Get away from the cliché: overlooked romantic cities

Get away from the cliché: overlooked romantic cities

They may fall under the shadows of their larger neighbours, but these tremendous towns are just an hours drive away and equally, if not more, romantic

1. Where: Tarragona

An hour from: Barcelona

Why go? Beautiful beaches, roman ruins and pretty plazas, Tarragona is just as alluring as the Catalonian capital. Set on the same grid system as Barcelona there are longramblasoverflowing with cafes, restaurants and flower shops and tumbling cliffs that hug the shoreline. But Tarragona's biggest feature is its eye-opening Roman ruins. A vivid reminder of the town's richly layered history, the ruins are all easily walkable - about 15 mins between sites - and include an amphitheatre that once seated around 15,000 spectators.

Follow the large burgundy signs that point the way and marvel at the Old City's ancient walls before heading to the beautiful iron railings that form a boundary between Tarragona and the sea. The so-called 'Balcony of the Mediterranean' makes the perfect vantage point and great spot for a romantic smooch.

The Plaça de la Font is the beating heart of the town; speeches and concerts intermingle with the clattering of plates and chattering of locals, and with 20 or so restaurants sprinkled around it makes the perfect spot to enjoy a romantic tapas stop.

When night falls put on your dancing shoes and head underground to El Cau. One of the best places for dancing in Tarragona, this lively bar is housed in one of the vaults of the Roman circus.

2. Where: Ghent

An hour from: Brussels

Why go? A peaceful, relaxed pace, canals for strolling along and charm galore, Ghent makes the perfect romantic break. Criss-crossed by canals and waterways, the thriving heart of the inner city is the Graslei medieval port. Lined by row upon row of pretty town houses and riverside cafes, the port makes for a fairytale wander through Ghent's historical side. If you've worked up an appetite head to Allegro Moderato for a grand yet cosy meal- this traditional French restaurant is housed in an 18th century building and its ceiling heaves with the weight of ornate chandeliers. Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy romantic views over the water.

Thanks to Ghent's car-free centre you can wander the streets without encountering any traffic, and this is just as well as you won't be able to tear your eyes away from the towering medieval towers and stunning architecture of the historical quarter. Wander past the Belfry (which houses the best view of the city), St Nicholas's church and St Bavo's and get lost in the winding, cobbled streets.

Ghent by day is whimsical and charming but by night it's dazzling when all across the entire city thousands of lamps and spotlights switch on in a romantic, illuminating display. Head canal side and enjoy a romantic stroll by the water that shimmers with the abundance of reflected lights.

3. Where: Potsdam

An hour from: Berlin

Why go? Just outside of Berlin, Potsdam is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Beautiful Prussian architecture, affected by war and neglected during divided Germany, has finally been restored to its former glory. Grecian figures and vases top the roofs of pastel-coloured houses, while fountains and columned gates proudly open up the high street. On one end with the Garrison Church and on the other the stunning dome of St Nicholas' Church, which can be seen from all across the city. Spend a day wandering the streets and seek refreshment from the chic German patisseries - pastries for breakfast, kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) for lunch.

The real gem of Potsdam, however, is Sanssouci Park, the royal grounds of the tiered Sanssouci Palace and the baroque New Palace. The garden never reveals all of its hidden secrets on one, or even two, visits and makes the perfect setting for a romantic picnic. Find a spot on the banks of the river with the palace behind you and spend an afternoon enjoying the greenery. See if you can make out the golden man on the roof of the jade green Chinese House, the busts of Grecian Gods, the orangerie, the Roman baths and the pavilions dotted around the gardens. A beautiful location for a relaxing weekend getaway.

4. Where: Santa Barbara

An hour from: Los Angeles

Why go? There's little to dislike in Santa Barbara. There are palm tree-lined streets, sunny shopping paseos, rolling valleys and a laidback cool that challenges LA. There are plenty of outdoor pursuits to enjoy in Santa Barbara, but it's the culture and the food that are worth the attention here.

Even though the city is relatively small - around 20 square miles - there are over 400 restaurants to choose from, all offering locally grown or freshly caught fare. From Chinese to Italian, to everything in between, Santa Barbara offers a round-the-world dining experience. Worth visiting is Toma Restaurant and Bar, a waterfront bistro serving up Italian and Mediterranean dishes with dreamy views out over the harbour.

Continue the romance after dinner and catch a movie at the Arlington Theatre - that's if you can keep your eyes on the screen and off the surroundings. Beautifully decorated, the theatre itself is festooned like an old Californian town; houses and shops give way to a night sky complete with twinkling lights. The theatre also hosts The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, usually held in January, which pulls in some 75,000 visitors each year.

 

Image: Visit California

 

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