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My Funny Valentine

Unusual getaways give distinctive couples romantic options.

Valentine’s Day often calls for a romantic dinner or overnight stay. For the couple wanting to shake things up this year, here are three ideas, each with a distinctive twist. Relax before a blazing fire in a mountaintop lodge, spend the night at an antebellum plantation, or have a sumptuous dinner and a cozy overnight at a Mississippi River inn.

Oak Alley

In Title: Couples can take in gorgeous sunsets at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. Photo by Jinny Danzer.

Above: Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana drips romance, especially for Valentine’s Day. Oak Alley photo

Below: Set in an 18th-century carriage house, the Castle Restaurant at Dunleith Historic Inn will offer its regular menu, as well as an elaborate fixed-price menu for Valentine’s Day weekend. The restaurant and inn are in Natchez, Miss. The Castle Restaurant photo



My husband and I spent part of our honeymoon and our 45th anniversary at impressive Mather Lodge, which sits atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Ark., in beautiful Petit Jean State Park. Its Valentine celebration–Hikes, Hearts and Hugs Weekend–will be Feb. 14–16, and for couples who share a love of outdoors, this could be a great choice.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, the lodge has a magnificent view of Cedar Creek Canyon. The interior has a massive stone fireplace in the old lobby, a rustic new lobby, and 24 guestrooms renovated in 2012. The dining room overlooks the canyon. The park also has 33 rustic and modern cabins with fireplaces.

Park and restaurant staff are planning a memorable Valentine weekend event and dinner. The presentation of the dinner changes every year, says Assistant Restaurant Manager Denice White. Last year, the restaurant staff decorated the tables with candles and mirrors, flowers, strawberries, and chocolate. The set-price dinner menu usually contains two options for the main course, salad, and beverages. Last year’s spectacular dessert was flaming Bananas Foster prepared in front of guests.

There also is plenty to do on your own in this, Arkansas’s first, state park. You might take a drive to stunning overlooks of the Arkansas River valley, hike through unusual rock formations, and view 95-foot Cedar Creek Falls from an overlook.


Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, La., is located off Interstate 10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It is such a grand plantation that you wouldn’t expect to be able to stay there, but lodging is available at this site in century-old cottages (AAA Three Diamonds). Couples who enjoy historical sites may want to check out this plantation.

A luscious Southern breakfast is provided to overnight guests in the Oak Alley Restaurant (AAA Two Diamonds). The restaurant also serves lunch; the menu features regional dishes, such as fried alligator and crawfish étouffée.

The Plantation Café offers quick meals, coffee, ice cream, and the plantation’s famous mint juleps. Order an evening meal to be delivered to your room.

According to Hillary Loeber, director of sales for the Oak Alley Foundation, a splendid Valentine’s Day dinner, featuring several courses, is planned in the restaurant. The fixed-price dinner might include tempting items like crab-stuffed mushroom caps, broiled tenderloin of beef with port wine sauce and lump crabmeat, and Chef Antonio Reymundo’s signature Valentine trifle.

Several packages offer wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, breakfast in bed, and a late checkout.


Another getaway with historical flavor is in Natchez, Miss. In the 19th century, when cotton and sugar were its main exports, Natchez was one of the busiest river ports in the country. Today, visitors can see hundreds of antebellum homes, reminders of those days. For a romantic dinner in a colorful setting, the Castle Restaurant at Dunleith Historic Inn presents exceptional meals. It is located in the original carriage house and stables built in the 1790s to look like a castle on the 40-acre grounds of the plantation. The adjoining pub offers a wide choice of domestic and foreign beers. It claims the largest wine list in the state, and has held The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 11 years.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, the restaurant offers its extensive regular menu and an elaborate fixed-price menu. You might choose escargots de Bourgogne to accompany an entrée like lobster-poached Chilean sea bass over roasted root vegetables and topped with saffron maître d’ butter. All the menus include a wide variety of fresh seafood and delectable desserts.

A tour of the main house, built in 1856 on the ruins of the original home that was destroyed by fire, is included with meals at the restaurant. Dunleith offers 22 guest rooms, all with fresh flowers. These include eight elegant rooms in the main house, 11 courtyard rooms in a brick building constructed in the early 1800s, and three rooms in a former brick dairy barn built in the 1790s. The rooms in the main house and the courtyard rooms have gas-burning fireplaces. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are available in the main house in the late afternoon for guests.

The Special Getaway Package and the Weekend Escape include room, dinner, a plentiful breakfast buffet, and a tour of the house. Add couple massages, chocolate-covered strawberries, wine or champagne, and carriage rides.

“Candlelight dinner for two set up in the guest rooms has been a real favorite here at Dunleith,” says front desk Manager Debbie Cosey.

But don’t wait until tomorrow to think about your Valentine weekend plans. Lodging venues will fill up quickly, and advance reservations for dining are strongly recommended.

Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

Jan/Feb 2014 Issue


For more information, contact:

• Petit Jean State Park,
(501) 727-5441 or Tickets for the dinner ($35) must be purchased ahead of time.

• Oak Alley, (800) 463-7403 or A 10-percent discount on tours is offered to AAA members.

• Dunleith Castle Restaurant and Pub, (601) 446-8500; Dunleith Historic Inn, (800) 433-2445 or

To visit these romantic getaways, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card found online.

Love stories, like the legend of Evangeline, are found throughout the South. Read more.


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