February 13, 2007
The World's Most
Romance on the Sand
By Bruce Kluger
(See Romantic Beaches slide show
online at ForbesTraveler.com.)
Back in December, we made waves
with our sizzling slideshow, The 25
Sexiest Beaches in the World, a
tanned and toned roundup of the most
sensual stretches of sand on the
planet—from the white-hot revelry of
Ipanema to the red lava cliffs of
Predictably, reader reaction was
response to one of our selections.
"You picked the right spots but the wrong beaches,” countered the confident and
“You cannot be serious by not mentioning Grace Bay on Turks and Caicos,”
scolded an obviously smarting Beach Dog. “I guess beauty is in the eye of
Yet for all the raging debate, we do confess that our list of runners-up was almost
as formidable as our top 25. And that’s the good news because here we go again.
In revisiting our research, we noted that in our pursuit of the sassy and scenic, we
also uncovered a few coastal gems that, while certainly sexy, had a little something
extra to offer—romance.
So what’s the difference between sexy and romantic? Hit the personal growth
section at Barnes & Noble and you can earn a doctorate on the subject. But where
beaches are concerned, it all comes down to the three S’s: setting, serenity and
No doubt about it, a place like Copacabana—a no-brainer on our sexy beaches
list—is nothing short of electrifying. However, when you’re in the company of a
special someone, don’t you have a more private kind of Carnaval in mind? For that
matter, the sultry shores of Ibiza (another sexy beach topper) is a bona fide eyeful;
but our guess is that an intimate escape for two requires a little less people-
watching and a little more one-on-one time.
With a nod to Valentine’s Day, we present 14 beach destinations guaranteed to
inspire your romantic dreams the same way a Tahitian sunset inspired Gauguin’s
In assembling our list, we paid close attention to the comfort factor. Although we’ve
recommended a few private resorts, most of our selections tend to slip off the white
gloves for a more natural kind of TLC. Beautiful Biarritz Beach on France’s Côte
Basque, for instance, may not have the glitz and glamour of Saint-Tropez, but its
charm is so intoxicatingly Old World that we defy you not to fall helplessly in love
with it—or on it.
Conveniently, many of our picks are only a short hop from the world’s better known
and more populated seaside retreats. The beach at Hanalei Bay on the Hawaiian
island of Kauai, for example, is just around the coral corner from the family-friendly
Anini beach. Surf splashers choose Anini; dreamers choose Hanalei. Ditto the
sheltered Mexican resort of Majahuitas which, just down the coast from the bustling
beach scene at Puerto Vallarta, specializes in a more hidden kind of hedonism.
Access—or rather, lack of it—played a key role in our selections, too. Getting to the
jungle haven of Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula can be a
trek worthy of Indiana Jones, requiring passage by chartered air, donkey cart and
foot. But for thrill-seekers in search of love and adventure, that’s part of the fun.
Meanwhile, if you can even find the tiny and idyllic Papa Cove on the Greek island
of Ios, then you might want to consider a career in private investigation.
A few of the usual suspects make an appearance on our list: the Great Barrier Reef
in Australia, and the splendorous South Pacific paradises of Bora Bora and Fiji.
But in the end, we were more interested in the kind of scenery you find in From
Here to Eternity, not Frommer’s. In fact, one of our 14 selections possesses a
feature we’d never seen before: a beach that’s actually shaped like a heart. Now
there’s a place you gotta love.
(See Romantic Beaches slide show online at ForbesTraveler.com.)
Majahuitas (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico)
Some call it a miniature heaven on earth. Down the coast from Puerta Vallarta,
along the lower scoop of shoreline that traces the Bay of Banderas, lies the remote
resort of Majahuitas. Accessible only by outboard boat (the jaunt takes 30 minutes
and will run you about 50 dollars), the semi-private beach is best known for its
rustic splendor—luxurious huts lit only by candlelight, and exquisite feasts cooked
to order right in front of you. For those who like to mix romance with recreation, the
crystal waters at Majahuitas range from 10 to 60 feet, making for ideal scuba diving
Happy Bay (St. Martin)
Gracing the ten-o-clock rim of the tiny tropical island of French St. Martin, the
beach on Happy Bay is still relatively undiscovered, requiring a ten-minute hike
through the underbrush to find it. Once there, however, this hidden haven instantly
captivates. Shrouded by bent and swaying palm trees, and boasting a flawless
crescent of white sand that neatly frames the sparkly turquoise water, the beach is
largely uninhabited, and therefore known for its liberal dress code. Some villas are
currently in the making here; but development remains spare, so at lunchtime most
sustenance-seekers stroll south to the bar-restaurant scene on Friar’s Bay.
Flamenco Beach (Culebra)
The achingly pretty Flamenco Beach lazes on the northwest corner of Culebra, the
picture-postcard isla chiquita seventeen miles east of mainland Puerto Rico.
Perched next to a wildlife preserve, and melting into a light-blue surf that remains
waist-deep 50 feet out, this idyllic, mile-long stretch of beige sand is frequently
populated by lounging lizards and dive-bombing pelicans—but not a lot of tourists.
Therein lies the romance. (Note: On the far end of the beach, abandoned military
tanks sit in the brush, left over from U.S. Navy exercises in the Seventies. Man your
Magens Bay (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
They say pirates once ran their bawdy business out of St. Thomas, the hilly,
subtropical gem that lolls in the northern waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Centuries
later, the buccaneers have gone, but St. Thomas remains one of the Caribbean’s
most popular ports of call. Pocketed on the top side of the island, and sheltered by
rock formations and shade trees, is the beach at Magens Bay, a slam-dunk
destination for lovers of surf, lovers of sunsets, and lovers period. What makes
Magens so romantic? Well, for starters, the beach is shaped like a heart….
Corcovado National Park (Costa Rica)
For true nature enthusiasts, the beach at the southern end of Corcovado National
Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is romance at its wildest. Getting there can be
arduous—the trip requires flying into a tiny airstrip, surviving a bumpy cab ride (or
donkey-drawn carriage) and, of course, hoofing it. But the payoff is obvious: Just
off the green-sand beach sits a lantern-lit tent camp surrounded by a virtual eco-
lab of vegetation and animal life, including scarlet macaws and monkeys. Here,
enchanted visitors sip piña coladas in a thatched bar, wade in the Jacuzzi-warm
surf, or bathe in a fresh-water stream that spills out from the jungle just a few clicks
down. The ultimate tropical escape.
Biarritz Beach (France)
In 1854, Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenia, built a palace on the shores of
Biarritz in southwest France, instantly transforming the region from an ordinary
whaling town into a vacation retreat worthy of royal attention. Today, Biarritz Beach
on the Bay of Biscay remains the pride of the Côte Basque, each year luring
endless waves of surfers and sunbathers to its golden sands, breathtaking cliffs
and vibrant nightlife. Incidentally, for those who prefer their romance indoors,
Eugenia’s little beach pad is now the world-class Hotel du Palais.
Papa Cove (Ios, Greece)
The odds were clearly stacked against it: Three thousand Greek islands are
scattered about the Agaean Sea, 220 in the Cyclades group alone, one of them the
serene, beach-strewn isle of Ios. And yet it all comes down to one little cove. On the
quiet eastern shore of Ios, just south of the more inhabited Kalamos Beach, lies the
secluded sanctuary of Papa, a barely-there inlet whose half-moon plot of sand,
placid sapphire waters and protective curve of rock-mountain walls proves once
and for all that the Greek Gods—and Mother Nature—knew a thing or two about
The Seychelles (Indian Ocean)
One thousand miles east of the African mainland—and the continent’s smallest
sovereign state—the Republic of Seychelles continues to define romance, if only by
the hordes of honeymooners who swarm to its lush shores every year. Although
any beach on the 115-island cluster is worth the airfare, true lovers can be found
ambling on the soft, flat sands of Anse Boileau on the main island of Mahé; or along
the tranquil shorelines of La Digue (made famous in Bacardi ads), where everyone
knows everyone and guests at the island lodge are fetched from the ferry by ox cart.
Bentota Beach (Sri Lanka)
Dangling like a dewdrop from the southern tip of India, the island nation of Sri
Lanka is a topographical marvel, where rolling emerald plains gently blend into
forested hills, and colorful Buddhist and Hindu temples dot the landscape like
jewelry. But the beaches that fringe the perimeter of Sri Lanka are what best
capture the heart, especially the sloping sands of Bentota, on the island’s
southwestern ridge. Tucked between the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and a
lazy blue river just behind it, Bentota Beach is a top choice among sun worshippers
who know a garden paradise when they see one.
Bora Bora (French Polynesia)
Blessed with Crayola-color vistas, and dominated by the black-rock twin peaks of
an ancient volcano at its center, Bora Bora—the jewel in the crown of French
Polynesia’s Leeward Islands—is renowned for its on-the-water deck-bungalows,
complete with steps that lead directly down into bath-warm lagoons. The
magnificent Matira Point, on the southern tip of the main island, is especially
mesmerizing, with its mint-blue waves, sugar-white sands, and awesome views of
the cloud-piercing mountains. Favorite activities-for-two include botanical hikes,
beach picnics and glass-bottom-boating.
Vatulele Island (Fiji)
Lingering in the southwestern waters of the Fiji archipelago is the volcanic island of
Vatulele (pronounced vah-too-LAY-lay), a coral-and-sand wonderland on which
native coconut and taro farmers mingle among high-end jet-setters and
adventurous wedding parties from around the globe. An all-inclusive resort, the
island is home to a dazzling variety of villa facilities, some in jungle settings, others
beachside. The 110-person staff is hellbent on pampering its guests, asking them
to abide by one set of island rules: no money transactions, no telephones, no TV,
no shoes. Hey, no problem.
Hayman Island (Australia)
Floating among the dreamscapes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the private
resort of Hayman Island, an eden-like outpost that practically flaunts it romantic
grandeur—with sweeping, coral-lined beaches, verdant tropical foliage and a
perpetually sultry climate. Visitors routinely share space with a colorful contingent of
wild things (cockatoos, swans and butterflies abound), and at night the stars
practically explode against the ink-black sky. High-end tourists can check out the
sweet suite scene on the island’s southwestern side, with its ample villas woven
among peaceful waterfalls, delicate gardens and open-air lanais.
Hanalei Bay (Kauai, Hawaii)
Quietly nestled on the northern shores of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the beach
at Hanalei Bay is damn near picture-perfect, with its elegant horseshoe of bright
sand hugging the base of the island’s deep green mountains. Legendary for its
terrific surf and intoxicating sea-air aroma, the striking landscape actually
transforms throughout the day: In the morning, the glassy water reflects the
surrounding cliffs like a three-mile mirror, and at sunset, you’d swear someone had
painted the sky. Hand-in-hand beach strolls are mandatory here.
Bahai Honda (Florida)
Who says you need to cross the pond to find true romance? Located toward the
center of the 1700-island shoestring of the Florida Keys, Bahai Honda State Park is
something of a departure from the typical Florida beach scene—quieter than the
madness at Daytona, and blissfully devoid of the blanket-to-blanket crush of South
Beach. Privacy reigns supreme here, with shallow, teal waters that stretch beyond
the horizon, and hundreds of yards of virtually empty sand. For those who want to
extend their romantic interlude to an overnight, the park provides 80 convenient
campsites for tent-toters and RV drivers.
(See Romantic Beaches slide show online at ForbesTraveler.com.)