Europe's most romantic cities, besides Paris

There are plenty of other beautiful cities for travellers looking for a romantic setting, writes Ute Junker.

They're good at marketing, the French. A long time ago, they declared that the capital of romance was Paris, France, and since then, we've all gone along with it.

But is Paris really the most romantic city in the world? Or have we all just overdosed on that mix of champagne, Audrey Tatou movies and Maurice Chevalier soundtrack?

Straw poll your friends about their most memorable Parisian experiences, and for every one that mentions passionate kisses on the Pont Neuf, you will find several more sounding off about rude shop assistants, too many tourists and the one thing more common on Parisian streets than sidewalk tables - le poodle poo. So if not to Paris, where should footloose lovers turn in Europe?

Well, let's consider the basics. To allow maximum opportunities for wandering along hand in hand, you need a city made for strolling. If there's a slow-moving river you can use as a picturesque backdrop, so much the better.

It also needs to be a city of surprises. Paris has its less-than-glamorous areas, but makes up for it by offering something unexpected around almost every corner: a gothic church, a lively street market, a house with elaborate wrought iron balconies.

Most importantly, it needs to be a city that is sensual. Beautiful architecture, delicious food, seductive surroundings: it should tease and tantalise each of your senses. Here's five cities that fit the bill perfectly (grab your lover and start exploring).

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

THE MOOD

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Sophisticated seduction. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. Stilettos and opera coats, maybe even a trilby. If that sets your heart singing, you are going to love Budapest. This city is all about old-school elegance, a dream destination for those who believe real romantics always dress the part.

HIGHLIGHTS

Let's take a moment to admire the symbolism: two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by a river, finally joined together in 1873. If you can't find a romantic metaphor in there, you're really not trying. Both sides of the river have their charms.

In Buda, the cobbled streets of Castle Hill are the ancient heart of the city, with picturesque medieval houses, gothic arches and glorious Baroque mansions. Admire the elaborate interiors of the mighty Matthias Church, before snapping selfies on the Fisherman's Bastion.

In Pest, switch between the wide boulevards designed for carriages and the narrow streets that run between to admire the best of the city's architecture, from belle epoque to art nouveau.

Finish up with a session at the Szechenyi Baths, the city's oldest thermal baths, and enjoy a sunset stroll along the picturesque Chain Bridge, before frocking up to catch a performance in Budapest's amazingly ornate opera house.

LOVE NEST

At the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel, it's all about the detail, from the vaulted ceilings and sinuous wrought iron stair railings to the mosaics and the stained glass. Book a suite, and you have the added bonus of being able to fall asleep in front of your fireplace.

WINE AND DINE

Indulge yourself in one of the city's ornate coffee houses, preferably the New York Cafe, an ornate space covered with golden stucco columns.

For something stronger than a caffeine hit, wine bar Klassz gives you plenty of opportunities to sample the local drops, from the big-bodied red Villany to the richly flavoured honey-gold Tokaj.

More information: see budapest.com.

PORTO, PORTUGAL

THE MOOD

Boho beauty. Dead alleys and dilapidated houses, tiled churches and raucous tavernas, buzzing nightlife and cutting-edge architecture. For those who like to travel without a map, Portugal's raffish second city has a surprise around every corner.

HIGHLIGHTS

Porto is a maze of steep alleys and staircases, just made for exploring. In Ribeira, the dilapidated old town, laundry flaps above your head while women gossip outside shopfronts.

At the old-school Mercado do Bolhao, vendors sell everything from oysters and chestnuts to live roosters. Colourful azulejo tiles liven up many of the buildings; however, even drab exteriors can conceal stunning interiors. The rather drab former stock exchange, the Palacio da Bolsa, has a succession of splendidly decorated rooms: the dazzling Arab room is decorated with 18 kilograms of gold leaf.

Porto also has a modern side. Rem Koolhaas' striking Casa da Musica is as striking inside as it is outside.

Walk through the Orange Room and your footsteps activate sounds ranging from bird calls to percussion. The minimalist Museum of Contemporary Art, set in the 18-hectare Parque de Serralves, is also worth checking out.

LOVE NEST

Housed in a former theatre, the Hotel Teatro indulges in a touch of drama. Its check-in desk looks like a box office, and diners in the Palco restaurant are watched by a wallpaper audience.

The burnished gold and bronze tones in the curtains and walls of the rooms add some star wattage.

WINE AND DINE

Mix up your meals to keep it memorable. The traditional Porto dinner experience - azulejo walls, grilled sardines, raucous family groups straddling three generations - can be had at the fabulous Taberna Sao Pedro, one block back from the ferry pier. For a taste of the new Porto, stop in at Bugo Art Burgers, where choices include cod burgers, an oriental burger complete with noodles, and a beef burger soaked in port and topped with cheese.

Wash it all down with one of more than 200 types of port on offer at Vinologia wine bar.

More information: see visitportoandnorth.travel.

BAMBERG, GERMANY

THE MOOD

Perched between seven surrounding hills, Bamberg's perfectly-preserved medieval landscape is crammed with enchanting nooks and crannies.

From the grand churches and merchants' houses to the tiny fishermen's shacks of Little Venice clinging precariously to the riverbank, this is one town that is always ready for its close-up.

HIGHLIGHTS

Tiny Bamberg has 4000 heritage-listed buildings, so choosing a few favourites is a big ask. The most- photographed building is the New Town Hall, eye-catching not just for its stunningly frescoed exterior, but for the fact that it was built in the middle of the river.

From here you can either take a stroll along the tranquil river or lose yourself in the narrow streets. Sooner or later everyone ends up in Austrasse, lined by picturesque pubs and restaurants that have been serving guests for centuries.

It's worth the hike to explore at least some of the city's hills, each of which is topped by a mighty church. At the Domberg (Cathedral Hill), spend some time admiring the magnificent carvings that decorate every surface, before surprising your lover with a visit to the bishop's rose garden.

Why stop at a dozen roses when you can offer your beloved 4500 blooms?

LOVE NEST

The Welcome Hotel Residenzsschloss Bamberg has a beautifully preserved exterior; inside, the rooms are simply, yet tastefully, furnished. Aside from its handy riverside location, its biggest selling point is the baroque wedding chapel. Just in case.

WINE AND DINE

Bamberg is home to nine breweries, so it would be churlish not to sample the local rauchbier (smoked beer - made with malted barley). The cosy Zum Sternla has been serving it up since 1380, and also has a fine way with meat dishes such as pork knuckle or schnitzel.

More information: see en.bamberg.info.

ORVIETO, ITALY

THE MOOD

Ancient grandeur. The classics never go out of style, and the classic Italian combo is ancient ruins plus Renaissance grandeur. Rome is not the only Italian city to have elevated it to an art form: this ancient Etruscan hill town delivers its own dazzling version.

HIGHLIGHTS

This is a city you can explore literally from top to bottom. At the top of the town, the magnificent Duomo is one of the grandest cathedrals in all Italy.

If you think its exterior - all mosaics, carvings and striped marble - is imposing, wait till you step inside. Lit by the gentle glow from the alabaster windows, the riotous frescoes in the Cappella di San Brizio, covering every available inch, rival those in the Sistine Chapel.

Then there's Orvieto's Underground City, a collection of more than 1000 cellars, shafts and corridors carved over the centuries into the soft volcanic stone on which the town is built. A different underground attraction is the Pozzo di San Pietro, an extraordinary 62-metre well with overlapping spirals, lit by 72 arched windows with a staircase twisting all the way down.

LOVE NEST

Set in its own vineyards just outside Orvieto, Locanda Palazzone has been welcoming visitors for 800 years, since the stone building was erected as a lodging for pilgrims heading to Rome in 1300. These days, it offers loft-style suites with a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a glass of the acclaimed house wine.

WINE AND DINE

It's a family affair at Il Saltapicchio. Chef Valentina Sananicchio bases her delicious meals around fresh produce from her mother's farm. It's also a great place to try some of the local white wines, which are considered Umbria's best.

For something a touch more indulgent, try one of the many truffled pastas on offer at Trattoria La Palomba.

More information: see inorvieto.it.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND

THE MOOD

Mist-wrapped romance. As moody as a black and white Robert Doisneau photograph, Glasgow, for an admittedly more lateral suggestion, is perfect for those who lean towards romance in a minor key.

Swathe yourself in a heavy coat and cuddle under an umbrella with your loved one as you wander through the (hopefully light) drizzle.

HIGHLIGHTS

Glasgow has some beautiful parks to frolic in when the weather is good, from Kelvingrove Park in the West End - particularly lovely in spring when the flower beds are in full bloom - to Pollok Country Park, which has a network of trails meandering through its 146 hectares of woodland and meadows.

However, the city centre is also made for strolling, especially the Merchant City.

Once the headquarters of Glasgow's "tobacco lords", the wide streets around here are lined with massive warehouses converted into cosy bars and restaurants as well as in-demand apartments.

If you are partial to a touch of noir, hike up to the Necropolis, the magnificent Victorian memorial to the dead tucked behind Glasgow Cathedral. There's something oddly romantic about the overblown tributes to those loved and lost.

This being Glasgow, chances are you're going to need to warm up somewhere during your stroll.

In the city centre, the Willow Tea Rooms have original interiors by art deco architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

By the Glasgow Green, the Winter Gardens is a Victorian glasshouse with its own cafe, where you can savour a warming beverage amid the palms.

LOVE NEST

The Hotel du Vin in the West End has an appealing voluptuousness about it. Set into a series of grand terraces, each of the individually-decorated rooms feature rich colours, a penchant for velvet and an exceedingly comfortable bed.

WINE AND DINE

Keep it cosy for dinner. In Finneston, the pocket-sized Crabshakk has super-fresh seafood; closer to the hotel, from a slightly rundown shopfront, Cafezique makes the entire menu on the premises.

Whether you favour Shetland mussels in a creamy broth or the house burger - a wonder to behold - you'll find something that satisfies.

More information: see peoplemakeglasgow.com.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Avoid the Eiffel Tower. That's the advice of Ute Junker, regular Traveller contributor, for those trying to inject a touch of romance into their next holiday. "If you go for the clichés, you're setting yourself up to fail," she says. "It will never be as good as it looks in the movies." Fortunately, Europe has plenty of romantic cities to rival Paris and, here, Junker shares some of her favourites.

FRENCH KISSES - FIVE ROMANTIC PARIS SPOTS

Still can't go past Paris as your preferred romantic destination? Then make sure you include these romantic experiences in your itinerary.

BEST STROLL: Ile St-Louis

The quays are lined with elegant 17th-century townhouses, and the beautiful flower market has been here for 200 years. The western tip has great views of Notre Dame.

BEST PARK: Parc de Buttes-Chaumont

This converted quarry in the 19th arrondissement is well off the usual tourist route. Meandering paths take you past waterfalls, grottoes and cliffs.

BEST BAR: La Flute l'Etoile

There are plenty of sexy bars in Paris, but La Flute l'Etoile, near the Arc de Triomphe, is one of the few places to focus on champagne, with more than 100 varieties to explore.

BEST MUSEUM: Rodin Museum

Its setting - in an old townhouse amid beautiful 18th-century gardens - makes this Paris' most romantic museum. The fact that it's home to a statue called The Kiss doesn't hurt either.

BEST VIEW: Eiffel Tower

Forget smooching at the top of the Eiffel Tower: the queues are too damn long. Instead, grab a bench in the nearby Trocadero Gardens with a view of the ultimate Paris landmark.

FIVE MORE ROMANTIC EUROPEAN CITIES

ST PETERSBURG

Russia at its picture book best. Grand palaces, scenic canals lined with neoclassical houses, and a Tchaikovsky soundtrack pump up the passion. See http://visit-petersburg.ru/?lang=en.

LUCERNE

Looking for a lakeside liaison? Soaring mountains, gaily coloured houses, cobblestones and covered bridges make this swoony Swiss city a grand choice. See luzern.com.

GDANSK

Some consider the Long Market to be the most beautiful street in the world. It's just one of the seductive corners in this charming Polish city. See poland.travel.

SALZBURG

A spectacular natural setting, elegant spires and domes, and lashings of Mozart - if this Austrian city doesn't get you in the mood, nothing will. See salzburg.info.

LJUBLJANA

Small but perfectly-formed, the Slovenian capital has it all, from fabulous Baroque architecture to its very own castle. See visitljubljana.com.

Places in the heart of romance

Five people for whom romance is a living tell where in the world they'd head for a fling.

OSHER GUNSBERG, HOST, THE BACHELOR

AMSTERDAM

It's such a wonderful city, more like a village tucked inside the circle of canals. You can hire a bike and ride around checking out the galleries and museums, drinking fantastic coffee, going to the nightclubs. Vinnies Deli on Haarlemmerstraat has great food and is a great place for people-watching.

KATHY APOSTOLIDIS, NIGHTINGALES WEDDING DESIGNERS

SEVILLE

I saw more couples being romantic in Seville than I did in Paris. The city is full of interesting laneways and intimate restaurants. I love the Moorish feel, the intricate tiles, the scalloped arches. I saw a wedding taking place in the cathedral, the bridesmaids with an elaborate flamenco feel, the bride in the simplest white dress, devoid of embellishment. It oozed romance.

RACHAEL TREASURE, ROMANCE AUTHOR, CLEANSKIN COWGIRLS

THE OUTBACK

I find nature and sunrises and stars romantic, so while I've been to Venice and loved the art and the poetry, it's regional cities that put me in the mood. Rockhampton, Queensland, for instance is the gateway to some of the most wonderful landscapes in the country, and you can have a great night out at the Great Western Hotel.

JOHN AIKEN, RSVP.COM.AU RELATIONSHIP EXPERT

QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

It's a gorgeous city built on a lake, and it's a great winter getaway. As well as ski-fields like Coronet Peak, you have lots of bars and restaurants with open fireplaces and good quality reds to drink. There are plenty of high-adrenalin activities, and shared experiences have a great impact, creating an exciting connection between the two of you.

ANGUS LOGAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, JAN LOGAN JEWELLERS

LONDON

London has so many layers, I find it a really romantic place to go. You can have completely different experiences in different areas. In summer, I love going to Hyde Park to enjoy those long twilights; in winter, it's great to rug up for a drink in one of those beautiful old pubs on the Thames.

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