In February Cupid’s arrow takes wing, turning the thoughts of lovers young and old to romantic escapes. The ideal getaway for celebrating a special relationship depends on each couple’s preferences but has one attribute in common: A destination that ensures an unforgettable experience. The Carolinas abound in possibilities, but here are two of the top romantic escape choices in each state that promise to capture the heart of any Valentine and make for cherished memories of a lifetime.
Edenton, North Carolina
This quaint small town on the Albemarle Sound bewitches everyone who visits, whether by accident or design. Like Brigadoon, this picture-perfect village is full of Victorian homes and plantation estates and seems to rise from the mists of time, beckoning all who enter to stay forever.
Three elegant older houses turned B&B’s in the historic downtown area offer opportunities for a romantic interlude, including the colonial Captain’s Quarters Inn, circa 1907 Granville Queen Inn and Inner Banks Inn. Other options just outside of town are Athol Plantation and the magnificent Mulberry Hill Inn, a 1791 home perched on the waterfront. All offer lavish Southern breakfasts. Best reservation for a memorable dinner is The Table at Inner Banks Inn. Waterman’s Grill and 309 Bistro, two other local favorites, have bars.
Days go by fast just strolling hand-in-hand down Edenton’s tree-lined streets full of locally owned shops. The Penelope Barker House, which doubles as the town’s welcome center, is noted for its unusual gift selection. Other historic sites worth seeing include the 1758 Cupola House, and Queen Anne Park with its picturesque 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse on stilts.
Outdoor enthusiasts can rent a canoe or kayak to paddle in Edenton Bay. B&B’s will also lend guests bicycles for a spin around what many call the South’s prettiest small town. For lunch try the Edenton Coffee House, or take a drive to Nag’s Head or Kitty Hawk for fresh seafood on the Outer Banks. The coolest new happy hour spot in Edenton is Edenton Bay Trading Company, which offers beer and wine in the courtyard. At dusk, it’s picture-taking time along Edenton’s waterfront, where winter sunsets paint the sky with spectacular colors, casting a magical spell over lovers that will linger forever.
Asheville, North Carolina
Romance is always in the air in Asheville, but during wintertime the atmosphere is especially enchanting as snowflakes glisten atop the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and roaring fireplaces crackle. Long popular with lovers for its luxe hotels and spa retreats, this eclectic city is now on the national radar for topnotch chefs and a vibrant music scene.
Those in search of romantic moments won’t want to miss the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which recently opened Chocolate + Milk, a culinary bean-to-bar-chocolates boutique where couples can make eyes at each other over a cup of velvety hot chocolate or try the Cosmic Love Potion truffle from their Aphrodisiac Collection. Those with wedding bells on the horizon can take a day class at Visions of Creation at Black Mountain and choose their own stone to forge a handmade sterling silver ring. (Click here for First Comes Love, Then Comes Chocolate)
This winter Asheville holds special romantic allure for two reasons: Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate just opened, offering accommodations in Antler Hill Village near the Biltmore Winery, shops and dining. The second is “Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film,” a lavish exhibit of fabulous wedding attire from the silver screen, opening Feb. 12 at the Biltmore House. Displayed with elaborate floral exhibits reflecting each period, the award-winning costumes span 300 years of wedding fashion from 19 period films such as Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice. Meryl Streep’s ivory wedding costume complete with embroidered hat from Out of Africa is included.
Biltmore will also share mementos from Vanderbilt and Cecil family weddings in a new exhibit at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village. One highlight: The first-ever display of Jacqueline Kennedy’s extravagant lace wedding veil, which has a personal connection to Biltmore through her cousin Mary Lee Ryan Cecil, who wore it on her wedding day to Vanderbilt heir William A.V. Cecil.
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Aiken, South Carolina
Once dubbed the “Winter Colony” of the Gilded Age’s rich and famous for its fox hunting, horse racing and high society, Aiken is still renowned for equestrian sports, but retains a Southern hospitality to beguile those on a romantic holiday. Downtown still echoes with stories from its golden era: Fred Astaire dancing down the steps of the Aiken post-office, and the Hope Diamond dangling from the collar of socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean’s dog.
The uber-luxe place to stay is The Willcox, voted one of the best hotels in the world, and once a rumored hideaway for F.D.R. and his secretary Lucy Rutherfurd. A close second is the Carriage House Inn, a restored historic mansion catering to those seeking an intimate retreat.
For the ultimate hearts and flowers dinner, reserve a table at The Stables Restaurant at Rose Hill, a Winter Colony estate barn converted into one of Aiken’s finest upscale restaurants. Another white tablecloth choice is Malia’s, where locally sourced ingredients and a great bartender are worth the price. For Sunday brunch, hit the Aiken Speakeasy & Eats and go back in time with the Roaring ’20s aura and all that jazz.
Visitors can get up close and personal with the thoroughbreds by hoofing it over to the Training Track early in the morning and watching the jockeys run them through their paces. While in the horse district, spend a morning at the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Couples wanting to take a romantic ride can rent horses at Sea Horse stables and meander 65 miles of trails in the hauntingly beautiful Hitchcock Woods, one of the largest urban forests in America.
Given Aiken’s history, the town has become an antique lover’s heaven, and in February the Aiken Center for the Arts stages the annual Antiques in the Heart of Aiken Show & Sale that lures top dealers from around the country, as well as restoration experts. This year the event will be held Feb. 4 to 7.
The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway, South Carolina
What better way to get away from it all with that special someone than by getting behind the wheel and heading down the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway. This 112-mile long two-lane road rambles beneath the southernmost peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains through small towns and fruit orchards, eventually crossing Lake Keowee. Attractions along the way include Indian petroglyphs, covered bridges, battlefields and spectacular waterfalls, with the high point being Jocassee Gorges, which National Geographic recently named one of “50 of the World’s Last Great Places: Destinations of a Lifetime.”
S.C. Highway 11 traverses the Upcountry of South Carolina from I-85 near the North Carolina border to I-85 as it crosses into Georgia. One of the loveliest places along the way to spend a night or two with the one you love is the Red Horse Inn in Landrum, a few miles north of Gowensville. Tucked away in the rolling foothills, this beautifully appointed B&B and popular honeymoon destination that Travel & Leisure named “One of America’s Most Romantic Inns” offers private rooms and cottages with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge.
Things to see and do in Landrum include antique hunting at the Architectural Warehouse and a stop at Dutch Country Foods for Amish meats, cheeses and baked goods. Their ladyfinger popcorn is a must buy. After lunch at The Hare & Hound downtown, take a leisurely tour of four nearby historic bridges: Campbell’s Covered Bridge built in 1909, the Klickety-Klack Covered Bridge, the covered bridge at Ballenger Mill and the majestic stone, gothic-style Poinsett Bridge, the oldest in South Carolina.
Following S.C 11 west eventually leads to Jocassee Gorges, whose spectacular beauty is now ranked with places such as the Galapagos Islands. Singled out for one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the northeastern U.S. and rare plant life like the delicate Oconee boell, Jocassee Gorges offers a fitting end to a ride in search of a romantic rainbow.