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The best romantic experiences and activities in Essex

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You can’t help but feel the love at these relaxing retreats!

Great British Life: Hire a rowboat in Dedham (c) GettyHire a rowboat in Dedham (c) Getty

5 ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES IN DEDHAM

Dine at Talbooth Restaurant
An idyllic riverside restaurant and terrace with outside dining, the award-winning Talbooth Restaurant is the place to go for a special meal. The food is artfully presented, packed with flavour and changes according to the seasons. And to really elevate the experience, book into the luxurious four-AA red star Talbooth House & Spa overnight. milsomhotels.com

Take a scenic stroll
Boasting breathtaking views over the countryside, it’s no wonder that Dedham was such an inspiration to the iconic landscape artist, John Constable. Follow the River Stour all the way to Flatford and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely view of Willy Lott’s Cottage, which appears in several of Constable’s paintings, notably The Hay Wain. nationaltrust.org.uk

Find the perfect gift
If you haven’t already bought your loved one a Valentine’s treat, look no further than Dedham Art & Craft Centre, which showcases the work of more than 60 talented artisans. Housed in a converted church, it has three floors of contemporary arts and crafts. From furniture to ceramics, original paintings and sculptures, you’ll be spoilt for choice! dedhamartandcraftcentre.co.uk

Enjoy an afternoon tea
There are nine Tiptree Tea Rooms in Essex, butthe one at The Essex Rose in Dedham is a bit special. For starters, it’s located in a beautiful 16th-century timber-framed building overlooking Royal Square and St Mary’s Church. It’s also the only Tiptree Tea Room painted pink! Enjoy home-cooked scones, sandwiches and miniature patisserie items. tiptree.com

Hire a rowboat
On its 47-mile journey from Cambridgeshire to Harwich, the River Stour meanders through the Dedham Vale National Landscape. Rowboats have been available to hire here since the 1800s – so what could be more romantic than getting out on the water for a couple of hours with the one you love? As Ratty said in Wind in The Willows there is absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats. theboatyarddedham.co.uk

Great British Life: Celebrate Valentine's Day in the scenic village of Stock (c) GettyCelebrate Valentine's Day in the scenic village of Stock (c) Getty

4 ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES IN STOCK

Treat yourself to a spa day
There’s nothing more relaxing than spending time with your loved one at a spa. Grade II-listed Greenwoods Hotel & Spa is set in beautiful Essex countryside and is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are a range of spa days on offer, all of which include use of the 20m indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, relaxation areas and fitness suite. And as for treatments, there’s everything from the Greenwoods Signature Full Body Massage, to Greenwoods Stone Therapy. greenwoodshotel.com

Make a hand-tied bouquet
Rather than making that quick dash to the nearest supermarket for Valentine’s Flowers, why not learn how to create your own hand-tied bouquet, either for yourself or to give to your partner? Stock Florist runs a range of courses throughout the year. You’ll come away not only armed with a gorgeous bouquet of fresh flowers, but also some handy tips for keeping your flowers looking fresher for longer. stockflorist.co.uk

Dine at the Hoop
What could be more fitting for Valentine’s Day than enjoying a meal at a country pub, run by husband and wife, Phil and Michelle Utz? The pair fell in love while training under top London chef Paul Gayler at The Lanesborough Hotel. Since they took over The Hoop in 2006, they’ve continuously been awardedAA Rosettes, a testament to their locally sourced, top-quality ingredients and incredible cookery skills. thehoop.co.uk

Explore Hanningfield Reservoir
A short hop from Stock is the picturesque Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Discovery Park, set in mature woodland and offering views over the reservoir itself. Open all year round, it’s an ideal place to watch wildlife and even features wooden sculptures ofthe famous characters from Wind in the Willows. Finish up with a hot drink in the Café on the Water, where the decked area affords incredible views. essexwt.org.uk

Great British Life: Caption: Hire a beach hut for the day in West Mersea (c) GettyCaption: Hire a beach hut for the day in West Mersea (c) Getty

5 VALENTINE’S DAY TREATS IN MERSEA

Explore Cudmore Grove
Blow away the cobwebs with a stroll through Cudmore Grove Country Park, a 102-acre nature reserve in East Mersea with beautiful views across the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries. Winter brings wading birds and wildfowl, including flocks of brent geese, and the area is rich in historic features including World War II pillboxes, as well as the remains of a 16th century blockhouse fort. You may even be lucky enough to find some fossils – the cliff has produced some that are 300,000 years old!

Hire a beach hut
For a romantic getaway that won’t break the bank, how about hiring a colourful beach hut from The Little Beach Hut Company? They’re suitable in all weathers as they either have interior glass doors or large windows and some have back windows flooding light throughout. Furthermore, the huts all have kitchen areas with sinks and gas cookers – hot chocolate anyone? In addition the car park, toilets, café and playground are just a stone’s throw away. thelittlebeachhutcompany.co.uk

Take a boat trip
Lady Grace Boat Trips is a onewoman business that first started offering a range of excursions from Mersea Island in 2011. Ranging from short 20-minute tours of the harbour, to an afternoon’s wildlife and sightseeing trip, the excursions are available all year round. From November to April around 300,000 birds inhabit our coastline, travelling from Scandanavia to feed on our mudflats. You’re likely to see curlews, cormorants, egrets,turnstones, marsh harriers, sanderling and spoonbills. essexboattrips.co.uk

Stay at a vineyard
You don’t need to take a flight to this pretty Essex island, you simply drive across the Strood – just make sure you check the tides first! Head for Mersea Island Vineyard, where comfortable overnight accommodation awaits. There are three double rooms, each en suite, while breakfast is available each morning. The on-site shop showcases food and drink from other local producers including Mersea Island Brewery and East Coast Distillery as well as wine produced atthe vineyard. 01206 384698; merseaisland vineyard.co.uk

Dine on oysters
Commonly regarded as an aphrodisiac – although science has not yet proven their effects – oysters have been cultivated in the creeks around Mersea Island since Roman times. There are two types of oyster – the Colchester rock oyster, which is available all year round and lives naturally on the seabed. The other is the Colchester native oyster, which is harvested from September to May. You can try them for yourself at The Company Shed, a family-run seafood restaurant in West Mersea with a reputation that extends far beyond the Essex border. 01206 382700; the-company-shed.com

Great British Life: The charming village of Finchingfield offers an idyllic rural escapeThe charming village of Finchingfield offers an idyllic rural escape

3 WAYS TO SPEND VALENTINE’S DAY IN FINCHINGFIELD

Soak up the sights
This pretty village in north Essex lies around six miles from Thaxted and is described as the ‘most photographed village in England’. With its traditional picturesque setting complete with duck pond, hump-backed bridge, colourful cottages and village green it is pictureperfect. After a short stroll, why not warm up inside 16th-century coaching inn, The Fox on the Green, which serves up mouthwatering plates of food, including hearty Sunday roasts. 01371 810151; foxonthegreen.co.uk

Watch local wildlife
At Spains Hall Estate beavers have been introduced as part of an initiative to preserve the surrounding countryside. An organised tour sets off from Finchingfield village and will take in rough, wet and uneven ground so wellies and waterproofs are essential. Over two miles, you’ll see the award-winning beaver enclosure and natural flood management project, finishing with a hot drink! spainshallestate.co.uk

Sweet dreams
Enjoy the cosy atmosphere of the bar at The Finchingfield Lion, before retiring to a lovely beamed bedroom for a refreshing night’s sleep.All rooms are en suite. Room 1 even comes with a four-poster bed! The restaurant serves up classic pub fare alongside some fabulously named pizzas, including The Art Garfunkle and The Blushing Billy. The 15th-century pub is at the heart of the village. thefinchingfieldlion.co.uk

Great British Life: Romance in the extraordinary Talliston House (c) Gavin Conlan Photography Romance in the extraordinary Talliston House (c) Gavin Conlan Photography

3 ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES IN GREAT DUNMOW

Explore the gardens of Easton Lodge
Blankets of snowdrops can be seen at the gardens of Easton Lodge Gardens. The Grade II-registered gardens have been partially restored to their former glory by a team of volunteers and the owners of Warwick House. They’re the only example in East Anglia of the work of Edwardian garden designer, Harold Peto. There’s four snowdrop days scheduled from February 18. eastonlodge.co.uk

Stay at Talliston House
Talliston is an extraordinary house with beautiful gardens and a fascinating story. This is a romantic stayover like no other. Couples can stay in one of three sumptuous bedrooms with a complementary celebration basket. Also added in is the automatic late checkout… perfect for a lazy breakfast in the Victorian dining room. The exclusive experience is available from February 9-16. talliston.com

Say ‘I do’ at Little Easton Manor
If you set the scene for a wedding of dreams, the barns and gardens at Little Easton Manor will tick all the boxes on the list. The 15th century manor house is set within 66 acres of English gardens and lakes, which not only provide a romantic setting, but also form a stunning backdrop for capturing memories of the day too. From intimate to larger civil ceremonies and twilight weddings to openair ceremonies, there’s a wealth of choice for every couple. And, if you add in the beautiful, manicured grounds, sweeping lawns, wildlife and roaming peacocks, it’s easy to see why couples make it their top choice when saying ‘I do!’ littleeastonmanor.co.uk

Great British Life: Feel like a king or queen by staying a night in The Royal Chamber at Hedingham CastleFeel like a king or queen by staying a night in The Royal Chamber at Hedingham Castle

4 WAYS TO BE ROMANTIC IN CASTLE HEDINGHAM

Have a hoot at the castle
There’s one thing that dominates Castle Hedingham and – as the name would suggest – it’s the castle. The keep and its beautifully manicured gardens date back 900 years. If you tour the castle and grounds, you’ll find plenty of secret spaces hidden away. One of the most popular events at the castle – and the most romantic too – is the Owls By Candlelight evenings where you can have a magical candlelight encounter with the brilliant birds from Eden Falconry. You’ll have the chance to meet, hold and even fly the owls. Beware, these events sell out quickly. hedinghamcastle.co.uk

Marry in a vineyard
Tuffon Hall’s boutique vineyard produces award-winning wines. The venue also hosts weddings where you can exchange vows with picturesque views across the north Essex countryside. Afterwards dance on the terrace, eat in the converted 16thcentury barn and toast your nuptials with the vineyard’s sparkling white wine – made with the same three grape varieties used in champagne. tuffonhall.co.uk

Tuck into a romantic meal
The Old Moot House Tea Rooms and Bistro can whisk up a variety of cocktails. Alternatively, enjoy a hearty meal at the Bell Inn – its Moroccan-spiced filo pie is sure to heat up the atmosphere! Or, tuck into finger sandwiches and sweettreats at Violet’s Vintage Tea Room in the village. moothouserestaurant.co.uk hedinghambell.co.uk @violetsatthewhitelion

Enjoy a cosy walk
There’s no better way to get the heart pumping than a stroll, and the route around Castle Hedingham is simply majestic. There’s a four-mile circular path which starts from the park in St James Street. The route takes you through a field where you can see Hedingham Castle, as well as swathes of picturesque countryside as well as the cricket ground. You’ll end up in St James Street, at the Bell Inn for a well-earned drink.

Great British Life: Take a tour of the stunning grounds of Markshall Estate (c) Markshall EstateTake a tour of the stunning grounds of Markshall Estate (c) Markshall Estate

5 ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES IN COGGESHALL

Enjoy a cosy walk through Chalkney Woods
Dig out those wellies and get some colour in your cheeks with a walk around lovely Chalkney Woods. In the springtime the woodland floor is carpeted by bluebells and a sea of blue and purple can be seen in every direction. There are great walking routes throughout the woods, but it can get muddy in the winter.

Have a moment on the Long Bridge
Have your own Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep Bridges of Madison County moment on the Long Bridge in Bridge Street. The arch bridge over the River Blackwater is a listed building. It was built in the 1800s and is also known as ‘the Horse River Bridge’ and ‘Stephen’s Bridge’. It’s a cute place to stop and get a romantic selfie.

Explore Markshall Estate
The spectacular Markshall Estate spans more than 200 acres and features ancient woodland, five different gardens as well as an arboretum. However, the lakes at the estate are something you won’t want to miss. By the lower lake you’ll find spring flowers such as snowdrops and daffodils, cowslips and other flowers and by the upper lake you’ll find Himalayan birch trees. markshall.org.uk

Enjoy your own private cinema screening
Stock Street Farm Barn has a rustic charm with exposed timbers, a traditional pub, stage and an English garden. One of the many things you can do here is to hire out the venue as your own private cinema.Invite 100 of your friends and get cosy. Ushers will bring drinks and snacks to your seats. All you have to do is to choose the film – Love Actually perhaps? Definitely not Fatal Attraction! stockstreetfarmbarn.co.uk

Hunker down at the Woolpack Inn
With its quaint 15th-century oak beams, roaring open fire, warm food and even warmer welcome, the Woolpack is the perfect place to enjoy a cosy meal for two. You can stay for a romantic night in one of the pub’s five newly renovated rooms, all of which are named after Essex locations. thewoolpackinncoggeshall.co.uk

Great British Life: Tiptree Patisserie offers a range of delicious treats, including this Vegan Raspberry Crumble Slice (c) Tyler BennettTiptree Patisserie offers a range of delicious treats, including this Vegan Raspberry Crumble Slice (c) Tyler Bennett

5 VALENTINE’S DAY TREATS IN TIPTREE

A sweet for your sweet
The handmade cakes, biscuits and traybakes at artisan bakery, Tiptree Patisserie, are the ideal decadent treats to share this Valentine’s Day. Their sumptuous red velvet cake and Mars crunch traybake will provide a sinfully delicious dessert, perfect to indulge and delight your beloved. Their vegan raspberry crumble slice is also a must-try. It’s the perfect pit stop to grab your partner’s favourite dessert to round off your romantic home-cooked dinner. tiptreecakes.com

Beautiful blooms
The skilled, independent florists at B’s Blooms can make anything by hand, from a single red rose to a luxurious bouquet. There’s nothing better than a stunning floral arrangement to express what you can’t always capture with words. The team always do their best to tailor their floral items to any occasion and taste, making it the ideal gift for a loved one. They even offer same-day delivery on orders placed before 2pm – perfect for those lastminute panics! tiptreeflowers.co.uk

A handpicked hamper
Explore Tiptree’s range of speciality conserves, including the Tiptree Tasting Selection, as well as marmalades, spreads, chutneys, condiments and relishes. Handpick a selection your partner will love to create their very own Valentine’s hamper. Treat your beloved with a special twist on their favourite tipple with one of Tiptree’s small-batch craft English gin, vodka and rum combined with Tiptree fruits and spreads. Complete the hamper with one oftheir gift sets or gorgeous scented candles, and a gift voucher for afternoon tea at one of their renowned tea rooms. It’s the perfect way to make your loved one feel cherished! tiptree.com

A romantic meal for two
Enjoy a delicious meal at The Bonnie Blue Oak as a treat that will allow you to spend some quality time with your partner this February 14. Start the day with a stunning traditional or vegetarian breakfast. They also serve light bites for a lovely lunch, and mouthwatering British classics ideal for an intimate date night dinner. The venue received The Restaurant Guru Award and was a winner of The Tripadvisor Award in 2022. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed, romantic meal. thebonnieblueoak.co.uk

Gifts they will love
The Cheap Shop is a family-run craft shop that’s been supplying and inspiring crafters across Essex since 1968.It’s a treasure trove for makers, where they can discover fabrics, patterns and yarn to craft jumpers, hats and more for their loved ones for a truly unique Valentine’s gift. Discover art materials to create your own cards, bake and decorate your own cake and craft other handmade delights that will let someone special know what they mean to you. thecheapshoptiptree.co.uk

Great British Life: Riverside in Wivenhoe (c) GettyRiverside in Wivenhoe (c) Getty

3 DATE NIGHT DELIGHTS IN WIVENHOE

Escape to Wivenhoe House
If planning isn’t your forte, may we suggest a luxurious and romantic getaway to Wivenhoe House? The beautiful surroundings will capture your heart, as will their lovingly restored rooms in the Main House featuring original wooden beams and sash windows that will make it feel as though you’ve entered an Austen classic. Alternatively, enjoy the splendour of their contemporary superior rooms in the Garden Wing. Some come with their own balcony. Complete the evening by sampling delicious locally sourced food in Park Brasserie and kick back with a cocktail in the bar or on the outside terraces. wivenhoehouse.co.uk

Wander through Wivenhoe Woods
Spend a romantic afternoon exploring the beautiful vistas of Colne Local Nature Reserve. Pack a picnic of winter warmers for a budget-friendly activity. Within the 85 acres, wander through Wivenhoe Woods, taking in sweet chestnuts that were planted by the Romans and traverse the mixed coppice that teems with wildlife. Visit the grasslands of Lower Lodge Farm, soaking up some of the best views of the Colne Valley that the reserve has to offer. The Ferry Marsh, a former grazing marsh, supports water voles, and nesting birds such as sedge warbler and barn owls

Take art to heart
The purpose-built Sentinel Gallery, located in the heart of the town, is a home for art of all kinds and a place dedicated to adding culture, diversity and excitementto Wivenhoe’s thriving community. In 2023 the gallery hosted 25 amazing exhibitions and it is currently taking bookings for 2024. The space is available to hire by artists and art groups seeking to share their work. Check the upcoming exhibition page for details of future events and plan a sophisticated and romantic evening of art viewing and creativity that will inspire and ignite your beloved’s imagination. thesentinelgallery.co.uk

Great British Life: Valentine's Day treats from Stop The World Cafe (c) Stop The World Cafe Valentine's Day treats from Stop The World Cafe (c) Stop The World Cafe

4 VALENTINE’S DAY MEALS IN LEIGH-ON-SEA

A lavish lunch
The town’s Broadway offers some great spots for lunch. The Estuary Broadway (estuaryrestaurants.co.uk/leigh broadway) is one of Leigh’s oldest restaurants.Wecanvouchforhowgood the Biscoff pancakes are at the Brunch Company (thebrunchcompany.co.uk) based a few doors down. If a cheeky Italian is your idea of a romantic treat, then you’re spoilt for choice. Pasta Nostra (pastanostralondon. com), Cucina (cucinaleigh.co.uk), Fellini’s (fellinisleigh.com), Picante (picantelos.co.uk) Pizza Pizza (pizza pizza.uk) are just some of the Italians all vying for top spot!

Beautiful bakes
Within the walls of this 85-year-old building resides the fabulous Fancy Fox Patisserie serving exquisite signature bakes, baguettes,homemade quiches, stuffed croissants, light lunches and scrumptious seasonal afternoon teas. Guests can book online or drop in to while away the afternoon nattering, relaxing and laughing. The venue’s dreamy atmosphere means it’s an idyllic place to escape the hustle and bustle. Co-owners and sisters Charlotte and Verity would be delighted to help couples capture a little fairytale magic this Valentine’s. thefancyfoxpatisserie.co.uk

A delectable dinner
Harnessing the history and beauty of Old Leigh, The Peterboat is a captivating coastal restaurant, pub and bar that will make a blissful location for your Valentine’s dinner. The venue is renowned for its stunning fish dishes, classic British cuisine and luscious vegan and vegetarian options. Their outstanding service ensures the night flows seamlessly. The estuary views will make a phenomenal backdrop to a love-filled evening, ideal for making this an unforgettable date night, and this Valentine’s an extra special one. thepeterboat.co.uk

A breathtaking brunch
Start Valentine’s Day in the best way possible with a visit to Stop the World Café. The popular eatery offers the freshest, finest food imaginable and was awarded the Good Food Award three years in a row from 2020 to 2022 with the Gold Seal of approval. The menus are made to satisfy the soul, making it the perfect brunching spot! The café serves a variety of different foods, catering for everyone’s tastebuds. Breakfast highlights include homemade banana bread and the delicious French toast. Stop the World Café also offers up incredible homemade cakes and speciality Valentine-themed bakes! . stoptheworldcafe.com



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