The island of Hvar—located three miles off mainland Croatia, on the Dalmatian coast—is seriously swoon-worthy. Awash in lavender fields and lapped by translucent turquoise seas from all angles, the island has universal appeal. Budget European backpackers canoodle on beaches in secluded coves, but Bill Gates' yacht has been known to ply the waters offshore.
Few spots on Earth seduce like this iconic Greek isle, where white-washed villages with turquoise domes painted Aegean blue are set atop sinister calderas and volcanic precipices. Even the summertime masses can't tarnish Santorini's mystique. The island's various stretches of black volcanic sand woven through dramatic coves get crowded in peak summer months. But you can always steal away to a cozy taverna with fresh seafood on the menu, intoxicating ouzo and ocean views.
With the exception of garbage trucks, there's no motorized traffic on Hydra, a small island connected to the other Saronic isles by frequent hydrofoil runs. The traditional architecture prevails because, says Kelly Shea of Earle Travel Co., "new buildings have to be built on the remains of an existing building." The result is old fishing village charm with an artsy vibe that ups the passion factor and sets Hydra apart from more crowded Mediterranean locales that draw comparisons, such as Capri and St. Tropez.
Cleopatra and Marc Antony were said to have dallied on this gorgeous stretch of sand near Alanya on Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast. And legend says he created the beach for his beloved while trying to woo her. Even the sand at Cleopatra's Beach reflects the color of love; the grains are tinted an ethereal pink.
Northern Greeks and European tourists have had Thassos on their radar for years, but the island remains relatively unknown to Americans. It's an authentic and slower paced alternative for travelers looking to shake the crowds that abound elsewhere in Greece. Hire a motorbike with your beloved to circumnavigate the almost perfectly round isle. Thassos is lush with pine forests and misty at times, with a far more humid climate than dry Santorini. The beaches are rocky, but the atmosphere is languid, lush and undeniably sensual.
The postcard image for an under-the-radar Mediterranean destination, Sveti Stefan elevates seaside romance to the next level. Seemingly from another era, this Adriatic destination—connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus—fronts a medieval walled village that plunges to sapphire seas. "It's where Sophia Lauren and Carlo Ponti started their affair in the '60s," says Ellison Poe, president of Poe Travel in Little Rock, Ark., "It fell into ruin in the '80s, but now it's becoming quite the underground fashionable scene, and it's not on anyone's radar—a complete dreamland, with delicious food and totally unspoiled.
An hour's sail from Dubrovnik, Lopud gets far less celebrity and media attention than Hvar, but it's no less fabulous. Along with Sipan, Lopud is the only inhabited island in Croatia's Elafiti chain, with only a few hundred residents and not a motorized vehicle in sight. Most of the beaches are rocky, but there are a few sandy havens. Particularly stunning is the beach at Sunj, where there's no law (nor inhibitions) against bathing in the buff.
In northern Sardinia, near Porto Cervo, the Costa Smeralda is one of the island's few sandy beach locales. "With water so blue and sand so white, it's like nowhere else," says Beth Ruben of Select Italy, a Chicago-based luxury travel agency specializing in Italian travel. Five-star hotels abound, but renting a secluded villa overlooking the azure waters is as romantic as the Italian Mediterranean gets.
The five pastel-hued villages tumbling from clifftops and surrounded by vineyards in Liguria, along the Italian Riviera, are far from a travel secret. But Cinque Terre will always be an otherworldly destination. The Via dell'Amore—Path of Love—connecting the five villages along a billygoat-style trail that fringes the sea is laden with pop-the-question views. Accessed by a stairway tucked away near the train platform in the village of Corniglia, the dreamy private beach at Guvano is worth the entry fee of a few euros.
Driving east from Marseilles, it doesn't take long to escape the sprawl of France's third-largest city and find yourself ensconced in vineyards and plunging sea views in the fishing port of Cassis. Particularly in the evening hours, the port's twinkling lights beckon you hither, and the seafood meals and local wines are pure hedonism. An even headier romantic rush awaits nearby, at the Calanques—calcium-rich cliffs that gouge the coastline, where unexpected beaches are dwarfed by sheer cliffs.
Accessed in 20 minutes by boat from Le Lavandou in the South of France, the sublime sandy beaches on this forested island in the Hyères Archipelago feel worlds removed from the beaten Cote d'Azur path. "You hardly see another person because it's so hard to get to, you almost feel you like you have the island to yourself," says Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure travel with Altour, a luxury travel agency in New York City. The Plage de Notre Dame, on the northeast side of the island, is the most romantic beach in a field of fierce contenders.
With Mt. Etna standing sentinel over this beach on Sicily's east coast, there's something decidedly primal about Taormina. But make no mistake—this is a high-class, high-society, sun-worshipping scene. Even Italy's fabulous designer duo, Dolce & Gabbana, profess their love for Taormina. Cool off with a granita on the beach at Lido Mazzarò, full of canoodling couples and preening Italians. Then hop the funicular to climb from the beach to the medieval part of the village.
A history of colonization by monks, then pirates, might have something to do with the romantic allure of this lesser known stretch of the Cote d'Azur that sits 40 minutes southwest of glitzy St. Tropez (by car). Secluded beaches cut like commas into the coastline and manage not to be overrun with other lovebirds. Hit the sand at La Fossette—a pretty crescent accessed via a walking path that cuts through pine trees before tumbling down to the sea.
You can arrive by land, but the most pulse-quickening approach to this lonely sandy beach at the tip of Turkey's Datça Peninsula is aboard a gullet, a traditional Turkish sailboat. Knidos sits where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean, across the Gulf of Gokov from Bodrum, and is the site of ruins that have been likened to a mini Ephesus. Mystery surrounds a white piece of marble found here in 1970 that could possibly have belonged to a long lost Aphrodite statue considered one of antiquity's greatest treasures. The goddess of love provides perfect inspiration for lovebirds wandering the exotic beach and ruins.
Italians seem to have an innate inkling for romance, so follow their lead to this unknown-to-most beach located three hours south of Naples. "There are no daytrips to Maratea from Amalfi," says Martin Rapp of Altour, a luxury travel agency in New York City. "Very few people, other than Italians, know of this place, so you don't get these enormous crowds." Swoon-worthy beachside villas and a black sand beach (a rarity in Italy), all under the watch of a medieval village and pine forest surroundings set the scene for trysts away from the Amalfi Coast masses.