Quick, ask someone about the most romantic place she’s ever traveled. Chances are, descriptions of chilly temperatures and layers of clothing aren’t the first tales to leave her mouth. However, with the winter months looming, planning a romantic rendezvous prior to the spring thaw not only gives us something to look forward to, but often takes us to destinations we’d overlook en route to the nearest beach in July.
Over the past few years, I, along with my spousal equivalent, have begun exploring winter getaways for two. I’m talking about relaxing in front of flickering fires, eating warm meals bursting with local flavors, couples’ massages, and spending time outdoors amid silent, snowy mountains. Heck, the calendar gods decided Valentine’s Day should happen in February for a reason, right? Between their powdery peaks, roaring hearths, and dinners à deux, these getaways all but spell l-o-v-e.
Exotic and wild, a jaunt to the final frontier leaves couples in awe over glaciers, historic small towns, wildlife, and otherworldly-blue water. Not only does wintertime Alaska boast the drama of Arctic snow and ice, but its skies are filled with aurora borealis, the dancing fluorescent ribbons of light that illuminate the night sky. (Just try watching these northern lights with your companion without touching him.) Action-seeking couples can also break a sweat downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even dogsledding.
Taos, New Mexico
A far cry from snowy Alaska, this artsy city dramatically combines the enchantment of the Southwest with winter pastimes like skiing and snowboarding. In Taos, dramatically situated between the towering Rockies and the Rio Grande, visitors can choose to explore high-altitude trails, soak up panoramic views, or just get off the grid, like true residents would. Duck into yummy restaurants, funky art galleries (15 percent of the city’s residents are artists), and local shops, and forget about the rest of the world as snow falls outside.
Situated nine thousand feet above sea level and sixty-seven miles west of Denver, Breckenridge is Colorado’s answer to ski-resort kitsch. Founded in 1859, the resort village is more than just slopes—it also offers an entire winter wonderland’s worth of recreation and entertainment. Though plush hotel rooms abound, Breckenridge lures couples out of their rooms with historic attractions, abundant shopping opportunities (enough for you and your honey to spoil each other rotten), and restaurants featuring local ingredients, like buffalo and pueblo chilies. Visitors can also take a trip back in time, exploring what remains of the town’s gold-mining legacy, complete with “big strikes” and tales of the Wild West.
Québec City, Canada
If it’s truly a winter wonderland you’re after, la ville de Québec will seduce you on first sight. True, the winter temperatures here plunge to frigid negative numbers, but the city’s enchanting sites, luxury accommodations, European enchantment, and belly-warming cuisine keep guests going. Fortress walls, resting atop a rock bluff overlooking the metropolis and the surrounding coast, surround the oldest part of the city, Vieux-Québec. From here, couples can meander through used bookstores, amble along the St. Lawrence River, and stop for a couples’ massage at the luxe Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel. The city, deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is entirely French, from the language to the cuisine to the joie de vivre of its residents. Spend hours warming yourselves in front of a fire or sharing fondue at a tiny restaurant, or get lost wandering down staircases and alleyways into shops and galleries.
If you were disappointed when you visited Niagara Falls, you’re not the only one. (How is it legal to have that many chain restaurants, motels with heart-shaped bathtubs, and tour buses dwarfing a natural wonder?) Now, comfort yourself by picturing the exact opposite, Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is one of the most picturesque and well-preserved nineteenth-century towns in North America and happens to be only an hour’s drive from the falls. Situated alongside Lake Ontario, the town, dotted with clapboard and brick houses, wows visitors with its placid beauty and quaint vibe. Travelers can hole up in one of many remodeled, cozy inns or hotels, where spa treatments and warm mugs abound. Outside are opportunities to go snowshoeing, ice skating, and wine tasting while exploring the area’s stores and galleries.
True, Tahoe has lost much of its original California country charm as its condos and casinos have multiplied exponentially, but the area still boasts breathtaking scenery and plenty of (at least seemingly) undiscovered neighborhoods nestled around the lake, which straddles California and Nevada. If you’re so inclined, staying away from the casino-lined strip is easy, as cabins abound in pockets around the lake’s seventy-two-mile coastline and often come fully stocked with an indoor hot tub, a covered deck, a warm fireplace, and cabinets full of games and goodies from longtime owners. Most areas with rentable cabins are walking distance from mom-and-pop pizzerias, burger joints, and local watering holes replete with bearded locals and day-trippers from the Bay Area. Visitors can choose between hitting the slopes, taking in the sights (be sure to take the gondola at the Heavenly resort all the way up the mountain, even if you’re not skiing), or cozying up in front of the fire with hot chocolate for the day.
Maybe you’re more of an urban pair, or perhaps you get all the skiing you need with other companions. Either way, Denver is an affordable, entertaining alternative to the hustle and bustle of New York City or San Francisco. A downtown hotel will give visitors easy walking access to theaters, an innovative dining scene (including street-food carts with mile-long followings), and happening urban neighborhoods to explore. Looking for a lively bar? Check out the mainstay Lo-Do. History and literature buffs will get lost exploring Capitol Hill—once home to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. And for a classic wintry treat, take a sleigh ride downtown or visit an ice-skating rink set against the towering backdrop of the snow-capped Rockies.
While you may not get to see your sweetheart in a bathing suit (at least, not outdoors), nothing reignites romance quite like cuddling up for warmth and exploring a new locale together. Just spare the rest of us the details as we slog through the snow to work.