When Cupid strikes in Kent
PUBLISHED: 22:09 04 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:26 05 February 2016
Are you trying to think of the perfect place to celebrate Valentine's Day? Here are a few suggestions, some conventional, some a little more unusual that all come from the Garden of England
In China it is the Lovers Festival. In the Philippines it’s the Day of Hearts. In Portugal it is the Day of the Enamoured. Over here you probably know it simply as Valentine’s Day.
Every year, as a country we lose our heads slightly in a whirlwind of romance, splashing out nearly £2bn to celebrate the love we have or the love we’d like to have.
Despite living in an era of gender equality, the day itself still adheres to stereotype, with men forking out more than women. Last year, on average, men spent £40 on their partner on Valentine’s Day, whereas women spent an average of £24; which is probably great news for florists, jewellers and chocolatiers, but less so for makers of whatever gifts men receive and are which likely put away and forgotten (flasks, ties, wallets?).
Wine and dine
While in your teens a prospective date might have been satisfied with a trip to the cinema and a bag of chips on the way home, for those of us with a few more miles on the clock Valentine’s Day represents a good opportunity to push the boat out when it comes to dining. And one place you can do that is Wallet’s Court.
Michelin-starred Chef Chris Oakley opened the Wallett’s restaurant in the 1970s and made it a centre of fine dining. Now in his seventies, Chris has handed over the reins to Michael Fowler who trained with Marco-Pierre White and Rick Stein.
“Chris brings the backbone of tradition to our restaurant in their collaboration as Oakley and Fowler, while Michael brings the drama and panache of the contemporary chef. Oakley and Fowler have a commitment to Kentish produce; locally, seasonally and responsibly sourced,” says Peter Cocks of Wallet’s Court.
And if the quality of dining was enough of a pull, Wallet’s Court also has something of a romantic past, as Peter explains: “This place is reputed to have given board and lodging to Edward I on his way to France to be with his beautiful French fiancée, Eleanor of Castile. And despite it being an arranged marriage, Edward and Eleanor of Castile fell deeply in love and had 16 children together, which is quite romantic!”
Relax and romance
“What better way could there be to spend some quality time with your loved one than to enjoy a spa weekend?” says Mandy Hempstead, owner of the Hempstead House Country Hotel.
Massages, facials, even something called a Thai Dumpling Massage (don’t ask me), the AquaManda Spa at Hempstead has everything you could want for a night away for you and that special person in your life.
And it’s not just, as is often the perception, a more ‘feminine’ activity. “Our treatments, provided by a professional team, are enjoyed by men and women. And even if that’s not your sort of thing, you also have access to our gym, pool and jacuzzi” says Mandy.
There are packages here for one night or two, giving couples a chance to spend quality time together, take time out from the pressures of life and treat themselves to a relaxing experience.
“And you get to enjoy all this in a quality country house hotel. We have everything here to make your romantic getaway perfect; great rooms, great service and great food. We’re about much more than just the spa” says Mandy.
Planning for the perfect Valentines evening is not without its stresses, so a relaxing pamper might be just what you need.
Take to the skies
“This time of year we are inundated with queries about Valentine’s Day trips. And it’s easy to understand why. Just imagine you and your loved one together, thousands of feet up in the air, floating along on the breeze, enjoying the silence of the skies. I don’t think you could get anything more romantic,” says Louisa Spice director of Kent Ballooning.
Kent Ballooning, which have been operating in the county since the 1990s, offers a service it describes as “exclusive, with a personal touch,” as Louisa explain: “Time and time again our customers comment on how tailor-made their experience has felt. Our pilot is Kent born and bred, and so has extensive knowledge of the county and can give you as much information about a Second World War airfield as a local shopping centre. And because we’re a small, family run business we can give you that ‘personal touch’,
And that’s particularly useful for those seeking to make this year’s Valentine’s Day even more memorable
“We’ve found that lots of people think of a balloon voyage as the perfect opportunity to propose to their partners on Valentine’s Day,” adds Louisa. “And we can help with that, organising the route and the timing, and also providing anything else you need to make the moment special.”
A walk under the stars
Taking in a night-time walk under the stars used to be relatively straightforward. But in the age of light pollution, even when the skies are clear it’s no longer so easy to indulge in this most romantic of activities.
On a dark, clear night you and your loved one should be able to stare up in wonder at 3,000 stars, gaze at the majestic luminescence of the Milky Way and contemplate the heavens as you celebrate your love. But in most parts of the county, thanks to outdoor lighting, that’s not going to happen.
So you have to work a bit harder, go a bit further and one place where it is still possible to see the night sky in all its full glory is the Romney Marsh.
“Part of what makes a visit to this part of Kent so appealing is the fact that it is quiet and relatively undeveloped,” says Lisa Lovell, owner of the Romney Bay House Hotel in Littlestone.
“Take where we are as an example. Our hotel is on a quiet track on the coast. Guests wanting to celebrate a night with their loved one can enjoy the kind of serenity that it harder to come by nowadays.”
And night time in this part of the county, still means night time. Residents of the Marsh can still see the stars and wonder at their majesty, the romance-spoiling curse of orange glow nowhere to be seen.
It’s hard to find that in Kent nowadays, so the Marsh’s night-sky is one of the area’s unique attributes worth seeking out for those who still believe that a walk under the stars has a romance that it is difficult to equal.
The Sea, the Sea
Going for a meal or staying in a hotel is all well and good, but there is something undeniably romantic about spending a night by the sea. The coast has an intrinsic sense of romance that blows away anything offered by roses, chocolates or corny violinists.
We’re blessed in this county with miles of coastline, some developed but much of it not. And it’s all waiting for you and your loved one to explore on Valentine’s night.
“There are few things more romantic than a walk along the beach, just the two of you together, listening to the waves break against the shore. There is a simplicity to that which is so very appealing,” says Camilla Shipton of Keepers Cottages.
Keepers Cottages have an array of properties around Deal (pictured above) that are available to rent around this time of year.
“Small is sometimes beautiful and we have a selection of tiny fisherman’s cottages that couples can hide away within, luxuriating in each other’s company. What better place to retreat to after a lovely meal and a walk on the beach than your very own tiny cottage, located in the heart of Deal’s conservation area?
“Picture the two of you, huddled up together in front of a roaring fire. It would be hard to think of anything more romantic” says Camilla. Deal and the surrounding area is blessed with everything you need to make Valentine’s Day special; restaurants, pubs, spectacular and varied coastline.
“It’s a lovely part of the county and a great place for those in love to spend an evening.”