Christmas is long past, the January blues are fading and spring is on the horizon. But before you can start looking forward to longer days and the scent of blossom in the air, there’s one final, unavoidable hurdle to o’erleap: the thorny rosebush that is today, Valentine’s Day. Take a deep breath, cross your fingers and thrust your hand deep into its recesses: if you’re lucky, you’ll come up smelling of roses, clutching a bouquet of petal-soft blooms to your chest. Alas, for those unlucky in love, we’ll get nothing for our troubles but a handful of prickles and scratches, and perhaps an indignant caterpillar making a break for it up your arm. But sod it: who needs undying devotion and soppy sonnets when you can live it up with one of our top 10 anti-Valentine’s Day city breaks? The memories last longer than promises of eternal love, and are kinder on your waistline than a box of overpriced chocolates. What becomes of the broken-hearted? They make like a true hedonist and jet off somewhere thrilling.
The city featured recently in our Travel Trends 2011 feature under ‘Living Dangerously’; perhaps not the place to take that darling piece of fluff with her kitten heels and cute button nose. Either find yourself a hardier travelling date (think Lara Croft or Elisabeth Salander, neither of whom would melt when presented with a Tatty Teddy Bear card from Clintons) or ditch the whole thing in favour of one of the city’s outdoor trance parties incorporating psychedelic music and a crowd of hedonistic party animals, often in the most beautiful natural surroundings. Churning out relentless, pounding beats, Johannesburg’s trance scene serves as a kind of tribal gathering for anyone who needs to let off steam, get wasted, dress up, dress down, undress, drink, trip, or simply observe the whole spectacular performance unfold before them like a phantasmagoria of psychaedelic excess.
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We’ll be honest, with its long-limbed Nordic inhabitants, long nights and freezing February temperatures, this one could go either way. You’ll either end up snuggling up to some blonde Adonis/Amazon to keep out the chill, or you’ll spend your time moving between the city’s many gorgeous bakeries, snaffling warm cinnamon buns and sipping hot chocolate and strong Scandinavian coffee. Top of the list are the enormous warm buns fresh from the oven at Café Saturnas, and the best thing is, there’ll be no one there to see your rounded little cinnamon-bunned pot-belly afterwards.
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There’s so much to do in this bustling metropolis, you simply wont have time to stop and feel lonely. But this isn’t just a city of hedonistic excesses and wild, cocktail-filled nights: brush off your blue stockings, polish those horn-rimmed spectacles and sample the city’s cultural delights. Top of the list are The Cloisters, a showcase of medieval European art and architecture overlooking the Hudson; The Frick Collection, with masterpieces by the likes of Vermeer, Goya, El Greco and Gainsborough, housed in the former estate of ill-reputed steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick; and the New York Public Library, with its huge collection of important literature, guarded out front by the iconic lion sculptures Patience and Fortitude.
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If you’re planning a romantic walk along the beach holding hands or a spot of how’s-yer-father amongst the golden sand dunes, then steer well clear of the sun-soaked sands here. Remember the British couple who bought themselves a month-long prison sentence for kissing in a restaurant? Or the Indian couple who ended up with a three-month spell on the inside for exchanging steamy text messages? So take a cold shower and keep your hand on your ha’penny, as granny used to say; there’s plenty of alternative activities to try in public. Try the open-air dining spectacle that is Al Hadheerah, in its postcard desert setting with low-level cushioned seating providing a perfect vantage point for the theatrical proceedings, namely the Arabian horse show, whirling dervishes, falconry display and camel trot.
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Space is famously a commodity in one of the world’s most densely populated cities, and although Tokyo boasts a gleaming roll-call of the world’s best luxury hotels, for those in pursuit of an authentic, distinctly unromantic sleeping experience, Capsule Hotel is the place to try a dose of Japanese capsule culture. You’d be hard-pressed to even begin manoeuvres before you knocked yourself out on the ceiling, while the illusion of privacy is only promoted by the presence of a single curtain. And forget any chance of getting steamy in the shower, amorous over oysters or lustful with lingerie: bathroom facilities consist of traditional single sex public baths, refreshments come courtesy of vending machines and clean underwear and shirts are for sale at the front desk. Forget whips and chains, handcuffs and massage oils: pack a pair of earplugs to block out the sake-fuelled snores of dozing businessmen.
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Forget the couples giggling over après-ski drinks, cosying up in front of ski-lodge fires and gliding effortlessly down the slopes in matching ski outfits: the joke’s on them when passions rise and they find themselves locked in an hour-long struggle to unstrap their unwieldy equipment and remove multiple layers of clothing while drunk on schnapps and sluggish from hot chocolate. Toppling arse-over-face whilst wedged into one ski, cursing profusely as you lie face-down in a snow-drift is a definite passion killer. On your anti-Valentine’s Day break you can sweep smugly past on your way to some of the other upmarket pleasures this luxurious ski resort has to offer, whether it’s a day’s peaceful skiing on the mountain of Lagalb or the Tour La Rosa—great for off-piste skiing and guaranteed solitude—or a drink in the Devil’s Place—featured in the Guinness Book of Records for its staggering collection of whiskies (over 2,500 varieties and blends).
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The city may be a hedonistic destination in terms of its chic restaurants, boutique hotels and cosmopolitan nightlife, but it is also surrounded by Argentina’s extraordinary landscape, in which you can experience more healthy outdoor activities and fresh air than in a Famous Five adventure story. Stay at Estancia San Pedro with it’s 1000-strong cattle herd to experience the life of a South American cowboy: after herding in the cattle the paesanos will teach you how to cook an authentic Argentine barbecue. Elsewhere, try a two-day guided hike up to the summit of the Lanin volcano, where you’ll spend a breathtaking night in one of the mountainside shelters. After such hard physical exertions, the only thing you’ll want to do in your bed is sleep.
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Sure, Rome and Romance go together like an amorous bull and a voluptuous field of eyelash-batting, full-uddered cows, but don’t forget it’s also the number-one crashpad of Mr Infallible himself, Il Papa (aka Benedict XVI). Pack your wimple, clean up those dirty habits and saddle up for a decidedly chaste, educational tour around some of the city’s most architecturally stunning, historically significant buildings. Obviously St. Peter’s Basilica (representing nothing less than the temporal power of the Catholic Church on earth) and Santa Maria Maggiore (one of Rome’s first and largest Christian basilicas) are not to be missed, but don’t forget the smaller churches, many of which are treasure troves of artistic masterpieces: the unassuming Santa Maria del Popolo houses two Caravaggio paintings and various Raphael mosaics, while in Santa Maria in Trastevere, a patchwork of glittering gold mosaics by Cavallini adorn the high altar.
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Forget all that is pure and innocent in the jousting tournaments of love: get yourself pond-side and down to Miami for a taste of everything that is pumped up, plastic and posed. Down on the sandy shores of South Beach, silicon-enhanced bikini beauties and bronzed, muscle-flexing trunk-hunks strut their stuff: lie back with a cocktail from one of the beachside bars and enjoy the show in the land where romance is dead and unfettered sex appeal reigns supreme. After dark, if you need a fix of flesh, head for Solid Gold: widely regarded as the finest gentleman’s club in the area, it caters for both men and women, gay and straight. If you want to see men, turn left at the entrance, for women turn right, and bring plenty of dollar bills to tuck into whatever miniscule items of clothing you can see without a magnifying glass.
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How could we count down the best anti-Valentine’s Day cities without a mention of our own fair town? If Paris is known as the City of Lights, then London is the Big Smoke, traditionally home to pea-soupers so thick that a gentleman risked losing his paramour in the fog before he had a chance to get to grips with her crinoline. Although there’s plenty of romance to be had here, this is a city that proudly proclaims that you don’t need another ‘half’ to complete you: amongst the list of famous Londoners we find Sherlock Holmes, confirmed bachelor and notorious opium fiend; Big Ben, who marks the passing hour commendably without any Big Bertha to keep him company; and, um, Jack the Ripper, whose attitude towards women was rather less than romantic. This is a town filled with plenty of options for the lone diner (check out Hg2 Eat London for tips), you don’t need to hold anyone’s hand to visit the many world-class art galleries and museums on offer (many free), and we note with some glee that the romantic Valentine’s Cupid’s Capsule offered by the London Eye now requires two waiters to be present for the whole trip to prevent any airborne funny business. Talk about awkward.
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