Travel Special: PARTY ISLANDS

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The Independent Culture
If you're chic, preferably with classy connections - or at least know a yachtie, you might just make it on St Barth's, the Caribbean island that can make St Tropez look dowdy, where the glitterati and wealthy land either by schooner or by Twin Otter aircraft from Antigua, littering their Vuitton luggage over the tiny runway, before settling into the simple life, St Barth's style - which means staying in all-exclusive luxury.

The island has at least 20 white sandy beaches where top models top up their tans, though rarely before lunch. Look out for the names loading terrine de lapin or frogs legs into their supermarket trolleys, or plundering the liquor stores or designer boutiques of the shopping malls of Gustavia, the capital and main port, usually crammed with catamarans stocking up on duty frees. After dark, it's all go, discos and bars galore. The island has at least 60 restaurants, many of which turn into bars with music later. La Mandala run by Roger Vadim's son is one, Le Bar de L'Oubli another.

No, Ibiza is no longer a cheap package holiday island for the lager-with- chips brigade. Since its 15 billion peseta clean-up, it has become one of the most cosmopolitan hotspots in the Med, playing host to the likes of Julio Iglesias and Baron Thyssen. Beautiful people throng the narrow alleys of the tiny capital, a real top-class attraction crammed with tiny cafes, gay bars, art galleries and restaurants; they doze during the daylight hours on the fashionable Las Salinas beach.

For three peak summer months, the Greek island of Ios is heaven - if you're young, relatively poor, more than averagely gregarious and maybe slightly deaf. It's hell on earth if you arrived on spec, hoping to find more or less to yourself, this small, simple, quiet Greek island with an attractive harbour, a windmill crowned hill, and a superb sandy beach - so rare in the Cyclades, as well as unconfirmed rumours that this was Homer's birthplace.

Ios is good humoured, raucous, brash, visitors staying put for weeks on end, with the cheapest accommodation at pounds 5 per room per night, and the noisiest nightlife to be found up in the village of Chora up the hillside, where old men flick their worrybeads in the local cafes, clearly enjoying the mayhem around them.

Thirty ferries a day disgorge young holidaymakers in the picturesque port of Paroika on the island of Paros which also has a hectic summer season, but has more and quieter beaches to chill out on. Much more sophisticated and therefore more expensive (say pounds l5 a night), neighbouring Mykonos, with its dazzling white village harbour, is gay, arty, noisy, stylish - and overflowing.

British backpackers normally hit the Gili Islands in the Far East a year or so after doing the Greek islands, their Antipodean counterparts somewhat earlier, both groups refugees from Bali's Kuta beach. The islands are reached after an idyllic five-hour ferry trip from Bali to Lombok, and an hour's motorised rowing boat from Sengiggi or Bangsal.

From then on, in July to mid-August, tiny Gili Trawangan becomes the laid-back party island. Each restaurant is a disco club in turn for one night a week, there'll be beach parties on another night, a Full Moon party each month. Living is cheap and simple in bamboo beach bungalows where cooling fans are the air conditioning, the choice of eating can be barbecued fish or spaghetti. Those who can save, go diving off the coral reef with one of the excellent and reasonably priced diving schools. To get away from it all, they just row or swim across to the peace and quiet of Gili Meno or Gili Air.

St Bartes: Very little budget accommodation. Elegant Resorts (01244 897016) offers the Guanahani Hotel from pounds 1,980 a week B&B, and the secluded Hotel Le Toiny from pounds 3,125.

Ibiza: Charters from Avro (0181 715 0000) from pounds 108.

Ios: Charters to Mykonos from Campus Travel (0171 730 3402) from approx pounds 130.

The Gili Isles: pounds 610 return to Bali with (STA).