The Muddy Valentine’s Guide
If you’ve woken up and smelled the roses and realised a dozen red and a cookie-cutter romantic dinner for two ain’t gonna flick your switch this year, read on, here’s the Muddy alternative guide to fanning those embers into flames…
Go on a tour of a vineyard
This sounds like my kind of date. Gloucestershire’s answer to Napa Valley, the Three Choirs Vineyard in Newent near Gloucester offers tours and tastings at one of the country’s largest and oldest vineyards. During an hour-long tour through the vines, you can learn about the history of the vineyard and how the grapes are grown (my question – the weather?!) and then pay a visit to the winery where you can sample what dizzy heights the grapes are capable of despite the un-Californian weather. Afterwards, it would seem crazy not to stay on for a wine and cheese lunch (my favourite kind), and there are also rooms to book if, you know, you need to get a room.
Tours: £12.50 per person; wine tasting and tour with lunch: £29.95 per person; B&B: from £145 for two. Three Choirs Gloucestershire, Newent GL18 1LS. Tel: 01531 890223. three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk
Step back in cinema time
If you’re a sucker for an old black-and-white movie, get yourself and your fella down to Cheltenham’s Town Hall (just walking up the sweeping steps of this honey-coloured grande dame is a cue for romance) for a screening of the 1945 tear jerker Brief Encounter. It’s preceded by a performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, which features throughout the film (a few notes and I’m toast), by Romanian pianist Sinziana Mircea and the Amadeus Orchestra. Go easy on the mascara as you’ll need tissues for this double-whammy, especially Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard’s parting scene in the railway café *choke*. (BTW, if you fancy taking a mascara holiday – and wowing your man with luscious lashes – check out my review of where to get fabulous falsies here.)
From £12.50, Cheltenham Town Hall, Imperial Square, Cheltenham GL50 1QA. Tel: 0844 576 2210. cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk
Book the hot movie ticket
For those of you who like your celluloid romance hot and steamy, Fifty Shades Darker will be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Hello, Christian! We’ve missed you!! (Celeb alert: Jamie Dornan has moved to Gloucestershire and is living in a village near Stroud – there have been sightings!!!) The Screening Rooms, Cheltenham’s upscale movie house that serves cocktails and deli boards (no coke and popcorn here) at your deluxe armchair-style seats, is, I reckon, the best place to enjoy this erotic treat. And your other half will enjoy it too, no? If not, meh, who cares?!
From £16, The Screening Rooms, The Brewery, St Margaret’s Road, Cheltenham GL50 4EF. Tel: 0871 220 4443. cineworld.co.uk/cinemas/cheltenham-the-screening-rooms
Check into a spa
Normally thought of as a girlie outing, Calcot hotel and spa near Tetbury has cottoned onto the fact that a spa trip could also be a toe-squirmingly delicious way to hang out with your partner. Its Sunday Spa offer for two sounds just the thing for a VD celebration. Imagine swapping out those Sunday night Monday morning blues for a secluded, lavender-lined hot tub and log fire and then wrapping yourself in white robes and slippering back to your room together? All in the stunning surroundings of a 14th-century country house and 220 acres of beautiful Cotswolds meadowland? I’m sold.
From £259 for two including one night, breakfast, £90 spa vouchers and full use of spa facilities. Calcot, near Tetbury GL8 8YJ. Tel: 01666 890391 (hotel); 01666 891232 (spa). calcot.co
Spend it with the bard
Yes, there’s your big romantic tragedies like Romeo and Juliet and Anthony and Cleopatra, but why not keep things light with one of the bard’s rom-coms? And it would be a good excuse for a trip to London! At the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company is staging two superlative productions – Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – over Valentine’s week. Conceived as a pair, the former is set in 1914 and recreates an Edwardian summer of love just before the outbreak of war, while Much Ado (or Love’s Labour’s Won, as the company has subtitled it) takes place in the autumn of 1918 as soldiers Benedick and Claudio return from the trenches to throw themselves into the nascent roaring 1920s with heroines Beatrice and Hero.
From £57.50, Theatre Royal Haymarket, 18 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HT. Tel: 020 7930 8800. trh.co.uk
Hit the road
There’s nothing like a road trip to tease out the romantic adventurers in a couple. And if you ditch the muddy hatchback for a Jaguar E-Type, Aston DB7, Triumph Stag or Alfa Spider, well, you’re definitely onto a VD date winner. Cotswolds Classic Car Hire just over the border in Wiltshire has a whole fleet of classic beauties for hire. It provides maps and suggested routes, and also has a bulging Rolodex of hideaways, from farmhouse B&Bs to luxury manor houses, if you decide to make a night of it. Pass me my headscarf and shades, will you?
From £165, Cotswolds Classic Car Hire, nr Melksham, Wiltshire. Tel: 01225 703377. cotswoldsclassiccarhire.co.uk
No, I don’t mean like that (but, you know, maybe later!). What I’m proposing here is pulling on those wellies and bobble hats and going out for a really good long walk, where you can chat, hold hands, watch the sun go down (that’ll be at around 5.15pm on the big day) and then, cheeks rosy and endorphins flowing, cosy up in a pub next to an open fire. And I’ve got some good ideas for where to go… click here for my guide to 6 of the best walks and pubs. It’s back-to-basics romance, but sometimes that’s all you need. (And it’s a great fallback if you haven’t sorted out anything else, whoops.)