Why Valentine's Day falls in the dead of winter is shrouded in mystery - some credit (or blame) ancient Romans who celebrated the feast of Lupercalia on February 15.
The holiday moved, with the rise of Christianity, to February 14, a saint day that celebrated several Christian martyrs named Valentine. What that has to do with love or romance, who knows.
Unless you're jetting off to the Bahamas - 77 degrees and sunny as I write this - you're going to be stuck home with your honey. Here are Jersey's ten most romantic spots, with several off the beaten path or with a decidedly Jersey spin.
Have a favorite romantic spot this time of year? Let me know in the comments section below.
The Red Mill, Clinton. There may be no more postcard-pretty sight in New Jersey than the mill, perched on the South Branch of the Raritan River. I used to live in an apartment above a shop on Main Street and fall asleep to the soothing sound of the falls. During the day, there are shops and beautiful Hunterdon County to explore, or you can just sit in front of the falls in your lover's warm, welcoming embrace.
The Colonial Inn, Smithville. Nothing says romantic like a colonial inn, or town, especially lit up at night and, at this time of year, with the crowds gone. Smithville, minutes from Atlantic City, makes for a great year-round getaway with its collection of 60 cute shops around a duck-filled pond. Inside the inn there are double soaking tubs, muffins and juice in a basket in the morning, and an "endless'' supply of cookies in the afternoon. You had me at cookies.
The Gazebo, Lavallette. Gazebos are romantic especially when you have them to yourself and it's sunrise, or sunset. This gazebo has the additional treat of being on the water, in Bayfront Park. You can rent it out for two hours for your wedding photos. There are a few rules: no confetti or rice is allowed, but "bubbles,'' according to the borough web site, "are permitted.''
Passion Puddle, Rutgers University. It sounds so Jersey, doesn't? More a pond than a puddle, it's located between the Cook and Douglass campuses and is as much a Rutgers tradition as the infamous grease trucks. Legend goes that if a male student from Cook College and a female student from Douglass College hold hands and walk three times around the pond, they'll get married. Seems like it should work for any couple, student or otherwise. The Puddle is nationally known; it ranked sixth on a list of the nation's 25 most romantic college campus spots.
Liberty State Park, Jersey City. The park is busiest during the day, but you'll want to head over there at night for an unforgettable, impossibly romantic view of the glittering Manhattan skyline. It's the perfect place to ask The Big Question. Have drinks or dinner at the Liberty House restaurant; stroll, hand-in-hand, along the promenade later on. Not in the park but a personal favorite with great waterfront views: Batello, one of ten finalists in our N.J.'s best Italian restaurant showdown.
Cape May. There are many romantic towns along the Jersey Shore, but there is only one Cape May. The Victorian jewel, filled with impeccably-maintained B&Bs, is a great place to jump-start, or re-kindle, a romance. Cape May is a diner's delight; it was named one of the country's top 20 dining destinations by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. The entire town exudes a charm and gentility nearly impossible to find in this rush-rush world; where else Down the Shore will you find signs in the summer offering you a five-minute grace period when your parking meter runs out?
Delaware Water Gap/A cabin in the woods. No, not the horror movie, but a cabin at Mohican Outdoor Center, on a lake in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The fabled Appalachian Trail is nearby, and civilization not that far away in case you miss it. Two great destinations: Buttermilk Falls and Walpack Center, the town that time forgot. The center is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Jersey's Most Romantic Road. America's greatest love affair? With its cars! The state is filled with superb scenic roads; my favorite is Route 519, a winding, whispery highway that stretches from Colesville, at the top of the state, to Stockton. Along the way are Harmony and Hope, plus antique stores, horse farms, vineyards, and more. Nearby is the Green Sergeants Bridge, the state's only true covered bridge. The Stockton Inn, at journey's end, or beginning, is a great place for drinks or dinner.
Eagle Rock Reservation. It starts with the view, an unparalleled sweep of the New York City skyline. The 408-acre Essex County park features the 40-mile Lenape Trail skirting the eastern edge, and the county 9/11 Memorial. The Highlawn Pavilion, one of the state's more acclaimed restaurants and the host of many a storybook wedding, is here.
Long Beach Island. "Long walks on the beach'' is a romantic cliche, but walks on the beach in the winter have two advantages - you'll have the beach to yourself, and the brisk weather gives you a great excuse to snuggle up with that special someone. A personal favorite this time of year: LBI, especially with the island so peaceful and beautiful. Two recommended restaurants: Shore Fire Grill in Surf City and Barnegat, and The Old Causeway, on the way back to the Parkway in Manahawkin.
Peter Genovese may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PeteGenovese or via The Munchmobile @NJ_Munchmobile. Find the Munchmobile on Facebook and Instagram.
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