The best hidden beach resorts in destinations including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, with expert advice on getting there, booking accommodation and where to eat
The beach. From the first childhood steps on the sand, to teenage dreams and hedonistic gap years, to family strolls along wide, golden bays, and happy revisiting in our older years, it is a linchpin of a great holiday.
Between minuscule coves tucked between dramatic limestone cliffs, and gentle, miles-long stretches of powdery sand, strewn here and there with nature’s flotsam, the coasts of the Mediterranean are fringed with an almost overwhelming array of beaches. Spits, caves and towering sea stacks show how geography has shaped Europe’s evolving, sandy shorelines: happening upon the white-gold stretches in between them is enough to incite childlike glee in the most serious of adults.
Except the reality is that such beautiful beaches are rarely found by chance. Some of the best are simply too hard to reach without the aid of crampons and climbing boots, or are unsafe for young children, and too far from any facilities to make visiting them a realistic choice. The more obvious finds have been lost to concrete tower block hotels and pollution, unappealingly jam-packed.
That’s where our Secret Seaside series comes in. Our destination experts have chosen the best beaches in Europe that combine appealing, natural seafronts with the infrastructure required to make holidaying there a pleasure, not a pain.
Often, our experts’ choices are found alongside laid-back towns and villages, in which we point you in the direction of the best places to stay and eat. Should you tire of the sun, sea and sand, our experts also offer recommendations on what else to see and do in the area, from ruins to watersports to meandering walks.
You will be able to read all about them in these pages in the weeks to come, and you can explore the range of beaches, across Turkey, Spain, Sardinia, France, and more, on our interactive online map, at telegraph.co.uk/secretseaside.
Happy planning – and don’t forget the sun cream.
1. Ploumanac’h, Brittany, northern France
Where is this beach? Half-way along the northern coast of Brittany
Who's it good for? Families with children, lovers of mysterious landscapes
What is there to do? Visit the beach, coastal walks, bird watching
What makes it special? The Pink Granite Coast has rock formations and sands in hues seldom found elsewhere
The village of Ploumanac’h is the pick of several delightful seaside resorts that lie in this surreal rockscape of glistening rose-tinted crags, cliffs and misshapen boulders. Arrive when the tide is high, and you’re faced with an exquisite little crescent beach, overlooked by a couple of hotels, and facing west across an estuary that’s scattered with tiny islets. As the sea withdraws, the sands stretch farther and farther out, solitary outcrops emerge to stand as sturdy monoliths, and the islets become islands.
2. Le Grau-du-Roi, the Gard, south of France
Where is this beach? On the border between Languedoc and the Petit Carmargue, on the French Mediterranean Coast, near Montpellier and Nimes airports
Who's it good for? Families with children of all ages, although older ones will appreciate the sports offerings more
What is there to do? Cycling, horseriding, quad-biking, wander through the pedestrian streets in town
What makes it special? It's a frontier between stretches of sandy beach and the cowboy land of the Carmargue
There is a case to be made for isolated creeks, deserted beaches and dinky fishing villages unchanged in a millennium. But there is a quite separate argument for letting rip with a full-tilt seaside holiday – ice-creams, blow-up dolphins, a bit of noise, a lot of activity and a happy hubbub in streets, cafés, and also when the sun goes down. This gives youngsters the impression that they’ve found a place where things are happening. And it can be rewarding for parents, too, to be among people with their sunny sides out.
3. Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Côte d’Azur, south of France
Where is this beach? On the Côte d’Azur, south of France
Who's it good for? Families with older or young children
What is there to do? Canoeing, kayaking, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, wreck diving
What makes it special? This is the Côte d’Azur without the snobbiness
Let us consider what we need for a family holiday on the Côte d’Azur. Sun and a beach, obviously, with a cracking coastline and outstanding hinterland. Bars and restaurants that are affordable. Plenty to do for all ages – and a sense of lightly dressed liberty withal. We are, I think, describing Cavalaire-sur-Mer.
4. The beaches of Ile de Porquerolles, French Riviera
Where is this beach? On the Ile de Porquerolles, off the French Riviera between Marseille and Cannes
Who's it good for? Families
What is there to do? Paddle on the beach, walk, sail
What makes it special? The French state bought most of Porquerolles in the 1970s, meaning that it is protected from over-development
Standing in the shallows, I let my toes sink into the pearl-white sand. Behind me, waves of peacock blue and green gently gather momentum. Facing me is a delicate strip of beach, shaped like a crescent moon: wide at its middle, with soft, tapered tips at each end. Eucalyptus and pines follow the beach’s curves.
5. The beaches of Noirmoutier
Where is this beach? The island of Noirmoutier, an island in the Atlantic, west of Nantes
Who's it good for? Families
What is there to do? Play on the beach, go rock-pooling; shop for oysters at the market; cycling
What makes it special? A bygone era attached to mainland France by road
Off the west coast of France, a three-hour drive from St Malo, is an island that looks Mediterranean: whitewashed walls, terracotta tiles, blue shutters, pines like giant sunshades. This is Noirmoutier, attached to the mainland by a centuries-old causeway and a modern bridge.
6. Ile de Batz, France
Where is the beach? Ile de Batz, just off Roscoff in north-west Brittany
Who’s it good for? Families with young children or teenagers
What is there to do? Beach walks; picnics; sandcastle building
What makes it special? Home to dazzling white sand beaches like the Grève Blanche, it meets all the basic needs – a hotel, hostel and campsite; a handful of shops and restaurants; and outdoor activities for kids – without feeling in the slightest over-developed
There’s something about driving off a cross-Channel ferry on a sunny French morning that makes you want to head straight on south for the rest of the day. Do that at Roscoff, though, and you’ve missed a holiday under your very nose: the Île de Batz, and the wonderful Grève Blanche beach stretching along its east-facing shoreline.
7. Porto Selvaggio, Puglia, Italy
Where is this beach? the Salento peninsula, southern Puglia, Italy
Who's it good for? Sunbathers, history seekers
What is there to do? Bask on the beach, explore coastal towns
What makes it special? The sunset at Porto Selvaggio beach
The Salento peninsula in southern Puglia is the Cornwall or the Galicia of Italy: a seagirt place of ancient and insular cultural traditions, not all of them diluted into tourist attractions. In some Salento villages they still speak Griko, a Greek dialect that may be the only living remnant of Magna Grecia, that swathe of southern Italy colonised by Ancient Greece back when the Romans were still living in huts.
8. Marettimo, Italy
Where is this beach? Marettimo, off the coast of Sicily
Who's it good for? Couples looking for relaxtion, those wanting island life but with a few active options available
What is there to do? Walk, scuba dive - or do nothing
What makes it special? This is an Italian island free of the snobbery of others such as Capri or Pantelleria
This remarkably green outcrop in the Mediterranean off the west coast of Sicily is a place for cultured, long-stay regulars rather than hit-and-run day-trippers. Car-less, (almost) hotel-less and refreshingly free of the snobbery of other Italian island paradises such as Capri or Pantelleria, Marettimo remains a very special destination for walkers, scuba-divers and sunseekers looking for a relatively unspoilt island, which is nevertheless within easy reach.
9. Cala Gonone, Sardinia
Where is this beach? East coast of Sardinia; 70 miles south of Olbia airport
Who’s it good for? Families with young children or teenagers, also couples
What is there to do? Good snorkelling at Cala Fuili and Cala Luna, and there are fascinating archaeological traces nearby of Sardinia’s prehistoric Nuraghic civilisation
What makes it special? Great opportunities for discovering the range of beaches in the area, all with spectacular mountain backdrops and best accessed by boat from Cala Gonone.
It’s Cala Gonone’s very inaccessibility that forms a good part of its appeal. Not so long ago you could only reach this insulated Golfo di Orosei resort on Sardinia’s cliff-sided eastern coast from the sea, but things have moved on and nowadays there’s a neat road tunnel bored through the wall of mountains that separate it from the rest of the island. Once emerged from the tunnel, travellers are confronted by a steep plunge to the coast, and the spectacle of undeveloped coastline stretching out of sight to north and south.
10. Viveiro, Spain
Where is this beach? On the north-west coast of Spain, in Galicia
Who's it good for? Groups of friends and families
What is there to do? Play on the beach, explore more secluded beach coves further up the coast
What makes it special? This is hometown Spain away from the ritzy resorts
"You could just stick to the beaches around Viveiro Bay, a teardrop-shaped inlet framed by hills covered in pine and eucalyptus trees. This is one of the Rías Altas, the estuaries that dip into the north-west coast of Galicia. Covas, the main town beach, curves for more than a mile around the bay. Viveiro is all about people of all ages just enjoying the holiday vibe with their family and friends."
11. Llafranc, Spain
Where is this beach? On Spain's Costa Brava
Who's it good for? Families, couples, groups of friends looking for a relaxed - unrowdy - beach scene
What is there to do? Coastal walks, relax on the beach
What makes it special? This resort town was frequented by filmstars and artists, including Salvador Dalí, throughout the 20th century
The very word “Costa”, these days, can be enough to conjure up images of towering apartment blocks, “My boyfriend went to Spain...” T-shirts and litre tankards of cheap lager, but the Costa Brava should not be confused with these horrors. Thanks in part to its geography – little coves chipped out of a rugged, hilly coastline – and in part to the filmstars and artists that frequented its beaches throughout the 20th century, the Costa Brava is an altogether classier sort of place.
12. Mónsul, Spain
Where is this beach? In the Cabo de Gata national park, in southern Spain
Who's it good for? Escapists
What is there to do? Explore the national park, walking
What makes it special? Enormous sand dunes and volcanic rock make for endlessly-fascinating landscapes
Walking down to Mónsul beach was like entering a sculpture park, albeit one where people were cluttering up the sand with their umbrellas and coolboxes, seemingly oblivious to the extraordinary formations framing the bay.
On my left there was a huge dune, which subtly changed shape with the wind and the seasons. On the shore, I saw what looked like the head of a giant walrus heaving itself out of the sea. Although rather disconcerting at first glance, it was nothing more than a chunk of volcanic rock.
13. Cíes Islands Islands, Spain
Where is this beach? The Cíes Islands, in Galicia, off Spain's north-west coast
Who's it good for? Families, couples
What is there to do? Swim, relax on the beach
What makes it special? Locals call the Cíes Islands the “Galician Caribbean” or the “Galician Seychelles”
Locals call the Cíes Islands the “Galician Caribbean” or the “Galician Seychelles” and I could see why. A group of boys were running towards the shore, shrieking as they plunged into the water. The scene may have looked tropical, but the sea was obviously pretty refreshing, shall we say, reminding me that I was indeed in north-west Spain.
14. Ribadesella, Spain
Where is this beach? Asturias, north coast of Spain; 62 miles east of Asturias airport.
Who’s it good for? Suits mature couples and families with young children.
What is there to do? For strolling, surfing, sunbathing, kayaking on the river Sella, and outdoor excursions into the spectacular Picos de Europa mountains.
What makes it special? Within a mile of the World Heritage-listed Cueva de Tito Bustillo, embellished with some of Spain’s most magnificent prehistoric cave art.
It’s a well-guarded secret that Spain’s most beautiful beaches are tucked away on its untamed and unspoilt northern coast. Nowhere does this ring truer than in dramatic Asturias, where bold rocky cliffs cascade down into the wild waters of the Bay of Biscay, the jagged Picos de Europa soar up just a few miles inland, and sandy strands entice surfers and sunbathers alike. Spaniards have long been in on the local scope and, come summer, seek out the sun on the 200-plus beachy coves sprinkled along this superb, emerald coastal stretch.
15. Praia do Martinhal, Algarve
Where is this beach? The Algarve, Portugal
Who's it good for? Families
What is there to do? beach fun, swimming explore the Costa Vicentina Natural Park
What makes it special? The waves here are more gentle than further north, as the coast sweeps up towards the Atlantic.
Praia do Martinhal, or Martinhal beach, is one of the finest swathes of sand you reach just before the promontory of Sagres. Here the stark, 18th-century fortress that dominates the clifftops is thought to have been built on the site of Henry the Navigator’s famous school of navigation, Vila do Infante.
16. Caneiros, Algarve
Where is this beach? Right in the middle of the sand fringed southern coast of Portugal, 30 minutes from the region’s capital and airport, Faro.
Who’s it good for? Everyone – there are activities for action hungry teenagers, oversized day beds for sun worshippers, powdery soft sand for bucket- and -spade –toddlers, and safe waters for swimmers.
What is there to do? Pedalos and kayaks can be rented, caves can be explored.
What makes it special? The chic Rei das Praias Restaurant on the beach, which sets the tone.
There is always a sense of anticipation on a walk to the beach. Will it be too crowded? Will the tide be too far in? But the pleasure in rounding the corner at Caneiros, and seeing the beach spread out before you, is unique. Perhaps it is because of the high cliffs that hide it from view until you are there, with their alternate bands of colour making layers of dusty pink and ochre and cream, like the last fold of wrapping paper before you alight on the gift within.
17. Kea, Greece
Where is this beach? The Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea
Who's it good for? Families, relaxed couples and groups
What is there to do? Eat and drink local specialities, relax in your villa or on the beach, explore ancient ruins
What makes it special? Kea is close to the Greek mainland but many tourists pass it by
Kea’s regulars come to eat well and relax, on the beach and in their low-slung villas, which are made of rust-coloured local stone and set into the steep hillsides so as not to stand out. There are not many hotels, and fewer ugly block buildings. Rather than build new roads to remote beaches, the Keans have restored ancient mule tracks and waymarked them for hikers. Theirs is a postmodern Greek island.
18. Voutoumi Beach, Anti Paxos, Greece
Where is this beach? On Anti Paxos island, south of Paxos, in the Ionian islands
Who's it good for? Relaxed couples, families looking for villa seclusion
What is there to do? Sailing, sit back at a taverna, rent a sunbed and sit back
What makes it special? This is Ionian island bliss defined, offering turquoise waters, white sand, and laidback taverna and villa options
It's impossible to resist flipping off your sandals to feel the pearl-coloured sand between your toes the minute you step off the boat and onto Anti Paxos. After the pebbled beaches of Paxos, Voutoumi, with its spectacular turquoise and indigo waters, clifftop surroundings and welcoming tavernas, takes some beating.
19. Cirali, Turkey
Where is this beach? South-west Turkey, an hour's drive from Antalya
Who's it good for? Families, nature lovers (for the loggerhead turtles)
What is there to do? Watch the loggerhead turtles, enjoy the beach, walk to the Chimaera
What makes it special? Development is minimal, thanks to protection by the Turkish Forestry and Culture and Tourism ministries
Cradled between two pine-clad rocky spurs tumbling steeply down into the Mediterranean from the high mountains of the Lycian peninsula, the graceful arc of beach fronting the laid-back resort of Cirali is one of the most unspoilt in the Mediterranean. And it’s not just travel writers and the holidaying families drawn back to this unique spot year after year who think so. Just ask the endangered loggerhead turtles, sizeable numbers of which still swim ashore each summer to lay their eggs beneath the smooth, sun-warmed pebbles and coarse sand of this two mile long strand.
20. Iskele, Turkey
Where is the beach? Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast, 160 miles south-east of Antalya airport
Who’s it good for? Great for younger families - there’s not a lot to do in the evenings for teens
What is there to do? Relax on the eight mile-long, coarse white sand beach, book-ended by a medieval castle and a Roman city
What makes it special? Each spring many hundreds of turtles heave themselves ashore to lay their eggs in obligingly soft sand
Gaze south from the beach fronting the small resort of Iskele, across a vast expanse of crisp blue ocean, and you’ll see a lone, ragged hump smudging the horizon. The hump is Cyprus, Aphrodite’s birthplace, 70 miles away. Behind the beach, a broad swathe of fertile plain, dotted with citrus groves and small banana plantations, merges seamlessly into the lushly forested foothills of the Taurus Mountains, which rise northwards in ever steepening folds before merging into the great sweep of the Anatolian steppe-lands beyond.
21. Makarska, Croatia
Where is this beach? On Croatia'a mainland coast, between Split and Dubrovnik
Who's it good for? Those looking for a beach holiday with relaxed nightlife
What is there to do? Enjoy the beaches, wander through Makarska's main square, hire a banana boat or a peddle-boat
What makes it special? Few other destinations combine some nightlife with tasteful surroundings and activity options
Most visitors to Dalmatia head straight for the islands, but the Makarska Rivijera on the mainland coast, between Split and Dubrovnik, is home to some of the country’s loveliest stretches of beach. Running from Brela in the north to Gradac in the south, the riviera is 38 miles long and centres on Makarska.