Sparking Valentine’s Day romance in the middle of winter
By DOUGLAS P. CLEMENT
Tribune Content Agency|
Jan 23, 2020 | 12:56 PM
Romantic love isn’t supposed to be chilly, right? The history of love and lovers specifies a decidedly non-chilly ideal in two defining words: “red hot.” So why is the holiday for love and romance stuck in the middle of a cold winter month?
Forget trying to find insight in the St. Valentine’s Day origin story. Talk of pagan rituals, the pope, the English poet Chaucer and how Feb. 14 marked the beginning of mating season for birds in ancient England and France fails to enlighten.
No matter. Experiences that unfold against expectations are the most magical, and even in the heart of a wintry Connecticut February, opportunities for romance abound — if you know where to look. Here’s some red-hot inspiration for unexpectedly romantic things to do in Connecticut this winter.
An Old-Fashioned Sleigh Ride
Horse-drawn sleigh rides are the epitome of winter romance. Evidence abounds in films and TV shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Kate and Leopold.” You can recreate the experience with the same horses, perhaps the same carriage, and definitely the same driver from those productions — who is fresh off another star turn in “Little Women.”
“You’ll see me driving Emma Watson and Saoirse Ronan,” says John Allegra of Allegra Farm in East Haddam. “I was Hugh Jackman’s driver in ‘The Greatest Showman’ and ‘Kate and Leopold.’” He’s also currently working on “Dickinson” for Apple TV.
Allegra, who has approximately 30 horses and 160 vehicles, is the go-to resource for horse-drawn carriages in films, operas, TV shows and more. His credits extend from “Amistad,” and “Time Machine” to “Kate and Leopold,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Buccaneers” from the BBC, the opera “Aida” and beyond.
“Anything they need horse and carriage for, I’m the guy,” says Allegra, who gives guests the VIP treatment at his rural Connecticut farm, offering sleigh rides in the winter as long as there’s frost in the ground and about 6 inches of snow. If it’s not sleigh weather, you can book a carriage ride on the hour-long scenic route adjacent to Lake Hayward, which Allegra describes as a classic over-the-river and through-the-woods route. All guests and groups get a private ride, with up to 10 accommodated for a carriage ride and up to six for a sleigh ride. The cost is $250.
A romantic afternoon carriage ride segues perfectly into a romantic dinner, and Allegra mentions that the farm is just 30 minutes from Connecticut’s casinos.
Rides are by reservation only. Call 860-537-8861 and leave a message. “Someone will get back and figure out what works for both of us,” Allegra says. More information: allegrafarm.com.
Impressionist Gems And ‘The Heart of Shakespeare’
An underappreciated Connecticut gem in Farmington, the Hill-Stead Museum is home to a small but world-class collection of Impressionist art — not minor works but masterpieces like Monet’s grain stacks, Degas dancers and jockeys and his pastel, “The Tub.” Depicting a 19th-century woman at her bath, as if seen through a keyhole, it evokes the prismatic qualities of romantic love.
Visiting the Hill-Stead for a guided tour small enough to feel private (Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., last tour begins at 3 p.m.) is a perfect experience. Or attend a special event on Valentine’s Day, “The Heart of Shakespeare: An Evening of Shakespeare’s Love,” from 5:45 to 7:30 pm. (The cost is $40 for museum members, $45 for non-members.)
The evening opens with wine and light hors d’oeuvres in the carriage porch, followed by a Capital Classics Theatre Company performance in the drawing room, where paintings by Monet, Manet and Degas are displayed. Capital Classics company members, including co-founders Geoffrey and Laura Sheehan, will perform dramatic readings of love scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, as well as sonnets, and Jaeme McDonald will provide musical accompaniment and perform Shakespeare’s love songs. For more: 860.677.4787 or hillstead.org.
Snowshoe Hiking Under A Full Moon
The White Memorial Conservation Center’s nature preserves cover more than 4,000 acres in Litchfield and Morris and are etched by more than 40 miles of trails — many of them former carriage roads —t hat are glorious in the spring, summer and fall and equally resplendent in their austere winter beauty. Popular with cross-country skiers, many trails are also perfect for snowshoeing and Sportsmen’s, a nearby shop in Bantam, both outfits folks to enjoy the outdoors and organizes seasonal snowshoe hikes, including moonlit snowshoe hikes at night. Dress warmly and nothing is more magical than being with your sweetheart under a full moon in a cold landscape glistening with snow and ice.
Dates for 2020 hikes are still being worked out, but there’s a full moon coming the weekend before Valentine’s Day. Joining the email list at the bottom of the Sportsmen’s website (sportsmens.biz) is the best way to find out when a moonlit hike is scheduled. The information will also be posted on the shop’s Instagram and Facebook pages. To inquire directly: 860-567-3167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And if a snowshoe hike at White Memorial sounds romantic but not at night, Sportsmen’s provides snowshoe rentals for those who want to enjoy the local trails on their own.
Date Night Cooking Classes
Sur La Table at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton is more than a retail haven for people who love to cook and dine well. Outfitted with a professional kitchen, it’s also an incubator for the type of savory romance that sparks, builds and blossoms over a shared taste of something delicious.
The folks who oversee Sur La Table’s classes are well aware of the allure of cooking with a special someone, or meeting a future mate while reaching for a whisk and often a wide variety of Date Night classes, each focusing on a different country and cuisine.
Date Night classes in February include “Italian Romance,” “Cooking With Wine,” “Bold Tuscan Flavors,” “From Paris With Love,” “Winter in Paris” “Sushi For Two” and “Sicilian Kitchen.” For more: surlatable.com, 860-693-9560, or email@example.com.
Ice Skating, Then An Endearing Bistro
The International Skating Center of Connecticut (ISCC) in Simsbury definitely has romance, and mystique, in its story. It made international news when Ukrainian figure skater Oksana Baiul came to Simsbury after winning gold in the 1994 Winter Olympics to train at the ISCC.
Women’s figure skating is the most romantic winter Olympic sport, and the ISCC also happens to be one of Connecticut’s most accommodating venues for public skating. Sessions are scheduled nearly every day, most from noon to 1 p.m., but later afternoon and evening times are available on certain days. You can even skate on Valentine’s Day, from 7:40 to 8:40 p.m. The $10 per skater cost includes skate rentals.
Just like love, ice skating blushes the cheeks and works up an appetite, creating an opportunity to enhance the romance with lunch or dinner just down the street at the latest home of the French-inspired American bistro Metro Bis. ISCC: 860-651-5400, isccskate.com. Metro Bis: 860-651-1908, metrobis.com.
A Weekend In Salisbury
The White Hart Inn in Salisbury is hardly a best-kept secret, at least among weekending New Yorkers, families with children in the region’s private schools and people who come to enjoy nearby ski areas. Within Connecticut, though, it may not have the profile of tony lodgings in tourist towns with marquee names.
That’s fine with The White Hart’s regulars and admirers. Still, the secret should get out about its particular appeal in the winter — and about the food. Salisbury buzzes in early February when the Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s ski jumping Jumpfest comes to town, Feb. 8 and 9 this year. Go if you can, as it’s a serious competition enlivened by related events.
Otherwise, any weekend is perfect. The White Hart is in Salisbury village, home to wonderful shopping, including an antiquarian bookstore, bakeries, and more. Oh, and the food. The historic Tap Room at The White Hart — think wood fires — presents the elevated British-inspired comfort food created by British Chef Annie Wayte. (She was the chef behind fashion designer Nicole Farhi’s namesake restaurant and 202 cafe in London, both of which she replicated in NYC.) Manager John Ciliberto urges couples to relax by the fire and enjoy a glass of wine.
A Spa Massage And A Tempting, Inventive Menu
The Delamar hotel in West Hartford is like one-stop shopping for February romance with a twist. Here’s the formula: Start with the European-style treatments at the Delamar Spa, and surprise your beloved with a Couples Body Buff.
In the afterglow, head to Artisan, the Delamar’s restaurant, for either lunch or dinner. Artisan’s casual tavern features a handcrafted traditional Swedish farmhouse tile fireplace, providing the perfect spot for getting cozy with a glass of wine. The main dining room’s chic design includes a monumental fig mural along the back wall painted by Stockholm artist Jonas Wickman.
Fresh flowers designed by Lane and Lenge florists are on every table, and the menu is filled with classic and inventive upscale comfort food. Artisan offered a special three-course prix fixe menu last Valentine’s Day, so expect a similar option this year. Delamar Spa: 860-937-2466; delamar.com/west-hartford-spa. Artisan: 860-937-2525; artisanwesthartford.com.
Chocolate and Wine Pairing Events
Winter may not seem like the season to visit Connecticut’s wineries, but at least a few maintain a calendar of events year-round, including Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen. To encourage winter romance, Sunset Meadow presents Chocolate and Wine Pairing Tastings Fridays through Sundays in February. Guests taste five award-winning estate wines “paired to perfection” with five specialty chocolates. The cost is $20. Reservations are required for groups of six or more. For more: 860-201-4654; sunsetmeadowvineyards.com. More: ctwine.com/calendar/action~agenda/exact_date~2-1-2020/