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Romantic Rendezvous

Top 6 Romatic Getaways Around the World

by Amanda Castleman

From the Queen Mary 2 to a French Kissing Festival, Claddagh rings to Crusaders' castles, here are ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine's top picks for romance in the stone streets of Europe.

Romantic gestures run the gamut from gas-station teddy bears to grandiose diamonds and golden cuff links. Each February, the dilemma returns. How to say it: With flowers? A carefully scripted, marketing-group-approved, mass-manufactured card? Maybe even chocolate body paint?

No. Drop the bon-bon box and get out of Dodge. Cupid's arrows fly faster on vacation: a principle of passion confirmed by "Roman Holiday," "Shirley Valentine" and "Before Sunrise".

Plus, spring boasts bargain airfares, lower room rates and balmy breezes across the pond. Alone or accompanied, what better time to kindle a new spark in the Old World?

Looking for love
Savor schnapps and sparks on Austria's Kitzsteinhorn glacier. An Alpine village - a scene straight off a hot cocoa packet - hosts a SpeedDater package tour. Singles meet-and-greet in a series of three-minute encounters, then hit the slopes.

While not quite love at first sight, a pairing's potential is obvious immediately, say scientists. "It's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. We make a prediction about what kind of relationship we could have with a person and that helps determine how much effort we are willing to put into developing a relationship," explains University of Minnesota professor Artemio Ramirez.

The British-based company trumpets encouraging statistics: half its clients go on dates, 200 couples bloom each week and 20 engagements clinch every month. The long-weekend tours - which also matchmake in the French Alps, Barcelona and Ibiza - include three-star accommodation and airport transfers.

Easyjet and other no-frills airlines sweeten the deal with roundtrips under $100 via London.

Queen for six days
Lounge on a liner across the Atlantic, cruising from the Statue of Liberty to Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary 2. Cunard's new flagship is the largest passenger vessel ever, a golden-era echo of crystal, claret and transcontinental chic.

Tiaras and tuxes. Champagne and caviar. Sea breezes and sweeping staircases. Promenade like a princess aboard the QM2. This floating pleasure palace includes five pools, a cabaret, casino, basketball court, spa, planetarium and virtual reality golf course, plus Oxford University lectures and performances by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Visiting Valentine
A rebellious clergyman inspired our hearty holiday. The emperor Aurelius - discouraging early Christians - martyred the first bishop of Terni, Italy, in 273 A.D. Valentine died, but his legend survived and evolved: he became the much-mourned patron of lovers.

Some claim he secretly conducted marriages, despite an imperial ban. Cast into prison for this impertinence, he fell for the jailer's daughter - and cured her blindness. His farewell note concluded "from your Valentine," sparking a tradition spun into paper and lace castles by the Victorians.

Italians prefer a more florid version of the story: the good bishop bestowed a blossom on two young visitors, who grew enamored and made a famously happy match. So many hopefuls followed suit, he dedicated a day to blessing matrimony.

Terni still boasts the bishop's bones, along with the majestic Marmore cascade, Europe's largest waterfall. Nearby Narni, a medieval maze atop a crag, makes a better base for exploring Umbria. Todi, Gubbio, Spoleto, Orvieto and Assisi, the splendid home of St Francis, crown the region's attractions. The "green heart of Italy" is famous for dry white wines, Perugia's hazlenut-chocolate "kisses" (baci) and musky truffles (tartufo), said to spark sexual appetites. An hour-long train trip links Rome and Terni from Ferrovie dello Stato.

French kissing
Valentine, like many saints, is hot property. European towns squabble over relics like fishwives - and body-snatchings abound. Despite Terni's tenacity, a Provençal village argues that his earthly remains saved its vineyards in 1868 and still rest in peace there.

"Rest" being a relative term, of course. Over 800 costumed celebrants parade his relics through the winding, medieval streets - named after famous lovers - on Valentine's weekend. A ball, fancy-dress competition, street fair and open-air concerts round out this "Festo di Poutoun" (Festival of the Kiss) in Rouquemare, an ancient Rhone port near Avignon, France. Ryanair flies into Nimes Garon, the nearest airport, which has bus connections and a Hertz outlet.

Fellowship of the ring
Two hands clasp a crowned heart on the famous Claddagh ring, celebrating love and friendship. The symbol's story is lost, but its charming birthplace remains: a fishing village just outside Galway in western Ireland. Cobbled streets, seaside sunsets and, jewelry stores make this a sweet retreat (not to mention some of the world's best oysters, those classic aphrodisiacs).

Wash down local mollusks with a creamy pint of Guinness at Moran's Oyster Cottage, a thatched cottage on Galway Bay. Then spy limestone cliffs, wild flowers and bottle-nosed dolphins on the swooping coastal road from Galway to County Clare, one of the Automotive Association's top ten drives in Europe. Budget Car Rental has rental offices in Dublin and Galway (linked by a three-hour train journey). The Galway Airport is 6km from the city center, serviced by Logan Air and Aer Arann.

Groom with a view
Follow in Brad Pitt's footsteps (sans battle skirt, perhaps) on the idyllic Mediterranean island where the star filmed "Troy". Malta, a new EU acquisition, enchants visitors with turquoise seas, silver domes and sun-bleached, sandstone streets. Valletta, the country's capital and World Heritage site, was the height of Crusader chic - and remains an option for destination weddings.

All-inclusive packages often prove cheaper than the average $40,000 urban-American celebration and honeymoon. Thomas Cook offers Maltese nuptial deals that include the officiant, bouquet, one-tier cake, candlelit dinner and government registration fee. Air Malta flies to 40 European capitals and partners with Delta, Northwest and Virgin Atlantic for smooth overseas connections.

If You Go...
Speed Dater
23 Manor Place
Phone: (845) 838-5600

Easy Jet

Phone: (800) 7-CUNARD

Bella Umbria

Ferrovie Dello Stato
Piazza della Croce Rossa, 1
00161 Rome
Phone: +39-06-44101


Hertz France
Phone: ++33 139 38 38 38

Galway County Coucil
Phone: +353 (0)91 509000

Morans Oyster Cottage
Phone: +353 91 796113

Budget Car Rental Ireland
Athone Road,
Roscommon Town,
Co. Roscommon,
Phone: +353 (0) 9066227711

Galway Airport
Phone: 00 353 91 7555 69

Phone: 0844 800 2855

Aer Arann
Phone: +353 1 844 7700

Visit Malta
Auberge D'Italie
Merchants Street
Valletta VLI 1170
Phone: (356) 22915000

Thomas Cook

Air Malta
Phone: 1-866-357-4155