If the thought of an intimate Italian trip makes you shudder with the fear of being among hundreds of couples holding hands, gazing into each other's eyes over a single scoop of gelato, then panic not. Save face and score extra brownie points from your other half with our ideas for a unique romantic break in Italy.
Escape to a trullo, the perfect hideaway
Trulli are traditional whitewashed stone roundhouses, with conical roofs, dotted all over Puglia’s pretty countryside. They’re quirky and rustic without being twee; the right side of cool and unique. Originally built for peasants centuries ago, many have been transformed into luxurious boltholes, making them the perfect option for a romantic retreat.
There are more than 1,000 trulli in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Alberobello in the Itria Valley. Given its status, this town is a major tourist destination – a possible drawback for some – so look for secluded trulli outside the towns of Cisternino, Locorotondo and Martina Franca instead.
Most trulli are self-catered, which risks the trip turning sour if you quibble over washing up; although there’s something heartfelt about retreating home to cook dinner together. Check out holiday accommodation sites such as HomeAway.co.uk or Think Puglia, which have trulli to suit different budgets.
If you’d rather leave cooking behind, then book a trulli hotel. Le Alcove is in the tourist hotspot of Alberobello, but it’s been made with couples in mind, with just a handful of trulli converted into luxury suites with king-size beds and en-suite bathrooms. To avoid the tourists, ask for the gorgeous two-storey Garden Suite trullo, a 20-minute stroll from the town. Or retreat further into the hills at Masseria Fumarola, a renovated manor, where your trullo comes with a huge fireplace to snuggle up alongside.
Explore the Etruscan caves
Long before the Romans came along, Italy was home to another ancient civilization, the Etruscans, who settled in Tuscany sometime in the sixth century BC. Historians think of them as mysterious people, mostly because there’s not much evidence about them remaining, but they were known to uphold marriage and monogamy – all the more reason for a couple in love to pay homage with a trip to the Etruscan caves.
Head to the Vie Caves, a network of paths cut into mile-high stone, near the southern Tuscan towns of Sorano and Pitigliano, which are equally worth a visit. The caves will blow your mind with their magnitude – some of the cave walls are over 25m (82ft) high, making you feel as though you’ve been dropped out of the sky.
The slightly eerie, but intensely atmospheric and incredibly compelling, caves are among the most endangered monuments in the world due to their age, and they are shrouded in mystery. No one has ever figured out how or why they exist – but this only adds to their magic.
Dance the night away at the Venetian masked ball
If you’re looking for a grand, romantic gesture, then this is it. For an all-out, blow-the-budget extravaganza and an unforgettable night, book a pair of tickets to this year’s Il Ballo del Doge. It’s the world’s biggest, most famous and most luxurious all-night masked ball, which is being held on 18 February at the Pisani Moretta Palace on the Grand Canal in Venice.
This year’s theme is ‘Queens’ which, according to the carnival organisers is for “women who are queens at heart, and all the men who treasure them.” So if you’re maddeningly in love, go ahead. You’ll need a special costume and a mask – but just don’t confuse your masked partner with someone else.
If you can’t afford this fancy affair (tickets cost around €1,400), there are plenty of other events running as part of Venice’s annual carnival, with slightly cheaper balls happening the same night at the Luna Hotel Baglioni and Palazzo Nani Bernardo (€320 and €295 per person respectively). There’s also afternoon tea and a cotillion dance at the Hotel Danieli or a Venetian pub crawl (in fancy dress and masks), which may or may not spoil the romance. Check out Venice Events for more.
Ditch the map and explore Rome freestyle
Map-reading always ends in a fight; her fault for not reading it properly, his fault for not listening. So, when in Rome, forget the map. Sure, you’ll get lost, but aim to soak up the city’s atmosphere, rather than tick off every tourist attraction, and you might even enjoy not knowing where you are.
Rome is astounding, yes, but it’s heaving. The Colosseum is crawling with tourists; the Trevi Fountain may be beautiful, but you’ll never get close enough to see; and as for the Spanish Steps – with all those backpackers around, they’re not as memorable as Audrey Hepburn made them out to be.
So, instead, see where the road takes you. Go wander. It’s simple (no pressure to see sites), relatively safe (there’s only so far you can go on foot from your hotel) and, it’s kind of romantic to walk and talk in each other’s company without feeling like you “must” be somewhere specific. Maybe it’s what they call quality time.
Wandering the streets of central Rome, albeit aimlessly, results in little things you’ll remember long after your holiday’s over. Things like stumbling upon a tiny coffee bar with the best espresso you’ve ever tasted, finding a park with the most amazing panoramic views, discovering a random Roman arch, resting tired legs in a tiny yet magnificent church which you happen upon, out of the blue. Tired, probably lost, but happy: that’s the stuff romantic trips are made of.