World’s Most Romantic Islands
The Tahitian island has certainly captured the hearts of Travel + Leisure readers, who voted Bora-Bora the No. 1 island for romance, a new category in this year’s World’s Best Awards survey. Spin the globe, and you’re bound to land by one of the top romantic islands. From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, they share the powerful ingredient of fantasy. There’s nothing like escaping to an island with your loved one to bring out starry eyes in the most jaded traveler.
Related: 50 Best Romantic Getaways 2010
Consider the Hawaiian island of Kauai, whose dramatic scenery—primeval rainforest, photo-ready waterfalls—has enough film credits to rival those of an A-list actor, including The Descendants, Avatar, and the steamy noir Body Heat.
“People see an island on screen, and they want that fantasy,” says Worldview Travel’s Adam Rog, citing the influence of movies and books on romantic getaways. Celebrities also raise an island’s profile, as is true of St. Bart’s, a white-sand favorite in the French West Indies, and Mustique, part of the Grenadines, a Caribbean island chain where Mick Jagger owns a villa.
And the secret is out about the more accessible Puerto Rican island of Vieques (No. 9), with a significant National Wildlife refuge—protecting sea turtles, lagoons, and mangroves—and a dreamy bioluminescent bay. The eco mind-set carries through at the intimate Hix Island House, which recently opened its solar-powered six-room Casa Solaris.
Even couples who get antsy after an hour at the beach or recoil from outdoor adventures can find plenty of diversions on islands like Santorini (No. 3), where there are extraordinary wines to taste and archaeological sites to explore. As ever with romance, a little mystery goes a long way.
Discover the getaway escape that’s right for you two castaways among these top islands for romance. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 1 Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
What could be more seductive than an overwater bungalow above a turquoise lagoon? That’s the essence of Bora-Bora, a geographically blessed sliver of French Polynesia. At its heart lies the jagged peak of Mount Otemanu; on its fringes, tiny motus (islets) and a coral reef with a swirl of colorful marine life.
Room to Book: Villas 103 to 110 at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort have private decks with whirlpools and outdoor showers.
Table for Two: Order the poisson cru (a local take on ceviche) at the sand-floored Bora Kaina Hut (Vaitape; borakainahut.com).
Don’t Miss: A private snorkeling trip with Diveasy Bora Bora (diveasyborabora.com), whose divemasters get you up close and personal with moray eels and giant manta rays. —Frances Hibbard
No. 2 Capri, Italy
Known for its limestone cliffs and waterfront villas, this four-square-mile speck in the Tyrrhenian Sea fully embraces the concept of la dolce vita. (For proof, look to the afternoon crowds stretched out on the rocks and sipping Prosecco at the glamorous La Fontelina beach club.) A funicular railway whisks visitors from the main port to the boutique-lined streets of Capri town; privacy-seekers keep heading upward by foot or bus to the quieter village of Anacapri. There, stroll through the gardens of the 19th-century Villa San Michele (villasanmichele.eu) with only ivy-covered statues for company.
Room to Book: No. 2 at J. K. Place Capri for a roomy terrace and dreamlike water views.
Table for Two: Sign up for a cooking lesson at the agriturismo TerraMMare (terrammare.com), where you’ll make, then dine on, traditional island recipes.
Don’t Miss: The nightly passeggiata, when well-heeled Italians glide through the streets at sunset before settling in at a bar on the piazza to watch the action unfold. —Shivani Vora
No. 3 Santorini, Greece
If there were ever a place that could get by on its looks, it would be Santorini. Whitewashed cave houses framed by bougainvillea and backed by blue-domed churches spill down the rim of an ancient volcanic crater; at sunset, the Sea of Crete is bathed in a rosy glow. Yet as compelling as the scenery may be, Santorini’s true appeal lies in its wealth of diversions—extraordinary wines, black (or red or white) beaches, and archaeological sites from the prehistoric era.
Room to Book: The Perivolas Suite at Perivolas hotel, whose cliffside terrace seems to hover at the crater’s edge.
Table for Two: Order the flaky pastry-wrapped saganaki (traditional fried cheese) with fig jam at Assyrtico Wine Restaurant (Firá; assyrtico-restaurant.com), a buzzy newcomer.
Don’t Miss: The richly preserved Bronze Age settlement of Akrotíri, sometimes referred to as the “Minoan Pompeii,” which reopened last spring. —Eleni N. Gage
No. 4 Kauai, Hawaii
It’s the oldest of Hawaii’s eight main islands—and arguably the most dramatic, with scenery that ranges from wind-eroded mountains and red-walled canyons to primeval rainforest and photo-ready waterfalls.
Room to Book: No. 808 at the St. Regis Princeville Resort for unobstructed views of Hanalei Bay.
Table for Two: Share a succession of small plates (slow-braised short ribs; honeycomb with goat cheese) at the laid-back, open-air Bar Acuda in Hanalei.
Don’t Miss: A six-hour hike with Chuck Blay of Kauai Nature Tours (teok.com); you’ll learn the myths of every fruit and flower along the way. —Laurel Delp
No. 5 Boracay, Philippines
Once a backpacking haven with only the most basic accommodations, this five-mile-long island now rivals better-known Asian destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui, Thailand. A 45-minute flight from Manila brings you to either Kalibo or Caticlan, where boats connect directly to White Beach, whose powdery sand may just be the softest in the world.
Room to Book: A short tuk-tuk ride from the southern end of White Beach, Mandala Spa & Villas (mandalaspa.com) feels like a true retreat, with daily yoga classes and massages included in room rates, along with all the mangoes you can eat. The cliffside Pool Villa has the best vantage point over the Sulu Sea.
Table for Two: Feast on Mediterranean mezes at Kasbah (Station One, White Beach; kasbahboracay.com), where pillow-strewn sofas evoke North Africa on the sand.
Don’t Miss: Mandala Spa & Villas’ Hilot Trilogy, which incorporates an ancient Filipino form of massage. —Ron Gluckman
No. 6 Maldives
This remote Indian Ocean archipelago greets travelers with white-sand beaches, atolls, and secluded high-end resorts that lure honeymooners and celebrities. The world’s lowest-lying nation has a close union with the sea: where else would you find a hotel with a coral nursery and an underwater nightclub? That would be Niyama Maldives, a Per Aquum Resort (peraquum.com). It has a restaurant reachable by boat only.
No. 7 Maui
Peel back the tropical-paradise façade of this Hawaiian island to reveal a rich variety of landscapes: the otherworldly summit of the volcanic crater Haleakala; the sugarcane fields and farms like O’o Farm; and the 1900s cowboy town of Makawao, with horses trotting down the back roads. For the ultimate tucked-away-ness, the eastern town of Hana at the edge of a rainforest is like falling back in time—and after a day out exploring, you two can retreat to luxe Travaasa Hana Maui, a special place that emphasizes the culture and tradition of Hawaii, from the indigenous patterns used in textiles to ukulele and hula lessons. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 8 Moorea, Tahiti
The less-visited sister island of Bora-Bora offers an intoxicating blend of rugged jungle interior, blue lagoons, and scents of tiare, pamplemousse, and vanilla that swirl in the air. It’s believed that author James Michener’s Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific was inspired by the island. To get the lay of the land, drive up Magic Mountain, and you’ll see Opunohu and Cook’s bays sparkle below. The Tahitians are typically friendly and open—and can point you to the wild, coconut-strewn beach where Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 9 Vieques, Puerto Rico
The secret is definitely out about Vieques, which promises the key ingredients for romance, among them, a slew of pristine coves and beaches and a languid pace. Portions of the island are designated a National Wildlife refuge—protecting sea turtles, lagoons, and mangroves—and the island’s famous bioluminescent bay is filled with microscopic organisms that flash bright blue and illuminate the water. The eco mind-set here carries through at the intimate Hix Island House, which opened its solar-powered six-room Casa Solaris in the past year, built by Canadian-born architect John Hix. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 10 Bali
Bali’s been at the apex of the romance circuit for decades, if not centuries, with couples drawn to the mist-shrouded temples, mountainous landscapes, Balinese art, and world-famous friendliness of the locals. The island got a recent boost (as if it needed it) from the success of Eat, Pray, Love, whose film crew chose the white-sand Padang-Padang beach as backdrop. Just a short drive away from here is the new Le Méridien Bali Jimbaran (lemeridien.com), with a saltwater lagoon pool. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 11 Grenadines, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Should you ever go to the Grenadines, chances are when you tell people where you’ve been—Bequia, Canouan, Mustique, Mayreau—they will look at you blankly. (Mustique sometimes registers, thanks to its popularity with Mick Jagger and British royals.) Tell people the archipelago is sandwiched between St. Lucia and Grenada, that the steel drums on Thursday nights at Bequia’s Frangipani are magical, that Tobago Cays National Park is a sailing dream, and they will begin fantasizing about their own getaway. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 12 Lanai, Hawaii
Lanai made headlines in 2012 when billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98 percent of this smallest Hawaiian island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Maui. With no stoplights or fast-food joints and a population of roughly 3,000, Lanai offers a glimpse of what other Hawaiian islands were once like. Explore Lanai City, a former pineapple plantation settlement, and get lost among cloud forests and lava cliffs. If it sounds a bit too rough, remember that two of the three hotels are Four Seasons (the other is Hotel Lanai), and the location at Manele Bay is a short hike to the windswept Sweetheart Rock. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 13 Anguilla
Ancient pre-Columbian legends marked Anguilla as the seat of the universe, where the Sun and Moon come together. And we’ll readily admit that there’s something special about this island brushed with 33 sparkling-white beaches. When you think Caribbean beach, Shoal or Rendezvous bays are probably the image in your mind’s eye. With art galleries aplenty and restaurants serving grilled lobster, jerked chicken, and Anguillan barbecue, you’ll easily have other diversions on this chic yet unpretentious slice of paradise. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 14 Huahine, French Polynesia
Vanilla plantations, a pearl farm, a lagoon for snorkeling and kayaking, and a sweet village that sells poisson cru are among the delights waiting for those who visit Huahine. Be sure to get to blissful Hana Iti beach (once the site of a luxury hotel that got whipped away during a monsoon) and to spend some time exploring the jungle. There is a large concentration of marae, or centuries-old sacred sites, in the village of Maeva—and in this unspoiled place, it’s easy to imagine a time when Polynesian chiefs ruled. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 15 Fiji
Among the 300-plus islands of Fiji, the most famous is arguably Turtle Island, where Blue Lagoon was filmed. Today the resort takes only 14 couples at once. Similar seclusion can be found on Qamea Island and its eponymous resort (qamea.com), where 10 beachfront bures (thatched-roof bungalows) sit amid coconut groves for maximum privacy. When the lali drums sound, it’s time for dinner. The rest of your vacation time together in Fiji might include private picnics, waterfalls, snorkeling, and a traditional kava ceremony at a welcoming local village. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 16 Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Sailing the sea—preferably with a rum punch in hand—is the raison d’etre of the British Virgin Islands, with another outcrop of land just a short ride away. And that’s all good. But Virgin Gorda claims another attraction: the granite boulder formations known as the Baths that jut from the sea like a Caribbean Stonehenge, with pools hidden within them. It’s the kind of place where couples like to linger. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 17 Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The gateways to the Great Barrier Reef are the lusty Whitsunday Islands, 74 of them tossed into a coral paradise that teems with manta rays, turtles, sharks, whales, and giant clams. Since only eight are inhabited, chances are good for a little “we” time. The iconic Hayman Island reopened last year after a full renovation. While there, take a seaplane tour to heart-shaped Hardy Lagoon.
No. 18 St. Bart’s, French West Indies
St. Bart’s has seen its star shine bright over the years, attracting jet-setters and A-list celebrities to Baie des Flamands and banana-tree-shaded properties that excel in low-key super-luxe. If you’re after the privacy only a pool can offer, the intimate, easygoing Hotel Christopher boasts the island’s largest. From here, it’s a 20-minute drive to the gingerbread-trimmed main town of Gustavia, with a clutch of high-design boutiques.
No. 19 The Big Island, Hawaii
The Big Island is a place of superlatives: a majority of the world’s 13 climate zones are represented here, which means you can split a day between a snowy mountaintop, a rainforest, and a beach surf camp. The island also has a green-sand beach, Papakolea, and a volcano that has been continuously erupting since 1983, pouring magma into the Pacific Ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A night at the movies could never be this good; if you want front-row seats, try Volcano House Hotel, set to reopen right on the rim in May 2013 after a $3 million renovation. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 20 St. John, American Virgin Islands
In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller donated 170 acres on St. John to be used as a spiritual center—National Park Service lands but run by a private company. Almost 60 years later, Caneel Bay Rosewood still maintains this Zen-like edge, with a policy of no phones and no TVs. Better to spend time on Honeymoon Beach, one of seven. This sonic depletion extends to the rest of the low-key island, which has scenic hiking trails and likely more tent sites than resorts. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 21 Harbour Island, Bahamas
This Out Island of the Bahamas is a splash of pastels: limes, yellows, and most famously, pinks. Pink Sand Beach, a postcard-perfect three-mile strip lapped by turquoise waters, should top any romance to-do list. Above the beach, join the kaftan-wearing set for a cocktail-fueled lunch at Sip Sip, and shop for your own at the India Hicks–owned Sugar Mill.
No. 22 Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Vancouver Island feels like a British Northern Exposure with a dab of Provence. Double-decker buses and horse-drawn carriages still roll along the streets of Victoria, a Hudson’s Bay Company fort established in 1843. Wineries, cider houses, and farms populate the valleys, while ferries on the East Coast turn their bows toward the off-radar Gulf Islands. A Northwest seafaring mood strikes along the Southwest coast, leading eventually to the warmth of the fireplace and hot tubs at Point No Point Resort’s 25 cedar cabins (pointnopointresort.com). —Christine Ciarmello
No. 23 Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
Frédéric Chopin declared Mallorca the most beautiful place in the world, and the island’s traditional stone villages, with narrow streets, lively cafés, and valleys of almonds and olive trees, have always inspired artistic types, among them poet Robert Graves and writer Anaïs Nin. More recently, the town of Sóller and the cove Sa Calobra attracted the Wachowskis, who filmed bygone-era scenes of Cloud Atlas here. And travelers can now choose between the resorts around Palma and villages where 11th-century fincas (country estates) have been converted into luxurious digs. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 24 Nevis
Tiny Nevis (population: about 12,000) is one of the least touristy-feeling of the Caribbean islands. The Four Seasons, which opened in 1991 and completed a renovation in 2010, remains the largest employer and one of a handful of discreet, high-end properties. There are also old plantation homes that warmly receive guests; for a look at the once-flourishing sugar trade that spawned these grandes dames, visit the Alexander Hamilton House Museum (nevis-nhcs.org) in the Georgian residence where he was born. And swing by Pinney’s Beach—backed by a jungle of vervet monkeys—to see what the buzz is about. —Christine Ciarmello
No. 25 Mykonos, Cyclades, Greece
It’s a windmill-laden island with the nonstop party spirit of St.-Tropez—which also happens to be a great value at the moment. Beach days on Mykonos extend well into the night, so if you are looking for romance (wallflowers, this island is not for you), it wouldn’t be bad to start at one of the many chichi waterfront bars like Caprice in the Little Venice neighborhood. When you’re ready for a little seclusion, check into one of the four villas at Villa Galaxy with panoramic island views and a personal butler, chef, and masseuse on hand should the need arise.
No. 26 Nantucket
Nantucket has a blustery island spirit, respect for tradition, and rather expensive tastes. Colonial homes share space with upscale boutiques and restaurants on the cobblestoned streets of Nantucket Town. Beyond, the island's windblown dunes and moors look starkly beautiful. Get away to Great Point for a secluded picnic on the beach—just you two, some seabirds and, perhaps, local fishermen.
No. 27 St. Lucia
The jungle-draped twin peaks of the Pitons give St. Lucia the Caribbean’s most dramatic backdrop—and signal that this is an island blessed with a variety of landscapes, among them, black-sand beaches, cocoa plantations, and Creole villages. Get an up-close perspective on island life by staying in a bungalow at the 130-acre Fond-Doux Holiday Plantation, a cocoa and tropical fruit plantation with two open-air restaurants.
No. 28 Bermuda
Off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda isn’t Caribbean, but has plenty else going for it: proximity to the East Coast; semitropical weather; British quirks; and those famous pink beaches. Close-to-shore reefs with marine life make Church Bay one of the top snorkeling spots, while a climb to the top of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse will reward you with dreamy views of the Atlantic.
No. 29 Sicily
Sicily excels in drama, ratcheting everything up a notch from the Italian mainland: bolder wines, spicier dishes, more intense sunshine, and Baroque cities that can look almost as crumblingly beautiful as the ancient ruins. Change, however, can come to some corners of this tradition-bound, impenetrable island; Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, opened in 2009, has put the spotlight on a lovely section of southern coastline between the Greek temples at Agrigento and Selinunte.
No. 30 Oahu
Honolulu welcomes travelers to Oahu with a dose of retro glamour; soak it in over a round of mai tais at the Veranda on the Waikiki beach strip. It’s also where to find a concentration of attractions ranging from the national monument at Pearl Harbor to the Bishop Museum, devoted to all things Polynesian. The north shore lures surfers with epic waves, while Hanauma Bay Beach is calm for snorkeling. Whichever beaches you choose, reserve two spots at a traditional luau.
No. 31 Kiawah Island, SC
Starfish and conch shells—and golf courses—line Kiawah Island's expansive 10-mile crescent of shoreline not far from Charleston. The Atlantic panoramas on every hole at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Pete Dye–designed Ocean course are beautiful. For more killer views, book one of 16 corner rooms at the Sanctuary Hotel and wait for sunset, when Kiawah’s beach glows pink.
No. 32 Saba
A wooded, five-square-mile dormant volcano crossed by a thin, winding road, Dutch-controlled Saba is one of the most unspoiled islands in the Caribbean. Not for beachgoers—it is virtually sand-free—Saba lures thrill-seekers and nature lovers with its rain-forest hiking trails and superb protected reefs. Dive at one of the Caribbean’s top scuba spots, Saba Marine Park, for octopus and hawksbill turtles sightings.
No. 33 Florida Keys, FL
Extending for 120 miles from the southeast tip of Florida, this bridge-linked chain of 1,700 islands is as close as you can get to the Caribbean without leaving America. The Keys’ prettiest beach is at Bahia Honda State Park, and the underwater scenery is just as gorgeous: Join a guided snorkel tour of Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Not far away, on a private island off of Little Torch Key, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa beckons with 30 thatch-roofed suites (each with a gauze-draped canopy bed and hammock for two), a spa, and an exceptional restaurant.
No. 34 Turks and Caicos
This British Overseas Territory counts 40 islands, with Providenciales as the main tourist hub. Leave those crowds behind and get thee to Parrot Cay, where the lack of nightlife and big high-rise hotels means blissful solitude is all but guaranteed. There’s only one resort, Parrot Cay, an ultra-exclusive retreat beloved of celebrities like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who were so smitten that they chose to marry here.
No. 35 Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Jost Van Dyke is one of the lesser-known islands in the BVI archipelago, and there's not much to do but pull up a chair at one of the two welcoming bars and watch the tide shift. You’ll find a relaxed vibe inside the 10 hillside retreats at White Bay Villas & Seaside Cottages, which all have spectacular views of St. Thomas and St. John.