- From California to Texas, wine countries mean romance for many couples
- You don't have to be a skier to appreciate Aspen. It's a couples haven, too
- Not everyone equates pampering with romance. Friday Harbor is built for active types
(CNN)For an otherwise entertaining movie, "Gone Girl" had kind of a downer message.
Happy loving couple heads to small town and immediately finds a viper's nest of dysfunction, deceit and revenge?
Thanks rural America!
To the rescue are these six real American small towns, where cobblestone streets, adorable cafes, couples spa treatments and distance from big city hyper-ambition don't ruin relationships, they strengthen them.
Midway up the Door County peninsula there's a place where small boats cruise in and out of a small harbor just across the street from Wilson's, a century-old ice-cream parlor that scoops up cones while hand-holders plot second desserts and nighttime walks.
That place is Ephraim, Wisconsin, an historic town with Moravian and Norwegian roots dating to 1853 that's now home to fewer than 300 full-time residents.
"To ensure that Ephraim remains a historic and beautiful location, Ephraim's zoning is admittedly strict and is continually refined to preserve the distinctive atmosphere and character of the Village," reads the town's official website.
"The village offers incredibly intimate spaces," says Natalie Nedderson, co-owner of Eagle Harbor Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with whirlpool suites. "Hardy Gallery (which exhibits works from local and regional artists) begs you to paint your names on its red clapboard exterior, joining generations of couples ... establishing that you have staked your claim in graffiti."
Professions of love in graffiti?
Not exactly what we'd expect from the sons and daughters of devout Moravians, but it proves that even quaint villages have the power to surprise you.
Eagle Harbor Inn, 9914 Water St., Ephraim, Wisconsin; +1 920 854 2121; from $175 per night
Hardy Gallery, 3083 Anderson Lane, Ephraim, Wisconsin; +1 920 854 5355 (phone number is active seasonally)
With its frontier fields and world-class wines, Becker Vineyards attracts would-be suitors and those who might not even know they're that serious yet.
"A lot of people have gotten engaged here," says tasting room coordinator Nicole Bendele. "Some impromptu. Somebody might be out on the veranda overlooking the lavender field and pop the question."
Good wine has a way of making even a hardened soul misty, and so do the views in Texas Hill Country.
A quick drive from area wineries, Fredericksburg has those pretty views, as well as a "y'all come on in" Main Street vibe and superb restaurants, like the Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant, which unequivocally states it has "the largest Texas wine list just about anywhere!"
"The town lends itself to romance," says Donna Mittel of Gastehaus Schmidt Reservation Service, which books Texas Hill Country hotels, bed and breakfasts and country inns. "With romantic B&Bs, fine restaurants and the vineyards, people come for the quiet time away from the kids, or the dogs."
Becker Vineyards, 464 Becker Farms Road, Stonewall, Texas; +1 830 644 2681
Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant, Cotton Gin Village, Fredericksburg, Texas; +1 830 990 5734
Gastehaus Schmidt Reservation Service, 231 W. Main, Fredericksburg, Texas; +1 866 427 8374
Friday Harbor, Washington
Not everyone's idea of "romance" is sifting through a hotel's pillow menu while awaiting the afternoon's melted-chocolate massage (not that there's anything wrong with that).
For some, posing for precious pics in front of the hulls of water-beaded kayaks says, "We're in this together!"
For these couples, Washington state's San Juan Islands are pretty much perfect.
The area's outdoor opportunities are legendary, but after the paddling and hiking and orca spotting are over, Friday Harbor on San Juan Island has a rustic "no stoplights, no strip malls, pretty much no nothing" vibe that lends itself to tranquil reflection and "I wouldn't want to be here with anyone else" conversation.
Once that's out of the way (guys, that's a joke), it's off to sophisticated restaurants like Tops'l Sushi Bar, or plates of comfort food such as chicken breast with a tart-apple waffle at the Duck Soup Inn, a small cabin dedicated to local ingredients (some foraged) that sits snugly on Dream Lake surrounded by tall conifers.
Of course, you can always stay in town.
"The Inn is right in the middle of Friday Harbor, so couples can stroll sidewalks hand in hand as they window shop, head for dinner, look for a cafe to disappear into or a cozy bench to watch the world roll by," says Scott Hale, manager of the Island Inn at 123 West, which has 360-degree water views and a special "INN Love" package for couples, with a cheese board, fresh flowers and bottle of sparkling wine.
Tops'l Sushi Bar, 1B Front St. N., Friday Harbor, Washington; +1 360 370 7191
Duck Soup Inn, located halfway between Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor; +1 360 378 4878
Islands Inn at 123 West; +1 360 378 4400
The square in Sonoma County's Healdsburg is lined with high-end restaurants, tasting rooms, boutiques and indie bookstores.
Hotel Healdsburg caters to couples with its "Romance in Bloom" package, folding in perks like a soaking tub stocked with salts and oils, sparkling wine, house-made truffles and a couples massage.
Dinner downstairs at Dry Creek Kitchen is a seven-course experience.
"So many of my clients are true romantics that come to this town celebrating a special occasion: an engagement, anniversary or birthday," says Ann Marie Montecuollo, owner of Ann Marie Fine Jewelry, just off the town square.
For vacationing couples, she specializes in custom-designed jewelry to commemorate their trip.
Dry Creek Kitchen, Hotel Healdsburg, 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, California; +1 707 431 0330
Ann Marie Fine Jewelry, 122 Matheson St., Healdsburg, California; +1 707 433 5053
Rosemary Beach, Florida
Founded in 1995, Rosemary Beach has evolved into a romantic destination, attracting celebs such as country singer Kellie Pickler -- it was the site of her proposal.
A winding cobblestone Main Street is filled with sidewalk cafes serving sushi, Gulf-caught seafood and chocolate-covered bacon. (That's romantic, right?)
The Gulf of Mexico's emerald-green beauty is just a block away.
Although their website tagline makes us cringe a little ("Welcome to the delicious moments of your life"), The Pearl is a year-old marvel of a super-luxe beach hotel with romance built into its DNA.
There are also plenty of luxury homes for rent through Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Co.
Strict design codes keep lodgings awash in nature-inspired hues and high-end appliances.
Bicycles built for two? Um, maybe in 1914.
These days you can each rent a beach-cruiser bicycle from Bamboo Bicycle Company (which does actually have adult tandem bikes if that's your thing).
The Pearl, 63 Main St., Rosemary Beach, Florida; +1 850 588 2881; from $179 per night
Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Co.; +1 866 348 8952
Bamboo Bicycle Company, 50 North Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach, Florida; +1 850 231 0770
The Aspen secret?
It doesn't matter if you ski or not.
Downtown streets are lined with art galleries and shops worth spending hours and hundreds (if not thousands) of spare change on.
The bars, hotels and resorts don't just conjure images of roaring fires and designer boot fashion, they deliver them.
The Hotel Jerome is a pretty example.
The property's throwback couture is a plus, but so are the dramatic mountain views from its suites and cozy fun at its renowned J-Bar.
"Whether your idea of romance is running up a mountain or wrapping up in a blanket in front of a wood fire, Aspen has it all," says St. Regis Aspen Resort spa director Julie Oliff. "The trouble is, you won't just fall more in love when you're here, you'll fall in love with everything here."
The spa's Great Bath is a guaranteed pleaser -- it features berries, chocolate and champagne in an aromatherapy bath followed by a massage.
Hotel Jerome, 330 E. Main St., Aspen, Colorado; +1 855 331 7213; from $225 per night
St. Regis Aspen Resort, 315 E. Dean St., Aspen, Colorado; +1 970 920 3300