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Seaweed, jalepenos, even a bit of merlot liven up artisan chocolates at the Chocolate Fanatic in Amherst. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

Valentine's Day: Finding romance in the Granite State

Granite Staters are known for their Yankee wit and winter hardiness, but on Valentine's Day even the coldest of hearts warm up as New Hampshire indulges in a little romance.

Celebrating love comes in a variety of packages, from special Valentine's Day dinners at cozy restaurants to finding a quiet inn to slip away to, to sipping champagne as a horse-drawn carriage glides across the freshly fallen snow. Inside or outside, for a few hours or a few days, there are plenty of options for spending some special moments together this week.

Dinner for two

A delicious meal in a cozy setting awaits lovebirds from the Seacoast to the Connecticut River Valley and everywhere in between.

At Ristaurante Massimo in Portsmouth, sliding into an intimate booth in the warm, European-inspired stone cellar and indulging in fine Italian food can lead the way to a lover's heart, while at LaBelle Winery in Amherst, sitting by the fire and sipping champagne with Ernie Houle tickling the ivories in the background sets the mood.

Amy LaBelle, owner of the winery, said that tonight, the winery will be offering a special three-course, prix-fixe meal designed especially for Valentine's Day - including wines chosen to pair perfectly with each course.

In Troy, East Hill Farm celebrates the day against the backdrop of New Hampshire's rich agricultural history, said owner Sheri St. Laurent.

"We're offering an all-inclusive meal that includes homemade dishes, and people are welcome to bring their own wine," she said. "People can just come for dinner, or they can spend the night."

Getting away

At East Hill Farm, there are antique rooms with fireplaces, hearty country breakfasts in the morning, and opportunities to get outside and snowshoe or cross country ski, said St. Laurent.

"We're a working farm so people can also go outside and milk the cows and goats or get their own eggs for breakfast," she said.

But if farm life isn't your idea of a romantic escape, Church Landing at Mill Falls in Meredith offers a lakefront retreat complete with a spa, indoor pools including an adult-only pool, hot tubs, an outdoor fire pit, and dining at Lakehouse Grille.

"The rooms all have a private fireplace and balcony and plush down bedding and luxurious amenities," said spokesman Michelle Brown. "Many people choose Church Landing for a special occasion or celebration."

On the Seacoast, Wentworth by the Sea offers cozy rooms with varying amenities including glowing fireplaces, pristine views of the harbor, and this year, The Valentine's Day Aphrodisiac Dinner featuring carefully prepared aphrodisiac foods paired with wines from Domaine Chandon.

Getting out

For nature lovers, there are ways to indulge in a bit of romance while enjoying the great outdoors. At Beaver Brook Association in Hollis on Friday at 7 p.m., the Valentine Couples Snowshoe Hike and Bonfire will allow folks to spend some time together outside, said spokesman Celeste Barr.

"At the cabins, our staff will have the bonfire going, warm beverages, snacks and chocolate," she said. "We can all hike back together or if couples prefer, by themselves."

And at Farm by the River in North Conway, lovers can snuggle up in a horse-drawn sleigh with champagne and chocolates and enjoy a 40-minute ride in a beautiful setting with views of mountains and meadows.

Family time

With little kids about, sometimes it's hard to enjoy a little romance, but at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, the theory goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. On Friday at 7 p.m., the museum will host the Very, Very Valentine's Day Dance. The event will include dance lessons, snacks, and just a nice chance to be together.

"This is our second year of hosting a dance for families and we got a great response to it last year," said spokeswoman Heidi Duncanson.

Craving chocolate?

Though traditionalists may stick to heart-shaped boxes and red roses on Valentine's Day, a new twist on an old classic may spice things up. At the Chocolate Fanatic, a new artisan chocolate shop in Amherst, owner Maria Marini has taken her artistic background and channeled it into an array of gourmet goodies.

"I like playing around, being creative, and infusing my chocolate with things that most people wouldn't think of putting into candy," said Marini.

Her homemade chocolate bars come in a vast selection of flavors, blending sea salt with citrus and lime, smoked applewood and vintage merlot. There are chocolate disks featuring cayenne pepper, ginger and cinnamon, or topped with Moroccan spiced peanuts. And from figs to pomegranates, pistachios to pecans, fruit and nuts can be found in many of Marini's specialty chocolates.

"My favorite chocolate bar growing up was the Chunky," she said. "I just love that combination of fruit and nuts with chocolate, but I've put my own twist on it."

She also offers more traditional goodies, including hearts made of white, milk or dark chocolates. There are lollipops, chocolate "love bugs" and yes, plenty of heart-shaped boxes.

Rainbows and roses

Michelle Levesque, owner of Works of Heart in Wilton, said that choosing different colors can brighten up a Valentine's Day.

"Men buy red roses," said Levesque, "but the truth is that most women really prefer other colors."

Buying a bouquet of red roses may seem like the safest bet, but by mixing reds with other colors like oranges and pink, a Valentine can be made to feel more than ordinary.

"If you really want to wow her, do something other than red," Levesque said.

She has brought in a special dyed "Rainbow Rose" from Miami, and they've been selling out since she started stocking them.

"I've been looking at them for years, but they were just too expensive for people, but now the price has come down so we've been able to offer them," said Levesque.

Heart of stone

For something that lasts beyond Valentine's Day, Nicole Garcia of the Quartz Source in Milford said that everyone needs a little rose quartz.

"It comes in earrings, pendants, and bracelets and we even sell little rose quartz stones shaped like hearts."

Every stone has a meaning, said Garcia. Black stones offer protection, copper is said to ward off illnesses, but pink is perfect for Valentine's Day.

"Rose quartz is the love stone," she said.

nfoster@newstote.com



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