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Holiday ideas for couples

Holiday ideas for couplesAman Sveti StefanCouples holiday on Red Sea

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

Whether you’re a young couple looking for a romantic break or getting your first chance to travel alone now the children have left home, you’ll find choices for all budgets in the best destinations for couples in the UK, Europe and further afield.

(You may also like to take a look at our holiday ideas for anniversaries or 50th birthdays if you have a special occasion coming up.)

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Stay on the waterfrontWhatley ManorWaterways Holidays - boating (1)Stunning scenery

Couples holidays in the UK

1. Scotland is packed with short break options – check out McKinlay Kidd for some fabulous trips. Try a whisky tour on the island of Islay, keep your eyes peeled for Minke Whales, otters, seals and porpoises off the west coast of Scotland on a Mull Wildlife Experience or take a nostalgic trip on a steam train through the Highlands – otherwise known as Hogwarts Express.

2. Take a flight or ferry to the gorgeous island of Guernsey where sandy beaches, gourmet food, walking trails and lots of activities make it an ideal short-break destination.

3. Our writers love the family-owned Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District – it’s a luxurious, relaxing hideaway with some thoughtful contemporary twists. It’s a big draw for foodies especially, with 3 AA Rosette dining. Not far from Windermere, there are 22 acres of country gardens on the edge of moors and woodland.

4. Aldeburgh is one of Britain’s prettiest seaside towns. The Wentworth Hotel is a family-run gem which overlooks the beach and promises a warm, unpretentious welcome.

5. You may think that you have to travel to France for a wine-tasting break but take a look at the Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire, one of England’s leading wine producers. As well as gorgeous rooms, you can expect top quality food, 100 acres of quiet, scenic countryside and wine-tasting, of course.

6. If an active break is more your scene, Skedaddle has some great self-guided cycling trips – how about this Trans-Pennine ride from Cumbria to Newcastle?

7. For something a little different, join a small-group cultural tour with Martin Randall. Each tour is led by an expert in art, music or architecture. You could attend a classical music festival, visit some of England’s finest stately homes, or follow in the footsteps of Sir Winston Churchill for example.

8. i-escape has put together a great collection of boutique hotels in the UK from a groovy guesthouse in Brighton to a luxury spa hotel in the New Forest, and a boathouse for two in the Lake District. See the latest special offers.

9. In the beautiful Cotswolds, Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa has an exceptional two-Michelin star restaurant, a world-class spa and even a private cinema. Perfect for some serious pampering.

10. Rent a cottage in Scotland. You could stay in a traditional homestead, a house in a fishing village in the Highlands, or a luxury lodge with private hot tub. Popular destinations include the Highlands, Loch Lomond and the Borders.

11. If you’re a couple looking to celebrate a special occasion with other couples, friends and family, why not make like the cast of Downton Abbey and rent an historic house in England, Scotland or Wales. It’s a great option for birthdays or anniversaries.

12. The superb Lucknam Park Hotel close to Bath, has an impressive Equestrian Centre – sooth those aching limbs after a countryside canter in the luxurious spa and indoor pool.

13. Set on the Shropshire-Wales borders, Pen-y-Dyffryn is a stylish Georgian country house hotel with cosy bedrooms, an excellent restaurant and great walking on its doorstep. See the latest offers.

14. If you want to take your beloved four-legged friend with you, there are a number of places where dogs are welcome. Rural Retreats has more than 80 dog-friendly self-catering properties in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

15. If you love walking in the woods, rent a luxury lodge in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire with your own outdoor hot tub.

16. Explore some of the beautiful canals and rivers that criss-cross Britain. Waterways Holidays rents out canal boats and sailing boats including some that sleep two. Check out the latest special offers.

Rent a gite or villaFun slidesAncient cities to exploreBreaks in France

Across the Channel

1. Inntravel can always be relied upon to unearth some hotel gems on the continent – I love these gentle independent cycling breaks, such as this four-night option in the Loire Valley.

2. Whether you are a vinophile or have just a passing interest in French wines, I recommend Arblaster & Clarke for a wide choice of expert-led group tours with vineyards visits, tastings and stylish accommodation. They offer independent trips too. Try a classic wine tour to Burgundy, the Rhone or Chablis. Further afield, there’s Italy, Spain and Portugal. If time is short, a Champagne weekend is hard to beat.

3. The markets of Nice on the Cote d’Azur are some of the most vibrant in France. With its warm Mediterranean climate, elegant streets, art museums and markets, Nice works as a short break destination at any time of year.

4. Set off the Atlantic Coast of France, the Ile de Ré will beguile you with its vast sandy beaches, pretty harbours, cycle paths, pine forests – and superb seafood restaurants. I think the best approach is to rent an apartment.

5. The canals and rivers of France wind their way through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery. There’s no better way to soak it all in than on board a luxury hotel barge. Each barge sleeps between four and 20 passengers, in considerable comfort, and the price includes gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar and all shore excursions. Most journeys are for six nights – take a look at Burgundy, Alsace-Lorraine, Bordeaux and the Canal du Midi.

6. Of course, there is a way to fly without any stress – and that is by private jet. Formalities are kept to a minimum, you get to select a convenient local airstrip and you can choose from a day trip or short break. Gather together some friends or family and you will find it surprisingly affordable, starting at less than £1,000 per person for a Michelin-starred lunch in Paris.

7. Holiday villages are hugely popular in France and the ones operated by Pierre & Vacances are particularly good. Whether you love beach, countryside or mountains, rent a luxury apartment for great value with year-round facilities. including spas and heated pools.

Find some great ideas for cruise holidays around the world. And see our guide to the best adults-only holidays.

Stunning resorts on the beachTrullo villasStylish villas and small hotelsCharming villas

Summer holiday ideas for couples

1. Croatia is one of Europe’s gems with a gorgeous coastline studded with islands and great-value hotels.

2. If you like to linger longer in s destination and really get under its skin, check out this selection of Journeys in SlowMotion holidays, many of them by train or boat – I love the look of the ideas in Norway.

3. If you like mountain air along with your summer sunshine, head to the Alps. Peak Retreats has a selection of “aparthotels” in some of the prettiest alpine villages – in some you can even enjoy try some summer glacier skiing.

4. For old-school Italian glamour and superb hotels it’s hard to beat the Amalfi Coast – and the coastal road is one of the most dramatic and picturesque in the world.

5. Also ranking high in the glamour stakes are the Italian Lakes, where you’ll find jaw-dropping scenery, excellent hotels and good food. Most lakes have a great public transport system for local sightseeing, and lots of boat trips are available. They are a particularly good option in the spring and autumn when the colours are vibrant – and there are fewer crowds.

6. The Italian island of Sicily is packed with atmospheric towns, fascinating historical sites and a gorgeous coastline. For great-value locally-owned hotels throughout the island, our writers recommend ExpertoItaly. For something on a grander scale, there’s Sir Rocco Forte’s Verdura Golf & Spa Resort which has rapidly emerged as one of the Mediterranean’s most desirable hotels.

7. Crete is a superb island, offering much more than beaches. Stay away from the mass-market resorts and check into one of these gorgeous boutique hotels. Find more great holiday destinations in Greece.

8. The tiny Adriatic nation of Montenegro – about the size of Northern Ireland – is rapidly emerging as one of Europe’s most attractive destinations. With lots of characterful places to stay, it has mountains that reach down to the coast, vast lakes, national parks, historic cities and dozens of tiny beaches.

9. The Catalonian coast is one of the most beautiful regions of Spain, packed with unspoiled fishing villages and pretty coves as well as some sandy beaches. These self-guided cycling holidays include a selection of routes – some very gentle – and your luggage is transported each day to await you at your next hotel. You can also combine it with a beach break.

10. Wide empty beaches with unspoilt countryside, mountains, historic medieval towns and vibrant cities….if these are all on your tick list, you might not realise that they can all be found in Northern Spain. Not to mention great food and wine, good-value hotels and friendly local people. I can recommend the specialist operator Casas Cantabricas or – if you’d like a self-drive itinerary – try its low-cost sister company Caminos.

11. Portugal’s coastal city of Porto is home to the famous Port lodges perched on the hillside across the Douro River from the old city. It’s a glorious choice for a city break but even better when combined with a stay in the Douro Valley. Travel there on a leisurely boat trip or by road and you’ll be rewarded with mile upon mile of terraced vineyards, sparkling river views and ‘Quintas’ -historic wineries, many converted to hotels.

12. It can be hard to find a villa for two but villa specialist, Vintage Travel, makes the search easier with a selection of properties throughout the Med that are suited to couples – and all have a private pool.

13. Simpson Holidays has a great selection of hotels, cosy private villas and cottages ideal for couples. They are particularly strong in Corsica, Greece, Turkey and Mallorca.

14. In Tuscany, we’ve found a great selection of villas for two set in beautiful countryside and each with a private or shared pool.

15. I rate Turkey – particularly its Aegean coast – as one of the best destinations for young couples who want to laze in the sun in a stylish boutique hotel – and for anyone with even a passing interest in ancient history. The region is packed with archaeological treasures.

16. If you want to escape the world, head to DDG Retreat, a chic hideaway set within a national park in the hills of Andalucia just an hour’s drive from Malaga airport. Rent a casita for two with private pool.

Catherine PalaceVeniceSidi Bou SaidRome

City breaks for couples

1. Florence is one of Europe’s must-see cities, packed with art and architectural treasures. I recommend you avoid the height of summer and take a short break in spring or autumn. Our recommended tour operator is Sardatur Holidays.

2. In winter take a short break to visit one of Europe’s greatest Christmas markets. Most interesting and romantic destinations include Cologne, Munich and Prague, as well as smaller German towns such as Freiburg, Koblenz and Wiesbaden.

3. Madrid is a great city to spend a few days. It’s packed with world-class art galleries, lovely bars and restaurants, pretty squares and charming hotels – prepare to eat late, like the Madrilenos. Or head down to Barcelona which boasts the works of Gaudi, Miro and Picasso as well as fabulous restaurants and a beach.

4. Head to Prague at any time of year for a heady dose of gothic and Art Deco architecture, an atmospheric cafe scene and head-turning cityscapes in every direction. Indulge yourselves with a stay at The Augustine, a stunning hotel in a former monastery

5. Copenhagen is a great destination for a short break, especially in summer when the days barely end. Denmark’s capital is currently enjoying a fashion moment due to its stylish contemporary design, award-winning restaurants and laid back lifestyle.

6. Sweden’s capital Stockholm is a city of culture and beauty set on an archipelago of small islands. Spring and summer are the best times to visit, with long evenings, al fresco dining and lively bars as locals celebrate the end of winter.

7. The city of St Petersburg is unmatched for its opulent sights and artistic heritage. Go in summer for the White Nights when the sun never sets, or wrap up warm for the romance of winter.

8. Las Vegas is not just about gambling. The city has some gob-smacking hotels, big shows, gourmet restaurants and fabulous shopping. Book with Trailfinders.

9. Budapest is excellent value. It’s actually two cities, ancient Buda and the more modern Pest across the Danube river. Both are packed with history, cheap places to eat and historic spa hotels. Find out more.

10. Head to the Carnival of Venice in February where you can hire a costume and get invited to masked balls and grand dinners.

11. Cairo is a great city, rich in cultural treasures. Combine it with a luxury Nile Cruise.

>> Visit our homepage for more holiday ideas. Or check out our sister site for short breaks.

See the Northern LightsKayakingWildlife in IndiaGastronomic Barolo cycling tour

Do something different

1. A glimpse of the Northern Lights is on many people’s bucket list. Head to Iceland for a good chance of viewing this amazing phenomenon, combined with jaw-dropping natural wonders, including glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Reykyavik is a great choice for a city break with a difference.

2. Sweden is stunning in summer – a land of sparkling lakes, midnight sun, beautiful design and great food. On this Seascapes and Forests fly-drive you can stay in a 400-year-old castle, sunbathe on the white sand beaches on the Baltic and explore the cities of Gothenburg and Stockholm.

3. If you love nature, the Galapagos Islands should be on your list. The chance to enjoy up-close encounters with turtles, giant tortoises, seals and exotic birdlife is truly unique, and the sheer pristine beauty of these protected islands will enchant you. Combine it with a trip to mainland Ecuador where you can take a thrilling train ride into the Andes and visit the Amazon rainforest.

4. One of the ultimate travel adventures is to visit the wild, haunting landscapes of Antarctica. Take a 9-day classic cruise to see vast colonies of Emperor Penguins and incredible ice sculptures. Or combine Antarctica with visits to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia on an 18 or 19 night voyage.

5. Chile is soaring in popularity as adventure-minded tourists head to the dramatic landscapes of the Atacama Desert  – which has areas where it has never rained – and the stunning icebergs and glacial fjords of the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Combine them with visits to the vineyards around Santiago and Easter Island.

6. Inntravel offers a terrific choice of self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking holidays. Stay in charming locally-owned hotels and inns, armed with detailed route maps and notes – your luggage is transported for you each day to your next destination. Try the Costa Vicentina coastal walk in Portugal, the Lycian Way in Turkey and or Waterways and Flowers in Madeira.

7. Explore Europe on two wheels on one of the many cycling holidays offered by Headwater. Choose from a range of itineraries with varying levels of exertion to suit you – whether you want to meander gently or tackle more challenging routes. I can’t think of a better way to burn off those calorie-rich pasta lunches than on the Gastronomic Barolo cycling holiday, for example.

8. If you’re interested in digging a little deeper into a destination, how about trying an archaeological tour with Andante Travels? You could visit thrilling places such as Sicily, Jordan and Pompeii in the company of an expert tour leader, with a great choice of short breaks and longer tours.

9. Want to get healthy together? The Vilalara Thalassa Resort on the Algarve has a spectacular spa and runs themed health holidays focussing on areas such as weight loss, stress reduction and qutting smoking. Check out its fitness and yoga weekends.

10. How about joining a tour of Iran now that the country is beginning again to open up to tourism. It’s a beautiful and friendly country with exquisite palaces, mosques, ancient cities and temples. This Treasures of Persia group tour is a great introduction.

11. Are you ready for some serious bonding? How about the two of you joining an overland truck adventure, spending between five days and 40 weeks exploring the depths of Africa, South America or Central Asia.

12. Norway is a stunning year-round destination, but best seen under the Midnight Sun or in winter when you can witness the Northern Lights. An independent summer tour of fjords, lakes and mountains will highlight many of the country’s natural wonders, or take to the water on a coastal voyage used by local people. You could take a four-night Roof Across Norway break including Europe’s highest railway, or cruise through the gorgeous and little-known Lofoten Islands.

13. Head to India to chase tigers. This amazing wildlife holiday with Audley Travel includes a stay at Bandhavgarh National Park with private safari drives at dawn and dusk, plus the best of Delhi and Agra, and an overnight train journey.

14. Take a cultural walking tour with Kudu Travel, which uses expert guides in a host of fascinating destinations from Italy to Namibia.

See more unusual holiday destinations and our selection of the best adventure holiday ideas.

The sweeping beachW Resort & SpaLeopardOhana

Long-haul holidays for couples

1. Bali is one of the world’s most beguiling holiday destinations. Our favourite hotels include The Samaya Ubud – a paradise hideaway – and the boutique-style Amala in Seminyak. You can combine Bali with other islands of Indonesia to discover spectacular marine parks, temples, jungle and wildlife including Orang-Utans and Komodo dragons. Try this Java and Lombok Explorer tour.

2. A safari in Africa is one of the ultimate holiday treats. For luxury, isolation and incredible game viewing, head to Botswana. Or choose from a great selection of safari camps in Kenya. Here’s one for the bucket list: join a thrilling gorilla tracking safari in Rwanda.

3. The four-hour flight means it’s certainly not long haul, but Lanzarote does boast year-round sunshine, making it great for a winter sun break. You can find some charming villas with pools including Villa Placeres which is perfect for couples, with a double gazebo beside a secluded pool.

4. An intoxicating taste of Brazil, Portugal, Africa and the tropics awaits in the Cape Verde Islands. Only a six hour non-stop flight away, located in the Atlantic ocean west of The Gambia and Senegal, you’ll find a good choice of hotels, diverse restaurants and dreamy white sand beaches with guaranteed winter sunshine. It’s a surfer’s paradise too.

5. Explore the glorious landscapes of the Canadian Rockies by road or rail. Don’t miss a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer, for one of the world’s most famous rail journeys. If you prefer to drive under your own steam, how about the 8-day Mountain Express fly-drive holiday from Calgary to Vancouver which takes in the Rockies, Banff and Jasper National Parks.

6. Discover the delights of Sri Lanka – a wealth of fascinating cultural sites, superb beaches, beautiful hotels, great food and epic scenery from lush tea plantations to arid parkland, home to wild elephant and even leopard. Try this selection of unique experiences.

7. Cuba is a good-value winter sun destination. But although it has stunning beaches, there is so much more. You should spend time in the capital Havana (where I recommend the Saratoga Hotel), and the colonial city of Trinidad is charming.

8. Enjoy the best that India has to offer on a private tour with chauffeur-driven car with TransIndus. The best regions to explore include Rajasthan and Kerala.

9. Head to Argentina to see the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, the glacier fields of Patagonia and the wild pampas regions.

10. Peru is one of the world’s most exciting and culturally rich destinations. Visit the Lost City of Machu Picchu, explore the Sacred Valley, the Amazon rainforest and charming Spanish colonial towns. See more holiday ideas in South America.

11. See all the best bits of Australia in just two weeks. Try this golden triangle which combines Sydney, Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef. And if you really want to be staggered by stunning scenery – as well as charming people, great food and wine – then it’s got to be New Zealand.

12. Burma is one of the world’s hidden gems, and is rapidly opening up to tourism. In our view it’s one of the most beguiling and beautiful destinations on Earth. I defy you not to fall in love with it. See a selection of holidays in Burma.

13. One of the most enchanting hotels in Asia is Tanjong Jara, set on the beautiful unspoilt east coast of Malaysia.

14. There are few destinations more exciting right now than Cambodia. The mysterious and beautiful temple complex of Angkor is a “must see before you die” while the capital of Phnom Penh is an exciting, buzzing city. Great food, world-class beaches and friendly people complete the picture.

15. St Lucia has some great hotels for couples. The adults-only Rendezvous is ideal for a romantic getaway. For health and wellbeing, head for The Body Holiday where daily spa treatments are included in the price.

16. Looking for a city break with a difference? It’s only a seven-hour flight to the friendly cosmopolitan city of Montréal which is brimming with culture, things to do and great food.

Last updated: 19 April 2017

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