Even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool year-round romantic, Valentine's Day can have a special allure. It's that time to tell your loved one how much of a loved one they really are. Romance, you know, doesn't need to be cheesy, and so we've found the five most atmospheric bars and restaurants in Europe in which to proclaim your infatuation.
However, we know all that ILY stuff can get a bit mushy, especially at this time of year. So if your way of showing your beau that you're in it for the long run is to take them to a 'challenging' museum or a race where men carry their wives on their backs, read on for some anti-romantic ideas for dates they'll never forget.
Romantic: Frenchie, Paris
This celebrated spot in Paris may be tiny but the fact it's always packed is testament to the top-notch cooking and sense of fun that's always on display. Romantic needn't always mean flashy or fancy or spendy, and Frenchie manages to strike a balance between haute and homey that means you and your date will instantly relax into the vibe, plus they'll be sufficiently impressed that you had the chops to book an under-the-radar neighbourhood bistro that happens to have a Michelin star. And no one does romantic dishes like the French, so order just about anything and you'll be in the mood for love.
5 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris
Eccentric: Wife Carrying Race, London
There are many outdated ‘terms of affection’ that imply wives can be a burden (‘ball and chain’, we’re looking at you), but no event symbolises that notion like Dorking’s UK Wife Carrying Race, just outside London. Since 793 AD, men have been chucking women over their shoulders and schlepping them across swamps and bogs, all in the name of… err, we’re not sure. At least the women don’t have to get their feet wet. Maybe that is romantic after all.
Romantic: Harry’s Bar, Venice
Romance doesn’t get any more old school than a cheeky tipple in Harry’s Bar. Just by the water off St Mark’s Square in Venice, the legendary haunt has been serving up memorable, trad cocktails since the 1930s. Let the suave waiters in slick white jackets whip you up a bellini while you soak up the classic vibes. The ultimate aperitivo spot.
San Marco 1323, Venice
Eccentric: Disgusting Food Museum, Malmo
Bull penis, anyone? While this traditional Chinese aphrodisiac may not be the bit of anatomy you’d hope to encounter on a date, it makes for an adventurous diversion from your bog-standard oysters. Intrepid daters with iron stomachs can nourish their love at the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo, just over the bridge from Copenhagen in Sweden, which displays over 80 esoteric dishes from around the world to challenge our cultural conditioning around food. Smell, touch, or even taste out-there delicacies like baby mice-flavoured wine, pickled sheep’s eye or live maggots covered in sheep-milk cheese – and, really, nothing says ‘romance’ like chomping maggots.
Romantic: Kitty Fisher's, London
Love, as J Lo would say, doesn’t cost a thing – but dinner in Mayfair will set you back a fair whack. London’s fanciest neighbourhood is home to its priciest restaurants, and while Kitty Fisher’s doesn’t buck the trend, it’s a worthy splurge for those all-out meals with your honey. The basement dining room is possibly the most atmospheric place to play footsie in the city – think sexy red-velvet booths, moody dark walls and candelabras with quivering flames – and the haute-British menu has standout dishes like the made-to-share wing rib with anchovy, parsley and garlic butter.
10 Shepherd Market, London
Eccentric: Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb
Located between St Mark’s and St Catherin’s churches in Zagreb’s Old Town, this quirky museum is a regular house of heartbreak. It’s full of objects commemorating break-ups and doomed love: from a thrift store frisbee bought as a shonky anniversary gift, to a set of dreadlocks still holding the once-owner’s ex-wife’s braids. Wistfully anti-romantic it may be, but there are some useful relationship lessons to be learned here.
Romantic: Thalassaki, Tinos
Mykonos isn't short of good restaurants, but the fact people take a boat from there to its little brother Tinos just to visit this restaurant tells you it's pretty special. It's so close to the water that if you're lucky enough to bag a beach table, you might feel it lap your feet after a ferry goes by. It does mostly seafood, of course, but with a bit of creativity and flair – think Tinos cheese with bee pollen and tomatoes, or caramelised octopus with grape must syrup – and is perhaps the perfect place to sit with a bottle of something local when the sun sets.
Ysternia Bay, Tinos 842 01
Eccentric: Colobraro, Italy
In the arch of Italy’s boot, Basilicata is a region of beaches, wild national parks and delicious food. Where could be better to escape to with your amore, perhaps to a secluded hilltop village? Don’t choose Colobraro, then – legend has it that this pretty place is cursed by a witch, and neighbouring villagers won’t even say its name. A break here might end up being a break-up.
Romantic: Pulitzer hotel, Amsterdam
With its canals, cobbles, dimly lit bars and jolly locals, Amsterdam is the thinking couple’s choice for a romantic weekend. And the Pulitzer hotel, which overlooks the Prinsengracht canal, is probably the most loved-up of all. It could be the cosy rooms, it could be the warrenlike architecture of these former merchant’s houses, it could be the acclaimed restaurant – but it’s probably a bit of all of them.
Prinsengracht 323, 1016 GZ Amsterdam
Eccentric: Museum of Cement, San Sebastian, Spain
There’s something oddly sensual about the monotone, muscular minimalism of concrete – oh yes there is – and nowhere is that more apparent than San Sebastian’s Museum Cemento Rezola. Here, nascent daters can get all hot under the collar considering the material’s rich sociocultural history, before retiring to the coffee bar to whisper sweet nothings about brutalist topography into each other's ears.