Finding a beautiful, uncrowded beach in the Med – with clear sands, blue seas and a chic boutique hotel nearby – has always been something of a Holy Grail for us. And for you too, judging by the number of enquiries we get.
This year, more than ever, we long for that Holy Grail holiday.Even if we can’t travel right now, we can still plan. So here are 5 gorgeous beaches in Europe, with 5 gorgeous hotels a flippety-flop away – all of them virtually unknown. Have a browse, take your pick – and when the time comes, you’ll be ready to pounce.
1 Agali Beach, Folegandros, Greece
Where? Tucked into the craggy southwest coast of the tiny Cycladic island of Folegandros, which is 2 hours’ ferry ride from Santorini (the nearest airport).
Why? This is a total escape from the world. Once you’ve docked at Folegandros’ tiny harbour, head up past the island’s only village, then 5km down a rough track to this tiny cove, inhabited by only a handful of families, their fishing boats and a few lucky guests. Days are spent flip-flopping between the sea and the hotel’s bean bags, sampling Greek salad and stuffed vine leaves at the local taverna, perhaps taking a boat taxi to a nearby cove (clothing optional), then returning for sunset from your balcony.
Stay:Blue Sandis the only hotel in the bay, and it’s a corker: chic rooms with killer sea views and relaxed dinners under the stars. Rooms from £126, free cancellation until 30 days before arrival*.
2 Baia dei Turchi, Puglia, Italy
Where? On the heel of Italy’s boot, perched above the east-facing coast near the white town of Otranto, and 100km from Brindisi airport.
Why? For its brilliant white sands backed by tall pines and sheer chalk cliffs, and lapped by shallow turquoise seas. There are no buildings in sight, and only one hotel in walking distance (see below), so outside high season you can have it almost to yourself. In summer, a small lido offersloungers and kid-friendly snacks; or you can retreat to the hotel pool and the inland lakes of Alimini.
Stay: Masseria Mongio dell’Elefante is a 5-minute walk from the beach, with several affordable family-sized suites, as well as delicious Puglian cuisine (think fresh fish with tomatoes and burrata, then homemade spumoni ice-cream cake). Rooms from £148, free cancellation until 3-30 days before arrival*.
3 Kabak Bay, Turkey
Where? 30km south of Fethiye and 70km south of Dalaman (airport), on Turkey’s spectacular Mediterranean coast
Why? Those who prefer their beaches backed by stunning mountains and emerald pine forests will find their own Holy Grail here. It’s a truly rugged and jaw-dropping coastline, with dramatic hikes (including the long-distance Lycian Way), wild butterflies and chameleons, the chance to paraglide from summit to shore, and boat trips out to sea to glimpse dolphins and flying fish.
Stay: Grail-seekers should head straight for Avalon, an adults-only hideaway with excellent food and exquisite views over the bay 20 mins’ walk below. Kingsize four-posters and lavish Turkish-style brunches repay the effort. Rooms from £90, free cancellation until 21 days before arrival*.
4 Aiguafreda Cove, Catalonia, Spain
Where? Near the town of Begur, 45km east of Girona (airport), this tiny cove is tucked among the dense pine forests of Catalonia in northeast Spain.
Why? Catalonia oozes culture and charm (and not only in Barcelona), but finding an uncrowded beach here is like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, Aigaufreda is as secret as they come: a supremely sheltered shingle strip with a languid beach bar and, 50 paces up the hill, a fabulous restaurant with rooms – whose food, even without the seaside location, would make the trip worthwhile.
Stay: that ‘fabulous restaurant’ is Hostal Sa Rascassa which, hidden beneath the pines, dishes out exquisite Catalan favourites such as lobster and chicken bake, or pear and walnut tart, as well as 5 simple but perfect rooms. Rooms from £99, free cancellation until 7 days before arrival*.
Where? Halfway up Sardinia’s east coast, about 150km from either Cagliari or Olbia (both of which have airports), and 10km from the small harbour town of Arbatax.
Why? The wild and spectacular beaches of the Golfo di Orosei are legendary among those with the boats or boots to reach them. Backed by limestone mountains and exotic arbutus forests, they feel like the shores of Arcadia. Santa Maria di Navarrese is the pretty town to the south; its own long sandy beach is one of the loveliest, and strangely overlooked. To have it to yourself, simply walk south as far as you need.
Stay: Our pick of the town’s hotels is Nascar – for its simple-yet-stylish rooms, its superb dinner served under the olive trees, and its prime location 200m from the beach. Rooms from £153, free cancellation until 6 days before arrival*.
* Prices and cancellation policies are correct at time of publication, but may change over time. Any initial deposit paid through i-escape to secure your reservation may, in the event of cancellation due to covid, be freely transferred to another stay; or, if your trip is prevented by government restrictions, this deposit can be fully refunded. Any payments made to the hotel are subject to their own policies, which are (at the time of publication) as outlined above, but should be re-checked when booking.