- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

Spring — and hopefully romance — is in the air. But where do couples go for romantic walks, views and meals in this city of conservative suits, early bedtimes, gigantic concrete buildings, bad traffic and a history of scandals — sexual and otherwise? In other words, can romantic settings be found in the District?

Not according to the latest America’s Favorite Cities poll by Travel and Leisure Magazine and AOL, which placed Washington last out of 25 cities in romance. The ranking can’t be blamed on a small, select sample set — more than half a million people voted, says Yossi Langer, online editor at Travel and Leisure.

“Government buildings and monuments. People don’t find them romantic. … But then again, it works for Rome and Paris,” Mr. Langer says. “It’s also the seat of power, and I think it takes a certain type of person to find power romantic.”

Small note: Washington was top-rated for sightseeing.

Barbara Daly, a local romance writer who has penned a dozen books for Harlequin, says she can’t think of a single romance novel that takes place in the District.

“I think writers choose New York, San Francisco or Chicago if they want a big-city setting. Those cities are better known, especially among international readers,” says Ms. Daly, who lives — and loves — in Upper Northwest. “But you’ve awakened me to the idea of a Washington setting. … I’ll have to think about it.”

Cynthia Hacinli, co-author of “Romantic Days and Nights in Washington, D.C.” and also a resident of Upper Northwest, says the city gets a “bad rep.”

“It’s easy to bash Washington. People don’t move or visit for romance. They move for jobs and visit with their kids to see the monuments,” says Ms. Hacinli, a staff writer for Washingtonian magazine.

According to the Leisure and Travel/AOL poll, Honolulu is the No. 1 destination for romance.

“Well, we can’t compete with Hawaii,” Ms. Hacinli says, “but Washington does have a lot to offer. … You might have to work a little harder, be a little more creative.”

In her book, which she co-wrote with her husband, Bill Connor, she lists 29 itineraries for romantic adventures. Each one has a theme, such as “Rites of Spring,” which features several activities in Georgetown. In the book, Ms. Hacinli refers to Georgetown as the “city’s most enchanting enclave,” with its formal gardens, flowering trees, narrow streets and varied architecture, including Federal, Victorian and Georgian homes.

“Georgetown has a lot of movie-ready sets for romance,” she says. “You can watch the boats go by from a riverfront restaurant; you can take walks in Dumbarton Oaks with its parterres, shade and benches. You can make your own ice cream at Patisserie Poupon or sit in the outdoor courtyard of [Leopold’s] Kafe Konditorei.”

Carolyn Crouch, founder of Washington Walks, a local walking-tour company, doesn’t do specifically “romantic walks” but says her participants find walks in Georgetown and along the Mall romantic.

“And, of course, at the Jefferson Memorial, you always see people kissing,” Ms. Crouch says. “And I think walking around the Tidal Basin — cherry blossoms or not — is very romantic.”

The company’s most popular tour is Capital Hauntings, featuring “ghosts of presidents, a first lady, assassins and military officers [roaming] the hallways of old homes, a church, and even the White House.”

Nope, not so romantic.

In terms of romantic views, though, Ms. Crouch recommends the Sky Terrace, the 11th-floor outdoor veranda restaurant at Hotel Washington.

“The view is just fabulous, and what a great place to propose,” she says.

According to the hotel Web site, the restaurant is open May through October and features cocktails and light menu items.

Speaking of great views and filmmaking, ABC’s hit show “The Bachelor” spent a day and night at Washington’s Willard InterContinental a couple of years ago. The show used the Jenny Lind Suite as the “fantasy suite.” According to the hotel’s Web site, the suite, which features a view of the Washington Monument through an oversize circular window from a whirlpool tub, is favored by honeymooners.

For those who want to spend less than a couple thousand dollars — or nothing — there is always the Kennedy Center rooftop terrace, which offers panoramic views of the city for free. If hunger or thirst strikes, the Kennedy Center Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar is available.

“Another great place is the Mandarin Oriental lounge. You can see the Tidal Basin and the channel while sipping a sake martini. Very nice,” Ms. Hacinli says, adding that other free views can be had while walking down Maine Avenue on the Southwest waterfront or in Old Town Alexandria, which also has a wide range of restaurants, including many alfresco offerings, for those so inclined.

“There’s also the bike path down to Mount Vernon, and how about Rollerblading at the zoo?” Ms. Hacinli says. “Get there early, and the baby panda might be out.”

Ms. Hacinli writes in her book that in-line skating is ideal for couples: You hold hands, you help each other up when you fall, and it’s great for sightseeing because you can cover a lot of ground without having to worry about finding parking.

That brings us to traffic, an unavoidable topic when discussing anything Washington. Ms. Daly, who recently moved to the District, says that on further thought, the traffic might be yet another reason the city is not a romance-novel setting.

“My husband and I tried to get down to see the cherry blossoms twice and had to give up because of traffic [and lack of parking],” she says. “It’s very unromantic,” she says and adds, while chuckling, that if she were to set her next romance novel in Washington, she would have to include many a bitter reference to the traffic.

While on-foot or on-skate sightseeing is preferable in the District, drives are necessary for some of Ms. Hacinli’s romantic adventures, such as those in Virginia’s horse and wine country, the Eastern Shore and Baltimore.

Whether on foot, skates, bicycles or in cars, though, one of the main ingredients in a romantic adventure is getting out of one’s daily routine.

“If you live in Bethesda, go to Adams Morgan. Explore a new neighborhood. Get out of the dinner-and-a-movie routine,” Ms. Hacinli says. “Discovering together is very romantic. … Just don’t pick Federal Triangle and you’ll be fine.”

A plan for romance

The following restaurants, gardens, hotels and other destinations may offer just the ticket for a romantic afternoon in the District.

• Patisserie Poupon, 1645 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/342-3248

• Leopold’s Kafe Konditorei, 3315 Cady’s Alley NW, 202/965-6005

• Dumbarton Oaks, 1703 32nd St. NW, 202/339-6401

• The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202/633-4800

• Hotel Washington, 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, 202/638-5900

• Willard InterContinental Washington, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202/628-9100

• John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, 202/467-4600

• Mandarin Oriental Washington, D.C., 1330 Maryland Ave. SW, 202/554 8588

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