Calendar Highlight: May, which sees the dry season hit full swing, makes for perfect hiking conditions yet misses the peak influx of French tourists in late July and August.
The 411: Unleashed from the Indian Ocean during a volcanic event 2 1/2 million years ago, the tiny French territory of La Reunion hovers about 500 miles east of Madagascar, far from Americans' travel radar. Its population of 720,000 is a blend of Creole, African, Asian, and European heritages and Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim religions that share a rugged 970-square-mile landscape of mountains, sugarcane fields, and high-altitude forests. Nature lovers can gorge on hikes around the three massive waterfall-rich basins in the island's verdant center or scuba-dive the reefs on its south and west sides. The touristy west coast town of Saint-Gilles, known for its beaches and ocean sports, serves as Reunion's answer to French Riviera hot spot Saint-Tropez.
How gay?: Saint-Denis, the island's administrative capital, has two full-time gay bars, and special LGBT events pop up at clubs around the island. Sun worshippers flock to the white sands of the west coast's gay nude beach, La Souris Chaude ("the Hot Mouse"). Reunion's tourism board, which adopted a gay-friendly welcome charter in 2005, has 45 local business subscribers, making this the Indian Ocean's queer oasis.
Insider View: "Family is very important, making it difficult for Creoles to live as [openly gay], but for the new generation things are changing. The homosexuality of Europeans and other visitors does not pose any problem even when it's relatively visible." -- Reunion tourism board member Stephane Bonneau, a gay resident
Don't Miss: Hike around or helicopter above the stunning lava flows of 8,630-foot Piton de la Fournaise ("Furnace Peak"), one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Luxe Lodging Pick: Tropical Creole villas house the 65 rooms and suites of the secluded Palm Hotel and Spa -- renowned for its views of the south's naturally wild Grand Anse beach and indoor-outdoor gourmet dining.
Calendar Highlight: June is a good time to enjoy Mykonos's warm summer before hordes of Northern European tourists descend in July and August. Devour feasts of local seafood during the Fishers' Festival of Agii Apostoli on June 30.
The 411: The gayest isle in the eastern Mediterranean is a rainbow refuge in a nation where the Eastern Ortheodox Church holds considerable political sway. This arid island smack-dab in the middle of the Aegean Sea has a small size that facilitates intimate socializing. You can't help but bump into the same friendly tourists in gay bars, at nude beaches (the main queer one being Elia), and down the main village's famously labyrinthine, whitewashed alleyways. Summer is crazily busy, while the isle shutters completely during the rainy winter.
How Gay?: Very. Athenians (both out and closeted) hop high-speed ferries to the isle for sex-and-sand weekends. Mykonos is home to the only two exclusively gay hotels in all of Greece, the Elysium and the Geranium, as well as tons of gay-friendly B&Bs, villas, and vacation rentals. Chatty, packed pubs dominate instead of clubs and DJs.
Insider View: "The Mykonos people were always very
open-minded and tolerant. I think it's the island's history of being a multicultural center of trade and commerce." -- Vassilis Chouliaras, owner of the Elysium Hotel
Don't Miss: Mykonos's uninhabited neighbor island of Delos (a short ferry ride away), birthplace of the studly sun god Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, goddess of the moon. The tiny isle has a 4,000-year history and once thrived as a major spiritual and commercial center, as evidenced by its incredible ruins of temples, mansions, and statuaries.
Luxe Lodging Pick: Perched on a bluff over the Aegean, the Santa Marina Resort is one of the finest in Greece, with 97 rooms, suites, and villas; pools with ocean views; a full spa; private yacht rentals; and helicopter service from Athens.
Calendar Highlight: July is the apex of the island's summer festival season, bringing the Malta Jazz Festival and the kickoff of the three-week Malta Arts Festival.
The 411: Seven thousand years of history give mythic texture to the sun-dappled Republic of Malta, an archipelago home to 400,000 residents in the Mediterranean Sea. Prehistoric temples, underground churches, and fortresses built by the Knights of St. John in the 16the-century capital city of Valletta (on the island of Malta) form a smorgasbord of World Heritage sites. There are far more churches (365) than beaches in this Roman Catholic stronghold, contributing to a less hedonistic tone than that of other Mediterranean resorts. However, joining the European Union in 2004 went a long way to boost Malta's tourism appeal-particularly with young Europeans who come to frolic by the sea.
How Gay?: LGBT nightlife is scattered on the island of Malta, with the oldest queer establishment, Tom Bar, situated outside the capital in Floriana, while a showy newcomer, club Klozet, has taken up residence in Paceville. St. Julian's is home to the gay-owned Adams Hotel and Bar. Catholic dominance makes the equality battle a struggle for the group called the Malta Gay Rights Movement, but its small gay pride marches started in 2004.
Insider View: "The Maltese are, at heart, party people. The club scene is generally hetero-dominated, but this does not hold the GLBT community back." -- Al "Chunky" Buhagiar, gay DJ, event promoter, and Malta native
Don't Miss: Take a break at Fontanella, a locally beloved teahouse set into the medieval walls of Mdina, Malta's oldest fortified city. The cakes rival the sweeping island views from the hilltop location.
Luxe Lodging Pick: The still-expanding Hilton Malta in St. Julian's rules the high-end market with recently updated rooms and suites overlooking the Med, plus three outdoor pools, five restaurants, and an aquatic sports club.
Calendar Highlight: San Ciriacois Day, in honor of the patron saint of the isle, is marked on August 8 with floats, parades, and fireworks.
The 411: The isle that never sleeps, Ibiza (pronounced "ee-beeth-a" with a lilting Castilian lisp) is famous the world over as Mediterranean party central, where young Euros go to lose sleep and groove all night in monolithic clubs (thankfully located out of town), only to collapse on the mellow beaches during the day to recharge before beginning the whole cycle again. One of the Balearic Islands off the southeastern coast of Spain, Ibiza offers geographical splendors such as steep cliffs, dramatic rock isles, and tucked-away beach coves. And the main town of Eivissa bears hallmarks of an ancient history: There's an old town with an abandoned castle peering over the goings-on, and winding, cobblestone streets harbor old-world Spanish architecture.
How Gay?: Ibiza's party scene, although hetero-dominated, is heartily homo as well, with more gay nightlife than Mykonos and a social queer beach and restaurant scene at Chiringay.
Insider View: "Ibiza is not a ghetto the way people think it is. People think it's only for drugs and sex, but it's a place for sun, diversions, good food, and culture too." -- Vincent Momal, manager, Ibigay.net
Don't Miss: Privilege, the world's largest nightclub, has a capacity of 10,000, a DJ booth jutting over a swimming pool, Broadway-worthy stage shows, and multiple dance rooms. The largely hetero scene is worth a peek for the spectacle if nothing else.
Luxe Lodging Pick: The chic 65-room Hotel Hacienda, perched on a sea cliff, hosts an outdoor spa with heated seawater pools and waterfalls, gourmet restaurants, and rooms with Arabic arches and expansive ocean views.