Balos Lagoon, Crete, Greece
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If your idea of a perfect beach is pounding waves you can conquer with your board, then this beach is not for you. But if the chance to plunge into still turquoise waters and snorkel among rocky coves, then this is the spot to go. Boats from nearby Kissamos venture over each day so arrive in the early morning and plan a visit in June or September – just outside of high season – to enjoy a private viewing.
Algar de Benagil, Algarve, Portugal
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Incredible rocky beaches line the Algarve coast but this secluded sea cave is certainly one of the more unique formations. A beam of light streams in through the almost-perfect circular opening at the top of the cave, casting a glow onto the sands lining one half of the grotto. Kayak over from nearby Praia de Bengail – timing your journey for when the water is clearest – and take a dip into the cool water while gazing through its opening at fisherman bringing in their latest catch.
Cala Pregonda, Menorca, Spain
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If you’re approaching on foot rather than by sea, it’s a 30-minute trip from the car park to the beach but the trek will seem a distant memory when you catch your first glimpse of the vibrant sand. As well as the usual beach accoutrement, Pregonda features a small rocky island within swimming distance and is a marine reserve thanks to the Audouin seagulls that nest nearby.
Drymades, Dhermi, Albania
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The Albanian Riviera may not have the glamorous reputation of the French but its shores are as worthy of a visit – if not more, given the lack of crowds. Gnarled olive trees sway nearby, there are smooth white pebbles underfoot and the water is almost as clear as the seawater of the Maldives.
Kleftiko, Milos, Greece
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The actual beach is little more than a skinny sliver of sand and stone so it’s likely you’ll spend more time on the deck of your boat before diving into the clear water. You can only weave around these water-bound white-rock cones and caves via vessel or by swimming – just like scallywag pirates once did when hiding out for their pursuers.
Liepaja Beach, Latvia
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The Baltic Sea laps at this expansive beach as far as the eye can see and its majesty is doubled in the mirrored sign proclaiming the seashore’s name. It has an easy going feel – though it was once a haven for 19th century Russian tsars –and bars and cafés pop up in abandoned buildings at the back of the sand during the summer.
Cies Islands, Galicia, Spain
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The Romans referred to this archipelago as the “Island of the Gods” and we’re positive the incredible beaches helped sway their decision to name it worthy of the heavens. Divers in particular will adore the sapphire waters, where countless sea creatures happily twirl without fear.
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece
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You don’t have to delve into the depths to explore a shipwreck in Greece thanks to the rusting remains front and centre on this sandy cove. You can only access this cliffside beach by boat and given it’s a truly rare sight, many eager photographers head to this secret shore to snap a shot. Jetting over early morning or post 3pm are your best chances to avoid the crowds.
Paloma Beach, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, France
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The shingle beach is beautiful and so are those frequent it – Paloma is a favourite among the celebrity set (James Packer held one of his pre-wedding parties at the hotel here). The glamorous, sheltered cove is open to the public, though, so head here for some summer movie-start spotting.
Calanque de’n Vau, Marseilles, France
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The water is a colour you expect only on the most tropical islands or flowing through a New Zealand fjord but this piece of paradise is actually in the south of France. Calanque d’En-Vau is one of several calanques – inlets carved into the limestone – along this coast. Walk in rather than going by boat to fully appreciate the view to the bottom.
Playa de Muro, Majorca, Spain
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Though its not secluded – the spot is haven for holidaying families thanks to a shallow sandbar, number of beachfront hotels and countless seaside paella joints – this Majorcan beach is still incredibly picturesque for its golden sand, sparkling waves and a rickety wooden pier that stretches out into the sea.
Praia da Falesia, Algarve, Portugal
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It’s previously been named the best beach in the country but luckily it stretches for more than six kilometres along Portugal’s southern coast so there’s plenty of places to find a position you’ll have all to yourself. The Vilamoura end is quite wide and the waters are shallow enough to walk in a few metres comfortably, while the Olhos d’Agua end is narrower and hemmed by orange-striped cliffs, with pine trees standing sentinel above.
Punta Rata Beach, Brela, Croatia
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A gravel beach may not sound alluring but the verdant Aleppo pine forest and picturesque rocky outcrop, which offer shade from the incessant sun and a spot for divers to pogo from, will soon change your mind. Though Punta Rata is the most well known, this Dalmatian hamlet has more than six kilometres of beaches where you can indulge your sense in the smell of salt and pine.
Scala dei Turchi, Sicily, Italy
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It looks more akin to a melted meringue but its name refers to the stairway-like structure these limestone and marl cliffs form on the waters’ edge. The white stone, curved over thousands of years by the elements, is made more striking by the contrast with the deep blue water below. The beach below is small but you can spread out a towel on the rocks’ smooth surface.
Stiniva Beach, Vis, Croatia
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There are no enormous tourist vessels at this magical inlet – only boats small enough to edge their way through the single, narrow opening between the two foliage-covered cliffs can enter. From one side of the stony shore to the other is a mere 35 metres, making the protected paddle pool feel truly secret, even if there are other beachgoers about.
Sveti Stefan Beach, Montenegro
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This speck of rock is now a private resort but of the two orange-sand beaches, the south one is still open to the public. Hire a lounge and umbrella, then recline and gaze out to the terracotta roofs rising above the secluded isle’s protective walls.
Tropea Beach, Calabria, Italy
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This sloping Calabrian beach might turn technicolour when the summer holidaymakers pop open their beach umbrellas but its location is one of the most picturesque in all of Italy. Below is aquamarine water calling for eager swimmers; above ancient dwellings are built into the rugged rock face, securing an uninterrupted view of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Elafonissi Beach, Crete, Greece
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White sandy beaches are one thing; pink sandy beaches are even more mesmerising. The sunset-coloured tinge is created by millions of crushed seashells within the sand, and its unique hue, combined with the shallow, turquoise waters, means this 1.5-kilometre stretch often tops lists naming the world’s most beautiful beaches. Consequently, it’s rare you’ll get a patch of shore to itself but if you get there early enough, you might be able to enjoy the sight in solitude.
Zlatni Rat, Bol, Croatia
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Possibly the best view of this flag-shaped beach is from the air but a ground-level exploration will let you explore the nearby reef and kite surfers scooting across the undulating waves. The pebbly point is constantly changing shape ever so slightly with the tide and wind.
Paradise Beach, Rab, Croatia
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Bright green shallows give way to cobalt depths at this pine-strewn Croatian island. Though there are more than 20 beautiful beaches on this isle, Paradise Beach is the most popular thanks to excellent water quality and a hive of land- and water-based activities on offer, including beach volleyball and diving.
Virgin Island’s Creek, Brittany, France
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A Breton-striped swimsuit would not be out of place on this beach in northwestern France. Also known as the Point of Saint Hernot, access to this peaceful, emerald-green swimming spot is via a steep trail through the greenery.
Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
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There are few, if any, rabbits on their namesake beach at this teeny island off Sicily, but if you’re lucky you might spot one a loggerhead sea turtle preparing to tuck its nest of eggs into the sand. Hunks of rock give way to a soft crescent of sand and cyan waves and if you find there are too many sun soakers taking up space, the island has plenty of other hidden spots waiting to be discovered.