GOMAG.COM
Isn't it Romantic?
by Sharyn Jackson, Lisette Johnson, and Pauline Kostopoulos
July 10, 2008

COME SAIL AWAY TO THE CARIBBEAN

There’s no better place for a little sex on the beach than the East Coasters’ good ol’ reliable palm tree destination—the Caribbean. Whether you’re looking for a little international flair on a Dutch or French island, or never got your passport and want to stay on American soil, gal-friendly options on the islands abound.

Our pick for most romantic and lesbian-friendly Caribbean destination is St. Croix, a lesser tourist-populated part of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), which are considered the most accepting islands in the entire Caribbean/West Indies. Miles of beaches, mountainous landscapes and tropical birds and flowers make for the perfect escape with your Valentine. What’s more, St. Croix is home to the lesbian-owned Sand Castle on the Beach (from $139, 127 Smithfield, Frederiksted, sandcastleonthebeach.com), where co-owners Cheryl and Simone have hosted many a commitment ceremony for the past two years. If you’re already honeymooning, thinking of tying the knot or just sleeping together, Sand Castle has couples’ packages, villas, suites and standard rooms fit for any romantic occasion. Adventurous lovebirds can also take part in fabulous activities, including horseback riding, swimming and snorkeling—all arranged by the hotel.

Nothing says romance like an 18th century plantation (well, nothing that doesn’t require lubricant). In the centuries-old Dutch town of Christiansted on St. Croix, a stay at Pink Fancy (from $120, 27 Prince St, Christiansted, pinkfancy.com) is a must. Built in 1780, the historical landmark is on a former plantation, and opened its doors as a hotel in 1948 by a former Ziegfeld girl, no less, and visited by a long list of show business glitterati, including playwright and songsmith, Noel Coward. What could be more delicious than exploring this old world sugar farm with your sugar? They say you can stroll all day without running into another person except the one you are with. In other words, bring a blanket.

The long colonial history of the island manifests itself here in Christiansted, and today the town is also known for its art galleries and unique shops, centered around King’s Alley. Be sure to stop by Island Boy Designs (Company St, islandboydesigns.com) for original jewelry pieces by designer Whealan Massicott. A lovely V-day gift for your baby (and one of St. Croix’s most famous specialties) is a hook bracelet; a metal bangle latched by a hook. Wear the hook toward your heart if you’re taken. If the island breeze truly sends you and Ms. Right head over heels, designer Anita Shultz at Jewelweed (116 King St, jewelweedvi.com) is known for making “the perfect engagement ring.” St. Croix’s other specialty is Cruzan rum. If you want to get a little wild, have a couple of cocktails and head over to Steele’s Smokes & Sweets (1102 Strand St, smokesandsweets.com). St. Croix’s oldest cigar and candy store has everything from homemade fudge to rum-dipped Cuban tobacco cigars. Hot, sexy and chocolate, this place is Dyke Heaven. Not to mention two of our favorite words—“duty free.”

But don’t forget about USVI’s two other main islands: St. John, the smallest and most rugged, is roughly two-thirds national park; and St. Thomas, the largest, and the gayest, island in the USVI. It also happens to be the most touristy, but go with it: the wide variety of amenities make for an exciting and luxurious trip. A great way to see all the highlights of the island is from an open-air truck with Tim’s Tours, ($25, found at major locations on the island). The tour also includes a few hours at the beach of your choice (Coki, Magen’s or Sapphire). The brilliant scenery of St. Thomas is best experienced at Mountain Top (greathouse-mountaintop.com) one of the highest points of the island and the location of a hip and happening bar, known for their banana daiquiris. Paradise Point (stthomasskyride.com) is another high-altitude retreat, where, after a tram ride 700 feet to the top, you can snag a bird’s eye view of the city of Charlotte Amalie and enjoy a cold Baileys Bushwacker.

You’ll find plenty more to drink (and eat) back on lower ground. In the Frenchtown neighborhood, about a half-mile south of Charlotte Amalie, is the exceptional Oceana Restaurant and Wine Bar (Villa Olga, oceana.vi), known for its avant-garde approach to seafood. In the Red Hook neighborhood, stop by Duffy’s Love Shack (6500 Red Hook Plaza, duffysloveshack.com) for great food, eats and evening entertainment. It’s popular with both tourists and locals. End your night at the 15-room Danish Chalet Inn, (from $98, 4-5 Gamble Nordsidevej, danishcaletinn.com) which overlooks the twinkling Charlotte Amalie harbor. Or, go all out at the Ritz-Carlton resort (from $659, ritzcarlton.com/resorts/st_thomas), on the Great Bay. With award-winning spas, restaurants and recreation on site, your Valentine’s getaway will be unforgettable.

If you can’t get away for V-day, no prob. Surprise your girl on the 14th with the news that from March 25th–April 1st, you'll be on board Olivia Cruise’s Caribbean Escape. Melissa Etheridge, Julie Goldman, Doria Roberts and hundreds of lesbians will accompany you as you sail from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West, San Juan, St. Thomas and Olivia's private island, Half Moon Cay. Believe us, it’s worth the wait. (olivia.com).

Or, if you want to make this a family holiday, let Gloria Estefan add a little spice to your love life on the O'Donnells’ R Family Vacations Eastern Caribbean cruise, which sets sail February 18th and in no time will arrive to white beaches and crystal clear ocean water of San Juan, Antigua, St. Thomas and the exotic Great Stirrup Cay. (rfamilyvacations.com).

More info on the Virgin Islands can be found at usvitourism.vi and nps.gov/viis.

UNWIND IN BERMUDA

For less party boat and more relaxing retreat, hop a flight to Bermuda for a tropical escape. The island’s golf courses, relaxing spas, turquoise waters and pink sandy beaches are sure to enchant your valentine. Warm up to the idea with Bermuda Tourism’s $300 companion credit toward hotel stays or airfare when visiting for three nights or more (through March 31st, bermudatourism.com). Only two hours from New York by air, Bermuda boasts a year-round mild semitropical climate with temperatures ranging from 68 to 84°F.

Abandon alarm clocks and car horns and wake up to a luscious view of the beach at one of the island’s many gay-friendly places to stay. Consider one of the ocean view cottages at the beachfront Ariel Sands (from $300, 34 Shore Rd, Devonshire, arielsands.com), where you can take advantage of the extensive recreational facilities, including tennis, snorkeling and volleyball, or relax in the outdoor hot tub overlooking the ocean. For a cozy hideaway, check out Aunt Nea’s Inn (from $150, 1 Neas Alley, St George’s, auntneas.com), within strolling distance of three beaches and the historic Olde Town of St. George.

Bermuda may be romantic year-round, but you’ll find the most love in the air around Valentine’s Day. Party with passion at the Bermuda International Love Festival, which features tons of fun, romantic events for all couples, gay or straight. From intimate massage classes to fast-paced dance classes, the festival brings Bermuda’s love scene to life. Don’t forget the famous Moongates, which adorn gardens throughout the island. According to local legend, when couples kiss under these wedding band-shaped arches, they will be destined to enjoy a happy life together.

When in Bermuda, a perfect way to ease your stress is by visiting one of her 12 luxurious spas. At 31,000 square feet, the Willow Stream Spa (441-239-6924) is one of the grandest on the island. Located at the Fairmont Southampton (101 South Shore Rd, Southampton, fairmont.com/southampton), the Willow Stream has all you need to romantically unwind: a couples massage room, two Jacuzzis, panoramic views of the South Shore, and an indoor pool complete with gardens and waterfalls.

You’ll find eight golf courses on Bermuda’s 21 square miles. At St George’s Golf Course (1 Park Road, St. George’s Parish, 441-234-8067), you can challenge your valentine to some more-than-friendly competition at this beautifully green, windy course—a favorite among tourists. In case you’re not quite PGA material, go for a quick swing at Ocean View Golf Course (2 Barker’s Hill Road, Devonshire Parish, 441-295-9093), a public 9-hole course with a scenic view of the ocean and a driving range.

Peruse Bermuda’s eclectic shopping spots where you can find everything from handcrafted goods to Italian leather—once again, tax free! The City of Hamilton offers the widest range of shopping; walking-friendly Historic St. George has tons of smaller shops and boutiques. If you’re into absorbing local culture, check out some off-the-beaten-trail hangouts, including Twice Told Tales (34 Parliament St, 441-296-1995), a second-hand bookshop in Hamilton where you can chat about literature over coffee; or, get to know the locals amidst the herbal teas and health goods at Rock On (67 Front St, 441-295-3468).

Find more info on shopping, dining and nightlife at bermudatourism.com.

GET COZY IN VERMONT

Quite the opposite in climate but equal in romance, Vermont’s winter wonderland is only a short drive north of NYC. With great antiquing, the Vermont Cheese Trail (vtcheese.com), an abundance of ski lodges (just one of many outdoor activities Vermont offers in the winter) and maple syrup sugarhouses for touring, there’s no shortage of things to do while you get a little closer to your special someone.

Gay-friendly bed & breakfasts and family-run inns, known for their charm and hospitality, are plentiful in Vermont. Not to be missed is the Village Inn of Woodstock (from $125, 41 Pleasant St, 800-722-4571, villageinnofwoodstock.com), owned and operated by David and Evelyn Brey. They’ve been in business five years now and have spent the last half-decade renovating the old inn into a Victorian haven. During these years they’ve hosted many civil unions, typically small but very special, according to Evelyn. “We’re happy to help in any arrangements,” she said. All the rooms are lavishly decorated with plush draperies, period furniture, ornate tin ceilings and cranberry glass lamps. Just haughty-taughty enough, the Village Inn is anything but stuffy. Spanky, the furriest member of the family (the Breys’ dog), is always affectionate to guests passing through.

Whether snuggling up with your sweetheart by the fireplace or having cocktails at the Inn’s tavern, it’s easy to relax in an atmosphere that New York City can’t offer. Horse-drawn sleigh or carriage rides leave right from the front porch. Lift tickets, car rentals and dinner reservations can all be made from the Inn, and food, spa and fly fishing packages are available for guests staying more than one night.

Nearby Mt. Tom is one of the more breathtaking vistas in Woodstock. Trails winding up the mountain begin in the village and Suicide Six, an alpine ski mountain, is just three miles away. The town of Woodstock has yet to be infiltrated by chain stores so take a step back in time and do a little specialty shopping. Be sure to stop by the renowned blown-glass studio of Simon Pearce. Live performances produced by Pentangle, a local non-profit arts council, show at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre (31 The Green, pentanglearts.org). At the nearby Lebanon Opera House (lebanonoperahouse.org), multicultural music is generally on tap while the Claremont Opera House (claremontoperahouse.com) presents opera and theatre.

No visit to the “Green Mountain State” would be complete without sampling some of their fresh farm products. Stop by Star Hill Dairy (woodstockwaterbuffalo.com), the only producer of pure water buffalo milk products in the U.S.; or take a tour of nearby Billings Farm (802-457-2355, billingsfarm.org), a modern working dairy farm and a museum of Vermont life circa 1890.

In the town of Quechee, residents fondly refer to Quechee Gorge as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.” Miles of wilderness trails can be explored by snowshoe, ski, canoe (if you can brave the cold), and bike (rentals available), for the more outdoorsy, adventurous couples out there.

Looking to “treat” yourself and your sweetie? Check into the Sweet Retreat Guesthouse and Sugarworks (from $229, 329 Frost Rd, 800-707-8427, sweetretreat-vermont.com), a perfect destination for travelers with a sweet tooth. Tour the on-site sugarhouse and the chocolatier down the road—just be prepared to surrender to the cravings. At the family-owned guesthouse, you’ll awake to a picture-perfect mountain sunrise streaming through your bedroom windows. Wireless internet and satellite television are available, but you’ll probably prefer to be outdoors taking advantage of the grounds’ private trails, doing something natural, if you catch our drift. As the locals like to say, “What happens on the nature trail stays on the nature trail.” Sweet Retreat offers a spectrum of special seasonal activities; and they even send you home with your very own signature bottle of syrup.

For more on Vermont, visit travel-vermont.com.

SKI WITH PRIDE IN WHISTLER, CANADA

Get an early start on V-day and head for the hills with your honey—International Gay Ski Week is being celebrated in grand style at the second annual WinterPRIDE festival in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, February 4th–11th. A scenic 90-minute drive from Vancouver, Whistler is home to more than 8,000 gay-friendly acres of ski and snowboard terrain. According to Dean Nelson, the Executive Director of the event for Alpenglow Productions, this year’s WinterPRIDE theme will involve the five elements: Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Energy. Individual activities and workshops corresponding to each element will be offered.           

To get in touch with Earth, there is the Ski and Snowboard Sports Experience. Where better to get “earthy” than the largest ski resort in North America? No experience? No problem. There are trained professionals on hand to coach and guide guests through the trails. If you’re a speed freak, enter the Charity Fund Raising Race. All proceeds go to organizations like AIDS Vancouver. Other events include canopy tours, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and there will be plenty of cocktails and hot cocoa to keep you toasty (and toasted) after sundown.

Things really heat up at the Fire element events, a series of culinary experiences put on by Tall Order (604-597-7296, tallorder.ca) and hosted by master chef Julie Burke. One workshop, “Singles and Sex Foods,” will focus on the aphrodisiacal possibilities of cuisine. Yummy! Guests learn different ways to prepare oysters, chocolate and other goodies believed to have stimulating powers—knowledge that will prove to be useful come the 14th. The “Kitchen Fitness” workshop explores healthy cooking options and presents the idea that cooking can also be a workout; using exercises like lifting heavy pots and squatting near the stove.

The Air element features educational workshops hosted by medical experts like Dr. Yves Hébert, who has created a procedure of facial reconstruction for patients with Type B AIDS. Other workshops deal with issues like sex education, including tips to spice up the bedroom. The Air element also offers the opportunity to work with Nelson, a personal coach, on ways to “overcome what’s holding you back from your dreams.”

Water will be represented by health workshops that focus on holistic care. In coordination with Whistler’s on-site wellness community, programs will be available for Pilates, yoga, massage and laser treatments to repair sun-damaged skin.

In the free-spirited tradition of Summer Pride events, the Energy element abounds in various social programs and opportunities for networking during the festival. There will be a series of events including a Pride Parade, Snow Ball, and a fashion show emceed by Dante’s Cove star Charlie David. Tons of wild and crazy, mixed gay and lesbian activities are planned, including the Underwear Party and Cowboys & Cowgirls day. The festival’s first exclusively women’s event, the Purrfect Pampered Pussy Party, will be held on Monday, February 5th, and features wine and cheese and a twist on the old Tupperware party with a special presentation by The Love Nest on ladies' toys. David urges everyone to attend: “Could there be a more beautiful place to celebrate our Pride? Snow, parties, sports, shopping, snuggling by the fire, and the warmest hearts and hottest men and women in the world. I can’t wait for Gay Whistler Winter Pride!”

There are many options for accommodations in Whistler, first and foremost, the spectacular castle-like Fairmont Chateau (from $499, 4599 Chateau Boulevard, fairmont.com/whistler) at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. You’ll find more intimate digs in the pedestrian Whistler Village at Blackcomb Lodge (studios from $196, studio lofts $269, 4220 Gateway Drive, blackcomblodge.com), host to many WinterPRIDE events. With full kitchen facilities in the private studios, the Solarice Wellness Center & Spa (888-935-1222) on site and Whistler’s only indoor pool, good luck getting to the slopes!

For more info on the festivities, go to gaywhistler.com. For assistance finding other gay-friendly accommodations, call Gay Whistler’s central reservation line at 866-612-6151, or visit tourismwhistler.com.


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