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From the cool ocean breeze of Hawaii to the luminescent sands of the Whitsunday Islands, the world's most spectacular beaches

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Anna Brech
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Aside from the risk of sandy knickers, there's nothing much not to love about the prospect of a beach. 

But even sand and sea have their own particular hierarchy.

Nothing compares to the joie de vivre of Brazil's Ipanema beach on a Sunday afternoon, with crowds of people playing volleyball or sipping on Caipirinhas against the dramatic cityscape of Rio de Janiero.

Not much can match the remote bygone beauty of Rushy Bay, the secluded sand dune cove on the Isles of Scilly. And you'd be hard-tasked to find a delight more pure than the sight of lazy sea lion pups playing in the shallows off the shores of Española Island in the Galapagos. 

From people-watching in the glamorous Côte d'Azur to breathaking views off the coast of Kefalonia and idyllic swimming conditions in Hawaii, here are ten of the world's most incredible beaches.

Whether you want ideas for this year's holiday or merely fancy a little fuel for daydreaming, drink in this one-stop cure for back-to-school blues...

Photos: Rex Features and Getty Images

  • United States: Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

    Best for: swimming and snorkeling 

    Lanikai means "heavenly sea" in Hawaiian language and this serene half-mile long lagoon is often compared to a giant saltwater swimming pool, thanks to the presence of an offshore reef that keeps the water calm and makes for perfect swimming and snorkeling conditions. 

    Expect warm azure sea, a fine sand beach and the swish of palm trees caught in a gentle onshore wind.

    Nearest airport: Honolulu. Fly from London from £456

  • France: Paloma beach, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Côte d'Azur

    Best for: people watching

    Cap Ferrat on the Côte d'Azur is one of the richest areas in Europe, with a millionaires-per-hectare ratio to rival Monaco's. For decades, it has drawn a glamorous jet set crowd, including the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise. 

    And, like a paparazzo's dream, the tree-line stretch of sand in the harbour port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a great spot for eyeing up the rich and famous.

    Grab a sunbed for a front row view of passing yachts and elaborate Mediterranean mansions that pass for some of the most expensive real estate in the world. 

    Nearest airport: Nice. Fly from London from £67

  • UK: Rushy Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly

    Best for: space and freedom

    Rushy Bay on the the southern tip of Bryher, the smallest of the inhabited Isles of Scilly islands, is a bit like beaches used to be in long-lost childhood memories. It's beautifully remote, accessible first by a small plane flight from Exeter to St. Mary's (the biggest isle), then a boat ride to Bryher, followed by a 15-minute walk down a country track and a sandy coastal path.

    A British beach of a bygone era, it's peaceful, secluded and filled with unexpected delights from the warm Gulf Stream air to sand dunes, rock pools and unhindered views of Samson island opposite.

    Nearest airport: St Mary's. Flights from Exeter from £135

  • Brazil: Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

    Best for: partying

    The sun never goes down on Ipanema beach, Rio's legendary stretch of coastline where a carnival atmosphere reigns 24/7. Grab a potent Caipirinha or a grilled cheese kebab from one of the many passing vendors and watch the beautiful people strut their stuff, from rowdy groups of youths playing baseball to rollerblading city types, surfers out on the sea and flawless women dressed in itsy bitsy bikinis. 

    With the bright lights of Rio beckoning behind you and Sugarloaf mountain looming above, this is life in its very essence.

    Nearest airport: Rio de Janeiro. Flights from London from £520.

  • Spain: Caños de Meca, Costa de la Luz, Andalucia

    Best for: beach community

    Situated deep in the Parque Natural del Acantilado amid cliffs, pine trees and a sleepy village, the beaches of Caños de Meca are a little bit off the beaten track. Locals, beatnik travellers and windsurfers all gather here for a low-key hippie vibe that is a world away from the tacky abundance of nearby Marbella.

    Make a beeline for the kooky makeshift bars built into the cliffs or keep your eyes peeled on the horizon on clear days for a glimpse of Morocco across the Atlantic sea.  

    Nearest airport: Cadiz. Fly from London from £111

  • Croatia: Zlatni Rat beach, Brac island

    Best for: a magical setting

    Zlatni Rat beach is a narrow slither of pine and pebble peninsula that juts out almost vertically for more than a quarter of a mile into the sea on the quaint island of Brač.  

    Its shape resembles a golden horn (its Croatian translation), in an outline that changes according to the current. With shallow waters rimmed by windsurfers and passing boats, its ever-changing, malleable presence makes for an enchanting landscape. 

    Nearest airport: Split. Fly from London from £71

  • Ecuador: Española Island, Galápagos Islands

    Best for: wildlife spotting

    Española is the southernmost of the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site prized for its melting pot of marine species. 

    A visit to a beach here will feel like something out of a David Attenborough documentary, with groups of young sea lion pups frolicking in the shallows. There's also an opportunity to spot large Española lava lizards, brightly-coloured red and green marine iguanas (the only type of its kind in the world) and a waved albatross breeding colony. 

    Out in the sea, you can marvel at underwater caves populated by an abundance of tropical fish, along with manta rays and white-tipped reef sharks.

    It's worth noting that because the Galapagos are a protected area, independent travel can be difficult and most people visit the islands via day trip or cruises - see more here

    Nearest airport: San Cristóbal. Fly from London to Quito (nearest interchange) from £546 and fly Quito to San Cristóbal from £223.

  • Italy: Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa

    Best for: a boat adventure

    Spiaggia dei Conigli (or "Rabbit Beach") was voted the world's best beach by thousands of reviewers on TripAdvisor

    There are, sadly, no rabbits but the cove is something of an animal lover's paradise, thanks to the loggerhead turtles that go there to lay their eggs, along with the dolphins that are often spotted offshore. 

    The beach can be found on the island of Lampedusa just off the coast of Sicily and is only accessible by boat, which protects it to some degree from the madding crowds.

    Nearest airport: Lampedusa. Flights from London from £32.

  • Australia: Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

    Best for: photo opps

    Queenland's jaw-dropping beach stretches over seven kilometres along Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. The sand is 98 per cent pure white silica, which gives it a brilliant, near luminescent colour. As the tide shifts, the white silica sand meets with turquoise, blue and green swirls of water, to mesmerising effect. 

    Head to Tongue Point for the best view, or book a seaplane trip for an aerial snapshot of this incredible sand-sea fusion at play. 

    Nearest airport: Hamilton Island. Fly from London - Sydney from £619 and Sydney to Hamilton Island from £178

  • Greece: Myrtos Bay, Kefalonia

    Best for: breathtaking sea views

    It's no small praise to describe Myrtos Bay as the one of the finest on Kefalonia, the picturesque setting for Louis de Bernières hit novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin

    In a perfectly choreographed scene, the white pebble beach runs in a semi-circle backed by sheer cliffs sprinkled with lush green foliage. Make sure you soak in the panorama as you begin the long descent down, to capture the image of the shimmering Ionian Sea in all its glory. 

    Nearest airport: Kefalonia. Fly from London from £90

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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