Everyone wants a stretch of sand to call their own. Is it really too much to ask? No, of course not. But if you want to find paradise without the crowds you’re going to need to beach clever - and that means heading for sands less trodden. The good news, there are still plenty of places where you’ll find peace and perhaps just one or two other people.
And you don’t have to travel too far to find them. Beautiful beaches, still relatively undiscovered, lie within a short haul European hop. Go further afield and you’ll get palm trees too – even in the Caribbean and Mexico you can have the sands to yourself, if you know where to look.
We’ve picked ten great places to roll out your towel and say aaaah.
1) Rodas Beach, The Cies Islands, Spain
Fringed by luxuriant stretches of white sands, the northwest Spanish archipelago of Cies is nicknamed the 'Galician Caribbean' by the locals. And it’s little wonder that they keep the beauty of these three islands quietly to themselves – happy to let tourists head to the ‘Costas’ instead. Catch the ferry from the mainland town of Vigo, and you’ll have nine beaches to choose from. Disembark on a small jetty at the longest, Rodas, running over half a mile between Monteagudo and Faro islands and flop straight onto the sand. Cooling off depends on your mood - waters around the Cies islands range from denim blue Atlantic froth perfect for surfing to clear green waves that lap the shore like a gentle metronome.
2) Claigan Coral Bay, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Who says you need palm trees and warm seas for a spectacular beach? In the northern tip of the Scottish Hebridean Isle of Skye, Claigan Coral Bay’s white sands and turquoise seas are an incongruous surprise after a short hike over moorland, past sheep and Highland cattle. OK, it might not be warm enough to get your bikini on, but in summer you’ll definitely be able to sit in a T-shirt and turn your head up to the sun in peace. Or search for tiny cowrie shells on the beach – local legend has it if you find 12 you’ll have a happy year. That might include sitting next to a celebrity at the rustic yet Michelin-starred The Three Chimneys restaurant, a 20-minute drive away - or quick helicopter ride for A-list fans that range from Madonna to Barbra Streisand.
3) Notre Dame Beach, Porquerolles, France
It’s hard to find a place to throw your towel on the choked French Riviera beaches these days, but on the island of Porquerolles, off the Giens peninsula south of the Provencal village of Hyères, you can get a taste of what it must have been like ‘back in the day’. Unlike the dubious gloss of St Tropez and her sister sands along the Cote d’Azur, the beaches here remain au naturel, surrounded by a landscape of vines and olive trees. The biggest beach is the sweeping gold sand cove of Notre Dame, a 40-minute walk from the only village on the island, which automatically thins out the visitors. Sandwiched by a pine forest and clear warm Med seas, it’s the perfect place to lie back, breath in herb-scented air and definitely not think of England.
4) Comporta Beach, Tróia, Portugal
Comporta, an hour south of Lisbon, has been a secret of style mavens for decades – Christian Louboutin has a summer villa here. The heel of a 13 mile-long sandy spit in the Alentejo region, its sun-bleached sands and turquoise waters wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean – offering up a ‘half-the-price’ paradise that can be enjoyed without the jet lag. Sip cool caipiroscas on beanbags at one of the small beach cafes, while chill-out tunes bounce gently in time with the waves, and soak up an unblemished panorama of sun, sea and sand fringed by cork trees. Stay at the Comporta Sublime, a sleek boutique hotel within a stroll of the sands, for full style marks.
5) Blaci Beach, Mijet, Croatia
It’s hard to believe you are just a short ferry ride from the Dubrovnik’s summer crowds on the Croatian island of Mijet. While everyone is exploring the Baroque city and trying to work out which bits of Game of Thrones were filmed where, tranquility reigns here amid pine forests and sandy spits. Settle down on Blaci beach, a honey crescent around startlingly bright blue water, and enjoy a lunch of local lobster, white and red wine, olives and goats cheese at one of the small restaurants. The Adriatic is beautiful but can be nippy - for a less bracing swim head for the beaches around the two saltwater lakes in the north of the island, with water that’s a few degrees warmer than the open sea.
6) Playa del Amor, The Marieta Islands, Mexico
You don’t get much more hidden than the Mexican beach of Playa del Amor, lying around 20 nautical miles from wildly popular Puerto Vallarta, in the UNESCO world heritage site of Las Marieta Islands. The beach itself is artificial, and was accidently created when the Mexican military was testing bombs in the early 1900s. With only two ways to access it – either by being winched down by helicopter, or swimming through a small tunnel at low tide – it’s accessible only to the intrepid (and those with a permit). She who dares wins though – in this case a private stretch of golden sand, in one of the world’s most extraordinary settings.
7) Seychelles Beach, Ikaria, Greece
In Greek legend, Icarus flew too close to the sun, coming down to earth after his wings melted, on the North Aegean island of Ikaria. Lucky him, as he would have found one of the most beautiful unsung heroes of the Greek beach world – Seychelles – waiting for him. As the name suggests, it’s a dream confection of blue waters, white sands and dazzling limestone cliffs, set on the south-west coast and reached from the tiny village of Manganitis through a tunnel and down a steep path. If you’ve got the commitment, then you’ll be rewarded with an idyllic place to put up your umbrella. Take a bottle of the local wine – there are no facilities here – sit back, relax and thank the Gods.
8) Point of Sand, Little Cayman, Caribbean
It’s a crowded category for best beach in the Caribbean – the islands here practically invented paradise, but you pay for the perfection with crowds. To ensure your own slice of sand you need to find your own desert island, and Little Cayman, the smallest of the Cayman Islands, is a perfect choice. The island has one fine sand beach, Point of Sand, on the northeastern tip, and it’s no easy find. You’ll have to rent a car or scooter to get here, or catch a boat like the locals do at the weekends from Cayman Brac, five miles away. With no facilities here, tourists are few, meaning that during the week it’s likely to be completely empty - and the closest to a private Caribbean beach you’ll find without being a billionaire.
9) Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, USA
California has no shortage of sunbaked sand, but to find a stretch not chock-full of body builders and the body-conscious head out to Big Sur, the rugged stretch of Central California coastline between Carmel and San Simeon. Here, steep terrain down to the shore deters most tourists (and many locals), but their loss is the determined beachgoer’s gain. Many of the beaches are breathtaking, such as the low-key Pfeiffer beach. There’s a refreshing lack of commercialism here, just four picnic tables and nature’s wow factor - the biggest of which is the Keyhole arch rock, which turns into a mystical light show at certain points of the year, when the tide reflects the sunset through the space. The rest of the year you can still enjoy the beach’s other big draw though – purple sand, created from garnet in the cliffs that cradle the cove.
10) Bai Sao Beach, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Still a relative South East Asia secret, it’s only backpackers and international jet-setters that head for Phu Quoc island off the coast of southwestern Vietnam, as yet. Go before the travel secret gets out and you’ll be among the lucky few padding up and down pristine, palm-shaded beaches, the prettiest of which is Bai Sao, located on the southeastern coast. With 7km of white sand and gently shelving turquoise water that leads to spectacular reef snorkeling, there’s plenty of tranquility to be found here. Settle down for a coconut–based cocktail at the small Paradiso Restaurant, followed by Vietnamese treats such as delicate crab Goi Cuon spring rolls and feel smug you didn’t follow everyone else to Phuket.