Lifestyle

40 of the best beaches in Europe


Greece

Fteri, Kefalonia

Reached via a mildly adventurous hike or on a short bouncing taxi boat ride from nearby Zola harbour, Fteri is an alternative to this popular island’s busy big-hitter beaches such as Xi and Myrtos. Backed by white cliffs and a forested valley, Fteri remains relatively quiet thanks to the slight effort involved in getting there, but those who do are rewarded with cut-glass water and the sweep of white sand. An occasional luxury yacht might drop anchor but there are no snack bars or facilities, just caves to poke around in, interesting rock formations and darting fish to tail with your snorkel. A simple base for exploring this end of the island is the harbour’s Anna Studios Zola (from £205 a week room-only, sleep two).

Elafonisi, Crete

 Elafonisi beach Crete
Photograph: Aygul Sarvarova/Alamy

Elafonisi’s flamingo-pink beach, linked by a shallow turquoise lagoon to a dune-studded island where rare pancratium lilies perfume the air in spring, was once Crete’s best-kept secret. Even today these talc-soft sands 50 miles south-west of Chania are rarely crowded except in the height of summer, especially out on the island, where sunloungers are prohibited. It’s a bumpy ride on winding roads to this paradisiacal beach: for a stress-free way to soak up the vibe, stay close by at Elafonisi resort (doubles from €58 B&B).

Sarakiniko, Milos

Sarakiniko beach Milos island,
Photograph: Perfect Lazybones/Alamy

Santorini’s spectacular caldera may be Greece’s poster child, but when it comes to volcanic beaches, lunar-like Sarakiniko in Milos, with its startling white rocks like chalky icebergs wins hands down. Inevitably such a striking beach is popular with Instagrammers who come to take selfies leaping from the cliffs or posing near the beach’s half-submerged shipwreck; luckily, there are plenty of sheltered coves to escape the crowds. White Pebble suites (doubles from €250 B&B, two-night minimum) provides an elegant spa haven 15 minutes’ drive from Sarakiniko.

Plaka, Naxos

Greece, Cyclades, Naxos island, Plaka beach
Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

Beautiful beaches abound on this Cyclades island renowned for its immense kouroi statues and kitro, a punch-packing lemon liqueur. Tucked behind grass-spiked dunes, Plaka sits between the lively resort of Agios Prokopios and the near-deserted swathes of windswept Mikri Vigla, and is definitely one of the best. Steps from Plaka’s dusky golden sands, Ammothines Cycladic Suites (doubles from €150 B&B) has 15 cosy suites and offers breakfasts featuring homemade spinach and feta pies and spicy rizogalo rice pudding, topped with honey, nuts and tahini.

Karavostási, Epirus

 Karavostasi beach near Syvota town. Ionian sea. Greece
Photograph: Alamy

Karavostási means “the place where the ship stops”, and it’s a fitting name for this secluded, horseshoe-shaped cove between two pine-clad headlands near Perdika, a small village with a handful of traditional tavernas serving no-frills local cuisine on the Greek mainland near the popular resort of Parga. With silk-soft sands and shallow waters, this remote beach is perfect for toddlers, while parents can try their hand at paddleboarding and windsurfing in the small watersports centre. On a pine-studded hill above the beach and looking out to Corfu opposite, stylish resort MarBella Elix (doubles from €142 half-board, four-night minimum) has sea-view rooms – some with swim-up pools.

Simos, Elafonisos

Aerial view of Simos beach at sunset in Elafonisos island in Greece
Photograph: Vasilis Ververidis/Alamy

Strung out on the southern shores of Elafonisos island, just a ferry hop away from the pretty taverna-lined streets of the Peloponnese town of Neapolis, this spectacular beach is shaped like a butterfly with two “wings” of fine white sand lapped by clear waters and linked by a narrow strip of grass-studded dunes. For the best sea views, stay in a stylish suite at Double Bay Beach (doubles from €95 B&B) within strolling distance.

Vagia Bay, Serifos, Cyclades

Coast near Vagia beach in GreeceCoast near Vagia beach in Greece - stock photo GettyImages-541438708
Photograph: Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

Serifos, though it features in myths about Perseus and was name-checked as a desirable destination in Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2015 film The Lobster, is one of the lesser-known Cyclades islands, generally ignored by those flocking to nearby Mykonos and Santorini. But it’s a beauty, home to what must be the most dramatically situated of all Greek island hilltop villages, Hora, and numerous fantastic beaches. There’s Kalo Ambeli, a buttery scoop of gold nudging clear bright water, and Ganema, backed by greenery and hills shaped like Mayan temples – but Vagia is utterly gorgeous, and home to Coco Mat Eco Residences (from €387 a night B&B, sleeps four), a low-slung villa hotel in a line of converted miners’ cottages just above the sand. Owned by a Greek interiors brand, it’s relaxed and driftwoody, with whitewashed walls and dashes of that inimitable Greek bright blue. There’s also a stylish restaurant in a rocky nook.

Germany

Sellin, Rügen

Sellin pier Germany
Photograph: Henk Meijer/Alamy

Germany’s magnificent 2,000-mile north coast – which spans two seas (North and Baltic) – has an impressive range of strands to choose from: isolated and remote, windy and wild, and everything in between. One of the best is on the gorgeous island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea, in the small but charming town of Sellin. Lined with stately “resort” architecture, its sweeping golden sands are punctuated with classic German strandkorbe (wicker beach chairs), and the striking 400-metre pier has a scenic 1920s-era pavilion. If it gets busy, there are quieter stretches to the north and south, and ferries to Hiddensee island, which has no inhabitants and no cars. Within decent proximity of the beach is the hotel Haus Arkona, where the rooms are big and airy, with lots of light (doubles €120 room-only).

Spain

Ses Illetes, Formentera

Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera2G78G9X Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera
Photograph: mauritius images GmbH/Alamy

A half-kilometre of fine, squeaky white sand, “little islands” is one of the Mediterranean’s most swooned-over beaches, with shallow, glassy waters melding from pinky-turquoise to a rich medicine-bottle blue. Infrastructure is thin on the ground, exceptions being the feet-in-the-sand chiringuito (beach bar) Es Ministre, and the restaurant Juan y Andrea, a Formentera beachside institution since 1972 (try the island-caught red prawns a la plancha). On calm days, intrepid beachgoers swim or wade from the northern tip of Illetes across the narrow strait to the islet of Espalmador. Cas Saliners Illetes (one-bedroom house from €90, two-night minimum), a former salt worker’s house within minutes of the beach, is one of a small group of rustic-minimalist lodgings on Formentera.

Torimbia, Asturias

Overview of Torimbia beach. Niembro
Photograph: Alamy

The beaches of Asturias commonly feature on hot lists of Spain’s prettiest playas. The competition around here is fierce, but Torimbia (six miles from Llanes) – a majestic arc of fine golden sand cradled in a landscape of ferns and lush green pastures – is surely among the loveliest anywhere. From the small clifftop carpark (there’s more parking half a mile away in Niembro village), it’s a 15-minute walk down a winding path to the beach. You’ll need to take your own provisions, though in summer a small chiringuito serves grilled fish, drinks and ice-creams. Clothes may be optional: Torimbia famously welcomes naturists as well as nature-lovers. Hotel La Portilla (doubles from €66 room-only) is a comfortable, modern three-star set back from the shore with sea views.

Carnota, Galicia

Carnota Beach
Photograph: JB/Alamy

Despite being unfortunately named, Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) is a spectacular coast on the wild north-west corner of Galicia. Fabulous sandy beaches are strung along it like pearls on a necklace, but none is more precious than Carnota. Wooden walkways lead from Carnota village through marshy flatlands (a nature reserve) to a gently curving bay almost five miles long and backed up by dunes and scrub. The jaw-dropping scale means it never feels crowded, even on a high-summer day when the sun dazzles on water as clear as a G&T (and almost as cold). Nidos de Carnota (from €160 B&B) offers cool wooden cabins on stilts on the hillside above Carnota beach.

Cala Trebalúger, Menorca

Cala Trebaluger
Photograph: Robert Harding/Alamy

This secluded bay on the island’s south coast was saved from large-scale development in the 1980s. A river slinks down to the sand from a rocky gorge (the barranc de Son Fideu) through wetlands, sea grass and stands of cañas (bamboo). The beauty of Trebalúger lies in the harmonious feng shui of its dunes, cliffs, and surrounding pine forest, which seem to hold the cala in a protective embrace. There are no sunloungers or facilities of any kind – Trebalúger is a less-is-more beach. And the half-hour’s walk around the coast from Cala Mitjana keeps the crowds away. Stay at Ses Sucreres (from €130 B&B), a chic and cheerfully eclectic French-owned, six-room hotel in a 19th-century house in Ferreries, about half an hour from the beach.

Sopelana, Basque country

Rugged rock above the sea at the beach in Sopelana
Photograph: Zoonar /Alamy

If Bilbao lacks a beach of its own, Sopelana – 12 miles north beyond the mouth of the Nervión estuary – is practically Bilbao-on-Sea. In summer, much of the city decamps here at weekends, though it’s less well known among foreign tourists. A series of beaches in varying degrees of size and wildness, from the spacious sands of Arrietara-Atxabiribil to the tiny pebble cove at Meñakoz, offer wide-screen views, glorious sunsets (head for the chill-out bar at El Peñón de Sopelana), and surfing breaks in abundance. The beautiful 750-metre stretch at Barinatxe, (or La Salvaje), reached by a stone staircase down the cliff face, has a particular appeal for two very different communities: nudists (they convene at the left-hand end of the beach) and paragliders. Bike parks and showers are available at various points along the coast. Sopelana is best accessed by metro from Bilbao (it’s a 40-minute trip; get off at Larrabasterra). Moana Eco Surf House (doubles from €79 B&B), 400 metres from the sea, is a wooden surfing lodge with a cool contemporary vibe.

Calblanque, Murcia

Wooden walkway to Calblanque beach
Photograph: Abel F Ros/Alamy

Despite being close to overdeveloped La Manga and the polluted Mar Menor, the virgin beaches of Calblanque seem a world away. From Los Belones village, head south towards the nature reserve of Calblanque Monte de las Cenizas y Peña del Aguila (there’s a car park, but also a shuttle bus service). Dirt trails meandering across the arid slopes behind the coast lead past a series of sandy beaches and coves, each wilder than the last, from surf-tastic Playa Larga, the biggest and busiest, to Playa Parreño and remote, lonely Playa Negrete. Supplies of water, a snorkel and a sun umbrella are vital, and there is lots of wildlife to spot – the reserve is a refuge for sea turtles, badgers, foxes and flamingos. Casa Rural Las Jordanas (doubles from €65 B&B) is a restored farmhouse within the parque natural offering simple rooms a 20-minute walk from the beaches.

Ireland

Ballybunion, County Kerry

Surfers on Ballybunion Beach
Photograph: Mark Murphy/Alamy

This beloved North Kerry resort town has four beautiful beaches. They have been popular since Victorian times and still draw a huge crowd on sunny summer days. But it’s easy to escape the throng by climbing the path to the stunning cliff walk above. Those brave enough can search for the rope to guide them down to the deserted Nuns beach, with its caves and Virgin Rock sea arch. Coffee and homemade waffles are served at Seaside Ballybunion as a reward for completing the glorious two-mile walk along the Long Strand or a lesson at the local surf school. A soak at Collins Seaweed Baths (€22 for 30 minutes) is a must, followed by a dip in the bracing Atlantic. The Marine Hotel (doubles from €120 B&B) serves great fish and chips on its outdoor benches.

Glassilaun, County Galway

Cows and a few people on Glassilaun beach, Co Galway

West Galway’s Connemara region has dozens of white-sand beaches that could rival those of the Caribbean – if the weather would only cooperate more frequently. Spectacular Glassilaun overlooks the mouth of Killary harbour, one of Ireland’s few fjords. The view is extraordinary, with Achill, Inishturk and Clare Island hovering to the north and Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht province, in the foreground. Cows graze by the beach and sea life can be spotted by the tiny island at the end of the peninsula. The Misunderstood Heron beach shack nearby has become famous for its Connemara lamb samosas and Killary mussels. Ard na Mara Beach Cottage (doubles from €65 B&B) is moments from the sand.

Montenegro

Drobni Pijesak

Drobni Pijesak beach

Montenegro’s Budva Riviera is one of the country’s biggest honeypots, and it can be hard to escape the crowds. But at Drobni Pijesak, a little further south, there are emerald waters surrounded by forested mountains, sunloungers for hire, and the two beach restaurants offering big helpings of Montenegrin grilled dishes. Hotel Riva (doubles from €77 B&B) in nearby Petrovac faces the town beach and is a short walk from the popular Lučice beach. It’s worth upgrading to a sea-view room. There’s also a path that goes from Petrovac to the beach at Perazica Do.

Portugal

Praia de Cacela Velha, eastern Algarve

Praia de Cacela Velha
Photograph: Stuart Black/Alamy

In the unspoiled eastern Algarve, where olive trees outnumber people, Cacela Velha is one of Portugal’s most beautiful and unvisited beaches (with no bar). It is framed by traditional whitewashed fishermen’s houses, complete with blue trim to ward off the devil, and an ancient fort that dates from the Moorish occupation. This is the most easterly beach of the Ria Formosa natural park, and its golden sands stretch for well over a mile, and shift according to the winds and tides. The water is warm and diaphanous, with low tide revealing pools and lagoons brimming with sea life. Ten minutes inland, Hospedaria (doubles from €170 B&B, two-night minimum), is a gem, with pale walls and lots of antiques.

Praia da Fisica, Costa de Prata

Fisica beach
Photograph: Ricardo Rocha/Alamy

Central Portugal’s coast is known as the Costa de Prata, or Silver Coast, for the intense reflection of light on the sea. Santa Cruz, 40 miles north of Lisbon, is favoured by locals. For many it was the seaside of their youth, and comprises several magnificent beaches, all with attractive rock formations, one of which is Praia da Fisica. Popular with bodyboarders and surfers, it has a good surf school, as well as a restaurant, Noah, serving the freshest of fish, drizzled with olive oil. Those who want to lie and admire the view will not be disappointed either; here is nature at its best. Noah Surf House Portugal (doubles from €90 for seven nights B&B) is right on the beach – with cosy bungalows from which to watch the moon dapple the dark sea.

Praia de Canieros, Ferragudo, central Algarve

Ferragudo the Algarve, Portugal
Photograph: Mikehoward 2/Alamy

This quiet beach, a favourite of the cognoscenti, is south of the pretty town of Ferragudo, with sparkling, shallow water. It boasts a seriously good beach bar, Rei das Praias (the scarlet prawns, carabineiros, are excellent) perched on stilts and looking on to the Leixão da Gaivota’, or Seagull’s Rock. The beach is backed by the honey-coloured limestone cliffs that run along the whole Algarve coast; one side is given over to sunbeds. Parking spaces are very limted, so it’s wise to get there early. Close to the beach is Casa Rei das Prais (doubles from €120 B&B), sister to the restaurant, a small, comfortable hotel with a lovely pool.

Praia da Zambujeira do Mar, Costa Vicentina, Alentejano

beach and rocks at sunset, Zambujeira do Mar
Photograph: Stuart Black/Alamy

Part of the Costa Vicentina natural park, this lovely beach is surrounded by tall basalt cliffs with sweeping ocean views. Conditions are ideal for surfing and body boarding, with powerful breakers, and the sunsets are wonderful. At the beginning of August the huge Sudoeste rock festival is held here, but at other times it’s not so busy, being mainly frequented by locals making the most of the good facilities – from showers to a bar, restaurant and parking. There is direct access to the beach from the fishing village of Zambujeira do Mar. Just inland, on the Rota Vincentina walking trail is Herdade do Touril (doubles from €100 B&B), a 19th-century farm where guests sleep within earshot of the crashing waves.

Praia das Bicas, Sesimbra, near Lisbon

Steps down to wide, sandy Praia das Bicas
Photograph: Stuart Black/Alamy

Forty minutes west of Lisbon, this is just one of the beaches in the Setúbal region, loved by the Portuguese for its wines as well as its coast. At the foothills of the Arrábida mountains, Praia das Bicas is a vast expanse of fine golden sand that is reached by a long staircase descending from the cliffs. It faces west and is exposed to wind, making it popular with surfers. There is a bar and a restaurant on the beach, which serves local specialities; the wine is definitely worth trying. A few minutes’ walk from the shore is Villa Epicurea eco-retreat (doubles from €115 room-only), which offers locally sourced vegan and vegetarian dishes as well as yoga and an impressive, ecologically sustainable infinity pool.

Netherlands

Beach Paal 31, De Cocksdorp, Texel

Walkers on the beach and lighthouse at Cocksdorp
Photograph: Alamy

Just a few miles off the north coast of the Netherlands sit the idyllic Wadden islands, with nature reserves teeming with wildlife and miles of isolated cycle trails curving alongside large expanses of white sand beaches. On the largest and most visited island of Texel (pronounced tes-sel) agriculture dominates – the sheep are prized – but perch atop a saddle and venture towards the North Sea to discover one of the country’s most extraordinary landscapes. Reached through dunes, forests and heaths, the beach at De Cocksdorp is one of the island’s widest, with the picturesque Eierland lighthouse offering a dreamy view over Texel and the island of Vlieland. Three miles south of De Cocksdorp, Boutique Hotel Texel (doubles from €130 B&B) has an indoor pool, a spa and a peaceful camping field behind it.

France

Plage des Amiets, Cléder, Brittany

ClPlage des Amiets

On the north coast of Finistère, west of Roscoff, the Côte des Sables (sandy coast) is a little-known corner of France with many heart-soaringly beautiful beaches. Plage des Amiets is among them: the sweep of golden sand is bookended by yellow-hued boulders that hide two maisons des douaniers, 18th-century customs houses, built into the rocks. The pristine waters take on a turquoise shimmer in the sunshine and a paddle between the rocks reveals a garden of seaweed ribbons, frills and fronds. There are small car parks at either end of the beach. Twenty minutes away, La Butte (doubles from €120 room-only), is a luxurious eco-friendly hotel.

Plage de la Vieille Église, Normandy

Empty Plage de la Vieille Eglise
Photograph: Alex Ramsay/Alamy

The west coast of Normandy’s Cotentin peninsula is wild and beautiful. At Barneville-Carteret, a track around the headland leads from the Plage de la Potinière towards the Plage de la Vieille-Église. This precipitous path runs down towards black rocks lapped by the sea, and up to the lighthouse, which looks out towards Jersey on the horizon. Past the headland is the incredible sight of miles of white sand backed by dunes. On the beach stands the ruined church from which it takes its name. Legend says it was built by an Irish saint who vanquished a child-eating dragon. There are car parks nearer the beach, but the view is worth the walk. Hotel Marine (doubles from €123 room-only) has waterside views.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Basque country

View of the beach and holidaymakers
Photograph: Alamy

The best view of Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s spectacular beach is from Colline Sainte-Barbe on its eastern side. The panorama takes in soft yellow sands backed by red-and-white Basque villas and, to the rear, the jagged silhouette of the Pyrenees. Many of the beaches on this coastline attract surfers, with their big Atlantic rollers, but the beach at Saint-Jean-de-Luz is enclosed in a circular bay, so gentle enough for swimming and for younger children. The town’s colourful market, Les Halles de Saint-Jean-de-Luz, is a great place to buy picnic supplies. La Reserve (doubles from €135 room-only) is a few minutes’ walk from the Colline Sainte-Barbe.

Plage de Palombaggia, Corsica

Sandy beautiful Palombaggia beach with azure sea
Photograph: P Kazmierczak/Getty Images

Rondinara, Cupabia, Pinarello, Ostriconi and Campomoro. Corsica’s most beautiful beaches sound like a cast list from a commedia dell’arte, but top billing undoubtedly goes to Palombaggia. Just down from Porto-Vecchio in the far south-east of the island, Palombaggia beach, surrounded by umbrella pines, is a semicircle of golden sand descending into clear, turquoise water. Soft-edged rocky outcrops poking out of the water are ideal places to lounge if the sand gets too hot. It is one of the most popular beaches on the island, so the rockier Tamaricciu next door is a good understudy, only slightly less beautiful, but with far fewer people. Les Hameaux de Bocca del Oro (four-person villa from €104 a night) is close by.

Plage de l’Aiguille, Théoule-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes

Plage de l’aiguille at theoule sur mer
Photograph: Alamy

Backed by a dense forest and the rust-red rocks of the Estérel massif, Plage de l’Aiguille is the Riviera’s most picturesque beach, with caramel-coloured sand and amazing views of Cannes, glinting in the distance. It feels wild and remote, but it’s still the Côte d’Azur, so there are posh loos, an information cabin and a beach club in the high season. A clamber over the headland rocks leads to another tiny, fan-shaped cove, the Crique de l’Aiguille, great for uninterrupted sunbathing and gazing at the passing super yachts. The beach is a 15-minute walk from the centre of Théoule, or a steep hike down from the Corniche d’Or coast road. Hotel Port La Galère (doubles from €98 room-only) is set in a 23-hectare park just along the coast.

Plage de Saint-Clair, Le Lavandou, Var

Beach of Saint-Clair, near Lavandou
Photograph: Alamy

Palm trees, beachside cafes, pedalos and a gentle slope into the water make Saint-Clair a perfect family beach. Known locally as La Perle, the wide, sandy bay is protected by outcrops at both ends and the clear, calm water makes it ideal for snorkelling and watching cormorants dive for fish off the whale-shaped Rocher de la Baleine. There are great views of Le Levant island to the south and the beach is a short walk along the rocky, coastal footpath from Le Lavandou port. La Pinède restaurant-bar sets out a few lines of parasols and sun loungers from April to October. Hotel Astria, Beach La Falaise (doubles from €95 room-only, two-night minimum) has pea-green-shuttered rooms and a pretty courtyard overlooking the sea.

Plage des Coussoules, Leucate, Aude

Plage des Coussoules aerial view
Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

Halfway between Perpignan and Narbonne, Les Coussoules is a vast swathe of flat white sand between the Mediterranean and La Palme lagoon. The Tramontane wind makes this beach popular with sandyachters, kitesurfers and walkers with big dogs. It’s a stunning sight, often deserted but surrounded by photogenic salt pans, huge cliffs, vineyards and orchards on the Leucate plateau. Flamingos, ibis and seagulls fly over pretty 19th-century villas. There’s a naturist section in the north, and direct access to the beach from several campsites. Jardin de Palme (from €90), has self-catering flats and studios.

Turkey

Kaputaş, near Kalkan

Kaputas beach
Photograph: eFesenko/Alamy

There are plenty of longer, sandier beaches in Turkey, but Kaputaş, a shimmering, aquamarine slash of sea sandwiched between cliffs and 187 steps below the Kas-Kalkan road, is among the very best. It looks Insta-perfect from above, and there is lots of fun to be had down on the pebbles: the shoreline shelves quickly, creating regular, gentle waves. Sitting in the surf, being buffeted backwards and forwards by a warm sea, is one of the greatest holiday pleasures. Beach vendors patrol the beach with freshly made gozleme – delicious pancakes stuffed with cheese. The Courthouse in Kalkan (doubles from £130 B&B), is a restored historic house in the village centre.

Italy

San Michele, Sirolo, Le Marche

famous San Michele beach in Sirolo
Photograph: Eddy Galeotti/Alamy

The coast of the Abruzzo and Le Marche regions is mostly straight and featureless, with roads, railway and at points the E55 motorway running close to the shore. That all changes at the Monte Conero regional park, a 6,000-hectare protected area hugging the coast. Its prettiest town is Sirolo, from where footpaths through trees lead down to wild San Michele beach. There are a couple of concessions, but otherwise it’s all woods and cliffs above fine white pebbles running down to turquoise water. A 15-minute walk from San Michele (though coming back up the steep hillside may take longer) Il Vicolo (doubles from €103 B&B) is an eight-room B&B in an 18th-century building close to Sirolo’s restaurants and gelaterias.

Punta della Suina, Puglia

Punta della Suina. Puglia, Italy
Punta della Suina. Puglia, Ital Photograph: Nicola Simeoni/Alamy

Beaches on Puglia’s Ionian coast have more than a hint of the Seychelles, with multihued water and soft white sand. South of the walled port of Gallipoli, a sandy track leads off the SP125 towards a perfect crescent bay punctuated by the presqu’ile of Punta della Suina. The sandy areas are separated by little rocky outcrops and grassy coves, so while there are a couple of concessions (with cafes) it’s usually easy to find a secluded spot, and the sea here is warmer than on the Adriatic coast. Ancient Gallipoli, on its own little island, is so atmospheric it’s worth staying there and driving or cycling the five miles to Punta della Suina. In a narrow street, Relais Corte Palmieri (doubles from €80 B&B) has individually decorated bedrooms reached via a series of roof terraces, one of which serves breakfast when weather permits (most of the year).

Sa Colonia, Sardinia

Sa Colonia beach,
Photograph: Eva Bocek/Alamy

Picking one beach from this island of seaside perfection is hard, but Sa Colonia, one of several bays south of the village of Chia, has it all – acres of talc-soft sand (with a single beach concession – handy for cold drinks), clear water, flamingos on a lagoon behind and occasional visits from dolphins. As if that weren’t enough, its pretty seabed is great for snorkelling and, unusually for the Med, it has surfable rollers when the sirocco blows in winter. Hotel Il Gabbiano (doubles from €133 B&B) offers simple rooms in a cluster of bungalows a few minutes’ walk from Sa Colonia beach. There is a fish restaurant a few minutes in the other direction.

Calamosche, Sicily

 calamosche beach with red sky
Photograph: Andrea Izzotti/Alamy

The fact that it’s part of the Vendicari nature reserve and nearly a mile from the car park helps ensure that this sandy beach between rocky headlands never gets too busy. Visitors need to take everything, including water, but a picnic shopping trip amid the baroque glories of nearby Noto is a pleasure. The day can then be spent swimming in calm water – protected by those headlands – snorkelling over rocks and hiking along the coast or into the woods. In spring, sandpipers and curlews arrive for the nesting season. There are few accommodation options in the reserve, but organic agriturismo Sicilia di Vendicari (doubles from €110 B&B) is a half-hour walk from the beach and has four cottages (sleeping two to eight) among its citrus, olive and almond groves.

Sperlonga, Lazio

View of tower from beach,
Photograph: Alamy

Halfway between Rome and Naples, Sperlonga’s old, whitewashed centre sits on a promontory jutting into the sea, topped by a 16th-century tower. To its south, past a small marina, lie gorgeous golden sands backed by low hills and a few campsites. There are some concessions, with umbrellas and sunbeds, but also plenty of stretches of free beach. The best lies just before a low headland 10 minutes’ walk along the sand, which also offers a view through railings of a cave and the ruins of the villa Roman emperor Tiberius would escape to from around 22AD, when tussles with the Senate got too much. Five minutes’ walk from the old town, two-room Villa Luisa (doubles from €90 B&B, two-night minimum) does generous breakfasts and its back gate opens on to the beach.

Croatia

Krivica, Lošinj

Sailing boats and yachts moored in the bay
Photograph: Matthias Riedinger/Alamy

Maybe it’s the fact that you have to hike down a rocky path for 30 minutes – and back up again – that makes Krivica’s pebbly beach so special. The reward is clear, deep turquoise water in a sheltered pine-fringed bay, with only sailing boats in the narrow channel for company. Lošinj, a long, misshapen island in the Kvarner gulf, is one of Croatia’s most fragrant places, with an incredible profusion of wild herbs. Villa Kredo (doubles from €114 B&B) is a colourful hotel and restaurant overlooking a pretty beach on the western side of the headland from Čikat Bay.

Plaža Divna, Pelješac

Divna beach on Peljesac Peninsula
Photograph: Jadro/Alamy

Living up to its name – beautiful beach – Plaža Divna is on the north coast of the Pelješac peninsula, with pine-covered hills flanking the little pebbly bay. There are a few shady spots, and the marine life between the beach and the tiny island facing the bay makes for brilliant snorkelling. A cafe sells drinks and basic food, and behind the beach is the small Camp Divna campsite (pitches from €5.40pp) set in an olive grove. Non-campers can rent a flat at Apartment Villa Waterfront (from €122 for two or three people) overlooking a beach near the ferry port of Trpanj.

Mlini, Pakleni Islands

Mlini beach, Pakleni

Those visiting Hvar who fancy a change of scenery should take a taxi boat to Mlini cove on the Pakleni island of Marinkovac. There’s a wonderfully laid-back air to this pine-scented pebbly beach, along with sunloungers for rent and a beachfront restaurant. As with all Croatia’s pebbly beaches, protective swimming shoes will make things more enjoyable, and the amazingly clear blue-green water has people snorkelling for hours. On the island, Robinson House Nicolina (from €170 a night for up to five) has two bedrooms and tons of outdoor lounging, dining and barbecuing space.

Albania

Porto Palermo, Qeparo, Vlorë County

beautiful view on Porto Palermo
Photograph: Lukas Zimilena/Getty Images

Qeparo is a magical village offering spectacular colour combinations: the blue of the sea, the green of the hillsides and the white of limestone rock formations popping out of the dramatic mountainsides all around. There are plenty of hidden beaches, but even the main one, called Porto Palermo, is beautifully undeveloped, and perfect for relaxing on the pebbles or exploring the nearby rocky peninsula, topped with a 200-year-old fortress. A short walk away along the coast, Stone Beach hotel (studio apartments from €70) has rooms with views south over the Ionian Sea.

Written by Liz Boulter, Gemma Bowes, Carolyn Boyd, Jon Bryant, Elton Caushi , Heidi Fuller-Love, Mary Lussiana, Fergal McCarthy, Mary Novakovich , Nazia Parveen, Paul Richardson, Paul Sullivan and Annabelle Thorpe





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