By Jenny Speller
Over the years, countless movies and TV dramas have proved that romance and Britain are a perfect combination.
From Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts walking the streets of London in "Notting Hill", to Jane Austen's proud characters riding through the English countryside in "Pride and Prejudice", one wonders if romantic Britain exists beyond the silver screen. The answer is that it certainly does.
A real-life British love story was the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When Albert died at a young age, the heartbroken Queen had a magnificent Gothic memorial built in Hyde Park. Albert was a great patron of the arts and this spectacular sculpture, recently restored, faces the Royal Albert Hall, one of London's favourite musical venues.
Victoria and Albert's country home was a lavish Italianate villa, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight --off the south coast. The house and gardens were used as a location for "Mrs. Brown", the film of the queen's (played by Judi Dench) relationship with her devoted Scottish servant John Brown after Albert's death, and are open to visitors.
The university cities of Oxford and Cambridge, 56 miles north-west and 60 miles north of London respectively, are full of life and colour, with good restaurants, inspiring architecture, excellent shops and lively markets.
Oxford is known as the 'city of dreaming spires' and what better way to dream than on a leisurely boat trip along the River Thames? Sip champagne on a picnic or stop at a traditional English 'pub' or riverside restaurant.
The Cherwell Boathouse, for example, has a picturesque riverside terrace, an imaginative menu and fine wine list. For real luxury, the Four Pillars Hotel is a medieval manor set in parkland on the banks of the river with a swimming pool, sauna, gym and tennis court. Stylish bistros and cafes cater for every taste and price range. Mix with students, professors and celebrities at Gees; or dine alfresco at The Lemon Tree.
Cambridge is a city for the young at heart. I have danced all night there and enjoyed champagne at dawn. Carpets of crocuses and daffodils on the 'Backs' of the colleges are breathtaking in spring, best admired by hiring a punt (a flat-bottomed boat) and drifting along the river.
Escape from the cities and drive through Britain's glorious countryside. The enchanting Hidden Highway weaves through the hills and wooded river valleys of the England-Wales border country. It's the perfect romantic drive, passing through picturesque villages and towns of black-and-white timbered buildings. Ancient Ludlow is the ideal stop-over for an intimate candle-lit dinner. Its restaurants are among the finest outside the capital.
The Cotswold Hills, about 70 miles west of London, are the romantic jewels of Britain. Villages of honey-coloured stone, and a large number of antique and tea-shops, nestle among gentle green hills and rivers of crystal clear water. The area also has some delightful gardens open to visitors such as Hidcote and Snowshill.
Stay at the Old Windmill, an unusual 'bed and breakfast' at Bradford on Avon and choose the shape and size of your bed, which include round and water ones and another with a Gothic iron bedstead!
Each region of the country has its romantic highlights. In the north, the wild, craggy beauty of the Yorkshire moors was the setting for the classic film 'Wuthering Heights" based on Emily Bronte's novel of powerful, raging passions.
In the north-west, the stunning scenery of England's Lake District inspired Britain's romantic poets. Rolling hills and the vast lakes of Windermere, Coniston, Ullswater and Derwentwater are ideal for walking, a romantic drive, sailing, water sports or a steamship cruise.
The Scottish Highlands are full of history and mystery and perfect for a secret honeymoon hideaway.
You can rent your very own castle with views of the mountains or a remote cottage on the shores of a Loch. There are golden eagles, red deer, flowing salmon rivers and I have often seen seals swimming off the coast.
One idyllic Scottish location is 16th century Ardsheal House on the shores of Loch Linnhe with stunning views of the mountains. But book early to get the four poster bed! It is an excellent base for exploring the highlands and nearby Glencoe.
If you are inspired to take a romantic holiday in Britain, you won't be disappointed.
More information can be found on the BTA's website +click here
and to find out more about the locations of classic films, the BTA has a free map-folder, the "Movie Map" and a complementary Web site +click here
Four Pillars Hotel, Henley Road, Sandford on Thames, Oxford
Tel. 01865 334444, Fax 01865334400
Unusual accommodation (including Bradford Old Windmill)
Masons Lane, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BAlS 1QN.
Tel/Fax. 01225 866648
Ardsheal House Hotel, Kentallen of Appin, Argyll, Scotland.
Tel. 01631 740 227, Fax. 01631 740342, Web site +click here
The Landmark Trust.
Interesting and unusual self-catering accommodation including castles, website +click here
Shottesbrooke, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 3SW.
Tel. 01628 825925, Web site +click here