Image: St. Thomas
Istock
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.
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updated 2/13/2007 6:20:52 PM ET 2007-02-13T23:20:52

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 Greece’s Santorini. Predictably, reader reaction was passionate.

“South Beach is as good as it gets!” a blogger named Mmay wrote in response to one of our selections.

“You picked the right spots but the wrong beaches,” countered the confident and well-traveled Okrad.

“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 beholder.”

Precisely.

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 seclusion.

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 brush.

Image: Flamenco Beach
Prtc
The achingly pretty Flamenco Beach lazes on the northwest corner of Culebra, the picture-postcard isla chiquita seventeen miles east of mainland Puerto Rico.
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 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.

Slideshow: Around the World 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.

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