If one were to define romance, it would be bubbly champagne, delectable chocolates, pink hearts and red velvet roses.
But when a loved one's directive is "send me no flowers," it just may be time for a seductive escape. Along those lines, I traveled to the top of the world, the edge of the earth and all corners in between seeking those perfect "Do Not Disturb" getaways.
LAS VENTANAS AL PARAISO, LOS CABOS, MEXICO
First stop: caliente country. A journey south of the border has an entirely different meaning when the name of one's final destination translates to "the windows to paradise."
Designed for those who take their pleasure seriously, the resort is so intrinsically romantic that it could be a substitute for a first kiss. And in actuality, the Mediterranean-Mexican architecture of Las Ventanas was, indeed, conceived with the curves of a woman in mind.
The pamperfest begins upon arrival. There is no need for check-in, there's no reception desk (those details were taken care of long ago). Nor is there a door at the resort's entrance, just an open-air lobby showcasing the paradisiacal view — a serpentine series of waterways seemingly spilling into the sea.
In truth, there is little need for lovebirds to leave their room. An oversized terrace allows sunbathing by day and under-the-stars dinners each night. And should the stay be in a luxury suite, vacating it is even less tempting — with the privacy of an open-air shower and one's own swimming pool.
However, it's the Director of Romance who helps capture the hearts of the most romantic of visitors . . . from the simplicity of having a couple's favorite song playing when first entering their room to hiring a small plane to fly overhead with a banner touting a declaration of love trailing behind it. Continuing in the dreams-come-true category, it's possible to arrange for a heart of bougainvillea flowers to appear on the bed at turndown as easily as it is to have a Mexican caballero bearing an engagement ring ride to the beach on a white horse as the couple dines solo on the sand.
At Las Ventanas, cupid's checklist is limitless.
To learn more, go to lasventanas.com.
SAN CLEMENTE PALACE, VENICE, ITALY
Steeped in radiant renaissance — complete with the palace-lined Grand Canal, impeccably attired gondoliers and tales of legendary resident Giacomo Casanova (the notorious womanizer of the 1700s) — Venice is undeniably history's timepiece. Removed from the remainder of the country by both distance and water, the city seems a world apart from Italy. But it is not.
For in Venice, it's tradition to giggle over gelato, toast with a glass of champagne at a Piazza San Marco café and sneak a kiss standing atop the Rialto Bridge — all to musical serenades.
To say the Italian city is romantic would be redundant.
Venice is compact, and it's surrounded by water. With no motorized vehicles, the only way to explore is on foot or by boat. But the tiny terrain plays continual host to day-tripping tourists, on-the-move locals, hundreds of pigeons and oblivious lovers — all making a nearby, but quiet, escape even more appealing.
"You are out of the world," said the concierge of San Clemente Palace. Yet, the private 17-acre island, devoted exclusively to a historic retreat dating from the 12th century, is only 10 minutes from the vitality of Venice.
Transformed from a former Camaldolesi monastery but only a decade old, the resort simultaneously reflects its ancient history and today's newest dreams. Nestled amongst its 21st-century amenities — outdoor pool, golf, tennis and spa — is the Church of San Clemente (a consecrated Catholic church founded in 1137).
The resort is attuned to romance. "Whatever a guest would like – we are 90% able to accommodate," I am told. And in the name of love, the concierge has assisted in a marriage proposal as a helicopter hovered above Venice.
More information: sanclemente.hotelinvenice.com.
GRAND HOTEL EUROPE, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Called the "Venice of the North," Russia's magical city sits astride the Neva River and boasts of countless canals that are crossed by more than 300 bridges and adorned by 500 palaces.
St. Petersburg's history reads like a Harlequin romance story, with the intrigue only the czars and czarinas of an imperial past can provide. Its traditional offerings are unmatched: meals beginning with caviar, vodka so smooth it glides along the throat and summer days that never end (called "White Nights," the translation means around-the-clock sunlight).
At the very heart of St. Petersburg is the Grand Hotel Europe, the city's lavish, art nouveau-style landmark whose history is intimately intertwined with its royal surroundings. Noted as the country's first five-star hotel, The Grand's guests have included Czar Nicholas II, England's Prince Charles, the composer Tchaikovsky (who spent his honeymoon at the Grand) and more recently, Pink Floyd.
Its location on Nevsky Prospekt is prime, for it is the city's most prominent promenade. Nearby neighbors include Winter Palace Square (home to the Hermitage), the Russian Museum and the multi-colored Church of the Resurrection — spires of this visual showpiece peek above the tree tops of the adjacent park (visible from several of the hotel's luxury suites).
And when the sun sets, the cream of St. Petersburg society and the city's visiting connoisseurs collect in the hotel's Lobby Bar. Located at the base of the Grand's sweeping red-carpeted staircase, it's dark, it's cozy and it is the place of romantic rendezvous.
If interested, visit grandhoteleurope.com.
San Clemente Palace