrast is very different. Rome was historic, cultural and breakthaking, whereas Milan is vibrant, sexy and oozes class. We checked into the Idea Hotel, just a few kilometres from the city centre. The hotel is slick, modern and my king size bed has a welcoming pair of slippers and a dressing down to slip into. We had two days here and I want to sample some exquisite Italian culture. We headed to the Bulgari Hotel for Aperitifs – a bright crimson fluid is a mixture of Campari, lime and mint. A bit on the bitter side but after a few sips it’s very refreshing. The outdoor bar area is situated in plush green foliage surroundings, low intimate lighting and Nikki Beach-style beds. We’re welcomed with a bar menu which is actually quite reasonably priced, but the bowl of green olives doesn’t quite touch the sides, so I order a salmon carpaccio and bruschetta. The food, drinks and ambience is everything you would expect from the Bulgari Hotel in Milan. After my spot of people watching, my next drink arrives, the Bulgari Martini cocktail – a mix of gin, apple juice, peach juice, topped with lime soda and cranberry garnish. This hotel is great for relaxing in pure luxury and dining al fresco until the late evening.
The next day it was time for some sight-seeing and shopping! First stop was the beautiful historic church in the centre of the city, The Duomo Church. This is a must see landmark and definitely worth the wait to walk around and see such stunning architecture. The day is topped off with some traditional homemade Italian ice cream of white chocolate, Nutella and pistachio. Every second shop in Milan is an ice cream parlour, definitely worth sampling and worth every calorie.
Back at the hotel I pampered myself before heading out for dinner and drinks at The Cavalli Restaurant and Club. We entered the venue through foliage of grass and trees and taken to a table outside for an aperitif, or in other words a chilled glass of Processo this time. The setting was romantic, serene and utterly glamorous. Dinner, though I have to admit, was a little disappointing, I chose Lobster which arrived fully shelled and a nightmare to open, and my asparagus was overcooked and wilted. However, the service was on point and the surroundings were idyllic.
After dinner, it was time to party Cavali-style. As expected it is filled with beautiful people all dancing to the DJ’s lively tunes. This is an uber cool open air club dressed and furnished as you would expect Roberto Cavalli to drop it. A few glasses of champagne later and unfortunately it was home time, before a relatively short trip back to the UK. Milan is a great shopping destination so make sure you have lots of spend to treat yourself to some extra little one offs, and visit fashion houses that now showcase their own bars and clubs.
Stockholm is a city built on hundreds of little islands, with boiling hot summers and arctic cold winters. We were booked into the Scandic Anglais hotel which being on Stureplan was slap bang in the centre of the city, with a beautiful restaurant, bar, gym and relaxation room, so I added my gym kit to my suitcase and a pair of ballet pumps for days when I wanted to go for long walks and sight-seeing. Stockholm is only two hours from the UK, and a very effortless relaxing journey. We spend the first day in Stockholm going shopping; little did I know it housed flagship stores for top designer brands; Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Christian Louboutin and streets full of designer shops and shopping centres. I was amazed at how stylish everyone is dressed. Men looking like they’ve just stepped out of a Gieves & Hawkes campaign and women preened and polished, even the young mum’s pushing designer buggies!
After a successful shopping trip, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at the trendy Lydmar Hotel. We walk through beautifully preened gardens, passed the royal palace, the Grand Hotel where they host the Nobel Peace Prize dinners, and bars playing funky music until we reach our destination. This hotel restaurant at the Lydmar hotel is simply stunning. The lighting, the ambience, the food and the wine is perfect. After one day I could official say, I adore this city!
Taking a midnight stroll through the city, I noticed they have a lot of outside bars, one in particular that was playing funky house music with smartly dressed staff, an extension of the famous Sturehof restaurant. I of course moaned we had to sit outside with it been a tad too cold, but as soon as we walked in we were given a chic wool wrap, which coincidently colour matched by grey sequined skirt, and taken to a seating area under heated lamps. I ordered an Elderflower fizz which was a cocktail of apple and elderflower liquor, gin and mint muddled with ice and topped with soda water, so refreshing!
The following day after a lazy lie is, we headed out for lunch as an Italian restaurant concept called Vapiano. I had heard a lot about this, and I could soon see why! On arrival you are given a plastic card and shown an open plan kitchen where chefs were cooking fresh pizza, pasta or salad. The chef’s make the food right in front of you and you can choose the size and thickness of your pizza base, the different types of pasta for your dish, salad leaves and vegetables, and mix and match you’re topping’s, creating your own signature dish. They have since open a venue in the Corn Exchange in Manchester which has been a firm favourite of ours since visiting Sweden. After our Italian feast we walked through the Old Town, visited some vintage shops, walked to the King’s palace and took in the authenticity of the city. The architecture of the place was stunning; it was the perfect end to a perfect trip. My time in Sweden was amazing and highly recommended for a Scandic trip of shopping dining and being around uber fabulous people. Even the bar staff look like Abercrombie & Fitch models! It’s contemporary, cool, clean and cosmopolitan.
This year we are heading to Sweden again, but only for one night, as we have two nights booked in Kiruna, also known as ‘The Swedish Lapland’ staying at the infamous Ice Hotel. It will be pretty chilly, -10 degrees to be precise, so an eye out for my next blog post on my Scandinavian adventure!