The Eight Best Secret Beaches
White's Beach, Australia. Photograph by Mr Peter Scholer
You’ll have to break a sweat to get there, but it’s often worth going the extra mile to ensure a slice of paradise.
Twenty years ago, Mr Alex Garland’s novel The Beach became the cult read of the year, if not of a generation. The plot? A backpacker in tourist-dense Bangkok obsessing about freedom and adventure alights on a map that leads him to a pristine, forbidden beach in the Gulf of Thailand, enclosed by protective cliffs and sealed off from the incursions of visitors. He, and a band of other single-minded travellers, will do almost anything to make it theirs.
The fantasy of stumbling upon the most exquisite beach in the world – and having it all to oneself – looms large in our shared imaginations. Most people wouldn’t risk their lives to pursue their littoral dreams, but the extra effort to charter a boat, scramble down a cliff or trek through a jungle is often worth the sweat to ensure a perfect person-to-sand-grain ratio. So we’ve sailed the Seven Seas and found the best secluded swim spots out there.
TO STENO, ITHACA, GREECE
Photograph by Ms Ileana Von Hirsch
A hilly outcrop of vivid green in the haze of the Ionian Sea, Ithaca and its milky turquoise waters was once the realm of Odysseus, or so the story goes. In Homer's epic poems, it was this island he set sail from for Troy, only to return 20 years later. Protected from the bucket and spaders by the distinct absence of sand, and no airport, Ithaca remains in a relative state of unspoiled bliss and is mainly frequented by the sailors and people such as Mr Marc Newson, designer of the Apple Watch.
Hidden in a cleft in the cliffs, To Steno’s pale azure waters are lapped by flat, powdery white pebbles. Of Ithaca’s myriad bays and bathing coves, To Steno is the beach that needs the best skippering skills to access. Once you’ve roped off the bay with your stern ropes (totally illegal and something we’d never advise), bathe in silence, regaled only by the occasional ding-a-ling of a goat bell.
Where to stay: Five Star Greece’s Villa 1J sleeps 11-12 on an island with a scarcity of top-drawer accommodation. Just outside pretty Kioni, it has its own pebble beach accessed from a tiny path at the bottom of the garden and comes with a speed boat.
What to pack
WHITES BEACH, BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA
Photograph by Mr Peter Scholer
Perched at Australia’s easternmost tip, Byron Bay is about surfing cerulean waves and drinking in the spiritual counterculture. The hunt for the perfect beach ends with Whites Beach at Broken Head. It’s the next headland south of Cape Byron, but reached from Seven Mile Beach Road, a dirt track that requires a 4X4. Then you trek 10 minutes through sub-tropical rainforest. On arrival, you are treated to white sands, gin-clear waters, rock pools and the strong possibility of sighting a pod of frisky dolphins. From there, trails over the head reach further strings of isolated beaches. Even though the locals are well aware of this place, you’ll find it mainly empty – there is an embarrassment of beaches to choose from in Byron.
What to pack
PANGE SANDBANK, ZANZIBAR
Photograph by Mr Iztok Kurnik
Slung like jewels on a necklace in Tanzanian waters, the islands of the Zanzibar archipelago are famous for their spices, reefs and dreamy beaches. Travellers love them for their “no shoes, no news” vibe; the ease with which one can cast off the outside world here and hang out in the living embodiment of a Bounty bar advert. Charter a dhow and a skipper at sunset, and sail away to this simple sandbank, a patch in the Indian Ocean just 20 minutes from Stone Town.
Where to stay: In Stone Town, the labyrinthine capital, where you can soak up East African, Indian, and Arab influence. The sine qua non boutique hotel is the Park Hyatt, which has transformed and added to a beachfront 17th-century mansion, and includes an Anantara spa.
What to pack
CALLA MACARELLETA, MENORCA
Photograph courtesy of Turespaña
Verdant ravines and delightful coves characterise rural Menorca’s coast (that and admirable protectionist environmental principles). On its south coast, Cala Macarelleta is reached via a narrow path up from the neighbouring beach, Cala Macarella, and a child-unfriendly scramble down to the cove. The sand has the colour and consistency of talcum powder and the water is topaz in hue. Many of the scramblers are clutching snorkels to peer at the barracuda in its glassy waters and about 50 per cent opt for full-body tanning, if you catch our drift. You can also rent a kayak from Macarella and paddle over for a peek.
Where to stay: Menorca’s newest super villa is 11-bedroom Cugo Gran, a meticulously restored farmhouse with five-star service including a chef, butler and concierge, 26m pool, landscaped gardens, vineyard, gym and massage treatment rooms.
What to pack
STINIVA BEACH, VIS, CROATIA
Photograph courtesy of Croatian National Tourist Board
Vis is the most westerly island from the mainland, a two-hour ferry ride from Split and a world away from some of the more developed islands such as Hvar. It is clustered with wonderful private homes to rent, and chic restaurants that cater for the realms of yachties who sail through in season. To get to Stiniva beach, rent a retro psychedelically painted Volkswagen Beetle and park up near Tavern Peruka on the south coast road and put your hiking boots on for the sketchy steep path down to the white-pebble beach, the bluest of waters, an arc of limestone cliffs, and solitude. You can also rent a small boat or canoe to get there – but the entrance to the cliffs is narrow. Either way, it’s a mission.
What to pack
FIVE MILE BEACH, CAMBODIA
Photographs by Mr Christopher Wise
On Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago on Koh Rong island, Five Mile Beach is a horizon-hugging swathe of white, bookended between swaying palms and crystal waters. Mr Garland eat your heart out (we know, that was Thailand). The way we know how to get to this earthly paradise is by a 30-minute speed-boat ride from the private island of Song Saa, followed by a hike through dense jungle and along the rugged coastline. By that stage, you’ll need a slap-up picnic.
What to pack
PUNTA BRAVA, COLOMBIA
Photograph courtesy of Amakuna
Utterly remote from metropolitan living, Punta Brava on Colombia’s Pacific Coast is surrounded by verdant jungle-swathed mountain, towering waterfalls and the vast Pacific. Its volcanic black sand beach should be yours alone, whether you want to humpback whale-watch, or surf – but that’s if you can get there. The spot is accessed by a 17-seater plane from the Colombian city of Medellín to the local town of Nuquí, and a one-hour boat ride to the bay (due to the impenetrable nature of the jungle, and the lack of roads, many local beaches are boat-accessible only).
What to pack
COLOMBIER BEACH, ST BARTHS
Photograph by Mr Gérald Tessier
Glamorous, French-accented St Barths is best known for being the hangout of music royalty and Hollywood types (from P Diddy to Mr Leonardo DiCaprio) on down time, but it does have its more secluded, natural nooks. Part of a preservation area, Colombier Beach is the “other face” of St Barths. It can only be reached by following a 30-minute rocky goat track from Flamands Beach (which has blisteringly good views), or by commandeering a boat. Once you get there, your tranquility is assured. The snorkelling is renowned in these calm waters, as are its sunsets, which sometimes come with a green flash – an optical phenomena where the atmosphere causes the light from the sun to separate out into different colours