Winning tip: Isla Canela beach, Huelva
Not well known among British visitors, the 7km of Isla Canela beach’s golden sands on the western tip of the Costa de la Luz are an indulgent joy. This is where the Spanish go to holiday, usually in the intense heat of July and August, but these golden sands are never crowded, and the Atlantic breeze offers a welcome respite from the Andalusian temperatures. The promenade is fringed with Spanish chiringuitos (no Irish bars nor “traditional English roasts” here), where you can pass the time sipping a cool drink or enjoying fried fish and Gambas al ajillo (prawns in garlic oil). There is even a summer cinema on the beach. Relax – it doesn’t get better than this.
It was 1980, and I think we were the only ones on the beach. I meticulously built 20 sandcastles and stuck a pine-tree twig in each. Then my dad “accidentally” ran through them all! I have loved this beach ever since. There is a little bar shack now – and, yes, more people – but what never changes is the view. Mountains to the left; the peak of Coll Baix to the right; behind, the smell of pine; and, in front, of course, the ever-changing blues of the Med. If you come in the morning (flat), take your snorkel; in the afternoon (waves), take a lilo or bodyboard. Back in town, La Casa Gallega is great for evening tapas.
Playa Mina, Camino del Faro, Alicante
Altea is a day trip from Benidorm or Alicante, and is mainly known for its old town. But an easy 6km cycle south takes you to Camino del Faro. This short clifftop path runs through a nature reserve with spectacular views. About halfway round, a track leads off the road – it looks like a long, rocky route to the water’s edge, but don’t be off. If you hold your nerve, you’ll find Playa Mina a sheltered cove with views of the town and very clear water. It’s deep enough to swim around the bay and get out onto the rocks at different points (wear swimming shoes). A few private companies do yacht trips to this spot, so enjoy the smug feeling of arriving by foot.
Beautiful sandy beach perfect for families. The sea is shallow, great for swimming / paddling, and is cleaned every night. It’s the atmosphere, though. Everyone is happy. There’s a mix of Spanish and tourists from all over Europe, with tons of room for everyone, and the vibrant colors of beach umbrellas on display. No high rise here, just a wide esplanade with beach shops and wonderful cafes and artisan stalls. Still busy at 10pm with games and couples relaxing. Fabulous views of Cap de Sant Antoni at one end of the beach. Safe, too, with lifeguard patrols. Upmarket area but not expensive.
Punta Paloma is my favorite place in the world: a large dune with sand from the Sahara, from which you can see Africa. The beach is located near the small town of Tarifa where the food and the views are amazing. Scuba diving, kite surfing, climbing or hiking are just some of the activities on offer. South of Spain is a quality, cheap destination that doesn’t suffer from the tourist overcrowding of other places.
We stumbled across beautiful, wild, untouched Soesto beach near Laxe, Galicia, on a recent road trip. A small, unpaved road with an unremarkable sign gave no indication to what lay ahead. Wide white-sand beach with dunes, hills and woods as a backdrop. The Atlantic water was as clear as anything you’d find on the more visited Med coast. Anywhere else and this beach would have been packed. In this wild corner of Spain we were the only ones enjoying the isolated paradise, save for a local collecting barnacles. No development, no facilities, just nature. Stunning.
Fifteen kilometers west of the Basque country jewel, San Sebastián, lies a town with a “California-cool” boardwalk where you can grab the delicious pintxos the area is famous for. Zarautz has an impressively long, golden sandy beach, clean Atlantic water and consistently decent surf. A fantastic campsite overlooks the beach from the cliff at the eastern end and is linked by the El Camino del Surfista steps, which will keep those hamstrings nice and tight. This beach town perfectly combines sophisticated northern Spanish cuisine with laid-back surfer vibes.
The Costa del Azahar on Spain’s east coast still feels quite undiscovered in comparison with its glitzier counterparts, but it is home to some of Spain’s most beautiful – and quiet – beaches. Benicarló, Oropesa del Mar and Benicàssim are all worth a visit. However, the jewel in the crown is found at Peñíscola. There are actually two beaches just a few hundred yards across from each other on the small peninsula that is dominated by Peñíscola castle. North beach, in particular, is stunning: 5km of immaculate sand and crystal waters, flanked by local bars and restaurants. Even during the busiest days of summer you’ll have no problem finding a spot for your towel.
This lovely beach near the bustling port city of Cartagena is loved by locals for its quiet beauty. It’s a far cry from the parasol-packed beaches of Alicante further up the coast.
While trekking around Menorca last spring a fellow hiker directed me to Cala Trebaluger. It is part of a select group of unspoiled Menorcan beaches that can only be reached on foot. I followed a river winding down a gorge towards the beach and spent three days in solitary splendor, sleeping under the stars surrounded by nature, cradled by a calming curve of fine white sand, shallow waters tucked away between rock outcrops and pine forests. There are no sun loungers and often no clothes: just nature. Bliss.