Pleasant autumn is officially over and we've begun the descent into the dark days of winter. (Can you sense the melodrama?) As we all brace ourselves for a chilly season, here are Luxury Travel Advisor's top picks for island getaways that are sure to warm you up.
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Key West, Florida
Besides the obvious attractions of the sea, sun, and sand- Key West is so fabulous because of its whimsical and quirky personality. A favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, whose six-toed cats still inhabit his house on Whitehead Street, Key West is also known as the "Conch Republic" since it "seceded" from Florida in in 1982 with the motto: "The People Who Seceded Where Others Failed." Getting to Key West is part of the draw; the roadway is one of the prettiest highways on the planet, hopping over a string of islands with an impressive succession of bridges.
Just a few miles off the coast of Cannes, this tiny island shows a different face of the French Riviera. A colony of monks have lived here for centuries (according to legend, since Saint Patrick visited the region), tending a 20-acre vineyard and producing top-notch wines. In fact, the Saint-Césaire and Saint Salonius wines were served to 26 heads of state at the G-20 summit in Cannes in November 2011. Open to visitors, the island is a coveted piece of paradise in the Mediterranean.
L'île de Ré
Sometimes referred to as the "Hamptons" for Parisians, this French island juts out into the Atlantic near La Rochelle in Poitou-Charentes. White-washed fishing villages sparkle in the sun (the island gets something like 300 days of sunshine per year), and lovely cycling paths traverse the flat landscape, past lots of vineyards and the salt ponds where prized grey sea-salt is still harvested the old-fashioned way: by hand.
Back in 2009, after spending two days in Havana, Cuba, we took a nearly three-hour bus ride to Varadero. And it was well worth the trip. This isolated, unspoiled region compares to Havana like night and day. Varadero has some of the finest beaches and and the only 18-hole golf course in the country, perfect for both young and old romantics. Located in the province of Matanzas, Cuba, Varadero is one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean. Many of the resorts here are adults-only, so we recommend couples, especially since the journey to Varadero from Havana could turn the most, well-behaved child into, "are we there yet?" pests.
San Pedro, Belize
Belize has the culture, history and arts that have become associated with Central and South America along with the beautiful beaches, blazing sun and turquoise waters that have long been staples of the Caribbean. In fact, one of the best trips we ever took here at Luxury Travel Advisor was a week we spent in the country in 2010. We toured the country for a few days in the tropical, forested area of San Ignacio before heading to the beaches of San Pedro. San Pedro has often been described as Belize's Cancun, mostly because of all the cool clubs, bars and fantastic restaurants. And 30-somethings may be familiar with San Pedro's shout out ("last night I dreamt of San Pedro") in the 1987 Madonna song, "La Isla Bonita."
The island is home to some of the hottest resorts in the Caribbean from CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa to Viceroy Anguilla to the iconic Cap Juluca. Located right outside of CusinArt is one of the funkiest bars in the Caribbean, The Dune Preserve, which is owned by local musician, Bankie Banx, known as the "Anguillan Bob Dylan." Banks lives in the bar and plays a set every night. It is such a great compliment to the resort. Also, Shoal Bay East in Anguilla is considered to be one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. It is a coral island. The sunsets here are what sets it apart from most beaches. Plus, the locals who frequent this beach are about as nice as they come. You may also get an impromptu taste of culture on the beach as it's a popular spot for some leisurely games of cricket.
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The main attraction on Virgin Gorda, which is home to some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, is the Baths, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Caribbean jet-setters. The Baths are perhaps one of the most mind-blowing rock configurations you will ever see. At the Baths, the beach shows evidence of the island's volcanic origins, as huge granite boulders lie in piles on the beach. Because of the rocks, the water can be a little choppy, but not enough to ruin some great snorkeling. There are plenty of viable options for hotels close to the Baths, but why not pair a once-in-a-lifetime experience with perhaps the Caribbean's best villa resort. Villa Aquamare is made up of three thoughtfully designed, 8,000-square-foot villas‚ spaced out enough to ensure privacy.
Hamilton Island is part of the Whitsunday Islands—a collection of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland. Only six of them are inhabited, and only Hamilton has an airport. The island is owned by the Oatley family, which has developed it over the years into one of the most popular vacation destinations in Australia. Most hotels and resorts on the island cater to families, although one—qualia—is strictly for the over-16 set. Good to know: More than 70 percent of Hamilton Island has been left natural and undeveloped, making for terrific hiking opportunities and real escapes from other people.
Then there's Whitsunday Island itself, an uninhabited island most famous for Whitehaven Beach. This is one of those beaches you dream about: Soft white sand stretches for miles, and the turquoise water is perfect for swimming. The beach is protected from development, and access is limited to chartered boats or helicopters, so it is a good beach escape for any client who wants an exclusive experience far from the maddening crowds, and with few signs of other people.
Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
Thailand's southern region is known for its hundreds of islands scattered in the Andaman Sea, but our favorite is definitely Koh Yao Noi. Isolated away from the party scenes on Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Noi is an oasis all its own. The name of the game is pure relaxation, and, if you stay at Six Senses Yao Noi, pure indulgence.