St Valentine’s Day on 14 February is regarded in many countries as the festival of lovers, a legacy from our ancestors the Romans. Couples take the opportunity to exchange sweet words and gifts as a token of love. But it is also an opportunity to take the one you love to a wonderful town or a magnificent region with legendary charms. France is bursting with such dream places which people would like to keep to themselves: the wild Loire, with its deep gorges and broad valleys; the mysterious Ardennes; luminous Corsica; the Côtes d’Armor, where you can take to the sea; the enchanting forest of Brocéliande. And then there is Sarlat, symbol of France’s culinary heritage; voluptuous Chamonix; Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, with its fragrance of lavender and, of course, Paris, which is still the eternal city of romance.
How did St Valentine, a 3rd-century Christian martyr, come to be the patron saint of lovers? Perhaps because it was believed in medieval Europe that the mating season for birds began on 14 February.
In France, St Valentine’s Day is associated with Peynet’s ‘Lovers’, the little couple who travelled all over the world to become the symbol of romantic love. Their creator, cartoonist Raymond Peynet, would have been 100 years old in November 2008. A number of exhibitions have celebrated his work.
St Valentine’s Day is also an invitation to take a trip. “There all is order and beauty, Luxury, peace and pleasure”, wrote the poet Charles Baudelaire. And when it comes to romantic destinations, France has plenty of places perfect for a delightful holiday. Here are a few of them, chosen at random from the very many on offer:
Nestling in the heart of the Alpilles, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is one of those delicately fragrant and picturesque French villages, where the beauty of the landscapes and the quality of the light have inspired many artists, writers and painters, the most famous among them Vincent Van Gogh, who painted over 150 paintings there. Situated on one of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe, the town is attached to its traditions, in a typically Provencal setting, far from the bustle of the city. The loveliest memories in a couple’s life are often related to holidays and the discovery of places new. A genuine land of contrasts, shades of green and blue in which the whole palette of colours of a protected nature shimmer between sky and sea, Corsica, Isle of Beauty, lives up to its name. Emerging from the Mediterranean approximately 200 km south-east of the Côte d’Azur, its infinite mildness all year round is sure to charm more than one.
Heading towards the centre of France, the Loire Sauvage or Wild Loire, a listed Natura 2000 conservation area, is above all the epitome of a region that is still preserved. Its flora and fauna are revealed as it flows between deep gorges and broad valleys. On foot or on horseback, whichever way you please, discover the major chateaux of the Loire, sandy beaches or market towns in the hills.
If you want to enjoy a truly magical time, you should not hesitate to explore the forest of Brocéliande, the setting for many Breton legends, not far from Rennes. The Knights of the Round Table still wander this legendary forest in search of an invisible castle. Here you can discover the attractions of the village of Paimpont, built close to the magnificent ‘Fairy Mirror’ Lake, as well as the home of Merlin, or the ruins of the mill in the Valley of No Return. You will also be able to take a romantic stroll as far as the coasts of Finistère, and take to the open sea.
When you pass through Alsace, don’t miss the chance to call in at picturesque and appealing Colmar, with its Little Venice district. Shaped by its prestigious history and imbued with culture, it arouses an enthusiastic response.
Lots of tour operators offer dream destinations for couples to get away from it all. A newcomer in the world of internet travel companies is targeting couples exclusively, through the lens of love, and offering genuine oases of peace and quiet for couples to enjoy. From the remarkable Evian Royal Resort, which overlooks Evian and the lake, to the Moulin d’Hauterive, in Burgundy, an authentic mill located a stone’s throw from the most prestigious Burgundy vineyards, through to the Château de Brindo, near Biarritz, which has become a select destination, the highly attractive Hôtel La Rivière, tucked into the confluence of the Lot and the Truyère in Aveyron, the delightful Hostellerie La Pommeraie, in the Ardennes, facing the imposing fortress of Godefroid de Bouillon, or the Marina di Cavu, in South Corsica, in the Gulf of Bonifacio, there is a very wide choice – thirty establishments from two stars to luxury hotels. In a cosy setting with its own unique charms, a bouquet of roses awaits visitors in their room, along with a bottle of champagne and handmade chocolates. It is also an opportunity to sample French gastronomy, offered by top chefs in the hushed comfort of the great houses.
To surprise the love of your life, why not choose a special holiday in Paris, the eternal city of romance? The choice of shows is particularly rich and culture is in abundance. You can find two-night packages for two people in charming places with various services, such as the Hôtel des Académies et des Arts, a cosy hotel close to the Luxembourg gardens, Le Vert Galant, haunt of romantic writers, a stone’s throw from the Panthéon, with its Basque-inspired restaurant, or l’Hôtel du Jeu de Paume, an unusual, intimate and picturesque hotel, icon of the Ile Saint-louis. If you want to spend the day there, a lunch at the famous Train Bleu, in the Gare de Lyon, will plunge you into the majestically powdery world of the beginning of the 19th century. Finally, make an ardent declaration of love on Pont-Neuf, or even on the quays of the Seine, and the pleasure of your romantic holiday will be complete!
(Source : DCI/Annik Bianchini)