By Simon & Susan Veness
A Roman martyr first created the famous heartfelt signature of love. Geoffrey Chaucer made it popular in the 14th century. And the tradition really took off in 18th century Britain with the addition of flowers, confectionery and greeting cards.
We refer, of course, to Valentine’s Day – or the Feast of Saint Valentine as it is referred to in some parts of Europe – and the wonderful tradition of celebrating your loved one on February 14 each year.
The origins of the day are lost in the mists of time, as historians like to say, but Saint Valentine of Rome is often identified as sending the first Valentine’s note, to his sick jailer’s daughter during the persecution of Christians under the old Roman Empire.
Chaucer then used his literary influence to make the celebration widely known in the circles of courtly love, giving the day a romantic flourish and sending hearts aflutter across the country, and now no love-struck individual can fail to mark the occasion with a gift of some kind and, naturally, a card (those Hallmark people were smart even in the 1700s, you know).
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide as the obvious occasion for couples to underline their love for each other in a myriad of ways, which is a long way from a dingy Roman dungeon!
Being the cruise aficionados and cheerleaders that we are, we believe there is no better way to mark the occasion than by being on a ship, enjoying the indulgent pleasures of fine service, great food and a glass of champagne or three, preferably served pool-side with chilled strawberries.
But what if you could be cruising anywhere in the world to enjoy this particular Saint’s day? Where would you go and what experiences would you seek out? As ever, we have a few suggestions….
St Mark’s Square, Venice
If we are awarding places romantic marks out of 10, then Venice, Italy’s lagoon-based gem set over 100 islands in the Adriatic Sea, would be worthy of an 11. There is just no more breathtaking location for idle wandering and eye-catching splendour than this iconic city.
And, at the heart of it, the Piazza San Marco is the architectural embodiment of a lover’s dream. With its pre-Renaissance foundations, medieval heart and Napoleonic era flourishes, this is a feast for the eyes and balm for the soul. Plus, it’s also the ideal place to sit with a chilled glass of prosecco and toast your love for each other.
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Just being in the Caribbean is one of the more obvious ways to kindle the spark of romance, and adding a great beach is definitely high on the scale of starry-eyed amour á deux, the ideal combination of location and affection.
Grand Cayman is one of the region’s most upscale destinations, a 22-mile-long teardrop in the Caribbean Sea just west of Jamaica, especially as it boasts the true bliss of Seven Mile Beach. This stunning crescent-shaped stretch of coral sand has often been voted the Caribbean’s best, and for good reason. And, taking a walk along its full extent hand in hand is simply the stuff of perfect Valentine’s Day dreams.
Half Moon Bay, Antigua
Okay, so we like the Caribbean, and we make no excuses for adding a second idyllic hotspot for enjoying time together. The island of Antigua has long been one of our favourites for its history and scenery, with the UNESCO site of Nelson’s Dockyard being one of the must-see attractions in the region.
And, once you’ve sampled the heritage, head straight for glorious Half Moon Bay, where the palm-fringed beach boasts sugar-crystal pink sands and a small offshore reef that is ideal for snorkelling. For a tranquil couple’s retreat, it definitely takes some beating.
North Shore, Oahu
Like the Caribbean, Hawaii is practically tailor-made for lovers, with its four main islands sprinkled in sailing formation across the Pacific. Main island Oahu offers possibly the greatest array of variety of the quartet, from the fabulous shopping of Honolulu to the rural grandeur of Waimea Valley and Kualoa Ranch.
And then you hit the fabled North Shore and all bets are off for a memorable beach location. This is the epicentre of Hawaiian surf culture and also one of the best hangouts where you can look to drop off the radar for a while and enjoy each other’s company. The epic nature of the coastline provides the eye candy, and the seven-miles-plus of beaches are nature’s ideal sun-lounger.
We’re going to cheat slightly here and just mention one of the most drop-dead-gorgeous destinations anywhere on the cruise collection.
Start in Tahiti, head out to Moorea, Bora Bora and Huahine and you have a complete itinerary of Valentine delight. These picture-perfect islands and atolls are all fringed with hot-spots straight out of the Best Beaches catalogue, while the dazzlingly clear turquoise waters are so inviting you’ll be hard pressed to focus on anything else. Head to Matira Beach on Bora Bora and you’ll soon discover why it’s known as The Aquarium, with its profusion of tropical fish. The only danger is you might not want to leave!
Placa Reial, Barcelona
It would be easy to list most Mediterranean ports as ideal Valentine’s Day material, but we’re going to plump for one of our personal favourites here in the bustling metropolis of Barcelona, and, specifically, the evening hangout of the Placa Reial.
This splendid square in the city’s Barri Gotic district is memorable enough by day but, in the evening, it assumes a truly majestic quality and is simply the most guaranteed go-to spot for a special dinner for two. You simply can’t go wrong with the choice of fine tapas restaurants, while the ambience of dining al fresco under the palm trees, with a suitable glass of rioja, is just sublime.
Cruise regulars will argue until the cows come home about the world’s greatest ports, but suffice to say anyone that doesn’t include Australia’s iconic harbour has completely missed the boat, if you’ll pardon the phrase.
With its signature bridge, the Opera House and superb all-round views, this is definitely the spot for a February 14 dinner rendezvous, with a wealth of spectacular waterfront overlooks, acclaimed restaurants and delightful bars. If this doesn’t kindle the flames of romance, nothing will!
The Spa of your ship
Heavenly destinations are all very well, but don’t lose sight of the genuine couple’s benefit of your shipboard Spa. Every cruise line these days can offer treatments for two and, on Valentine’s Day, they can really up the ante with all manner of special flourishes, from chocolate-covered strawberries to a champagne massage.
Ultimately, however, the best way to celebrate the occasion is simply to be on any cruise. There is just no more romantic backdrop to a couple’s special day than sailing into port with the possibility of adventures for two.
Just being on deck for your ship’s arrival, hand in hand, and seeing the promise of a new day unfurl before you, well, that should be one of the reasons why you’re together in the first place.
Happy Valentine’s Day, from Susan & Simon