Valentine’s Day: that time of the year when couples seek romantic diversions…hand-in-hand saunters along glistening promenades…secluded excursions…fabulous meals…exotic views…
But what if that sort of romance was easy to find…every day of the year? According to the editors of InternationalLiving.com, there are places where it is.
“Some special locales have a certain je ne sais quoi,” says International Living’s Executive Editor, Jennifer Stevens, “light that falls just right…singular, unforgettable views…meals you find yourself musing about years later…the sort of cultural character that lends itself to memorable moments.”
International Living’s Europe- and Latin America-based editors have pinpointed their picks for romantic locales—many under-the-radar—which lend themselves equally well to holiday diversions and long-term escapes.
International Living’s picks for the five most romantic havens in the world for 2018 are…
“Walking, hand in hand, along a moonlit, Caribbean beach or greeting the arriving day with powdery white sand between your toes, watching seabirds dive for their breakfast, are experiences not just for honeymooners,” says IL Riviera Maya Correspondent, Don Murray.
“If you, and the love of your life, lived along Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya, falling asleep to the gentle sound of the surf kissing the shore could be a nightly occurrence. Even the name sounds romantic!”
Stretching from Cancun to Tulum, the Riviera Maya is one of the finest beach destinations in the world. It has a First World feel—modern and prosperous—with direct flights starting at just under two hours from Florida or Texas to Cancun’s modern international airport.
“Drop the beach attire and dress for a romantic Italian dinner at La Dolce Vita in the Centro area of Cancun. Or for a totally unexpected and romantic adventure, check out The Black Hole. Total darkness envelopes you and white gloves, attached to unseen humans, drift through the darkness delivering plate after plate of surprises. And Playa del Carmen’s famed 5th Avenue provides romantic bistros and boutique hotels as well as ample jewelry stores, just in case jewels are in order.
On the tip of the Azuero Peninsula, on the Pacific Ocean, lies the town of Pedasi. The tranquil, rural town—a five-hour drive from Panama’s capital—is surrounded by green pastures where cattle graze, only a few miles from the ocean.
“There are no highrises here. You’ll see cottages with clay tile roofs, and even the odd casa quincha—cute little homes built using local clay,” says IL Panama Editor, Jessica Ramesch. “Most houses have their ‘living rooms’ on open terraces. Life here is lived in the fresh ocean air.”
But there are many beaches in the greater Pedasi region, just outside the village.
“One of my favorite spots is the surf beach of Venao. The waters are crystal clear, and sand a soft, smooth bronze.
“Outside of the odd festival or surf competition, it’s a quiet, uncrowded place. During my last visit, I sat and watched the sun go down over the half-moon beach. As the last rays disappeared, I enjoyed a dinner of ahi-grade tuna with local vegetables and chilled white wine. The soft ocean breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect ambiance…better than any big-city restaurant.
For my money, this is the most romantic region of Panama. That said, you can have a social life here, too. The English-speaking community here is one of the most welcoming I’ve ever encountered.”
San José, Ecuador
When it comes to romance, South America’s Ecuador offers plenty of variety. In this Land of Eternal Spring, there are miles and miles of unspoiled beaches, quiet mountain villages and vibrant cosmopolitan cities. But it is the small coastal village of San José that has stolen IL Coastal Ecuador Correspondent, Jim Santos’ heart.
“Probably one of the most common romantic fantasies is to be stranded on a desert island alone with your paramour.
“So, if your idea of romance includes enjoying beautiful sunsets, fresh seafood, warm breezes, and the sound of the waves crashing on a secluded beach, take a look at the small coastal villages of Ecuador like San José. Your romantic fantasy could become a reality.
“There you enjoy wonderful seclusion, even during high season, on miles of flat, sandy beaches. There are properties sitting right on the beach, set down from the road so that all you can hear are the waves and the seabirds.
“The illusion of being alone on a desert island is complete.”
Costa Ballena, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the best retirement destinations in the world—in fact, it came in at # 1 in International Living’s Global Retirement Index 2018. It topped the categories of healthy lifestyle and healthcare while scoring well in the fitting in, governance, entertainment and amenities, and climate categories.
But it’s also just plain beautiful…a Central American gem rich with exotic wildlife, long untouched stretches of beaches and lush green valleys.
“There is no question about it: Costa Rica is a paradise for romance,” says IL Central Valley Correspondent, John Michael Arthur.
“Opportunities abound for candlelight dinners, showers for two, tropical cocktails on the beach, or simply laughter in the rain at almost every destination Costa Rica has to offer. But there is an up-and-coming area that makes for a perfect romantic retirement haven: Costa Ballena.
“There is a 22-mile stretch of seashore in Costa Rica’s south Pacific that is made up of three towns: Dominical, and Ojochal, with Uvita between them. Each pueblo has a slightly different feel, but what they share in common is a splendiferous coastline with all but deserted beaches. A new, wide, smooth highway easily connects the area…the ocean at your fingertips to one side and the verdant jungle mountains rising quickly on the other.
“The Marino Ballena National Park calls the area home, as do hundreds of whales that can be seen easily from the beach. Whale watching on the beach—how idyllic is that? The Nauyaca Waterfalls is one of the country’s most arresting cascades and to top it all off, the hidden jewel of Ojochal dishes up some of the finest international restaurants anywhere along the Pacific coast.”
“The fragrance of lemon and orange trees fills the air in a former Moorish capital in the southwest region of Portugal,” says IL Portugal Correspondent, Tricia Pimental. “High atop the town’s hill sits the best-preserved castle in the Algarve, boasting 11 towers. Perched nearby is the cathedral, built on the foundation of a former mosque, and considered the most important Gothic monument in all the region.
“This is enchanting Silves, at one time a key city because of its location on the Arade River, which afforded inland access. Below the fortress ramparts lies a network of narrow streets, and a riverfront filled with shops, cafés, and restaurants.”
Long an under-the-radar destination, today Portugal’s low costs, rich culture, historic towns, warm weather, and varied landscapes are attracting American retirees in increasing numbers.
Pimental recommends dining at O Barradas in Silves, on the covered garden terrace, located in a converted country farmhouse.
“Romance is pervasive in Silves, where natural beauty abounds. In the main square, Praça de Municipio, lofty palm trees share space with flowering gardens.”
More information on the World’s Most Romantic Retirement Havens can be found here: The World’s Most Romantic Retirement Havens