Porto, Portugal Named Best Under-the-Radar Romantic Destination!

Mackinac Island, Mich.; Rothenburg ob der Tauber; Lugano, Switzerland and Reykjanes, Iceland also winners

There's no denying the romance factor of cities like Paris, New York or Rome, but sometimes the best intimate escapes happen off the beaten path. We asked a panel of romance travel gurus to nominate 20 global destinations where the romance factor is under-hyped. Our readers have been voting for the past four weeks, and the results are in!

  • Cartagena, Colombia

    Romance in colorful, colonial Cartagena takes a sultry, tropical form, complete with cobbled streets, busy plazas filled with performers, al fresco dining and a UNESCO-listed walled city. Sun-kissed beaches are always close at hand at one of South America's most seductive destinations.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Budapest, Hungary

    What could be more romantic than a beautiful Hungarian city straddling the Danube, dotted with an opulent Royal Palace, Baroque Opera House and blessed with Old World sophistication in a plethora of beautiful hotels and chic restaurants? Split on two sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest became one city in 1873 with the construction of Széchenyi lánchíd, commonly known as the Chain Bridge. In addition to world class restaurants, glitzy boutiques and a host of historic sites (including Roman ruins), Budapest offers an abundance of hot springs with a variety of bathhouses where "taking the waters" is a "must," not only as a cure for what ails you, but as a social experience. Accommodations run the gamut of private rooms in venerable estates to luxury guesthouses in the Buda Hills, to 5-Star resorts.  A collection of pubs, cafes, garden clubs and "ruin bars," - the latter being especially trendy at the moment - offer a chic finale to the day. "Ruin bars" have offered a bohemian appeal since they first popped up around 2001in derelict buildings and unused outdoor spaces when - according to lore - a group of young men set out to find cheap places to drink. Today, these areas have been transformed into friendly, pleasingly chaotic bars where you can still get a large beer for less than $2.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    Founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the Mexican colonial town of Guanajuato is a throwback to a kinder, gentler time. The best way to explore the historic center of this former mining town is on foot. A maze of cobblestone streets and alleys wind their way through this UNESCO World Heritage site past romantic plazas with enchanting fountains, leading to a host of unique eateries, shops, small museums and colonial villas. One of Mexico's finest colonial gems, San Miguel de Allende, is tucked into the mountains nearby.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lucca, Italy

    Sometimes referred to as Italy's forgotten Tuscan town because it's off the beaten track,  romantic Lucca is tucked behind imposing Renaissance walls, with graceful piazzas, cobblestone streets and leafy promenades setting the scene for exploring on foot. B&Bs offer quaint accommodations, while the venerable San Lucca features four-poster beds, polished antiques and a modern amenities in a 16th century building. Every evening, the Chiesa di San Giovanni hosts an opera recital or concert dedicated to hometown composer Giacomo Puccini. Nothing can compare to listening to “Nessun Dorma” in this old lovely church in the composer’s hometown.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Annapolis, Md.

    History is tucked around every corner in Maryland's charming cobblestone capital along the Chesapeake Bay. Red brick Colonial homes, a grand church dating back to the 1600s and a mansion once owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence pave the way for appealing sightseeing venues.For a romantic escape, cozy B&Bs, historic inns and full service hotels beckon. For a unique summertime overnight experience, sleek schooners set sail around the scenic bay before setting out to explore a host of outdoor activities including windsurfing and parasailing. Arts and culture, including a host of tours offer plenty to do year round.
    Photo courtesy of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau

  • Reykjanes, Iceland

    Locatedbetween Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík, Iceland's Reykjanes (meaning Smoky Point) Peninsula is home not only to the Blue Lagoon, but to other interesting sites - many based around active volcanoes. Mineral lakes, bubbling hot springs, coastal lava fields form part of the untamed landscape, drawing adventure seekers from around the world. Other activities include whale watching, ATV tours and helicopter flights over the otherworldly terrain.  One of the area highlights is Valahnúkur, a mystical stretch of coastline where adventurers can scale the grassy banks and peer over the volcanic cliffs, where thousands of birds can be seen bobbing around in the ocean. Winds are treacherous in this area and care should be taken around the cliff edges.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Reykjanes Peninsula

  • Lugano, Switzerland

    You couldn't design a more perfect setting for romance than southern Switzerland's Italian-speaking Lugano. Situated on the northern shore of the glacial lake by the same name, this small gem is surrounded by majestic mountains and possesses an Italian soul. A vivacious city with chic boutiques, trendy bars and outdoor cafés lining charming cobblestone streets and flowery promenade, it is the quintessential picture-perfect spot for romance. Lakeside resorts, posh villas, guesthouses, B&Bs and posh city center hotels promise a perfect respite after a day of touring.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber

    One of Germany's best preserved walled towns, Rothenburg Aub der Tauber and its red houses lining narrow cobbled streets offers the vibe of a Medieval hamlet. The best way to tour is on foot, while a climb to the top of the Town Hall tower provides incredible views of the surrounding countryside. Visitors can walk the ramparts and follow in the footsteps of sentries before touring the rest of this fairytale town. Museums, such as the Medieval Crime Museum - which is loaded with diabolical instruments of torture - offer insight into the past, while the Night Watchman's Tour offers some medieval humor as the cloaked watchman takes guests on his rounds by the light of his lantern.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Mackinac Island, Mich.

    Michigan's Mackinac Island is known as "an island suspended in time," according to those who frequent it. Sweeping coastal views, unspoiled beaches, romantic carriage tours and rugged outdoor activities combine with fine dining and luxurious lodging to ensure a memorable stay. Water sports fans will appreciate boating, sailing, fishing and kayaking while landlubbers can hike, bike, ride a horse around the eight-mile perimeter of the island, shop at trendy boutiques or enjoy ongoing art shows. When day is done, nightclubs come to life with live performances and local pubs host a popular pub crawl, which goes into the wee hours.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Porto, Portugal

    Known not only for the wine produced here, Porto also gave the country its name, derived from its history as the Roman settlement of Portus Cale. Sprinkled like medieval jewels on a rocky gorge carved out by the Rio Douro, Portugal's second largest city combines the best of Old World charm with modern-day comforts. Designated a World Heritage City in 1996, the 2,000 year old city offers a host of sightseeing options - best seen on foot as most of the monuments are located in the hilly city center. History buffs are sure to enjoy a tour of the Baroque churches, museums and a walk through the ancient Ribeira district, where laundry is still washed in the river and hung there to dry. Wine tours are offered at several wine distilleries. Porto's sleeping scene offers a wide selection, from venerable city center hotels, boutique gems and a 5-star resort with a unique wine theme throughout. Evening entertainment can be found in Fado clubs, wine bars and Jazz and Blues clubs.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Taking home the title of Best Under-the-Radar Romantic Destination (by a landslide) is Porto, Portugal, known for its wine, medieval architecture and Old World charm.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Under-the-Radar Romantic Destination are as follows:

  1. Porto, Portugal
  2. Mackinac Island, Mich.
  3. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
  4. Lugano, Switzerland
  5. Reykjanes, Iceland
  6. Annapolis, Md.
  7. Lucca, Italy
  8. Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
  9. Budapest, Hungary
  10. Cartagena, Colombia

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Ivy Jacobson (TheKnot.com), Susan Moynihan (The Honeymoonist), Betsy and Warren Talbot (Married with Luggage), Michelle da Silva Richmond (10Best Travel Expert) and Lydia Schrandt (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of romance travel.

Other nominees for Best Under-the-Radar Romantic Destination included Bainbridge Island, Wash.; Block Island, R.I.; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Istanbul; Lake District, England; Langkawi, Malaysia; Lijiang, China; Mendoza, Argentina; New Caledonia and Out Islands, Bahamas.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.

 

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Ivy Jacobson

Ivy Jacobson

Susan Moynihan

Susan Moynihan

Betsy and Warren Talbot

Betsy and Warren Talbot

Michelle da Silva Richmond

Michelle da Silva Richmond

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt