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Love nests close to home
7:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013 in NewsXtra
Whether you're looking for a romantic rendezvous or an erotic escape, book a Valentine's break in the UK, says Sarah Marshall.
By Sarah Marshall
Best for... sophisticated couples
:: Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham Spa, Gloucestershire
Overlooking Cheltenham Racecourse in glorious Glosters, Ellenborough Park is the former 19th century home of the Earl of Ellenborough, Governor General of India.
Refurbished by the present owners in 2011, interior designer Nina Campbell's divine decor is east meets west and marries exotic silks and textiles with English chintz to create an opulent vibe... and restore this 62-room country house hotel to its former glory.
With fairytale turrets, stone arches, open fireplaces, exposed wooden beams and original features dating back to the 1500s, this romantic hideaway certainly has character.
There's also a subtle equestrian theme echoing through the oak panelled dining room, Great Hall and stylish Brasserie. Some of the lavish suites are named after famous Gold Cup winners and the first roar of the crowd can clearly be heard from The Istabraq Suite, with sweeping views of the Cotswold countryside.
In the evening, cocktails are served in The Great Hall, but don't expect a harpist to pull at the heart strings - the medieval musical instrument is purely for decoration.
Instead, climb the scrubbed stone steps to The Snug, a cosy hideaway in one of the towers where you can sip on a Lady Ellenborough champagne cocktail and enjoy complimentary canapes before heading to The Beaufort Dining Room.
In addition, the hotel boasts a year-round outdoor heated swimming pool, kept at a constant 28 degrees, and the intimate spa has a sauna, steam room and tropical experience showers.
The hotel even has its own Boot Room where guests can borrow Hunter wellies, socks, Dubarry sporting jackets and Galway boots - so there's no excuse not to stride out into one of the most beautiful parts of England after a hearty Cotswold breakfast.
:: A Valentine's package is available February 14-16 and costs from £345 per room, including champagne and chocolates on arrival, canapes and four-course dinner, breakfast and use of spa. Visit www.ellenboroughpark.com or call 01242 807 713.
Best for... passionate pairs
:: Drakes Hotel, Brighton
Seaside towns have a reputation for arcade peepshows and bawdy postcards, but Brighton is a coastal retreat with far more sophistication. Forget dirty weekends and cheap titillation - this bustling beach town is the perfect setting for far sexier sojourns.
Drakes boutique hotel is the top choice for decadent pleasure seekers, and one of their circular, sea-facing rooms is the ultimate indulgence. An enormous free-standing bath takes centre stage in a sweeping bay window, overlooking the Regency Mile and Brighton's famous pier.
Seize the rare opportunity to be waited on without dipping into your purse for the privilege, as room service is offered at no extra cost. Begin your day with Eggs Benedict in bed, and end it with pre-dinner Pornstar Martinis - made with fresh passion fruit and a shot of champagne - from the seductive selection of house cocktails.
If you can prize yourselves out of bed, take a trip down lovers' lane... or Ship Street Gardens in this case, one of Brighton's tiny twittens (Sussex-speak for a short cut or alleyway).
Leave your inhibitions at the door in She Said, the creme de la creme of adult boutiques selling state of the art erotic toys, sensual massage oils, boudoir accessories, designer lingerie and bespoke corsetry.
Burlesque-inspired garments and golden Zorro-style masks bring a whole new dimension to dressing up! Love hampers, containing all you need for a naughty night in, are available from £35 or can be custom-made according to budget.
For a gift you'll never forget, visit Brighton Body Casting, just a few steps across the twitten. Fine artist and sculptor Jamie McCartney will cast a lasting impression of lovers' clasped hands, lips or whatever you dare to bare.
Round off the night with a trip to see the Parisian-inspired burlesque act Le Chat Noir at Proud Cabaret. Corset-clad waitresses serve a 1920s inspired menu while tassel-twirling showgirls perform on stage. Watch carefully and you may learn a thing or two!
:: The Ultimate Seduction package includes overnight stay for two, bottle of Bollinger Champagne, rose petals, chocolates, Love Box from She Said, three-course dinner for two and breakfast. From £460 per couple. Visit www.drakesofbrighton.com or call 01273 696 934.
Best for... nature lovers
:: Ynyshir Hall, Machynlleth, Wales
There's a point on the train from Birmingham to Machynlleth when houses and streets give way to hills and sheep, and you feel like you're entering another realm.
It's hard not to feel relaxed and a little romantic when you're surrounded by such striking countryside, but just wait until you arrive at Ynyshir Hall.
On Cardigan Bay, and set in a beautifully landscaped garden, the 17th century former country lodge of Queen Victoria is hidden among giant redwoods, rhododendron and a Persian ironwood which the Queen planted herself.
With just eight rooms, it's boutique with a capital B and owner Joan Reen, along with her cuddly Bernese Mountain dog Theo, personally ensures each visitor receives a warm welcome.
After a careful refurbishment, each room - from the bright airy drawing room to the cosy bar - has its own signature style and the walls are adorned with colourful oil paintings done by Joan's husband Rob.
Treat yourself to afternoon tea and scones, curled up in front of the fire, or head out to explore nearby Artists' Valley, just off the main road to Aberystwyth, for breathtaking views over the bay.
Don't miss the opportunity to wander hand-in-hand around Ynys-hir RSPB reserve, just a stone's throw from the Hall, where they film hit BBC nature show Springwatch. Presenter Chris Packham even stayed with Joan for the first series.
If you're lucky, the friendly warden Russell will give you a guided tour of part of the reserve's 1,000 acres, which once belonged to the Hall, and point out the tractor shed which is used as the Springwatch studio.
Once you've worked up an appetite, it's time for dinner at the Hall - a formal but relaxed affair with fish locally caught in Cardigan Bay being a highlight.
A long weekend at Ynyshir Hall will leave you feeling relaxed, revitalised and with an all-important new spring in your step.
:: Doubles from £275, including breakfast. Visit www.ynyshirhall.co.uk or call 01654 781 209.
Best for... playful romantics
:: Bovey Castle, Devon
Enjoy a romantic break with a playful difference at Bovey Castle, a luxury countryside retreat in Devon. The hotel mixes old world charm with quirky extras, making this the perfect stay for those still in touch with their inner child.
An owl called Archimedes greets guests at the reception of this former stately home, which is also home to one of England's finest golf courses. And the touches of humour don't end there...
If you think red roses and chocolates are too predictable for Valentine's Day, take advantage of the hotel's Lego Room Service where a choice of Lego sets can be loaned (for free) for the duration of your stay.
OK, the novel service is aimed at children but no eyebrows are raised when grown-ups choose a construction set from the expansive 'menu'. What could be more romantic then sitting with your loved one building your dream house together!
While it would be tempting to stay indoors, playing with Lego or sitting next to the crackling fires, it would be a shame to miss out on the hotel's beautiful surroundings. Pick up the hotel's walking guide and take a romantic stroll through Dartmoor National Park. The most popular walk takes you to nearby village North Bovey, where you can pop in for a drink at the delightful Ring of Bells Inn.
Back at the hotel, there are several eating options - the most charming being The Edwardian Grill. But save some time before dinner for a dip in the art deco indoor pool. It may be filled with excited youngsters during the day but from 5.30pm to 8.30pm its adults only... although "big kids" are equally welcome!
:: The Valentine's package is available from February 14-17 and costs from £450 per room, including five-course dinner, champagne, spa treatments and breakfast. Visit www.boveycastle.com or call 0844 474 0077.