At these destinations, couples can enjoy unspoiled natural beauty with just the right amount of civilized comforts
There’s nothing more romantic than strolling a quiet beach hand-in-hand or enjoying a favorite libation while watching the sun set across clear tropical waters. While there are any number of places where this scenario might play out, some destinations stand out not only for their scenic beauty but also for offering crowded spaces where couples can truly get away from it all. Here are seven islands at the top of the list.
Kauai: A Natural Attraction
Couples looking beyond Hawaii’s high-rise resorts and beach-and-luau scene turn to Kauai for a romantic escape that’s small on crowds and big on natural beauty. Kauai is loved not only for what it offers but also for what’s missing. There are no high rises, as local ordinances dictate that no building can be “taller than a palm tree.” Ditto for shopping malls, traffic lights, and traffic in general.
Kauai’s nickname is the Garden Island, and this lushest member of the Hawaiian chain lives up to its billing with landscapes rich in orchid and hibiscus blooms, fragrant candlenut groves, hala thickets, and the sprawling canopies of mahogany and monkeypod trees. It is a land where lush valleys are framed by emerald cliffs and cascading waterfalls, with wild beaches cloistered in surf-washed coves. The legendary NaPali Coast is a mecca for hard-core hikers willing to trek into challenging landscapes far from the road. But the island also has its share of four and five-star properties that have long been a favorite with honeymooners, couples enjoying some alone time and celebrities seeking a quiet escape from the spotlight.
Bora Bora: Birthplace of the Bungalow
With its iconic thatch-roofed bungalows set in a sparkling lagoon encircling an emerald-green volcanic peak, Bora Bora is the epitome of a romantic South Pacific escape. And there’s nothing more romantic than a private aquatic oasis perched above a tranquil lagoon, with breathtaking vistas of sea and sky seen from a private terrace and colorful coral reefs beckoning in the gin-clear water just below.
Bora Bora is the island credited with launching the overwater bungalow trend that has since spread to tropical destinations around the world. It all began in the 1960s when a trio of pioneering hoteliers known as the “Bali Hai Boys” placed some simple rooms on stilts to provide lagoon access in a location lacking a sandy beach. A decade later, the Hotel Bora Bora raised the bar with a collection of luxurious overwater accommodations that lured a steady stream of Hollywood A- listers. Fast forward 50 years and more than a dozen resorts offer world-class collections of overwater accommodations with added touches such as private infinity pools, spa baths, glass observation floors, in-room massages, and meals delivered by outrigger canoe.
St. Barts: The Caribbean’s Côte d’Azur
Imagine blending the romance of Paris with the glamour of the French Rivera and the allure of a postcard-perfect Caribbean beach. That’s the magic of St. Barts, and it’s not lost on the rich, famous, and beautiful people who frequent this small piece of French Caribbean. Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s no velvet rope blocking entry, and the vibe is relaxed and inclusive rather than elitist and exclusive.
With nary a mega-resort in sight, St. Barts’ shores instead feature eclectic guest houses and small to mid-sized beachfront resorts offering understated luxury with an emphasis on service and views rather than over-the-top amenities. And it’s not surprising that St. Barts is a favorite with foodies. There are more than 70 restaurants where classic French fare shares menus with an inspired range of fusion cuisines that incorporate inspirations from West Indian, Creole, Italian and Asian cultures. Wine lovers are equally rewarded with dozens of cellars that represent all regions of France and beyond.
Koh Lanta: Thailand’s “Just Right” Island
From the towering limestone spires of James Bond Island to the pristine beauty of Leonardo Di Caprio’s cinematic strand in The Beach, the islands of Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay deliver some of the world’s most stunning and romantic beachfront settings — just don’t count on having them to yourself. Each year more than 10 million tourists board tour boats from the nearby resort mecca of Phuket for day trips that can fill these Instagram-worthy sands to standing-room-only capacity.
Couples looking for some scenic and private beach time can travel to the bay’s eastern shore and catch a boat from Krabi Town to Koh Lanta Island. This less-developed island offers a just-right mix of unspoiled nature and a more upscale but still low-key vacation experience. The island’s western shore offers dozens of soft sand beaches tucked between limestone headlands — some totally wild, others supporting a smattering of casual beach bars. Couples looking to splurge can choose from a handful of four and even five-star properties scattered along the island’s west coast, while the majority of lodging options fall in the mid-range category but at prices less than half that of Phuket.
La Digue Island: The Most Romantic
The votes are in, and for the fourth year running, the World Travel Awards have named the Seychelles Islands as The World’s Most Romantic Destination. Few would argue that face given the chance to walk hand-in-hand on Anse Source d’Argent beach. Located on the western shore of La Digue Island, this stretch of dazzling, powder-soft sand is transformed into a giant Japanese Zen Garden by the monolithic granite boulders punctuating the palm-shrouded coastline. It is a setting that has inspired comparisons to the biblical Garden of Eden and moved this beach to the top of many best-in-the-world lists.
Of the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles group, La Digue is more accessible and developed than the sparsely populated outer islands but far less busy than the principal island of Mahé, which is home to 80 percent of this island’s population and many of the larger resorts. La Digue is a destination that can only be reached by boat. It is home to fewer than 4,000 people and musters a limited but world-class collection of boutique luxury resorts. And with 18 spectacular beaches riming the island, couples will have no trouble finding their special place on the sand.
Pemba Island: Spice and Solitude
The name Zanzibar conjures romantic visions of an exotic and far-flung land. This island, located just off the coast of Tanzania, is known for Its ancient port of Stone Town, once home to the Sultan of Oman and a hub of the spice trade. But as a secluded romantic escape? Not so much. Today, the cargo comes mostly by air in the form of a half-million sun seekers who arrive each year lured by the promise of crystalline waters. To meet this ever-growing demand, the island’s shores are now lined with some 200 beach resorts, and the streets of the thousand-year-old city reverberate with club music at night.
For a step back in time to what Zanzibar was 50 years ago, couples can take a short flight some 60 miles north to Pemba Island. Though about the same size as Zanzi- bar, Pemba is far less visited. To this day, it remains a land of verdant green hills, coconut groves, and clove plantations. The island’s true rewards are the beaches — miles and miles of pristine white sand that rarely see a footprint. Limited tourism has resulted in a “just right” amount of development, with a sampling of small upscale properties to choose from on the island’s north-ern shore and a handful of smaller guest houses in qui- et fishing villages to the south.