© Corbis
Anguilla, Caribbean
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updated 6/15/2006 1:45:06 PM ET 2006-06-15T17:45:06

Rankings have long helped us distinguish among the finer things in life. We use the four C's when buying diamonds, and Michelin stars when deciding where to eat. Even A-list actors have Oscar statuettes to separate themselves from the other stars.

But compiling our annual list of the World's Sexiest Islands is an infinitely more subtle task. What, exactly, makes an island--or any travel destination, for that matter--sexy?

For starters, you can forget the traditional yardsticks for quantifying travel. Easily accessible, affordable and well-signposted? Sure, apply those criteria if you want to see the sights in a new city (along with all the other tourists). But by no means are they sexy.

Nor is every island innately sexy. Think of Vieques, a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico, which the U.S. Navy used for 60 years as a bomb-testing point. While it has one of the best bioluminescent bays in the world, at the moment it lacks for luxury lodging (see: " Vivid Vieques"). The Cayman Islands, while great for spring break, are generally too built up and too loud to qualify. Even Nantucket, the summer home to countless New England blue bloods, is more seersucker than seductive (see: " The Elephant and the Island").

Instead, we looked for islands that were neither overdeveloped nor underdeveloped; where basic infrastructure existed but didn't overwhelm the fundamental ingredients of sun, sand and sea. Islands overflowing with mega-resorts were automatically excluded--though those with super-luxurious digs were not, since indulgence is most definitely sexy--as were those that are too easy to get to. After all, what's sexier than touching down in a private plane? That's one of the only ways to reach Anguilla, which doesn't have a commercial airport.

Unusual natural or cultural features were another factor. Of course, we sought supple palm trees, beaches with powder-soft sand and brilliant coral reefs within snorkeling distance. But having a thriving local trade in fresh lavender, rosemary, figs and olives, as in Hvar, a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea, doesn't hurt. Neither does an indigenous language, like Corsican, which is spoken by natives of Corsica and closely related to the Tuscan dialect of Italian. The isolated beaches, lush valleys and sea cliffs of Molokai, the least developed Hawaiian island, made it an obvious choice as well.

Nothing kills the mood like worrying about your wallet, so we made sure to include islands with a range of accommodation and dining options. You can spend as little as $100 per night at Kuredu Island Resort in the Maldives, or $850 per night at the Grand Hôtel de Cala Rossa in Corsica. For many Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands, winter is high season, so travelers can save almost 50% by visiting now. For example, rates for a standard room at the One&Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas start at $490 per night this summer but rocket up to $750 in February and March.

To compile our list of the World's Sexiest Islands, we searched from sea to shining sea for remote, appealing locales. Some are well-known, while others you may never have heard of. But all of them will compel you, an otherwise sane traveler, to throw off your shoes, hide your watch and voluntarily give up Internet access. Now that's sexy.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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