Photography by Brian Gomsak, Tim Robison, and Jeff Janowski 

The Old Edwards Inn & Spa

A Highlands hideaway with a campus reminiscent of a European village, The Old Edwards Inn & Spa is a mountain resort that exudes rustic elegance. During your stay, you have choices: You can head to the sauna, or maybe catch up on your reading on the beckoning chaise lounge next to the fireplace. Perhaps you’d like to enjoy lunch in the open-air café. With its wood paneling, walls of books, and a hidden bar that opens at 2 p.m., every corner of The Old Edwards Inn deserves getting lost in. When you and your sweetheart are petered out from exploring the nearby lakes and waterfalls, get a couple’s massage — or raid the freezer for a couple of complimentary Dove ice-cream bars and grab the velvet doorknob-dangling mini-pillow that reads GO AWAY. Relaxing has never been more romantic.

Sunset Beach

Don’t worry about making it to your dinner reservations on time; just set your watch to the fading sun. While restaurants are notoriously overbooked on Valentine’s Day weekend, the beach is free from crowds during the off-season. Enjoy uninterrupted one-on-one time with your significant other while taking a peaceful walk along the shore. Sunset Beach runs east-west, making it one of a few winter coastal destinations where you can actually watch the sun set over the water this time of year. (You can tell your date that you’ve lassoed the sun just for the two of you, but you can secretly thank the earth’s tilt for this cold-weather phenomenon.) Make sure to give yourself extra time for the 1.4-mile journey out to the Kindred Spirit mailbox. All different walks of life have penned heartfelt notes in the mailbox’s journals, but one message rings clearest above all else: Love endures. After, enjoy a meal at the quaint La Cucina Italian Grill, which offers a departure from the area’s fried seafood scene.

Treehouse Vineyards

There’s no shortage of wineries to choose from in North Carolina, but if you want to surprise your valentine with a unique experience, head to Monroe’s Treehouse Vineyards. The winery, which opened in 2010, specializes in organically fertilized muscadines, but it’s known for the whimsical tree houses that owners Phil and Dianne Nordan have built around the property. It started with Papa’s Dream House, which Phil made with salvaged wood from his father’s tobacco barn. “We needed a place to share a bottle of wine and watch the sunset,” Dianne says. Once they realized how popular the tree house was, they built two more that guests can also rent. The homes book up fast, but the vineyard offers a myriad of activities including tours, tastings, live music, and trivia.

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