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Fromage-free outings for Valentine’s Day

champgane glass Valentine's Day

Is there any other night more goddamn pressurised than Valentine’s Day. Loaded with hope if you’re in a new relationship and for the old timers it’s a reflection of how well you know and love that person – the whole thing is fraught with potential disaster. So if you’re a bit like me, and looking for something a bit less traditional and er, a little more fun, here are some alternative, non-cheesy Valentine’s ideas that will help you feel the love.

A magical Swiss garden walk

Swiss Garden Shuttleworth - Valentine's Day

It’s just over the border in Bedfordshire but if you’re looking to escape the crowds then the Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth is a little-known place – most people connect Shuttleworth with the nearby aviation association. Creating the ‘mountainous’ effect of an alpine scene in the flat fen-like countryside can’t have been easy in 1824 but cleverly they pulled it off. With little lakes, groves, secret paths, a glass-roofed grotto and various follies and structures dotted around – it’s reminiscent of a magical children’s fairytale illustration. It’s not huge – no need to get kitted up for a hike, but more a gentle meander and explore of this beautiful ornamental garden. There’s a restaurant in the grounds but if you’re feeling the love afternoon tea is being served at The House – formerly the Victorian home of the Shuttlewoth Family. Garden entry is a £8 and the house is open for viewing with room stewards on hand to divulge the historical family secrets.

Swiss Garden Shuttleworth, Old Warden Park, Old Warden, Biggleswade SG18 9ER,

A meal for two off the beaten track

Orchard Tea Garden Valentine's Day

This quintessential English teahouse is normally associated with hazy summer days, reclining deck chairs and a soupcon of Keats. The Orchard Tea Garden is renowned for the plethora of famous people who have enjoyed its genteel setting in particular Rupert Brooke and his Bloomsbury set friends Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes and Ernest Rutherford to name but a few. This Valentine’s Day The Orchard are staying up late – they don’t normally open in the evenings during winter, with a special menu on Sat 11th and Tues 14th Feb. This place has a unique feel – it’s difficult to put your finger on but makes you want to grab a pot of tea and write a book. The hustle and bustle of life is a million miles away – so if you after somewhere to have a deep and meaningful with a special one then this offers the perfect escape.

The Orchard Tea Garden, Grant Chester, Cambridge, CB3 9ND,

The sneaky sleepover

Poets House, Valentine's Day

Here’s one if you’re looking to impress – the Valentine package at Poets House, Ely which costs £165 per person and includes an overnight stay, a three-course dinner, breakfast, home-made chocolate truffles and a bottle of Prosecco in your room on arrival. The boutique hotel occupies a handsome trio of Grade-II listed Edwardian buildings – it all feels very contemporary – and wouldn’t you just love to sink into that bath and wake up the next morning – wrinkled! There’s a buzzing bar for a cocktail or two and a pretty courtyard garden if the sun shows its face. It’s close to the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell’s house for any culture vultures or alternatively fill the bath up and pour yourself another glass of bubbles.

Poets House, 40 St Mary’s St, Ely CB7 4EY,

For film lovers

Cambridge Picturehouse, Valentine's Day

This stylish three screen cinema, in the buzz of the city, showcases upscale classics alongside mainstream hits and this Valentine’s Day the Arts Picuturehouse Cambridge is showing Quentin Terantino’s True Romance. Who can remember whaaay back to 1993 when this hip, hard-edged story of modern love and romance surviving in a violent world hit the screens – starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette with an impressive supporting cast of Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. Firmly rooted in pop culture, the film bears many of the classic Tarantino hallmarks – razor-sharp dialogue and outbursts of visceral violence. Now on a digital print for the very first time you can see it again – True Romance looks bigger, brasher, badder and more stylish than ever. The split-level cinema is located above The Regal on St Andrew’s Street, and you’ll love the fact that the cinema has a well stocked bar with real ales and wine – fill your glass up and enjoy the show.

 Art Picturehouse Cambridge, 38-39 St Andrew’s St, Cambridge CB2 3AR,

London calling? Capital art

Tate Britain, Hockney Valentine's Day

The Tate Britain’s major spring exhibition is well worth jumping on the train for: a comprehensive retrospective of British art giant David Hockney’s work. He’s now approaching 80, so there’s six decades’ worth of painting, drawing, print, photography and videos to enjoy, some of which have never been publicly exhibited. What better antidote to a grey February than gazing at gorgeously vibrant paintings of sun-dappled LA swimming pools? It runs 9 Feb to 29 May, and if you want to avoid the kiddie and tourist crowds, it’s worth noting the extended opening hours of 10pm on a Friday and 8pm on a Saturday.

Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG,

Concert by Candlelight

Ely Catheral Warren Mailley-Smith Valentine's Day

The majestic Ely Cathedral’s Octagon will be lit up by candlelight on Valentine’s weekend, Sat 11th Feb as dazzling international concert pianist Warren Mailley-Smith and special guests woo us with a programme of romance and virtuosity. The performance will include the well known Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Elgar’s Saint d’amour and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor. Cello sensation Palos Carvalho will also play the breathtakingly challenging and romantic Rachmaninov Cello Sonata, and the evening will be rounded off by the sublime voice of stunning soprano, Susan Parkes. Enjoy a glass of bubbles in the interval and soak in the wonder of this magnificent building.

 Ely Cathedral, Chapter House, The College, Ely CB7 4DL,




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