What Makes a City Romantic?
Here are eight cities and towns in North America that offer distinct answers of their own.
Riding beach cruisers together in Tofino, B.C.
Sure, we'll always have Paris -- just not this year. Fortunately, there are plenty of liaison dangereuse locales within North America to keep our longing for blind lust for the City of Lights at a minimum. But what exactly makes a city romantic? Is it the number of walking lanes, the view of ocean or mountain, the quality of intimate restaurants? Certainly San Francisco would top this list, frigid summer fog excepted. But shouldn't a city be and look ancien, at least by New World standards, to qualify? Quebec City comes to mind. Perhaps a city must possess historical conflict and conflagration, like Savannah or Atlanta, to receive a two-lips-puckered endorsement?
Like every list, the beauty of our most romantic cities resides in the beholder's eye. Personally, I can't imagine a romantic city without some tie to literary history, whether Walt Whitman wandered the wild lands above 72nd Street or William Faulkner gazed out upon the southern oak copse dripping with Spanish moss. However, can anyone fault a couple for choosing Gary or Buffalo if a first kiss or proposal was ushered there?
Weddings at the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec: cool!
Quebec City, Quebec
Stone walls surrounding the city? Check. Cobblestone streets? Check. Forts and history? Check. No, we're not describing a European ville, but rather Quebec City, the most continental city in North America. It isn't just the French language that engenders swoons here, though it doesn't hurt, it's the Old World ambience cosseted into narrow, winding streets with breathless moments around every corner. The night air's chill also does much to engender embrace, especially while gazing upon ice sculptures at the Winter Carnival or, if you dare, a night's slumber at the Hôtel de Glace. Lovers can reside deep within a castle, LeChateauFrontenac, then take to the fortification parapets or wander through 400-year old Place Royale en route to Old Port, home of gallery viewing and café cuddling.
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Water Fountain Forsyth Park in Savannah is perfect for a lovers' stroll.
Even the name Savannah, lazy and sumptuous as Bourbon bread pudding from Back in the Day Bakery, evokes a shared sigh. Wander afoot upon cobblestone streets to explore the 21 squares, pocket parks and antebellum architecture, a city so splendid Gen. Sherman doused his torch rather than set it aflame. Visitors and locals alike navigate the labyrinthine City Market in the Historic District where couples gather fresh produce and flowers before sauntering along River Street or scooting to Tybee Island to settle into their afternoon repast. This is a city best explored at night, as any student of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" will readily tell you. Let the new myths begin.
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Portsmouth, N.H. entices lovers with a rich maritime history with colonial architecture.
Wandering the streets in Down East Maine, it's hard to decide which village best captures the ideal New England fishing visage, because they all qualify. Yet there are no hamlets along the coastline that quite compare with Portsmouth, the peninsular city on the Maine border that combines rich maritime history with colonial architecture, as well as winding streets from Market Square to the South End. Like so many nautical towns, this waterfront also burned, but that was over two centuries ago! Today, visitors browse the shops on Merchants Row, once home to rum runners and naval supplies, disappear into Strawbery Banke, a neighborhood-sized living museum, or capture views of the Piscataqua River along Bow Street.
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There's something about Mendocino, Calif.
Point Reyes Station, Olema, Anderson Valley and, of course, San Francisco: Toss a dart at Northern California and you're likely to strike a romantic destination. Still there's something about Mendocino, perhaps because, though a bit hard to reach, your watch breaks the moment you arrive at the North Coast Brewing Co., one of two brewpubs here, for that celebratory wind down pint. "Out of Staters" love to get "Californian" at the Sweetwater Spa, where couples can enjoy private massage and a hot tub, though the itinerant may prefer to ride a tandem bicycle along the 12-mile Big River Canyon. Multiple kayaking companies will also outfit you for river and coastline explorations. Meandering the bluffs of Mendocino, trails depart the town center in three directions, requires neither pedal nor paddle, just a companion's hand to hold.
You can't hurry love in relaxed Saugatuck.
With a lake like Michigan, who needs an ocean? Midwesterners have long been spending spring and fall weekends to entire summer months in Saugatuck, where lodgers will discover unpretentious cottages, inns and lodges. Vacationers looking for an extra rush head to the adjacent Kalamazoo River to frolic while the laidback stake their awnings on Oval Beach. Kids love to scamper up the Mount Baldhead dunes and multigenerational families embark on chartered motor and sailboats for a day of fishing and sunning on the lake. Nothing too fancy about this traditional vacation spot, still good to know life can be a beach in the upper Midwest.
A couple's massage is waiting at the Wickaninnish Inn, a lovers' lodge.
As with many of the world's most romantic destinations, we travelers must tread for a spell to arrive at this Vancouver Island outpost but, at journey's end, we'll feel no compulsion to leave, ever. This explains the doctor-turned-boutique-operator walking her labs on the beach in front of the Wickaninnish Inn, a lovers' lodge if ever there was one, with views (and sound piped from hydrophones to the Pointe Restaurant) of a violent surf and a couples spa perched upon the rocks that dot this seascape like Monet's lilies populate the impressionist's gardens. Couples arrive for spectacular winter storms and long summer saunters within the PacificRim National Park and surrounding islands. Though Tofino resides at road's end, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, perhaps North America's most romantic escape, awaits the fortunate after a 30-minute boat trip to the confluences of the Bedwell and Ursa Rivers.
Two-stepping to the sounds of the forlorn and heartbroken in Austin, Texas.
Even honeymooners tire of hearing each other's, um, conversation, so stepping into a random bar to listen to local, world-class talent perform songs of the forlorn and heartbroken offers excellent respite, if not a little shared gloat at your symbiotic good fortune. Sweethearts will also discover exceptional regional dining, as well as some of America's most sublime environs in the Texas Hill Country, where future dreams unfurl within a savanna's breeze. The Driskill Hotel, a grande dame in the Texas tradition, awaits strollers who've returned from sharing poems under the large tree canopies in Brush Square or wandered back from the celebration of our ultimate romantic at the O'Henry Museum.
The most romantic gondola this side of Venice in Telluride, Colo.
Okay, grab your brush and paint a historic western town. Don't forget to add a dozen or so surrounding 14,000-foot peaks, a saloon or three and a bank robber like Butch Cassidy, who pulled off his first bank heist here in 1889 -- among the most daring of his career, considering there is really only one way in and out of town. Mountain bikers follow the Butch and the Wild Bunch's getaway every summer. Telluride offers cultural riches aplenty, including world renowned film, blues and bluegrass festivals. Stay at Capella Telluride in the Upper Village and your personal assistant will vase your wildflowers and stock your room with your preferred chocolates, wine and any other amenity. The evening's float to town is the most romantic gondola voyage this side of Venice, though I'm confident you'll can also find one of Butch's horses tethered to a cottonwood if you look in the right canyon.
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Crai S Bower publishes 50+ articles a year in over 20 publications annually. He received the 2008 Northern Lights Award and is the Travel Commentator for 94.9 KUOW.