5 historic places where romance is in the air
Posted by Cindy Clarke
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Rome, London, Europe
While February 14 may be the one official day of the year dedicated to romance in the U.S., you’ll find travelers declaring their love for – and in – Europe’s most romantic cities every day of the year. Paris owns the title as the city of l’amour for many. Venice seduces with gondola serenades that make hearts flutter and Copenhagen enchants with fairy-tale love stories that make wishes come true. But don’t overlook the following 5 favorites for travelers who want to experience a historic take on love along with modern-day traditions.
1. Rome, where St. Valentine lives on
Rome has drawn people in search of romance for centuries. Few places can compete with its art, architecture, Classical origins, or even its wine and food. Legend has it that St. Valentine’s Day began here around 269 AD when Saint Valentine himself was martyred for performing “outlaw” weddings for soldiers who were forbidden by the Emperor to marry. He was buried on Rome’s Via Flamina, with his skull taking up residence in the Basilica of Santa Maria. While viewing Valentine’s remains is not particularly romantic, the idea behind his efforts will forever resonate with believers in eternal love… and marriage. As you travel Rome, watch for wishful folks throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, boarding a horse-drawn carriage at the Spanish Steps, strolling hand-in-hand through Villa Borghese Park or savoring a gelato… that’s amore!
2. London, the keys to the Tower and many a lovebird
According to my research, the oldest valentine still in existence was written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, a testament to his undying love. A visit to the Tower of London today reveals both the sinister side of this London landmark and its role as protector of the treasured Crown Jewels. Have dinner here with Tauck, and along with seeing the royal gems up close, you’ll witness a special key ceremony that has been taking place every night, without fail for at least 700 years, by Yeoman Warders who truly love their jobs.
Ironically, the mid-February timing of Valentine’s Day was said to have coincided with the time of the year when birds traditionally mate. I much prefer thinking about the romantic visions that the term lovebirds connotes. The first time Valentine’s Day was associated with romantic love was in a poetic verse written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1832 to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of a 15-year-old King Richard II of England to 15-year-old Anne of Bohemia. Stop in to see it at the British Library where it is preserved under glass. It was another Englishman who was credited with printing the first mass-produced “mechanical valentines.” Many of these printed love letters, including those dating back to Victorian times, are housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a treasure trove of eye-catching visual arts and design… and romance.
3. Vienna, a symphony of waltzes, ball gowns and sacher tortes
The imperial city of Vienna, while only recently celebrating love with modern-day paper Valentines, romances visitors and residents alike with fairy tale balls. These are glamorous affairs that channel the elegance of Hapsburg-era soirees and that entice feet – and hearts – to beat with the music. Each year more than 450 balls take place in this city of waltzes, reaching its peak in January and February. Le Grand Bal starts off the season in style at the Imperial Palace on New Year’s Eve, followed by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Vienna Musikverein, the Opera Ball at the Vienna State Opera, the Johan Strauss Ball and others. Hearts dancing, many sweeten the experience with a taste of the city’s famous Sacher Torte, said to have originated at the Sacher Hotel. Talk about romance. The doorman greets you by touching his hat as he opens the door for you, horse-drawn carriages wait outside and your cake is served to you in a room dressed in red velvet walls by waiters wearing tuxedos.
4. Prague, the heart of the Old World
National Geographic included Prague among the world’s sexiest cities. We’re including it as one of the most beautiful. Put both accolades together and you’d be hard pressed not to consider it one of the most romantic as well. In the Middle Ages, it was known as the crossroads of Europe and was magnificent to behold. The Hapsburgs made it even more enticing in the 16th century when they built stunning Baroque palaces and gardens here. Mozart premiered his musical story of an amorous nobleman, Don Giovanni, in Prague in 1787. Literary giants and filmmakers have been seduced by its storied setting for the past century and Tauck travelers find its charms hidden in its historic heart, where elegant statues, balconied facades, herb gardens, riverside pathways, pretty squares and bustling cafés make it easy to fall in love with the city. Be sure to look for the love locks along the canal near the Charles Bridge in Prague’s Mala Strana.
5. Barcelona, passion in the streets
You only need stroll along las Ramblas, the pedestrian friendly thoroughfare in the heart of Barcelona, to find its passionate love of life attitude. Here statues move, musicians serenade, street vendors thrive and lively squares, lined with cafés, invite with conversation and culinary indulgences. Whimsy welcomes you to the fanciful, romanticized architecture of Antoni Gaudí at Palau Güell, on a narrow side street off las Ramblas, and la Bouqueria, the city’s colorful food market, not far from the Opera house, tempts with a sensual history of fresh produce and local spice. Although the residents celebrate their passion every day, April 23 (St. George’s Day), not February 14, is their traditional day of literacy and love when men buy roses for women and the ladies buy books for men.
Which for a writer like me who happens to love flowers, books and romance is a perfect way to celebrate a love of travel with the love of your life!