Texel – an island in North Holland province – amazed us with its varied, rugged-to-manicured feel. It has about 20 miles of beaches on its western coast, many with activities and all safe for swimming, and there are cosy restaurants and cafes set against the extensive dune landscape. Behind the beaches there’s also a protected nature reserve, marshes and rock pools, a historic lighthouse with fabulous views, well-formed little towns and extensive cycle paths/hiking routes alongside very usable public transport. Texel is the largest of the West Frisian Islands in the Wadden sea and is reached by an hourly short and comfortable ferry ride (with car) from Den Helder on the mainland.
Hidden behind a mountain range, the main beach of Drymades is actually stony, but turn left and walk for 10 minutes and you’ll find completely empty white sand beaches. The sea is unbelievably clear, and it’s a nice tepid temperature. A nearby orange orchard adjacent is home to the Sea Turtle campsite (€8 a night, on Facebook) which has pre-pitched tents, with foam mattresses and clean bedding. There is a kitchen bar, a shop selling fresh food and essentials and a sandwich van visits the beach daily.
The white sands of Marzamemi beach in Sicily give the place a Caribbean feel. It’s a beach for all seasons – locals even come here on Christmas day for a picnic. Cool off in summer in the calm waters then, when the setting sun turns flame orange at dusk, head to the open gazebos of Bar La Pagoda for crisp wine and fresh fish as the waves lap and the night hums with conversation and crickets.
I came across Punta Prosciutto a few years ago and was mesmerised. The white beaches are two miles long and backed by sand dunes; the sea is ideal for snorkelling with a great variety of fish. It’s a great place for kids because it’s very shallow for a good distance from the shore. There are two small B&Bs near the beach: AngelBay B&B and B&B Poseidon (online deals available).
All too often, people who go to the Amalfi coast complain that there aren’t enough beaches, or that the ones that are there are too expensive and overcrowded. However, slightly off the beaten track of Positano and Sorrento, is the town of Vietri sul Mare. This town boasts a lovely beach with lots of amenities. So, do Positano on a day trip but choose Vietri as your destination. It’s easy to reach from Naples or Salerno.
My favourite is Nas on Ikaria, a renowned Blue Zone area denoting places where people live healthy lifestyles. To get to the beach you have to wade through the river Halaris, which reaches the sea here from a spectacular gorge. Bring water, but not food, there are superb local tavernas. Bring something to sit/lie on because there are stones, and also a broad mind because there are a few nudists and wild campers at the back of the beach near the archaeological temple remains. A stunning destination!
From Symi harbour climb, up and up above the houses and shops, along the goat track to Nimborio bay. Leave the souvenir stalls behind, pass the church and the cemetery and then scramble down a stony hillside to the road. Then follow this road around and you will soon spy a taverna, sunbeds and hear a loud “Hello. How are you?” The taverna menu is on a blackboard, the fresh, wholesome food is served with humour and friendliness by Maria and her daughter and you may even be lucky enough to spot a dolphin in the bay. There are two beaches in the bay, one sandy, the other of shingle, and medieval ruins to explore. And if you can’t face the walk back, the water taxi will drop you off at Symi harbour in time for tea.
The 2,500-metre Taygetos mountains serve as a backdrop to the peaceful village of Stoupa on the southern Peloponnese peninsula. Small family-run tavernas line the bay and even the sea is lazy here, as it tickles the golden horseshoe of sand. A good book, a cold drink and a day to waste – guaranteed relaxation.
Easily accessible and yet untainted by mass tourism, stunning Martinhal beach lies on the south-western tip of the Algarve, at Sagres. A constant breeze fosters an internationally renowned windsurfers’ spot, which welcomes aspiring beginners, professionals and spectators alike. Two beach restaurants provide tranquil backdrops for toasting the sunset and adjacent golden sand dunes create a natural playground for children. Accommodation caters for all budgets, ranging from boutique hotels to local guesthouses and apartments. Cycling, fishing, boat trips, surfing and a town beach are all available within walking distance.
A short ferry ride from Olhão, east of Faro, lies Ilha da Culatra, a large sandbar island which is part of the Ria Formosa national park. With limited development, no paved roads or cars, the two small villages on the island used to depend on fishing and remain unspoilt. On the northern side, walking along the long sandy beach running the length of the island, we watched a stork wading in a shallow lagoon intent on finding its next meal.
A perfect horseshoe of dappled blue sea and gently shelving sand, La Rondinara, in the south-east of Corsica, is a stunner. Untouched by developers, the only buildings are the two beach restaurants, which are casual yet serve brilliant food. An amble through the maquis brings you to Camping Rondinara, a great site with a pool and plenty of space. Bonifacio is nearby for a dose of culture, or even a trip to Sardinia. Corsican beaches are world class, and this is one of the best on the island.
Secluded and picturesque, the beautiful pebble beach of Calanque d’en Vau can only be accessed by boat or after a long walk through the stunning Calanques national park to the south of Marseille. There are several great Calanque beaches in this karst (limestone) area of gorges and pinnacles; many of the best are reached by small ferry boats from Cassis, which is a short train ride from Marseille. It’s also possible to walk from Cassis (the nearest Calanque beach is only a 20-minute stroll).
The incredibly beautiful walk from Sant Antoni de Calonge to Platja d’Aro, along the coastline around and through small, sandy hidden beaches, is joined together by picturesque pathways. You don’t encounter many tourists until a larger beach with cafe halfway along, the perfect place for an cold drink or snack.
On Fuerteventura, instead of heading north-east to the well-known and busy beaches of Corralejo, head to the eastern coast via the town of El Cotillo. The beautiful Playa de la Concha is a series of secluded coves that make the water warm and calm. There is a nearby beach cafe and walking along the rugged coast. This is a secluded, nudist-friendly spot popular with locals so time to let go of your inhibitions and just enjoy the sunshine!
For an altogether wild and unspoilt beach, head to Playa Negrete, a protected coastal area in the Calblanque regional park in Murcia. Once in the park, drive along a bumpy track then walk down tussocky dunes to reach a crescent of ochre sand. Rugged grey cliffs meet the beach to form secluded coves, while giant dice-shaped boulders are dotted along the bay. Waves tumble onto the gently sloping sand and seabirds wheel overhead. There are no bars, cafes or souvenir shops here, so bring a picnic, sun cream and towels. Swimsuits are optional, though, on this remote and unspoilt shore.
This spot is so magical it ought to be shared for the most intrepid travellers – loth as I am to publicise such an unspoiled place. In the windswept Faroes, there are many spectacular locations, but none quite captured my imagination as much as Saksun, a remote village on the main island. Set on a majestic fjord with towering waterfalls, a winding sandy beach and a cluster of characteristic black Faroese cottages with turf roofs, it truly is another world. The beach hugs the sides of a narrow mountainous inlet out to the Atlantic ocean. Pretty inhospitable most of the year, it could not be more different from Mediterranean beach life. Perfect, some might say.