The World’s Most Romantic Islands 2015
Watching a sunset on Santorini can make you feel like you’re on top of the world—and in a way, you are.
Elphy Theodoropoulou swooned when she witnessed a sunset from the island’s village of Oia. “Amongst hanging houses, and between churches and rooftops, there is a spot high up where people gather to watch,” says the owner of an Athens-based sandal company. “You’re so high up that you can see the world on a curve—and the colors are so picturesque, it will forever be imprinted into your mind.”
It certainly won a spot in the hearts of Travel +Leisure readers, who ranked Santorini as one of the world’s most romantic islands. As part of the magazine’s annual World’s Best Awards survey, readers ranked the various merits of islands and archipelagos around the globe, including natural beauty, activities, dining, and economic value—as well as their potential to make hearts flutter.
Among the top 20 winners, there were, of course, destinations with wide swaths of powdery white sand, swaying palm trees, and natural soundtracks of lapping waves. But each of the winners has a bit of unique flair, too. One produces great wine, while another smolders with volcanic lava. A notable archipelago even features an island that’s shaped like a heart.
Some of readers’ favorite islands have precious few distractions from your one-and-only. Lori Sussle Bonanni was wowed by Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, when she and her husband first visited in 2013. They had rented a golf cart (the island’s main form of transportation) to explore the island: “We parked our cart to head onto an unreal pink-sand beach, and took in the breathtaking view,” says the New York-based marketing consultant. “My husband thought we were trespassing—we weren't—because we were the only people on the beach. It was magical.”
No. 20 Big Island, Hawaii
Who could resist romance on an island known for rainbows? To get a good look, go to Akaka Falls State Park in Hilo, and hike to Kahuna Falls or Akaka Falls, where you’ll likely get a multicolored backdrop for your couple-selfies. Or, celebrate your “burning love” with a view the lava-oozing Kilauea at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. At one of the island’s best hotels, the Fairmont Orchid, the romance package includes locally-sourced lotions, bath crystals, and orchid petals strewn in the shape of a heart across your bed.
No. 19 Virgin Gorda, BVI
One beach, no doubt, made this island in the British Virgin Islands so popular: the Baths, which is made up of giant boulders, grottoes, and pools, and was seemingly made for romantic water play. Looking for a little private time? Stay at the Rosewood Little Dix Bay, which sits on its own beach, and offers boat access to seven other private beaches.
No. 17 Exumas, Bahamas (tie)
Made up of 365 cays—some of them home only to iguanas—this archipelago in the Bahamas makes a solid claim on serious alone time. Depending on how many people you want around you, you can choose a bigger resort like Great Exuma’s Grand Isle Resort (not far from the islands’ famed swimming pigs), or the pastel bungalows on stilts at the casually posh Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
No. 17 Nantucket, Massachusetts (tie)
With its wild grasses and windswept dunes, this island off the coast of Cape Cod is one of the most naturally beautiful in the country. But Nantucket’s fans don’t pretend that this island is just about sand and surf: it’s also about dinner. Cap off your beach day with local swordfish or a chorizo-accented clambake at Straight Wharf, or the honey-lacquered duck breast with island beets and spice-brined grapes at Ventuno. One of the most romantic places to stay (or get married) is the shingle-sided White Elephant, where the amenities include afternoon port and cheese, and where the bed linens are so popular that you can buy a set to take home, complete with a goose-down duvet.
No. 16 St. John
This U.S. Virgin Island flirted with readers by being both wild and civilized. Two thirds of the island is made up of national park land, and it has no airport, making it feel nicely off the grid—yet it has enough plush resorts to avoid feeling too isolated. Caneel Bay, built by Laurence Rockefeller in the 1950s, and updated a few years ago, has no distracting TVs or phones, and offers guests access to seven beaches, including the aptly named Honeymoon Beach. There are plenty of activities on the island for the adventurous, such as hiking along the Cinnamon Bay beach trail or snorkeling in the Virgin Islands Coral Reef Monument.
No. 15 Kiawah Island, South Carolina
If you like quiet walks on the beach, this island 20 minutes from Charleston offers easy romantic solitude. In fact, it has readers’ favorite beaches in the U.S. outside of Hawaii, thanks to a plethora of starfish and a general lack of other people. After all, the island has only one resort, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which features the plush Sanctuary Hotel. Rooms come with deep tubs and private balconies, the activities include sunset bicycle rides and after-dark walks to see loggerhead turtles.
No. 14 Fiji Islands
Of Fiji’s 302 islands, only about one third are inhabited. One, tiny Tavarua, is even shaped like a heart—and it attracts travelers with a passion for surfing. For a romantic place to stay, follow the honeymooners to Matangi Island Resort, whose coconut-palm-thatched bungalows and split-level treehouses overlook the beach.
No. 13 St. Bart's
Not easy on the pocketbook, this is the island where you go to spoil your love. For a splurge-worthy dinner, you can't beat Jean-Claude Dufour’s Provencal-influenced L’Esprit Salines, overlooking Saline Beach. To sleep like an insider, stay at the cottages of Le Guanahani, dotted with bougainvillea and private pools. And for designer souvenirs (with labels like Lacroix, Versace, or Sonia Rykiel), go to Stephane & Bernard. Or, stop by Ligne St. Barth for locally-sourced cosmetics, like Ouanalao, an eau de toilette featuring Caribbean boxwood and mandarin, and inspired by the island’s former name.
No. 12 Lanai, Hawaii
Perhaps because it has the smallest population of all the inhabited Hawaiian islands, Lanai won points for desert-island bliss. Plus, it has intriguing sights like Hulopoe Beach, with tide pools created out of volcanic rock; the red desert rocks of Keahiakawelo; and Shipwreck Beach, accessible only by 4x4 vehicles, where you can find anything from violet snails to Japanese fishing nets that have washed ashore. For an idyllic view, stay at the just-renovated Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay, which sits next to a marine preserve inhabited by spinner dolphins.
No. 11 Mykonos, Greece
Despite its reputation as a magnet for the rich and famous, this Greek island in the Cyclades was ranked as one of the friendliest islands in Europe by T+L readers. It also scored well for fun-loving diversions—like taking pictures of the iconic windmills or day-tripping to the sacred island of Delos. To feel like a VIP, book a spot at the five-acre Villa Galaxy, which has four villas with wooden-beamed ceilings, stone walls, antiques, and a meditation gazebos overlooking the Aegean Sea.
No. 10 Anguilla
This British West Indian island excels at simple pleasures. Readers liked that it has a wealth of natural beauty, including alabaster-white sand and long, unobstructed views of the ocean. Even so, the island has some sophisticated accommodations—such as Cap Juluca, which has its own private yacht for exploring atolls, or the jetsetter classic Malliouhana, overlooking Mead’s Bay and Turtle Cove. For a laid-back evening of reggae under the stars, go to Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve, a bar and venue built out of shipwrecks and driftwood.
No. 9 Harbour Island, Bahamas
If red and pink are the official colors of romance, then this three-mile-long island was a lock for the top 10: Its beaches are inundated with miniscule foraminifera, red-shelled creatures that give the sand a rosy hue. To keep the color scheme going, stay at the 38-room Coral Sands Hotel or the cottage-style Pink Sands Resort. Food is a highlight on the Caribbean island: You can find candlelit romance as well as excellent seafood (and an 800-bottle wine cellar) at the main restaurant of the Landing, a chic, India-Hicks-designed boutique hotel. Harbor Island is also wonderfully quiet, since cars are banned on the island (you can rent a golf cart instead).
No. 8 Bali, Indonesia
The Indonesian island, which provided the backdrop for the “love” portion of Eat, Pray, Love, is a real keeper in the eyes of readers. The lodging options are truly special. The Desa Seni is a quaint, colorful eco-resort made up of 10 teak antique cottages set on a rice plantation. For a sleek contrast, stay at Le Meridian Bali, on idyllic Jimbaran Bay. The mod, white-and-turquoise aesthetics are complemented by a saltwater pool and swim-up bar.
No. 7 Kauai, Hawaii
This Hawaiian island attracts lovers who aren’t the kind to merely lounge by the pool: activities abound, whether that means surfing at Poipu Beach, hiking the Na Pali coast’s Kalalau Trail, or splashing in Wailua Falls. But the island also has a sentimental side. The stained-glass-accented B&B Kilauea Lodge, next to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, was created out of a former YMCA by two smitten honeymooners. Or, try the boutique-style, 121-room Koa Kea Resort; it offers private lanais, easy access to the beach, and the chance to commune with monk seals, known to come up on shore.
No. 6 Maui, Hawaii
Maui was the United States’ highest scoring island—thanks to its 30 miles of public beaches and its breadth of activities, including whale-watching near Lahaina and drives to the top of Haleakala to see the sunrise. If you prefer sunsets, go to Keawakapu Beach, and book dinner at western-facing Sarento’s on the Beach. (You’ll want to stay through dessert, for the profiteroles with red-wine caramel sauce and hazelnut pralines.) To feel the earth move with your love, book a massage on the wave table at the Willow Stream spa at Fairmont Kea Lani, one of the most romantic hotel spas in the world.
No. 5 Santorini, Greece
Not many islands boast good vineyards, but that was one thing readers loved about this Greek island. You can taste bubbly and young-white Assyrtiko wines at SantoWines in Pyrgos village, or rosés and dessert wines at Koutsoyannopoulos Winery and Wine Museum, near black-pebbled Kamari Beach. Indeed, readers also like Santorini’s unusually colorful beaches— Vlychadais covered in white stones, Red Beach in red rocks. For a hotel free of kids (yours or other people’s), stay at the adults-only Perivolas, built into cliff dwellings that are three centuries old.
No. 4 Capri, Italy
The Italian island wooed readers with its triple threat of interesting sights, delicious food, and gorgeous terrain. For lovely views, start with the island’s iconic Faraglioni rock formations. You can get close to them by having lunch at Da Luigi ai Faraglioni, where you can swim or sunbathe in front of the restaurant (and try some ravioli capresi or freshly caught pezzogna). T+L readers raved about the Blue Grotto, Capri’s famously azure sea cave, but another good romantic excursion is the 19th-century Villa San Michele, whose garden is filled with ivy-covered statues (and not too many other tourists). One of Capri’s hotels made the survey’s top 20 European hotels for romance: the chandelier-and-marble-laden Grand Hotel Quisisana, which has its own views of the Faraglioni rocks.
No. 3 Moorea, French Polynesia
With its majestic volcanic peaks, Moorea is supposedly the island that inspired “Bali Hai” in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. The island is also well known for its cuisine—like the international eats at Le Coco’s Moorea, or the French fusion fare at Mahana’I at Moorea Pearl Resort, which was once named Bali Hai itself, and is now guarded by three stone tiki statues. If staying active is a priority, the island offers a vivid underwater landscape for snorkeling and scuba, as well as horseback riding and jeep tours.
No. 2 Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The beaches alone on this French Polynesian island were enough to make readers’ cheeks flush. Bora Bora ranked highly for its natural beauty, with crystal-blue lagoons perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, or just gazing—especially if there is a window in the floor of your overwater bungalow. We recommend the Four Seasons Bora Bora, which features 100 overwater lodgings, many with views of Mt. Otemanu. The hotel’s spa is also worth a visit; in its couples’ treatment room, you can get scrubbed with Tahitian black pearl powder and locally sourced vanilla. Even from the massage table, guests get a view of the waters below.
No. 1 Maldives
With 1,102 islands and 26 atolls, the Maldives archipelago offers a solid chance of feeling like you’re really getting some private time. Indeed, many resorts fill entire islands on their own: Take the One & Only Reethi Rah, which occupies a 108 acre island; many rooms have private pools and direct access to the beach. The island’s restaurant scene is also not to be missed—in part for the fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, but also for the romantic ambience, like the treehouse setting of teppanyaki restaurant Nest, at Per Aquum Niyama Maldives.