Lauren Hansen and Andrew Armendariz, at Starved Rock State Park.

Isn't it Romantic? Great Local Gift Ideas

This time of year, we celebrate romance and love in many ways, say with gift-giving or special retreats. Here are a few local ideas for spending a romantic winter date.

Lauren Hansen and Andrew Armendariz, at Starved Rock State Park.

Ah, romance. For centuries, poets, storytellers and lovers have sought to definitively interpret this ideal, yet ethereal, state.
Of course, certain times of the year appeal especially to our notions of romance, and a couple of holidays have been created specifically to celebrate affairs of the heart.
Romance needn’t be limited to spring, Sweetest Day, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Intimate, special moments can be created at any time, with tokens of affection, a special rendezvous or memorable excursion.
And, there’s romance a-plenty to be had, right here in the Old Northwest Territory.
For romantic gift-giving, the top three items, statistically, are no surprise: candy, flowers and jewelry.
Flowers have symbolized romance, love and marriage for centuries, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, sweet treats were a luxury, not to mention expensive, which made them special gifts.
For a lasting impression, however, nothing compares to glimmering gemstones and precious metals.
“Jewelry helps to create the moment, and shows the person how you feel,” says Christy West of Mincemoyer Jewelry in Rockford. “It’s an emotional purchase. We love to tell stories of romance with our jewelry.”

Romantic Dates

hat counts for a romantic date varies, depending on your paramour’s taste and expectations. Always a good bet, though, is a quiet table for two, whether it’s a cozy bistro or five-star restaurant.
“Food brings people together,” says Gino Seferi, who owns Amici Italian Grill in Roscoe, with brothers Shpresim and Afrim. “Enjoying beautiful food in a beautiful atmosphere, with candles on the table and great music from Sinatra, Martin and the Rat Pack – you can’t get more romantic than that!”
Beautiful decor complements authentic Italian fare, from fine dining entrees such as Stuffed Chicken Mignon and pasta dishes to panini and pizza.
Other area dining spots known for their romantic ambience: Goldmoor Inn, Galena, with a spectacular view from a dining room overlooking the Mississippi River Valley; Cannova’s Italian Cuisine, Freeport, where, on certain weekends, owner Pat Beckman, an accomplished pianist, tickles the ivories on a grand piano, while diners enjoy authentic Italian fare from family recipes. Also: abreo, Rockford; Butterfly Club, Beloit.
Activities before or after a romantic meal can be special and memorable, as long as you and your date are open to them.
Great local theater and live music abound in our region, and nature can certainly be romantic. On certain Tuesdays throughout the spring, Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., offers star-gazing events. And closer to home, on Feb. 22 & March 14, Byron Forest Preserve District in Byron, Ill., hosts Evening Ski & Scope, an opportunity for a cross-country ski excursion, followed by a peek at the waning full moon at the District’s Weiskopf Observatory.

Romantic Getaways

othing says amore more than a surprise excursion. Luckily, in the Old Northwest Territory, this doesn’t mean booking a flight. We have plenty of romantic getaway spots within a few hours’ drive.
Starved Rock Lodge and State Park, Utica, Ill.
What better place to spend a secluded weekend than in the spot voted the No. 1 attraction in Illinois? The historic Lodge and cabins, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, were built between 1933 and 1939 by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Follow the 13 miles of trails any time of year to waterfalls, canyons and towering limestone formations. It’s the place to come for rustic romance.
“We’ve been a romantic destination for 75 years,” says Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, marketing director for the Lodge. “People come here on dates, to propose, to get married, to honeymoon, to celebrate anniversaries. One couple has come back every year for 50 years, and stays in the same cabin where the groom first proposed.”
For Lauren Hansen and Andrew Armendariz (pictured left) romance at Starved Rock Lodge has become a family legacy, touching a third generation.
“Lauren’s parents and grandparents honeymooned here, and still come back for their anniversaries,” says Casstevens-Jasiek. “Andrew proposed to her in that same honeymoon cabin, and they came back here for their honeymoon.”
That’s when the couple shared this tender kiss in one of the park’s 14 canyons with waterfalls.
The Lodge has several dining options, trolley tours, live entertainment, and pool, sauna and hot tub. Check out the special package deals.
Other romantic one-tank destinations:
›› Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.
This AAA Four-Diamond resort has spa services, golf course, a ski facility and great fine dining options, with historic Lake Geneva nearby. Packages available.
›› Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, Galena, Ill.
Surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Galena Territory, indulge in spa services and fine dining, along with four championship golf courses and winter fun like sledding and ice skating. Nearby historic Galena, Ill., offers shopping, entertainment and more. Packages available.
›› Copperstone Inn, Rockton, Ill.
This 9,000-square-foot luxury bed & breakfast was created from an 1858 limestone farmhouse. Set on 130 acres, the Inn boasts seven distinct bedrooms, walking paths, gardens, an on-site spa and a large banquet facility.
›› White Pines Inn, Mt. Morris, Ill.
Set amid the 385 acres of White Pines State Park are 25 authentic one-room log cabins, offering modern amenities such as gas fireplaces, televisions and whirlpool tubs. Enjoy dining, spa services, live theater and a gift shop. Packages available.

Spa Day

How about a day of paired pampering? Take advantage of several options at some of the luxurious spas where couples massages are available.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, Galena, Ill.
Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Total Serenity Day Spa & Wellness Center, Rockford
White Pines Inn, Mt. Morris, Ill.