Southern getaway

By Patti Nickell

Lexington Herald-Leader (TNS)

Valentine’s Day may long be over, but who says romance has to be?

Of all our nation’s regions, perhaps none indulge our passion for romance more than the South.

From the cobblestoned streets of Charleston and Savannah to the sugar white beaches of the Gulf Coast and the rolling hills of the Virginia hunt country, you can overnight in luxurious splendor in one of these romantic spots.

Keswick Hall Charlottesville, Va.

Have you ever dreamed of being Lord and Lady of your own manor – of wandering through the rooms, admiring the antiques and luxe furnishings and knowing that, while you can admire them, you don’t have to clean them; of savoring the finest food and knowing that you don’t have to cook it?

If so, this 48-room Italianate mansion hotel makes for the best kind of grand getaway.

“Good Morning, America” once called Keswick Hall one of the most romantic hideaways in the United States, and it certainly has a distinguished pedigree – having once been the private home of Sir Bernard Ashley, whose wife was design doyenne Laura Ashley.

Keswick Hall’s 600 acres nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by the beauty of Virginia’s hunt and wine country, look like a landscape painting sprung to life.

Just 10 miles from Charlottesville, it’s a great base to tour historic landmarks such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ashlawn/Highland plantations, and the University of Virginia, with its Jefferson-designed classic architecture. It’s also in close proximity to some 25 wineries, breweries and cideries, ensuring you won’t have trouble quenching your thirst.

Even with all these temptations, many guests prefer to loll about in lethargic luxury – relaxing with a book in front of the fire or enjoying afternoon tea in the drawing room, or in summer, lazing by the infinity pool or teeing off on the Pete Dye-designed championship golf course.

Make sure to book Keswick Hall’s special romance package (sparkling Virginia wine upon arrival and dining in intimate splendor in Fossett’s Restaurant).


Belmond Charleston Place Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, with its magnolia-scented air, wrought iron balconies and rainbow-sherbet bungalows is one of the country’s most romantic cities, and as such, deserves an equally romantic hotel. Fortunately, it has one.

From the moment you arrive at Belmond Charleston Place’s Italian marble lobby with its 12-foot crystal chandelier and sweeping staircase that Scarlet O’Hara would be proud to sashay down, you’ll fall in love.

You’ll fall in love with its ideal location in the heart of the historic district; its saltwater pool with a retractable glass roof; its full-service spa and upscale shopping arcade, and most of all, you’ll fall in love with a hotel that mirrors the genteel elegance of its city.

If you’re one of those who subscribe to the song lyric’s theory that “love, like youth is wasted on the young,” Belmond Charleston Place has a package just for you.

Its “Empty Nester” package is designed for couples whose children are out of the house, leaving them time for romance. It includes one night in a Premier room, sparkling wine upon arrival, dinner in the award-winning Charleston Grill, and continental breakfast in the Palmetto Cafe, which channels one of the city’s famed courtyard gardens.


The WaterColor Inn Florida Panhandle

If your love expected a diamond this Valentine’s Day and didn’t get one, all is not lost. You can give her four.

The WaterColor Inn, a 60-room David Rockwell-designed boutique hotel, is one of only two Northwest Florida properties to earn Four Diamonds from AAA.

Situated on 500 acres of sugar-white Gulf Coast beach, the hotel offers a sense of serenity, with each room boasting a private balcony perfect for watching sunrises and sunsets or stealing a moonlight kiss.

But you don’t even have to go outside to revel in your Gulf view. You can see the same sparkling water (and steal the same moonlight kiss) from your bathroom’s walk-in shower, which has its own window.

At WaterColor, couples will find plenty to do together. The hotel’s Signature Romance Experience offers the requisite champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, as well as a 50-minute Swedish massage at the InnSpa and an intimate dinner in the visually stunning, award-winning Fish Out of Water Restaurant.

For other romantic options, ask the hotel staff to arrange a boat ride on Western Lake, the largest of north Florida’s rare coastal dune lakes, or to pack a gourmet lunch basket from the WaterColor Market for a picnic on nearby Grayton Beach.


The Gastonian Inn Savannah, Ga.

Its very name is a silky Southern sigh – Sa-Van-Ahhhhh. The word conjures up soft summer twilights where the air is perfumed with night-blooming jasmine, and fireflies sprinkle the evening sky with tiny starbursts of light.

It’s no wonder that Conde Nast Traveler magazine has called the 17-room Gastonian Inn, located in the very heart of this historic city, one of the 50 best B&Bs in the world.

Comprised of two 1868 Italianate mansions, along with a formal English knot garden, The Gastonian is a step back in time to when stylish ladies gathered in the parlor for afternoon tea, and gentlemen drank their brandy and smoked their cigars on the second-floor veranda.

Just a few blocks from Forsythe Park, the hotel epitomizes the ambiance and charm of Savannah. No cubistic design or minimalist furnishings here; instead, period antique furnishings adorn the front parlor and dining room, as well as the guest rooms in the main house and carriage house off the secluded courtyard.

Rooms are painted in subtle shades of blue and light gold, made even more ethereal by the Savannah sun pouring in from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Every room has a working fireplace and some have four poster beds, while bathroom decor ranges from antique claw foot tubs to two-person Jacuzzis.

Bountiful Southern breakfasts are served in a cozy nook overlooking the back garden or on silver trays in your room, while each evening a complimentary selection of hors d’oeuvres and wines, coffee, dessert and cordials are served in the Double Parlor.

Surprise that special someone with the Full Romantic Turndown Service – the staff places chilled champagne and strawberries on the bed, or if you really love her/him, make it a Luxury Romantic Turndown Service, where in addition to the champagne and strawberries, they’ll strew rose petals across the sheets.


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