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Cheese-free Valentine’s Day ideas

Not the romantic type? Here's Muddy's top picks for romantic fun that won't make you cringe (or involve the question: "A rose for the lovely laydee?")

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching but I always find it a tricky one to plan for, do you? I’m not massively keen on sitting in a restaurant along with a million other couples, gazing into Mr Muddy’s eyes and trying not to get too piddled, as this always ends up opening Pandora’s special Box of Resentments that I keep for special occasions. (Those deliciously picky questions that you’ve kept the lid on because you haven’t had time to air them together for a while: Who works harder? Who’s more tired? Why do I always end up buying the supermarket shop? Oh yeah, it’s all about the fun stuff in the Muddy house).

So if you’re a bit like me, and looking for something a bit less trad and a bit more fun, here are some alternative, fromage-free Valentine’s ideas that will help you feel the lurrvve.


Oxford day trip

If your jaunts into Oxford tend to revolve around kids’ cinema or Natural History Museum trips, take the time to do something a little more grown-up with your significant other this Valentine’s day. The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1669, is open to the public, when it’s not being used by Oxford University for ceremonies and events. For just £3.50 entry fee (£8 for the guided tour), you can gaze up in wonder at the jaw-dropping ceiling, painted by Robert Streater, or take in the 360 degree views of the city’s dreaming spires from the Cupola. Combine with a spot of retail therapy at the Westgate (hello & Other Stories, my other true love), dine at Muddy favourites Oli’s Thai (hipster vibes off Iffley Road) and The Perch at Binsey (riverside romance), Cinnamon Kitchen (new ultra-glam Indian at the Westgate, Muddy review coming soon) and you’ve got a thoroughly civilized, relaxed day out.


A hip overnighter

Managed to get an overnight pass? Yippee! But if a grand country house hotel feels a bit too “Bridget Jones on a dirty weekend” obvious, may we suggest a slick, modern hip hotel instead. Artist Residence is a Brighton boho institution and now there’s one in Oxon too, South Leigh to be precise. This 16th century five-bedroom coaching inn‘s walls are lined with cool modern artworks. Meanwhile, Soho Farmhouse in Great Tew, Chipping Norton may be a swanky private members club but anyone can book a cabin, bell tent or room – just don’t forget the obligatory ‘outdoor bathtub’ Instagram shot. We also love The Dog & Badger in Medmenham, near Marlow – it’s a lot more glam than it sounds, believe me, with its buzzy neon-lit bar and mega cocktail list. The six luxe bedrooms are more city boutique hotel sleek than old school chintz. Finally, the big name hotels in Oxford tend to be a bit ‘meh’ but I like the bijou, chic 22-room Vanbrugh House which is insanely central and a great choice if you can turn your day trip (see above) into a sleepover.


A gorgeous country walk, far from the madding crowds

The beauty of Rousham House & Garden near Bicester – apart from the fact it’s, er, beautiful – is that not many other people know about it. Tourists tend to head for nearby Blenheim Palace, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten track for a romantic stroll, this 17th century privately-owned country house is a great bet. It has a walled garden, kitchen gardens, fruits trees, ponds, maze, woodla nd paths and river views, there’s no gift shop or tea room so it’s very low-key and uncommercial (take your own snacks) – and it doesn’t admit children under the age of 15, guaranteeing some peace. Garden entry is a bargainous £6, with house tours available on request for groups only.


Get arty in London

Free day à deux? Jump on the train and catch up on some of the capital’s best exhibitions. You’re obviously spoilt for choice but here’s four to whet your whistle: Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy at Proud Central; Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A; Modigliani (rudey nudies alert!) at the Tate Modern or under-the-radar neon art Lauren Baker‘s Covent Garden gallery. Follow with dinner in zingy new Muddy favourite Ceviche Soho – because, let’s face it, there ain’t many hipster Peruvian joints out here in the sticks.


Go to the movies

Firstly, you don’t have to actually talk to each other (who said romance was dead?). Secondly, you get to eat pick’n’mix without anyone judging. Thirdly and most importantly, it’s a brilliant time of year for movie buffs, as all the year’s big-hitting films jostle for attention ahead of the Oscars on 4 March. Our picks: The Darkest Hour (Churchill biopic starring an unrecognizable fat-suited Gary Oldman) , The Post (Spielberg’s ’70s set political/media drama, in which Meryl Streep plays a badass newspaper publisher), Phantom Thread (Daniel Day-Lewis gets his sewing machine out to play a ’50s couturier) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother who takes drastic action). No snogging on the back row, please!


Forget Valentine’s Day, do Galentine’s Day

Partner away, absent or non-existent? Or maybe you just, er, don’t like him/her?! What you need is  Galentine’s Day instead. The concept was coined in an episode of US sitcom Parks and Recreation and is gathering steam – basically, rather than going out with your other half on 14 Feb for a couply dinner, you hit the town with your gaggle of gal-pals on 13 Feb. We likey! And we know a buzzy bar/restaurant or two, funnily enough. Head for The Ivy Marlow Garden or The Botanist, The Keep in Wallingford, Kaz Bar on Cowley Road or The Alchemist (heaving and hedonistic even at 5pm when we’ve been) in central Oxford, or The Wild Rabbit in Kingham. Gal power!


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