I've always been slightly 'anti' Valentine's Day. That attitude is not the bitter hangover, as you might suspect, of never getting any cards or never being surprised with a dozen roses.
It's more the idea of enforced romance, at a premium price, that always makes me feel positively unromantic. Sitting in restaurants on Valentine's Day, elbow-to-elbow with other couples, the weight of expectation to be romantic, just stresses me out.
If anything could relax my approach to enforced romance, surely it is the Aghadoe Heights Valentine's Package.
As part of the hotel's Valentine's Day package, there are chocolate-dipped strawberries laid out in our bedroom when my boyfriend and I arrive. A nice touch. The suite overlooks the Killarney lakes and the view is almost unreal. It changes from minute to minute, as mist rolls down the mountains and the ruins of the castles and monasteries on the lakes' islands are lit up with an eerie orange light.
The suite is bigger than the entire ground floor of my house. The bed is massive too, to the extent that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can't find my boyfriend.
The hotel's spa and thermal suite is available to all guests. Spa treatments cost extra. The thermal suite is empty when we arrive, which is a relief. Just as romantic Valentine's dinners are often unromantic, saunas shared with strangers are rarely relaxing. We Irish feel the need to make small talk in such close and nearly naked proximity – we're not Scandinavian, after all.
There are two different saunas – one hot, one very hot – and two different steam rooms – one scented and one unscented. Both are fantastically relaxing and in these quiet surrounds, with no phones, no computers, no televisions, something magical happens – we have a prolonged conversation. Very romantic.
Afterwards, we go for a swim. The pool is a uniform depth of 1.5m, which I enjoy as I am a sissy swimmer. We hit the Jacuzzi, which is gloriously robust, before preparing for dinner.
The package dinner is a five-course candlelit meal and includes two glasses of champagne and a rose. I'm starting to enjoy this enforced romance, although I think everyone else in the restaurant hates us – the other men think my boyfriend is showing them up with the champagne and rose trick, and the other women look a bit miffed with their glasses of Chardonnay.
The Lake Room menu offers haute cuisine, and is largely gluten-free, with a lot of fish. Everything is beautifully presented and courses are broken up with a tiny sorbet soaked in prosecco, in a miniature champagne glass.
The next morning, we have breakfast and are provided with hot chocolates and cookies by the hotel for our tour of the lakes in a horse-drawn 'jaunting cart'. Our driver Michael Tangney of killarneyjauntingcars.ie is the fifth generation of his family to run the tours and he knows all of the local lore. The tour lasts about an hour and, in the dewy morning light, the lakes and its islands, and the national park, look beautiful, even mystical. This would be a perfect spot to propose.
After just 24 hours, we are completely relaxed and have experienced something like real quality time together. In this 24-7 world, that is romantic!
'In The Mood For Love' Valentine's Break.
Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa, Killarney, Co Kerry; aghadoeheights.com
€185 per person sharing for an overnight dinner and breakfast escape. Only fractionally more expensive than the cost of a dozen roses and dinner on Valentine's Day.
How to get there?
We drove and it took nearly three-and-a-half hours from Dublin. Killarney train station is less than a 10-minute drive from the Aghadoe Heights Hotel, so a train-and-taxi combo is also an option.