There’s no getting away from the fact that Valentine’s Day, with its saccharine words and grand gestures, divides the nation. In essence, it is the Brexit of a national day (that and National Talk Like a Pirate Day… December 15th, in case you were wondering). For some, it’s a stomach-churning, money-grubbing, consumer-driven concoction. For others, it’s a welcome excuse to throw on one’s fanciest threads and hit the town. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s just around the corner, whether you like it or not.
We are of the opinion that if you can’t beat them, you should jolly well join them. No, this doesn’t mean harvesting a kidney in order to fund extravagant, flower-filled penthouse suites or re-mortgaging one’s abode to clear the cabinets at Cartier. It means artfully getting in on the action and picking a cracking gift, which you can enjoy too. Yes, this year, our delightfully crafty gift guide is dedicated to stupendously good presents…to share.
In this nifty cheat-sheet, stalwart romantic sceptic Jess Baldwin surveys everything from pocket-friendly Michelin meals at home and pinch-me perfect Greco-Roman bathing sessions to an epic flame throwing, body-bending, show-stopper of a date night. After all, sharing is caring. And, yes, you will score points. You’re welcome.
Bag tickets to the world’s most famous circus: Cirque du Soleil
Think buying a stonker of a ruby is the best way to celebrate one’s 40th anniversary? Poppycock. When it comes to marking such a momentous milestone, perhaps true Arbuturians should take a leaf out of Cirque du Soleil’s book. Having recently hit the big 4 0, the world’s most talked about circus has taken one of their oldest, most iconic shows (Alegría) and created a brand-new, all-singing, all-dancing, limited-run spectacle at London’s glorious Royal Albert Hall – well, the red brick beauty certainly beats a breezy big top, hey.
With a Grammy-nominated soundtrack and a captivating international troupe of weird and wonderful performers, Alegría: In a New Light is a true show-stopper of a date, filled with intrigue, mystery and suspense. As ever, you can expect a juggernaut of jaw-dropping performances; from gravity-defying trapeze artists and ludicrously limber-limbed contortionists to fearless fire throwers, with a loveable comedy duo seamlessly stringing it all together. Our favourite part? When the surprise ‘storm’, of 1987 proportions, whips around the resplendent Grade I listed auditorium, covering stunned theatregoers in a sea of confetti. Encore, encore!
See Alegria in a New Light at the Royal Albert Hall until Sunday 3rd March. Get your tickets at www.royalalberthall.com.
Go back in time at the UK’s most romantic spa: AIRE Ancient Baths
Deliberating the UK’s best spa is a befuddling task; there are rural retreats, medical marvels and dictatorial detoxes, but when it comes to singling out the most romantic spa, AIRE Ancient Baths wins hands down. Hidden beneath the hectic streets fringing Covent Garden, the candle-lit cavern of wellness is the ultimate homage to Greco-Roman bathing (thankfully without the lice and dysentery). Set within the spectacular 18th-century red-brick vaults of the former abode of Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie (sharp-eyed guests can ogle the priceless first edition in reception), subterranean AIRE is an in-the-know hedonistic warren of ancient arches and flame-lit nooks, hiding a bevy of bathing experiences.
Shocking one’s system, emperor-stye, by nipping between icy frigidariums and all manner of dreamy heated pools is the main aim in this labyrinthine cave of aquatic wellness. Our favourite? It has to be the floatarium, which contains the same salt levels as the Dead Sea! With a strict adult-only, no phone policy, it’s the ultimate golden ticket for the weary – plus, it doesn’t matter if you no longer have anything to say to each other, as talking is forbidden!
AIRE Ancient Baths London has various Valentine’s packages available, like the Velvet Love for Two (£445 per couple), which includes entry to the baths, a 45-minute couple’s massage, hydrogel eye patches plus a glass of cava rosé and velvet macarons. Book at www.beaire.com.
Share chocolates fit for a queen (literally!): Rococo Chocolates
For four decades chocoholics have flocked to Rococo Chocolates, drawn to their pristine counters piled high with lip-licking, tastebud-tickling, award-winning truffles – even the late Queen was a fan. In fact, she liked Rococo’s exquisite artisan bars and delightfully dusty truffles so much that she made founder Chantal Coady the only chocolatier with an OBE to her name! And boy have they kicked off 2024 with a bang, celebrating their 40th anniversary by launching the world’s most expensive chocolate – well, why the hell not, eh?
Crafted from endangered Criollo, one of world’s rarest cocoa varieties, it’s aptly known as the ‘King of Chocolate’. Fear not, you needn’t re-mortgage to try this Wonka-worthy delicacy, for you can buy a single titbit of a truffle from one of their aromatic emporiums for a very reasonable £3.50 – just suck it slowly, for heaven’s sake! Alternatively, for squabble-free sharing, snap up their utterly decadent ‘Devotion of Chocolates and Truffles Heart Box’. With 36 morish morsels to share, it’s guaranteed to please every palate, with white, milk and dark chocolate truffles, salted caramels, pralines and even zesty lemon and dark chocolate ganache – hmmm, eenie meenie miny moe…
Rococo Chocolates has an extensive range of Valentine’s themed chocolate selections available in store or at www.rococochocolates.com.
Disrobe Laurent-Perrier’s prettiest Champagne yet: Cuvée Rosé Petal Robe
I know what you’re thinking… it’s too pretty to open, even on Valentine’s Day. But fear not, my frugal friend, for this dainty little petal pink ensemble, which comes courtesy of world-famous Champagne house Laurent-Perrier, is actually is a nifty little reusable metal case. Designed to perfectly fit the brand’s curvaceous Cuvée Rosé bottle like a glove, time and time again, ‘petal’ is the latest in Laurent-Perrier’s uber collectable design-led robe collection.
Bursting with a berry-rich bouquet this fantastically fresh world-class Champers deserves a fine gown for the big day too, no? I knew you would see sense. So, what are you waiting for? Disrobe this blushing elixir-cum-table centrepiece immediately (and yes, I’m afraid you do now need to go and buy painfully flashy flutes to do the ritual justice!). À ta santé!
Take to the skies with a private hot air balloon flight: Kent Ballooning
Want to crank up your Valentine’s Day gifting credentials? Elevate them, literally, with Kent Ballooning! Yes, the sky’s the limit when you purchase one of their punchy VIP gift vouchers. You can forget Tom, Dick and Harry, for their VIP flights are exclusively for you and your loved one. Early riser? Opt for a sunrise flight. Once you’ve had your crack of dawn safety briefing and inflated the bafflingly big balloon, it’s up, up and away as you take to the crisp Kentish skies.
Float high above the Garden of England and its dramatic coastline as the sun appears, illuminating the county’s verdant countryside, studded with famous vineyards, glittering lakes, ancient castles and the odd oast house to boot. Once your feet are firmly back on land, toast the once-in-a-lifetime experience with a bottle of chilled Champagne (or a local Spitfire!). You’ll also receive a complimentary USB crammed with ‘didn’t Daddy do well this Valentine’s Day’ images from your lofty adventure. Bravo, bravo.
A VIP flight with Kent Ballooning last 3-4 hours (around an hour of which is spent in the air). VIP flights can be taken at sunrise or sunset on weekdays between April and October. Prices currently start from £839 (usually £1399). Peruse their packages at www.kentballooning.com.
Knock up a Michelin starred curry at home: Gymkhana Fine Foods
Want to whip up a swoon-worthy Valentine’s Day repast but don’t know a spatula from a sprializer? No problem! Mayfair’s Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Gymkhana, is on hand to help you cheat your way through the big day. With their lengthy reservations list reading like an edition of Tatler’s party pages (yes, it’s Rishi Sunak’s go-to for a groaningly good curry and it counts Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift as fans) it’s one of the hottest tables in town – no pun intended. Thankfully, their ingenious cook at home range lets mere mortals quickly and easily recreate the Michelin magic in their own kitchens.
Combining the finest natural ingredients with Gymkhana’s award-winning recipes, the meticulously crafted range features slow-cooked sauces, artisan marinades and delicious chutneys. Can’t decide what to order? Go for the ‘Full Feast Collection’ (£49) which boasts everything from a rich Butter Masala and a warming Goan Curry to a spicy Rogan Josh and a fierce Vindaloo, plus a superb selection of marinades and chutneys for good measure! Now all you need to do is book the Beckhams for a mid-course cameo and it’ll be just like dining in.
Order at www.gymkhanafinefoods.com.
Cheers the big day with the world’s best alcohol-free fizz: French Bloom
Still proudly riding that ‘dry Jan’ wave firmly into Feb? Then we have just the tipple for you: French Bloom. This super premium, alcohol-free bubbly is the brainchild of Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger (yes, the Michelin Guide director) and her trusty companion, jet-setting model Constance Jablonski. Born from the desire to be able to crack open a fine French fizz that could actually hold its own against the real thing, this redefining elixir was recently declared the world’s best alcohol-free sparkling wine! Now you can indulge in delicious French bubbly without compromising your impeccable savoir-faire!
Intrigued? Grab a bottle from Fortnum’s or invest in the ‘Baby Bloom Box’–the perfect intro to the range, it features half bottles of both their petal-strewn rosé and their stone fruit laden white. Feeling flush? Up the anti with their latest luxe collab- in partnership with lavish London florist Neill Strain Floral Couture, their limited edition Valentine’s gift set (£480) sees their award-winning rosé nestled within one of Strain’s gallery-worthy bespoke bouquets.
Smash date night with a Japanese feast: TOKii
Stepping into The Prince Akatoki hotel is a discombobulating experience. At first glance, this 5* property in deepest, chicest Marylebone seamlessly blends in with its handsome Georgian neighbours; all red-brick façades and grand pilasters, with only its flicking flag to catch one’s eye. Inside, a dimly-lit, hush-hush Japanese sanctuary awaits – a perfect example of East meets West. To really embrace its Japanese hospitality, book the Valentine’s tasting menu at its slick restaurant, TOKii. Kicking off with a glass of Champagne and a medley of Jersey rock oysters with Japanese dressing and Oscietra caviar, a lengthy parade of creative dishes follow; think succulent sashimi, lobster croquettes and crispy quail eggs with yuzu hollandaise.
Our favourite dish? Perfectly executed Dedham Vale 28-day aged beef fillet with kinoko mushrooms, sweet honey-glazed carrots, wasabi mash and an indulgent truffle sauce. Those with a sweet tooth (and elasticated trousers) will appreciate the chocolate and passion fruit delice. Not ready to leave this Japanese haven? Then don’t. With 82 light-flooded rooms to choose from, The Prince Akatoki hotel makes the perfect escape from the thrum of W1.
TOKii’s Valentine’s menu is available from the 9th – 18th February, priced at £100pp (or £90pp for the Vegetarian menu) and includes a glass of Champagne upon arrival.
Upgrade the humble hotel room with an entire private estate: Pinkmead Estate & Vineyard
Just a stone’s throw from Queen Victoria’s beloved Isle of Wight retreat, Osborne House, hides Pinkmead Estate & Vineyard. Fringing the yacht-peppered River Medina, the sprawling dog-friendly pile boasts a slick Kit Kemp style 3-bedroom cottage cocooned in 24-acres of manicured lawns and ancient woodland, with your own bird-filled lagoons and thriving saltmarshes to explore – oh… and the island’s newest vineyard! This salt-licked estate has it all; a pop-up cinema room, a riverfront BBQ area, a fleet of minty green Pendleton bikes.
Grab a kayak from the boat house, enjoy a yoga lesson in the studio or take the island’s poshest electric buggy for a spin around the grounds (well, how else are you meant to reach the shipwreck before sunrise?). As evening beckons, hail a river taxi from the end of your private jetty and head into yachtie Cowes. Ferries not for you? Land your chopper on the estate’s scenic helipad– we told you they had it all – you can even get married there! Too much?
Pinkmead Estate & Vineyard is a dog-friendly private estate near Cowes. It’s also available as a wedding venue. Prices start from £3250 per week in low season. Wedding stays start at £6000 for 36-hours. For more information visit www.pinkmeadestate.co.uk.