Before the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, “Valentine” was simply the name given to a group of early Christian martyrs. The Valentines were those who performed feats of valor, and none of them had a connection to the date of Feb. 14.

In more modern times, however, the Church has designated this date in recognition of Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Because of this church attendance is normally high on this day, but if you’re looking for something to do instead or in addition, then think of this as your High Middle Ages-type guide to all things involving courtly love – Chaucer-approved, naturally.

New Orleans City Park is a great place for a romantic excursion – weather permitting, of course. Be it the Botanical Gardens, The New Orleans Museum of Art, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden or even a throwback date to Storyland, City Park is a cluster of fun activities at wallet-friendly prices. If the weather is above 60 degrees the paddleboats and rowboats are available to lovers from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at a cost of $10 per half hour.

“Irrespective of the temperature, lovers can come and enjoy a walk through our ancient oaks or sit in one of the new swings surrounding the Great Lawn,” says Chief Development Officer and Public Affairs Director John Hopper.

“Free, free, free!”

To avoid parade craziness by getting your creative juices flowing with a bottle of wine, Corks N Canvas is the place to be. The franchise has two locations, one in Old Metairie and one in Uptown New Orleans, and both offer “an evening of creativity and camaraderie.” Bring in your favorite bottle of vino, and the staff provides paints, brushes and yes, even canvases. On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Metairie as well as Uptown location will be offering a couples night, featuring a New Orleans skyline diptych at the Metairie location and “Two hearts as One” Uptown, at a special rate of $75 per couple. Each person creates one half of the whole.  On Sunday, there will be a special class from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. entitled “The Key to My Heart” for $35 a person.

If you’re looking for a romantic place to dine before making the trek to the parade route, you can’t go wrong with The Court of Two Sisters and their outstanding brunch. Served in their lush courtyard off Royal Street with a wandering jazz trio lulling you into submission, they have one of the most extensive buffet and a la carte menus in town. From house specialties of Shrimp Creole Omelets and homemade olive and country pâtés, to brunch standards of Eggs Benedict and Grillades and Grits, enjoy any – or all – of these specialties plus homemade biscuits, turtle soup and a smattering of fresh desserts. Coffee, tea and café au lait are included in the price, but you have to pony up for bubbly or Bloody Marys yourself.

Though many dismiss Valentine’s Day as yet another Hallmark holiday, there’s an equally high population of those who eagerly await this day of doting. Meet somewhere in the middle if you and your paramour seem at odds – St.
Charles Avenue seems a good meeting place, considering we will be deep in the throws of Mardi Gras revelry. Four parades roll that Sunday: Krewe of Okeanos; Krewe of Mid-City; and Krewe of Thoth; finally culminating with the Krewe of Bacchus. The bacchanalian super-krewe of more than 1,200 members will be presided over this year by every New Orleanian’s king, Drew Brees.

After the parades, nothing completes date night more than going to see and hear live music. A short walk from the parade route, Tipitina’s hosts Trombone Shorty’s Fourth Annual Bacchus Blowout with Orleans Avenue. Check out this trombone and trumpet prodigy as he performs his soulful blend of jazz and funk – it’s the perfect post-parade place to post up. Downtown, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk will be playing a free show at the Howlin’ Wolf, while back Uptown the Soul Rebels Brass Band brings its signature brand of funk to Les Bon Temps Cafe. Though the venue is guaranteed to be packed from wall to wall, their music will have you dancing and drinking cheap beer in no time – in case you hadn’t had enough of that winning combination during the parade.

For those who want to be able to go big for both Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, fear not: Soniat House is running a lover’s special. Through Feb. 11, the historic luxury hotel is offering three nights in one of their beautiful rooms for the price of two. Guests also receive complimentary passes to an athletic club nearby. It is a great way to get some quality time in together before the hectic Mardi Gras weekend, and $225 a night at this romantic destination is a steal.

Soniat House is also offering their New Orleans Romance package, available Valentine’s weekend or anytime. Enjoy three nights in one of their Junior Suites – which come equipped with a sitting area, queen- or king-sized bed and an optional Jacuzzi in the bathroom – with complimentary champagne upon arrival, plus dinner at Gautreau’s and breakfast each morning. It is the perfect way to get away from Carnival hubbub with the one you love.

If you really want to get away but still have some Mardi Gras madness, head over to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, which is having three separate but equally fantastic specials over Valentine’s weekend. The resort will be celebrating Mardi Gras in their own way: Festivities kick off with the Mystic Krewe of Arfeous doggie parade Sunday at 2 p.m. Costumed pups and their owners will be strolling for partygoers, tossing out tons of beads, throws and parade favors. With the Room for Romance special, rooms start as low as $89 a night; and if you buy two nights you get the third free. The Romantic Escape package includes accommodations in a Grand Sandestin Studio, dinner for two at Finz Beachside Grille, a couples massage, and champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries sent to your room. Finally, the queen of all Valentine’s Day escapes, Sandestin Sparkle 2010 comes with a three-night stay in a penthouse suite, private fireworks either during your romantic dinner for two at the Finz Beachside Grille or in the Village of Baytown, a dozen roses, a bottle of Dom Perignon, and it’s capped off with an “engaging” diamond and emerald ring, to remember your time at the Emerald Coast.