Enjoy Valentine's Day at one of these lovely hotels

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 10, 2020.

A one-bedroom villa at Lelewatu Sumba.

A minimalist room in Aman Kyoto.

A pour of local pinot at Gibbston Valley Lodge & Spa.

Facing the ‘grand canal’ at Oberoi Marrakech.

A picnic just beyond the walls of São Lourenço do Barrocal, in the Alentejo countryside.

Quarters fit for a queen at Fife Arms.

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IF you have not yet lifted a finger for your significant other this Valentine’s Day, there is still time. The holiday falls on a Friday this year, which means it is perfect for booking a long weekend away.

To help you, here are the most romantic new hotels and resorts for a quick escape — places where weeks of stress can melt away in minutes, or destinations that are easy to explore in just a few days.

And please, hold the flowers and chocolates. For each of these getaways, we have found sweet, easy-to-schedule excursions or amenities that are much more original. No matter where in the world you are starting out from, at least one will be close by; their romantic appeal, on the other hand, is universal.

 

If you are in Asia

Lelewatu Sumba, Indonesia

 A puddle hop away from Bali is this comparatively undiscovered and underdeveloped gem of an island, where it is easy to feel like you are simply at the end of the Earth. And if the Earth were to end here, under the white canopy beds of Lelewatu’s soaring thatched-roof pavilions, with the sounds of the Indian Ocean lapping just outside, that might be a totally fine way to go.

The romantic gesture: Drink coconut water out of a coconut. Sit on your patio and listen to chirping birds in the nearby jungle. Here, the move is simply to let time sit still.

 

Aman Kyoto

Few cities can mimic Kyoto’s blend of quiet contemplation and cutting-edge dining. And within Kyoto, few hotels capture both sides of that coin like the just-opened Aman. Its lattice-wood rooms resemble the carefully crafted boxes locals use for precious gifts; inside they have tatami sitting areas and Hinoki soaking tubs.

And since each of them is scattered around an ancient-feeling forest, it is perhaps no surprise that the property’s chefs can source most of their ingredients within a 10-minute walk from their kitchen.

The romantic gesture: The moss-covered grounds make Aman Kyoto’s gardens feel like a lush, movie-like setting for a picnic. But if it is too cold for that, book a personalised tour to Kamishichiken, the oldest of the “flower towns” that have long served the city’s geishas.

Getting guided access to these districts is the best way to understand the training and culture behind Japan’s most romanticised profession, whether you visit an ancient ochaya (tea house) or watch an actual performance.

 

Gibbston Valley Lodge & Spa, New Zealand

With the fires still raging in Australia, it is comforting to know that a slice of Eden is thriving just across the Tasman Sea. Take it in from Gibbston Valley Lodge & Spa: The property is a cluster of villas within a pinot noir vineyard, all with access to the legendary biking trails of Kawarau Gorge and a “vinotherapy” spa.

The romantic gesture: The local pours are elegant and nuanced, so take that as your cue and book a private, candlelit dinner in the property’s wine caves.

 

If you are in Africa or the Middle East

Oberoi Marrakech

Marrakech already lays claim to some of the world’s most over-the-top resorts — nearly one from every luxury brand — and yet the city’s newcomer manages to stand apart. The Oberoi’s architecture, inspired by the 14th century Medersa Ben Youssef, is a showcase for Moroccan craft traditions, ranging from zellige tiles and ornamental plasterwork to magnificent courtyards with petal-strewn fountains.

But it differs from the historic theological monument in its unwavering embrace of opulence; here, the central water feature is not  a shallow reflecting pond but a veritable “grand canal”, which runs the entire length of the resort. And the sleeping chambers are not humble student quarters — they are palatial apartments with their own gardens and pools.

The romantic gesture: If you have already shopped your way through the city’s epic souks, let the resort take you on a next-level exploration: an aerial survey of the Sahara via private helicopter, culminating in a butler-serviced lunch at a nomadic desert camp.

 

If you are in Europe

São Lourenço do Barrocal, Portugal

Two hours from Lisbon in the Alentejo countryside is this off-the-grid estate, once the nucleus of a small farming village. It has been in the same family for 200 years but operational as a hotel for much less time.

Holdovers from its agricultural heyday include 220 cows, 600,000 sq m of olive groves, and a 2.5-acre (1.01ha) vegetable garden to supply the restaurant; more recent additions include barn cottages and a winery.

The romantic gesture: Head out on a hot air balloon ride. The skies in this region are famously clear and sunny, and the staff will pack you a picnic with one of the estate’s sparkling wines.

Niehku Mountain Villa, Sweden

Maybe you want to heli-ski and never see another soul. Maybe you want to hole up in the luxury equivalent of an igloo. Or maybe you want to spot polar bears north of the Arctic Circle. All those boxes can be checked at Niehku, the fabulous 14-room bolthole that straddles Norway and Sweden — even if you are around for only a three-day stint (the property’s minimum stay).

The romantic gesture: Pray to the weather gods for a showing of midnight lights, go dog sledding in untouched terrain occupied primarily by reindeers, or hunker down in the wine cellar, where only top-notch bottles are allowed. There is no wrong choice.

 

InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu, France

The building that houses this hotel — a maternity hospital until 2013 — is supposedly where one-third of the Lyonnaise population was born. Now it is heralding a five-star rebirth for a city that has long been set in its humbler ways. The jaw-dropper is the first-floor bar, set under a 236ft-high dome, with immaculately restored detailing that glows in the floodlight that pours in from its many monumental windows.

The romantic gesture: Lyon will never abandon its zest for traditional, butter-laden meals — the city is often considered the epicentre of classic French cuisine, and it is worth leaning into the calorie splurge for a night or two.

Burn it off the next morning with an urban hike up the many stairs that lead to Croix-Rousse, the bohemian-feeling neighbourhood in the north. Along the way you can take in city views from above, wind your way through the old silk merchant storehouses known as traboules, pit-stop at Sebastien Bouillet’s phenomenal namesake bakery for a praline croissant (the local specialty), and buy pretty bouquets of flowers (fresh or dried) at the city’s best farmer’s market.

Fife Arms, Scotland

Prince Charles and Camilla personally cut the ribbon at the reopening of this lavish inn in the highlands a year ago, along with the property’s new stewards, Iwan and Manuela Wirth—owners of the Hauser & Wirth art gallery.

The royal status is warranted not just because it is at the centre of Braemar, the town Queen Victoria chose for her vacation home (Balmoral Palace) and where the current monarch goes annually for the Scottish Highland games, but for its contemporary cultural relevance, too. In its new life, the property is home to 16,000 artworks bearing signatures as wide-ranging as Picasso to Bharti Kher and Queen Victoria herself.

The romantic gesture: You can go for a big wow moment here on a personal tour of Braemar Castle (perhaps make your partner feel like the king or queen they are), or get your hands dirty together on a foraging tour through the estate grounds. — Bloomberg