Best Affordable Romantic Hotels
After a day of navigating the mazelike streets of the ancient Indian city of Udaipur, you and your travel companion are experiencing sensory overload. The colors and sounds of this Rajasthani city—where women perform their daily ablutions at the edge of Lake Pichola, children dive off the ghats (stone steps) for early morning swims, and muezzins’ calls to prayer drift across the rooftops—are undeniably breathtaking. But with hawkers plying you from every corner shop and aggressive monkeys leaping into your path, you’re craving a little privacy.
How perfect, then, that your exquisite boutique hotel, Udai Kothi, is just moments away. Within minutes, the two of you will be cooling off in the serene rooftop pool, or snuggling together in your room’s private window seat with views over blooming gardens. You’ll be able to bask in each other’s company—and the sweet knowledge that your romantic getaway is costing you only about $100 a night.
For those of us feeling today’s economic pinch (for example, the 75 percent of kayak.com users who recently reported that price is their major consideration when planning a trip), the idea of rushing off on a romantic vacation may seem like an improbable luxury. But it is possible—as long as you find the right hotel. And while there are lots of deals and packages out there to choose from, in many cases the best bet is to keep things small.
Hotels like the 25-room Udai Kothi make great couples’ getaways for several reasons. First, the property’s small size helps it feel more private and intimate—you’ll be sharing the pool and gardens with just a handful of other guests. Second, its traditional style and local ownership mean it’s more authentically Rajasthani than larger properties catering to Western tourists; you’ll get a truer sense here of how people in Udaipur really live—how they relax, what they eat for breakfast—than you would sequestered away on a sprawling resort. And last but not least, the small scale of the hotel means its prices can stay low.
Travel writer and photographer Steve Watkins, author of three books in the BBC’s “Unforgettable” travel series, says picking a small hotel can be especially important if getting away into nature is part of what you want from your romantic vacation. Big, impersonal hotels, Watkins says, “really do jar with the experience of seeing fantastic wild places.” In contrast, boutique properties like Villa Sirena, set on the remote northwestern coast of Anguilla, or Desa Seni, set among the green fields of a working Balinese rice plantation, allow you to be part of the landscape.
Small hotels like these, Watkins says, tend to attract a distinct breed of traveler—those “looking for experiences that don’t just slide into the norm.” And many of them—especially during the Valentine’s Day season—are catering specifically to couples, offering spa treatments for two, candlelit dinners, and wine tastings, all at much more affordable prices than you’d find at larger hotels.
Now doesn’t that sound romantic?
Udai Kothi Udaipur, India
The Location: The regal Rajasthani town of Udaipur is known as the “city of lakes”—and Udai Kothi sits right across from the most famous of them: glittering Lake Pichola, where the waters are rimmed by towering palaces, serene temples, and bathing ghats (stone stairs that descend into the lake).
The Romance: The hotel’s rooftop pool, with sweeping views over the city, is surrounded by cushioned alcoves just right for cozying up in. Inside, the stately, turreted mansion is adorned with elaborate tile work, mirror inlays, and archways; many of the 25 guest rooms have cushioned window seats that look over the flowering back garden. By autumn 2009 the hotel will have seven suites, some with private plunge pools; for now, standard rooms start at about $102.
Don’t Miss: A long, bumpy, but worthwhile ride into the Aravalli hills that brings you to the spectacular 15th-century Jain temple at Ranakpur—considered one of India’s most beautiful. Wandering through the complex of intricately carved shrines, spires, domes, and more than 1,400 marble pillars—no two of them alike—is awe-inspiring.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti, Italy
The Location: Just an hour’s drive from Florence, this 11th-century abbey in Tuscany’s Chianti region is now a winery and estate. The property, run by six generations of the Stucchi-Prinetti family, is surrounded by formal Renaissance-style Italian gardens—stone walkways that weave in and out of clipped shrubbery—and nearly 2,000 acres of forest dotted with walking trails.
The Romance: All 12 of the estate’s sun-splashed, chintz-decorated rooms have expansive views of the Arno Valley or the Renaissance garden, and of the estate’s hillside vineyards and olive groves; per-night rates start at about $210. Wine tastings in the property’s cellars and lounging around the outdoor pool (in summer) or the indoor Turkish bath (in winter) are some of the favorite indulgences here.
Don’t Miss: Meals, which take place in the refurbished stables, are decadent affairs, with signature offerings like fennel and orange soup, Chianti-braised beef, and chocolate-and-olive-oil mousse. There’s an on-site cooking school too, where you can learn to prepare such dishes together back home.
Riad Hayati Marrakesh, Morocco
The Location: Set inside Marrakesh’s ancient medina (walled city center), this refurbished 18th-century courtyard home is just beyond the north wall of the Bahia Palace compound—whose gorgeous, dramatically tiled buildings and blossoming gardens are among the city’s must-sees.
The Romance: Riads, Arabic for “garden houses,” are unique to Marrakesh; hidden behind high walls, they have doors that open onto serene, plant-filled courtyard terraces. Riad Hayati’s is centered on a trickling stone fountain strewn with rose petals and surrounded by tall coco palms, a banana tree, climbing bougainvillea, and jasmine. The four guest rooms, decorated with Ottoman, Turkish, and Persian kilims and tapestries, are softly lit, with plush beds framed by translucent drapery, and start at about $230 per night.
Don’t Miss: Although the riad is just minutes from Bahia Palace, the Dar Si Said museum, and the Mellah—an old Jewish quarter—it’s worth seeking out a lesser-known find: the Bert Flint Textile Museum (or Maison Tiskiwin), founded by a pioneering expat art historian who collected the fabrics, costumes, and artifacts native to the Souss Valley and the Sahara.
Casa Higueras Valparaíso, Chile
The Location: The stunning seaside town of Valparaíso, where the steep, zigzagging streets are dotted with colorful houses, is just two hours north of Santiago (the Spanish translation for the town’s name is “Paradise Valley”). Casa Higueras, which occupies a 1930s terraced mansion, is perched on a hillside with views over the Pacific Ocean.
The Romance: Surrounded by gardens of elms, ombúes (colossal, strangely shaped trees), palms, and pines, you can lounge by the infinity pool or take late-night soaks in the Jacuzzi. All 20 sleek, modern guest rooms have private balconies overlooking the flickering lights and gliding ships of Valparaíso Bay. Rates start at about $248.
Don’t Miss: Just an hour away in the village of Isla Negra is the former house (now a museum) of Nobel Prize–winning poet Pablo Neruda, whose tender, sensuous verses gave him a reputation as one of the world’s greatest love poets. For a rowdier day, head down the Casablanca Wine Route, 30 minutes from Valparaíso.
Château Les RochesBurgundy, France
The Location: Originally built in 1901 for the mistress of a Parisian judge, and reopened as an inn in 2005, Les Roches’s grand, three-story mansion sits in the medieval hilltop village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Filled with ancient stone buildings, crumbling châteaux, and winding cobblestoned streets, the hamlet is set in north-central Burgundy and surrounded by some of the world’s oldest and most celebrated vineyards.
The Romance: Les Roches’s six rooms and single cottage all have swoon-inducing views over the wine country (some from private balconies), original marble fireplaces, and beds with fluffy feather duvets. (Per-night prices start at about $165.) At night, you can indulge in candlelit dinners of local foie gras or buttery escargots, then take a starlit walk through the property’s lush gardens.
Don’t Miss: Immersing yourself in the region’s vaunted wines. The heart of Burgundy’s terroir is a 45-minute drive north; but Les Roches’s proprietors also host tasting functions (as well as lavish evening meals) in the property’s wine cellar.
Desa Seni Bali, Indonesia
The Location: Set in the middle of a working rice plantation in Canggu—25 minutes from Bali’s capital city of Denpasar—this eco-compound of antique Indonesian houses is surrounded by palms, tropical landscaping, and brilliant green rice fields.
The Romance: There’s a rustic, old-world charm to Desa Seni’s 10 teak houses ($130 nightly), most of which were built over a century ago and relocated here from other Indonesian locales. Ceramic-tile or alang alang thatch roofs hover over rooms cleverly kitted out with artifacts–turned–household fixtures (towel racks made from weaving looms, night-lights from prayer boxes). After a candlelit Eurasian-style seafood dinner on your terrace, you can have a side-by-side couples’ massage at the on-site spa, or take a midnight dip in the saltwater pool.
Don’t Miss: A 45-minute drive brings you to Uluwatu, a black rock temple spectacularly perched on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean—and inhabited by monkeys. It’s a great place for watching the sunset and surfers plying the legendary breaks below.
Villa Paulita Puigcerdà, Spain
The Location: The region of La Cerdanya, a valley that straddles the mountainous border between Spain and France, is centered around the small lakeside city of Puigcerdà. The Art Nouveau mansion of Villa Paulita sits in the heart of town, with views across the Catalan Pyrenees.
The Romance: The hotel’s 46 minimalist-contemporary rooms (starting at about $195 per night), with their black-and-white palette and exposed painted ceiling beams, are fashionable dens in which to relax after a day on the slopes (a half-dozen ski resorts are a short drive away, including France’s Font-Romeu, famed for its sunny east-west oriented trails). Loosen up together après ski at the spa, which has areas for massages, a wet and dry sauna, and an indoor pool.
Don’t Miss: Head across the border to the hot springs—at Dorres are ancient Roman baths on a mountainside surrounded by Pyrenean peaks. Nearby Llo has indoor and outdoor baths with a hammam and sauna, and at Saint-Thomas-les-Bains are three outdoor pool areas surrounded by soaring, snow-covered peaks.
Hotel de l’Atelier Provence, France
The Location: A mile from Avignon in southeastern France, the medieval town of Villeneuve sits high on a rocky escarpment above the Rhône. Ivy twists up the walls of Hotel de l’Atelier, a pretty 16th-century maison that was a silk workshop in its last incarnation.
The Romance: There’s little to distract you from each other in the 23 individually decorated rooms here—which all have rustic touches like high, beamed ceilings, French doors, and a well-curated selection of paintings and sculpture. (Rates start at about $80 per night.) The common lounge has an original stone fireplace where you can heat up; outdoors is a fruit tree–scented terrace and garden.
Don’t Miss: At La Mirande hotel in Avignon, one of France’s top cooking schools, Le Marmiton, hosts half-day cooking classes with some of the region’s best chefs, including Jean-Claude Aubertin, famous in gastronomic circles. The famed wine route of Châteauneuf du Pape begins just a few miles from the hotel.
Utengule Coffee Lodge Tanzania
The Location: Just outside the town of Mbeya in southern Tanzania, the verdant, 1,200-acre Utengule coffee estate and adjoining lodge overlook the wide-open landscape of the western Rift Valley. (When it opens in late 2009, the Songwe International Airport will be just 20 minutes away.)
The Romance: The full impact of nature surrounds you at the 16 connected guesthouses, which curve toward the valley and are decorated with African teak furnishings, rare Chinese carvings from the Qing and Ming dynasties, and elegant lamps from curiosity markets and antique shops. (Rates start at $110.) The grounds are covered with tulip trees and datura and bougainvillea bushes, and are fluttering with 150 species of colorful birds; the aromas of Bourbon and Pacamara coffee permeate everything.
Don’t Miss: Between December and April, wildflowers cover the grasslands and hillsides at Kitulo National Park, known as the Serengeti of flowers, and an hour’s drive from Utengule. Explosively colorful orchids and the orange-yellow blooms called red hot pokers are pervasive. The innkeepers will also arrange an intimate dinner for you out in the bush, with a local orchestra of millions of cicadas.
Sirena Resort & Villas Anguilla
The Location: At the western end of this sleepy 16-mile-long island (part of the Lesser Antilles and still a British territory), Sirena looms right over the pristine sugar-sand beach of tranquil Meads Bay.
The Romance: Without the high-rise glitz of more developed islands, Anguilla is a place where you can still swim and stroll at blissfully empty beaches. Sirena’s 30 Carib-Mediterranean-style rooms and villas are similarly uncluttered, with terracotta-tiled floors, simple carved wood furniture, and lots of space to spread out in. (Rates start at around $250.)
Don’t Miss: For an alfresco meal of barbecued lobster plucked fresh from the sea, take a three-minute boat ride to the tiny island of Scilly Cay—where your superb lunch comes spiked with local spices, rum punch, and reggae and calypso-style music from a live string band.