Is it Valentine's Day already??? Seems like it was just New Year's Day! Yes, the day of romance is here. It's a day to snuggle with your Valentine, to enjoy good food and good wine, and flowers and other gifts that say you care. And it's a day, as well, to enjoy special experiences...in special places. And these are my "Favorite Five" for this year...
#5 - THE WATERS HOTEL, HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS - Hot Springs, Arkansas is a little piece of Paradise. It's a beautiful old town in the hills, blessed with deep-green forests and cool streams and paths in Nature and a classic Old-Time downtown with colorful shops and restaurants. And, of course, those famous hot springs, where you can "take the waters." And there's a new hotel in town, in a beautifully-restored structure built as a medical building in 1913. The Waters Hotel opened just recently, with restored original touches to the building such as Corinthian pilasters, marble floors, and glazed-terracotta exterior. The Avenue--a southern artisan-style restaurant led by award-winning chef and Le Cordon Bleu alumnus Casey Copeland--was added to provide a romantic atmosphere. This is a boutique hotel with only 62 rooms, and a devotion to personal service. Perfect for Valentine's Day, the "Romantic Retreat Package" is just that, with features such as relaxing massages and spa treatments at the neighboring Quapaw Bathhouse. And it all happens in a town that looks like a Currier & Ives postcard.
#4 - ADVENTURES ON THE GORGE, LANSING, WEST VIRGINIA - Many people feel this is West Virginia's premier "adventure resort." It's luxurious, cozy, spacious, private and secluded. And it's right smack on the most beautiful spot in the state - on the rim overlooking the dramatic New River Gorge. The resort's "Sweetheart Winter Package" is a couples getaway that includes two nights in a secluded cabin in the woods, dinner for two, sparkling wine, chocolates and your choice of a number of outdoor options that include nearby Winterplace Ski Resort. There's a special Valentine's Day dinner with four courses at the romantic Chetty's Pub, including treats such as baked oysters on the half-shell, roasted sirloin steak with herb-marinated shrimp, and whipped cream fraiche. And when you walk with your sweetheart on crisp snow to a spot overlooking the gorge - with your footsteps in the snow the only sounds you hear - with majestic, silent forest all around you, you'll know the true meaning of romance.
#3 - HOTEL LES MARS, HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA - Nestled amongst the hills of the Russian River Valley, Hotel Les Mars is a member of the prestigious luxury-hotel group called Relais & Chateaux. This beautiful small hotel is smack in the middle of California Wine Country, and it brings the romance of France to a picture-postcard village in Northern California. Hotel Les Mars is only one block from Healdsburg's historic town square, and the surrounding area includes Michelin-Star dining, wine-tasting, interesting boutiques and galleries, and a vast assortment of outdoor activities, hiking amongst the hills, woods and wineries bring one of the most popular. This hotel is evocative of Old World luxury...and not by accident. Throughout the property, traditional 17th and 18th century antiques complement the Parisian-style charm, and the grounds are reminiscent of an historic French country home. The service is European-style, the breakfasts are French and complimentary, and daily the wine-and-cheese receptions are daily.
#2 - WESTERN RIVIERA LAKESIDE LODGING, GRAND LAKE, COLORADO - Of Grand Lake - name of both the largest natural lake in Colorado and the picturesque village at its edge - the Travel Channel's Anthony Melchiorri said, "It's the most beautiful place I've ever been." Small wonder. Grand Lake is the largest of a few adjoining, ice-blue lakes that stay frozen until Memorial Day (yes, you can skate on them!), because they're at an altitude of 8,369 feet. The village? At this time of year, there are only 471 full-time residents, in an Old West, wood-planked-sidewalk town with some interesting shops and surprisingly-good restaurants. One of the most romantic places to stay is at Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging, where your choice of accommodations is just as extraordinary as the romantic wintertime views anywhere you look. You can stay in the motel. In the Courtyard Cabins. The Lakeside Cabins. The Lake House. The most luxurious "Tree House" you've ever seen. And even a luxury "Penthouse." All of them edge the magnificent lake in front of them, and the historic one-street village behind them. Try Valentine's dinner at the Historic Lodge Restaurant, which offers intimate ambience, excellent food, and waterside views. Another good choice is the Backstreet Steakhouse at the Daven Haven Lodge. If your idea of Valentine's Day romance is a winter wonderland, an alpine lake, majestic mountain peaks, and a quiet, beautiful village pretty much all your own in winter, this is the place!
And now, here's my choice for the No. 1 place in America to spend Valentine's Day...
#1 - LANDS CREEK LOG CABINS, BRYSON CITY, NORTH CAROLINA - It's only a short drive up a winding mountain road from the town of Bryson City to "Paradise." And as soon as you reach Lands Creek Log Cabins, on 80 magnificently-forested acres at the top of the mountain, you'll call it "Paradise," too. Here, in 19 beautiful, rustic cabins (with modern appliances), you can sit outside on clear winter nights and marvel at the contrasts of the darkest sky and the most brilliant stars you've ever seen. You can bring in some food from town or cook it yourself, and enjoy it with your partner in front of your warming fireplace, surrounded by crafts from local artisans. You can walk with your partner on crisp snow that hasn't been walked on yet, and hear that slightly-crunchy, sweet sound that signifies fresh snow. You can take the short hike to the top of (owners) Robin and Sue Fronrath's mountain for a dramatic look across into Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountains are never more beautiful than in winter. And at the bottom of the mountain, Bryson City is a delight to stroll around, with quaint shops and funky restaurants, and complete with a statue in front of the old courthouse. At the end of the day, however, comes one of the most peaceful - and one of the most romantic - moments, when you can fall asleep to the sounds of Lands Creek right underneath your stilted cabin.