It's easy to forget that blazing African sunshine is but a sweet six-hour flight from London or Manchester – with zero time difference.
Four days of winter sun in the Gambia
Fly on Friday morning and you could be sipping piña coladas and slapping sun cream on your loved one's back poolside by early afternoon. Specialist tour operator The Gambia Experience offers four nights at the boutique former colonial mansion Ngala Lodge, near Bakau. Intimate and romantic, the lodge makes the most of its magnificent clifftop location overlooking the ocean, set among colourful tropical gardens. The coastline is all craggy red-rock cliffs interspersed with small and secluded beaches, which offer fantastic fishing at low tide or a spot of swimming in the warm water just a short walk away.Price From £499 per person, based on two sharing a suite on a bed-and-breakfast basis; the price includes return flights from London Gatwick and transfers, valid for departures on 11 FebruaryBook it 0845 330 2060; gambia.co.uk
Romany Caravan & Cabin, Rhydlewis, West Wales
Nestled in a secluded wildflower meadow, which is also home to a family of otters, this authentic "bow-top" Romany caravan, built in 1924, is the perfect getaway for couples looking to escape the tack of Valentine's Day. The caravan has a double bed (with an electric blanket and hot water bottle) and a pot-belly stove to keep you toasty, while the accompanying cabin boasts a kitchen, bathroom with electric shower and all mod cons, and yet another pot-belly stove. There's also a picnic bench by the river, which is teeming with brown trout, and a campfire ready to be fired up. Local walks will take you through acres of farmland; a scenic 12-minute drive will bring you to Cardigan Bay for a spot of dolphin watching. Have no fear if it's fully booked – underthethatch.co.uk specialises in quirky places in which to stay in Wales, so there is bound to be something similar available.
Price Romany caravan and cabin from £250 for three nights
Book it underthethatch.co.uk
Two-day Italian cookery course in Devon
Set in the tiny town of Ashburton in Devon, Ashburton Cookery School offers more than 40 different one- and two-day residential cookery courses covering everything from breadmaking and knife skills to Thai cooking. This Valentine's weekend it will be hosting a two-day Italian cookery course during which students will learn the art of making pizza dough and pasta from scratch as well as being taught how to make sauces and puddings. Couples booking on to the Italian Plus course and into Ashburton accommodation for 12 and 13 February will have a bottle of pink champagne waiting for them in their room on arrival. You and your partner can learn the skills you need to cook up an Italian feast in the comfort of your own home on the 14th.
Price The cost of the course is £289 per person. Accommodation costs extra, with double rooms from £89 per night, and apartments from £109 per night
Book it 0843 289 5555; ashburtoncookeryschool.co.uk
Dean Street Townhouse, London
This Grade II-listed Georgian building has a colourful history and was once home to Hogarth. London's Dean Street Townhouse is as far from cheesy Valentine breaks as you can get. Just a year old, the hotel has 39 rooms, varying from almost-broom-cupboard to large-with-freestanding-bathtub size, but all are adorned in muted Farrow & Ball tones, with fancy chandeliers and crisp linen. Be sure to book a table in the dining room, which has the feel of an old speakeasy or diner, and an impressive art collection (Hirsts and Emins, among others, grace the walls). After sinking a few martinis, you could order the Porterhouse steak with chips and bearnaise sauce for two before embarking on a romantic late-night stroll around Soho.
Price Rooms from £90 a night, dinner from £30 a head, not including wine
Book it deanstreettownhouse.com
Cave dwelling at Le Grotte della Civita, Italy
Smack in the centre of a Unesco World Heritage site, in the troglodytic town of Matera in Basilicata, Le Grotte della Civita has been built into and over limestone caves, interwoven by cobbled streets. The hotel consists of a labyrinth of 18 cave rooms and a restaurant, all graceful vaulted archways, carved stone walls and underfloor heating. Rooms are decorated with restrained elegance. There's lots to explore outside: 150 "rock churches" from the Byzantine Empire are nearby, while hiking and mountain biking can be arranged.
Price From €275 per night including breakfast (i-escape.com); return flights from London Stansted to Bari airport from £60
Book it ryanair.com
Five nights in Las Vegas
Some might argue that five nights in Vegas is their idea of hell, but there's no denying it's the hedonists' playground of choice. Flights with US Airways depart on Thursdays and return the following Wednesday, so book a few cheeky days off work. Staying at the infamous Caesars Palace will keep you gawping: there's the casino, a 4,000-seat stadium (with nightly performances by Cher or Bette Midler) and an onsite wedding chapel, should the mood take you. Or try diving with sharks at the Mandalay Bay Hotel (mandalaybay.com).
Price Packages from £674 per person including flights and three nights at Caesars Palace
Book it lastminute.comThis article was written by Shahesta Shaitly, for The Observer on Sunday 30th January 2011 00.04 Europe/London
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