Some seem like paradise on earth with white sand and shimmering turquoise waters. Some still have vast areas that are practically deserted while others hum with the life of residents and year-round tourists. All are beautiful in their own way.
1. AZORES ISLANDS, PORTUGAL
There are nine major Azorean islands and an islet cluster, in three main groups. These are Flores and Corvo, to the west; Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, and Faial in the centre; and São Miguel, Santa Maria, and the Formigas Reef to the east. They extend for more than 600 km and lie in a northwest-southeast direction.
All the islands have volcanic origins, although some, such as Santa Maria, have had no recorded activity since the islands were settled. Mount Pico, on the island of Pico, is the highest point in Portugal, at 2,351 m. The Azores are actually some of the tallest mountains on the planet, measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks, which thrust high above the surface of the Atlantic.
The islands’ beauty is rare, and timeless; the volcanoes bring to mind the Miocene epoch, but in human terms there is a sense of 1950s-era innocence. The continuing restless volcanic activity seems to fill you with radiant energy and the salty, clean winds treat you to the world’s best free facials. There’s whale watching, swimming with dolphins, and diving with manta rays to be had, plus canyoning and kayaking. You can walk inside volcanoes, and around them, and drive along empty roads fringed with millions of azaleas and hydrangeas. There are no famous resorts, but plenty of cosy boutique hotels.
2. SANTORINI, GREECE
A mythical ancient island that endured one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history, Santorini feels like no other place on earth. Here, everything is brighter: the whitewashed cube-shaped houses, the lapis lazuli sea, and the sunsets that light up the caldera.
Locals believe the island is the site of the lost city of Atlantis and, whether that is true or not, it is certainly near to paradise with towns perching on the edge of the extinct volcano, white marble streets and glorious sunsets.
Base yourself in picturesque Oia, on the island’s northern tip, as it has the best views. If you prefer to trace the footsteps of countless fishermen from centuries past, opt for an unobstructed vista from one of the Spitia Houses, two traditional cave dwellings that Athens designer Panos Zaverdinos has updated with marble sinks, kitchenettes, and platform beds. From there, a staircase corkscrews 300 steps down to Amoudi Bay, where you can swim to the church of St. Nikolas Peramataris, on a black rock only 40 feet away. Here are the best five luxury hotels from the island.
Located just south of the Indian subcontinent, the Maldives are a gorgeous chain of islands in the Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea area consisting of 26 atolls. The Maldives are well-known as a world-class diving destination with crystal blue waters teeming with a diverse array of ocean life. There are also plenty of private bungalows and resorts abutting the islands’ white, sandy beaches, though in recent years cottages and apartments in the Maldives’ major towns have become more prealent.
Of particular note is the islands’ capital, Malé, which sits at the epicenter of Maldivian culture and features dozens of colorful pastel buildings and great local restaurants. Visit Maldives and take in its vibrant local life, which has been influenced by the cultures of adjacent nations like India, Thailand and regions of the Middle East, and yet remains wholly unique.
Within the Hawaiian-island family, Maui is the celebrity sibling: radiantly beautiful, a bit rebellious, and with glamour to spare. The island has attracted “seekers” for its healing energy since the 1960’s and, more recently, Internet millionaires and Hollywood A-listers who want to rejuvenate in five-star spas.
Maui is blessed with great weather through most of the year. The dry season lasts from April to October, and the rainy season from November to March, though it rarely rains more than two or three days in a row. The best time of year to visit Maui is in the shoulder season, when the weather is best, and the tourist influx is low.
5. BORA BORA
Bora Bora is part of the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia, in the Pacific Ocean. Visitors come for its tropical climate and stay in resorts and over-water bungalows among the multiple islands of the Bora Bora island group. Many visit Bora Bora to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
There’s one airport, Bora Bora Airport (also known as Motu Mute Airport), and the vast majority of the island’s pleasures, pastimes, and attractions are water-based, though there are some WWII relics on land. Travel to Bora Bora and enjoy the turquoise lagoon and Mount Otemanu, the island’s highest point that’s testament to the volcanic origins of one of Polynesia’s most beautiful locations.
There is no public transport on Bora Bora, so visitors get around by rental car, bicycle or small, two-seater buggies, which are available for hire in Vaitape, the island’s largest city and administrative center. The main island is small enough to travel around in three hours or so, but the lagoon is significantly bigger. It’s here and on the reef that pastimes like snorkeling, diving, canoeing and cruises take place.
For over 2,000 years, this speck in the Gulf of Naples, only four miles long and two miles wide, has been known for its dazzling beauty and extreme tolerance. Writers, artists and musicians have long been drawn to its shores.
Today the island is more popular than ever, as shown by its two million visitors annually. Still, peace and solitude can be found, even in summer. Most tourists cluster around the marinas and piazzas, leaving the miles of hiking trails along the island’s rugged west coast virtually empty, including a three-hour Route of the Forts, which links several medieval fortresses. And after the day-trippers leave in early evening, even Capri town appears much the same as it did when Gable watched Loren sing “You Wanna Be Americano” in a nightclub. Find out from HERE which are the best luxury hotels from the island.
7. MOOREA ISLAND, FRENCH POLYNESIA
Believed to have inspired the mythical Bali Hai from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, Moorea is one of the most scenically striking islands in French Polynesia. Despite her immaculate beauty, she is far from unapproachable. Possessing a relaxed vibe and welcoming spirit, Moorea is just as warm and inviting as the Tahitians lucky enough to call this island home.
Located only ten nautical miles from Tahiti, Moorea is easily accessible by ferry or plane from Papeete. This proximity, coupled with the island’s receptive and neighborly nature, makes Moorea a favorite destination for couples, families and even locals. Still, Moorea has managed to maintain its small island feel despite this popularity and the presence of a few internationally branded resorts.
The attraction toward Moorea comes as no surprise; the island is a geographical marvel. Eight voluminous mountain peaks rise from its translucent lagoon, creating a distinctive and rugged silhouette visible from the western coast of Tahiti. Splitting the northern shore are two symmetrical bays: Cook’s (Paopao) and Opunohu Bay. The island is roughly shaped like a heart from overhead; and in the theme of love and romance, Moorea is one of the top honeymoon destinations in Tahiti—second only to Bora Bora.
8. ARAN ISLANDS, IRELAND
Highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way with it’s Cliffs and spectacular coastal views, The Aran Islands (Islands of Saints and Scholars) is located just off Galway in the Atlantic. A true Irish experience where locals speak Irish as well as english.
Scattered with celtic churches of historical importance, a venue for the Redbull Cliff Diving and setting of the film ‘Man of Aran’, these islands represent a total release from the hussle and bustle of the mainland.
On the list of the world’s most romantic destinations, the Seychelles are about as close as you can get to the top. Located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, the cluster of 115 islands is a mix of populated ports and never-inhabited coralline islets.
Travelers visit the Seychelles for the culture of its capital city of Victoria and the pristine beaches only reachable by private yacht. Travel to the Seychelles and hike along its rugged granite cliffs or simply relax in the surf and sand.
Travelers planning to visit the Seychelles should consider the effect that two monsoon seasons have on the area’s climate. The southeast monsoon season hits each May through September and brings with it cool breezes and cloudy skies. The northwest monsoon season means clear skies and clear waters, along with high temperatures and, at times, rain. Seychelles travel reaches a peak during July and August and during the winter holiday season through the New Year. Many travelers, however, choose to visit the Seychelles in November and April for a mix of both seasons.
Hydra is truly the gem of the Saronic Gulf and stands alone among Greek islands as the one free of wheeled vehicles. No cars. No scooters. Just tiny marble-cobbled lanes, donkeys, rocks and sea. Artists (Brice Marden, Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas, Panayiotis Tetsis), musicians (Leonard Cohen), actors and celebrities (Melina Mercouri, Sophia Loren) and travellers have all been drawn to Hydra over the years.
In addition to the island’s exquisitely preserved stone architecture, criss-crossing rural paths and clear, deep waters, you can also find a good cappuccino along the people-watching harbour. The mules and donkeys are the main means of heavy transport and they, along with the rustic aspects of life on the island, give Hydra its two faces: chic and earthy.