The 50 Best beaches; TODAY'S FORECAST: IS VERY SUNNY INDEED

Life, as they say, is a beach: but which of the world's greatest strands is the one for you? For this week's 50 Best, Rhiannon Batten, with help from Lucy Gillmore and Simon Calder, has combed the globe, from Scotland to the Seychelles, looking for the best places to surf, stroll, shimmy or sunbathe. All you have to do is bring a towel ...
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THE EXPERTS

This week's 50 Best was compiled with the help of Sarah Miller, editor of Conde Nast Traveller magazine; Kore Antonsen, owner of Low Pressure, London's coolest surf- and snowboard shop (0171-792 3134); Alex Steele- Mortimer, gallery manager for the Association of Photographers (the Association Gallery is hosting "Coast", an exhibition on beaches, 12-31 Jul; details on 0171-739 3631); Chris Davies, coastal pollution officer for the Marine Conservation Society (which has just launched this year's Good Beach Guide at: www.goodbeachguide.co.uk); and Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent

1

ANSE SOURCE D'ARGENT, LA DIGUE, SEYCHELLES

The island of La Digue is about 4km east of Praslin, and one of the most relaxing places you can visit in the Seychelles. The island is surrounded by glorious white-sand beaches, azure sea, gently swaying palm trees and smoothly sea-sculpted grey boulders... you get the picture. The ultimate beach is Anse Source d'Argent, where Crusoe was filmed.

When to go: Mar-Apr.

How to get there: British Airways & Air Seychelles fly twice weekly from Gatwick. For cheaper fares, try Air France via Paris, or an agency such as Bridge the World (0171-911 0900), which charges pounds 631 in June.

2

CASUARINA BEACH, GRENADINES

This quiet, pretty beach on the privately owned Palm Island makes it into Sarah Miller's top 10, largely because of its secluded location. There's a reef about 200ft out from the white-sand beach (which has some of the finest sand in the Caribbean) lapped by a deep-blue, sparkling sea. Perfect for honeymooners after unadulterated privacy.

When to go: when Palm Island has rooms free (001 784 458 8824; palm@caribsurf.com). How to get there: fly to Barbados or St Lucia (British Airways: 0345 222111; pounds 629.90), then take an internal flight to Union Island and a boat (20mins) to Palm Island.

3

PENDINE, CARMARTHENSHIRE

Pendine, in west Wales, is one of the longest beaches in Europe, with seven miles of flat sand that make it ideal for families. Most famously, Pendine was used for Malcolm Campbell's record-breaking speed attempts during the 1920s. Don't miss the sunsets, seen from the west-facing shore; they're magnificent.

When to go: Easter-Oct, when the nearby Boathouse at Laugharne - where Dylan Thomas used to write - is open daily (info on: 01994 427420).

How to get there: Wales and West (0345 125625) trains; ask for details of the combined bus/rail unlimited travel pass (pounds 255.90 for seven days).

4

HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

Ha Long means "dragon descending" in Vietnamese, and it's easy to see how this bay got its name. As in Guilin in China and Phang Nga in Thailand, dramatic limestone karst formations rise up out of the earth; this 1,500sq km area has around 1,600 islands, and has been dubbed the eighth wonder of the natural world. Yet most visitors stick to the nearby beach resort of Bai Chay.

When to go: avoid Feb and Mar, when wintery drizzle dampens the romance of the landscape.

How to get there: fly to Hanoi on Thai, Cathay Pacific, Air France or Aeroflot (around pounds 500 return). Then take a bus or train and ferry.

5

ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK, NEW ZEALAND

This isn't one beach but a whole series of them; part of a vast park at the north point of South Island. The best way to explore the golden beaches, blue water and green bush and forest is by sea kayak. Or you can follow the three- to five-day coastal path, and stride out to find your perfect beach en route.

When to go: summer (Nov-Apr), when you can stop off to tour nearby Blenheim's excellent wineries on your way home. How to get there: fly to Auckland or Wellington for around pounds 700 for the next six months or so; then take a ferry or domestic flight.

6

SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI, USA

Miami Beach's dilapidated Art Deco district was restored to full pastel- coloured glory in the 1980s. Since then, South Beach ("SoBe", to locals) has been a favourite location for glamorous fashion shoots and a thriving gay hangout. Forget being seen, just go there to see.

When to go: Dec-Mar for sunny weather, but prices are high.

How to get there: flights around pounds 350 from now until the end of June; they rise sharply after that, but fall again with the Miami temperatures in mid-Sept. Flight Centre (0990 666677) is quoting pounds 228 return on TWA from Gatwick, but you have to travel via St Louis.

7

AMANPULO, PHILLIPINES

A favourite of wealthy honeymooning couples - and of Sarah Miller - this beach is part of a privately owned resort on Pamalican Island. The name translates as "peaceful island", and it is, indeed, extraordinarily beautiful, romantic and remote, with traditional "beach huts" close to the white-coral beach (which has great diving).

When to go: Nov-Mar. How to get there: British Airways to Manila (0345 222111; from pounds 569), then Pacific Airways to Cuyo, the main island in the archipelago, from which you have to charter a boat. The alternative is to charter a private one-hour flight from Manila to the resort (00 63 2 532 4040).

8

CALGARY, SCOTLAND

Simon Calder says that "a gorgeous curve of sand awaits the fearless, on the western side of the Isle of Mull, which is the venue for some of the finest sands in the northern hemisphere." They are virtually empty, partly because Calgary is so hard to reach, but mostly because the temperature can make it somewhat - ahem - invigorating (the Gulf Stream is not what it was by the time it reaches these shores). Another one for couples who want to be alone, and enjoy cuddling up for warmth.

When to go: out of season, for hardy romantics.

How to get there: take a train to Oban and a ferry to Mull, then drive to the far west. (Mull Tourist Info: 01688 302182.)

9

PATARA BEACH, TURKEY

This 20km Mediterranean beach is excellent for swimming, surfing and windsurfing. Sarah Miller advises that "it's a popular place, but because it's so vast, you don't feel crowded". There are regular parties here during the summer, which should please teenagers, and lots of archeological remains to keep parents or grandparents occupied.

When to go: spring for wild flowers or winter for sea turtles.

How to get there: charter flights with First Choice (0161-745 7000) or Thomson (0990 502580) to Dalaman airport, from which a taxi to Patara costs around pounds 20.

10

DURDLE DOOR, DORSET

A couple of miles' scenic walking west of picturesque Lulworth Cove brings you to Durdle Door, a limestone arch that you don't need to be a geologist to appreciate. Chris Davies calls it "one of the wonders of the British coastline. It's great for diving, snorkelling and rock-pooling, and has fantastically clear, clean, blue sea."

When to go: early morning or late afternoon, to avoid hundreds of other visitors.

How to get there: Durdle Door crouches off the south coast in Dorset between Weymouth & Swanage. Take South West Trains (0845 6000 650) or Wales & West (0345 125625) to Wareham station, then a bus to Lulworth Cove. 11

BELIZE

Belize is a favourite haunt of marine connoisseurs - and Simon Calder: "for my money (and you'll need a fair bit of cash), the best diving beach is to be found in Belize. This sliver of British territory is tacked on to Central America, and boasts the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere."

When to go: Belize is warm year round, but go Dec-Mar to avoid the occasional late-summer hurricane.

How to get there: Coral Cay Conservation (0171-498 6248) will teach you to dive in Belize, in return for pounds 875 (plus air fares) and a fortnight's work for the Marine Research Centre. Get there via Houston on Continental Airlines, or on the direct Gatwick-Cancun flight with British Airways. Either will cost you around pounds 400 through discount agents. Belize is a six-hour bus ride away (around pounds 5).

12

VENICE BEACH, USA

If you fancy yourself as a Baywatch bod, Venice Beach is where the pretty beach boys and girls hang out (see story in today's Independent Magazine). Running south of Santa Monica, just to the west of LA, it was once a swampland. Today, especially in the 1km stretch called Ocean Front Walk, the local wildlife is limited to muscle men, basketball-players and street entertainers.

When to go: 13 June for the Gay Pride Week parade down Santa Monica Bvd (details on 001 323 9698302). How to get there: daily flights on Air New Zealand, British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic make California's largest city easy to reach from Heathrow (BA fare, 0345 222111, around pounds 460 plus tax). From other UK cities, check out the new Aer Lingus flight via Dublin. From Los Angeles International, take a cab or limo to Venice Beach.

13

TIOMEN ISLAND, MALAYSIA

This is one of the most attractive islands off the coast of Malaysia, and Salang Bay is probably the loveliest of its beaches. Alex Steele-Mortimer describes Tiomen Island as "a really tropical place in the South China Sea. The water is so full of salt that you find you can just float." It's also full of multi-coloured tropical fish, so snorkelling is a popular pastime.

When to go: avoid Nov-Feb, when monsoons make it difficult to reach the islands.

How to get there: British Airways and Malaysia Airlines fly daily to Kuala Lumpur; travel with Malaysia Airlines (try Quest Worldwide: 0181- 547 3322; around pounds 521) entitles you to the carrier's airpass, good if you wish to travel away from the peninsula: Malaysia's towns are linked by frequent buses. (Malaysia Tourist Office: 0171-930 7932.)

14

ST TROPEZ, FRANCE

What could be more glamorous than gambolling with your beloved in the sunny south of France? There are beaches galore along the Mediterranean coast, with the big resorts of the Riviera to the west (Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo) and the smaller bays and coves in the east. St Tropez's golden sandy beaches were made famous by the Allied landings during WWII, and by the filming of And God Created Woman, starring Brigitte Bardot, in 1956. The best beaches are just outside the town.

When to go: to impress your partner, go in summer when the town is at its brashest and sexiest.

How to get there: Debonair (0541 500 300) and easyJet (0870 6 000 000) charge around pounds 140 return; from the airport, there are direct buses to most of the resorts on the Cote d'Azur.

15

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA

DH Lawrence knew a good beach when he saw one; the writer lived for a time on the cliffs overlooking this one, around 80km south of Sydney. Wollongong's North Beach has soft, white sand and gentle, rolling surf. For children it's ideal, with a good ice-cream kiosk and oodles of rockpools to explore.

When to go: Oct-Mar is the best time to experience the seaside atmosphere.

How to get there: Wollongong is quite close to Sydney airport, and there are direct minibus links. The best airline for low festive deals to Australia at the moment is probably Malaysia Airlines (0171-341 2000).

16

ALUM BAY, ISLE OF WIGHT

The pebble beach here is reached by a chairlift that takes you down coloured cliffs striped in deep red, green and blue. The hues come from eroding minerals that have seeped into the chalk. For a contrasting view, look out to sea past the Needles, a string of rocks tripping into the sea, with a disused lighthouse teetering on the furthest outcrop.

When to go: in the height of summer, when the Needles Pleasure Park (01983 752401) opens daily.

How to get there: South West Trains (0845 600 0650) runs to Brockenhurst and on to Lymington, whence Wightlink (0990 827744) will ferry you across to Yarmouth - a brisk hike from Alum Bay.

17

MACKENZIE'S BAY, AUSTRALIA

Literally hidden - it only surfaces every couple of years - between Bondi and Tamarana (dubbed "Glamorama" by some), this is a real surfers' beach. So much so that Kore Antonsen admits "people back in Australia will kill me for telling you about this. The waves are only good to surf three times a year, but when it's there it's nice to find a beach like that - especially in a big metropolis like Sydney."

When to go: hang out on Bondi until the beach shows up.

How to get there: check out some of the excellent business-class deals to Sydney: Airline Network (0870 241 0034) is charging pounds 1,268 per person between now and the end Oct for flights on Olympic Airways via Athens, for two people travelling together.

18

COPACABANA, BRAZIL

Think of Copacabana in Rio, and the Carnival springs to mind; certainly, if you're looking for glamorous diversions, this is the place to be. "The world's most beautiful people take their sun on the sand in Rio, where a teeming city spills out on to a glorious beach," says Simon Calder. "The Atlantic is barely recognisable as the cold, grey ocean that batters British shores."

When to go: Christmas and Carnival, in Feb.

How to get there: flights to Rio cost around pounds 300 through specialist agencies such as Journey Latin America (0181-747 3108) and South American Experience (0171-976 5511); to fly out for the huge New Year's Eve bash, reckon on paying three times as much.

19

MAMANUCA ISLANDS, FIJI

These pretty reefs and sunny, sand-fringed isles are quintessential paradise islands. Traditional Fijian villages cluster around the white- coral beaches, which, along with the snorkelling and surfing activities off them, are judged among the best in the world.

When to go: May-Oct to avoid the hurricane season (Nov-Apr).

How to get there: Air New Zealand (0181-741 2299) has an extensive network of flights from Los Angeles and Honolulu around the South Pacific. If you just want a straightforward return to Fiji, discount agents such as Trailfinders (0171-938 3366) offer lower fares on both Air New Zealand and a British Airways/ Qantas combination (from around pounds 820). The nearest airport to the Mamanuca Islands is Nadi.

20

BARCELONA

Lively lovebirds could do worse than take a jaunt to Spain. Simon Calder advises that "Barcelona could be the ultimate city beach, yet the Catalan capital turns its back on the sea. Slip out of the city centre to the old fishing cottages of Barceloneta, and you can bathe from a surprisingly fine stretch of sand." And, when you're tired of bathing, head into the city to soak up a bit of passionate Catalan atmosphere.

When to go: spring and early summer, when it's not too crowded and the heat is still manageable.

How to get there: easyJet (01582 445566) and Debonair (0541 500300) fly to Barcelona for around pounds 98 return.

21

HOLKHAM BAY, NORFOLK

This is one of the finest sandy beaches on the Norfolk coast. On either side of it is a nature reserve, with plentiful dunes and pine trees providing sanctuary for waders, warblers and redstarts, among other birds. Sarah Miller recommends this as a "good all-round family beach", while Alex Steele-Mortimer admires "the wonderful sand dunes and the huge sense of space".

When to go: in spring or autumn, if you want it to yourself.

How to get there: Anglia Railways (01473 693333) will get you to Norwich for pounds 19.50 return. From there, take a bus to Wells-next-the-Sea, then a Coastliner bus to Holkham. Call the Tourist Information Centre for details (01328 710885).

22

FRASER ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

Queensland's Fraser Island is really just one big beach. Though 120km long by 15km wide, it's all sand, and was added to the World Heritage List in 1993 as the world's largest sand bar. The northern half of the island is the Great Sandy National Park, a good place for outdoor activities. Camp, fish, walk, climb sand dunes and swim - but not in the sea: the waters here harbour man-eating sharks and lethal undertows, so stick to the lakes.

When to go: Jun-Aug, when it's less humid and there are no box jellyfish. How to get there: daily flights to Brisbane on British Airways (0345 222111), and dozens of options on other airlines; for cheap deals, try Royal Brunei via Borneo (0171-584 6660; around pounds 570). Call Tourism Queensland on 0171- 240 0525. 23

RHOSSILI BAY, WALES

Tucked into the Gower Peninsula, this is a place where walkers and layabouts can happily co-exist. The golden strand sweeps on for 5km, and is backed by soaring cliffs and dunes, allowing for great views and surfing, and providing plenty of opportunity to stretch the legs and lungs.

When to go: the beach repays a visit at any time, but it's worth coming in summer for walks organised by the National Trust (01792 390707). For more information on the area, contact the Swansea Tourist Information Centre (01792 468321).

How to get there: First Great Western Trains (0345 000125) run to Swansea (from pounds 25.50 return), whence there are regular buses out to the Gower Peninsula.

24

BONDI BEACH, AUSTRALIA

Set on Sydney's doorstep, Bondi Beach is the Blackpool of Australia, though considerably more bronzed and beautiful than its British counterpart. Kore Antonsen admits: "it's the one that everyone knows." People come for the sand and surf - not to mention the hunky life-savers.

When to go: 15 Sept to 1 Oct 2000, when the beach-volleyball Olympics takes place on Bondi.

How to get there: return flights to Sydney cost around pounds 600 up to the end of Nov. Austravel (0171-734 7755) has plenty of scheduled and charter options. From Sydney airport, there is a direct bus to Bondi Junction, and a connection to the beach.

25

LAMU, KENYA

Lamu is Kenya's oldest inhabited town and a predominantly Muslim settlement. Somehow it has managed to keep its relaxed charm over the centuries, so it is not surprising that this is one of Sarah Miller's favourite beach locations. The beach itself is at Shela, a small village 10 minutes away from Lamu by dhow, the traditional East African boat.

When to go: Jan-Apr, for the dry season.

How to get there: several major airlines fly to Nairobi; Kenya Airways' fare (01784 888233; pounds 692) includes the connection to Lamu, from which you have to take a ferry into town.

26

PORTRUSH, CO ANTRIM

Northern Ireland is set to be this summer's trendy British destination, with lots of new, cheap flights to the region's three main airports. The Antrim coast is undoubtedly the best stretch of shoreline in the region. Chris Davies says, "this long, sandy beach offers excellent views across Lough Foyle to Donegal"; in the summer, it's as fun as any seaside resort, while in the winter it's wild and romantic. The Giant's Causeway, a few miles east along the coast, is startling - but not recommended for bathing.

When to go: any time.

How to get there: Ryanair (0541 569569) to Derry airport (around pounds 35 return). For more information, contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (01232 246609).

27

COCOA BEACH, USA

There are 25 miles of shoreline to choose from at this point on Florida's East ("Space") Coast. Cocoa Beach is so long, in fact, that there's a stretch to suit everyone - south for surfers, centre for nature-lovers, north for families. The Cocoa Beach Visitors Centre puts on activities every month such as walks, cast-netting and lectures on local wildlife and history. For high-tech diversions, there's the Kennedy Space Centre and IMAX cinema just down the road.

When to go: in Jun and Jul, the Visitors Centre (00 1 904 428 3384) runs a Turtle Watch programme. How to get there: there are plenty of scheduled and charter flights to Orlando (around pounds 245); try Trailfinders (0171-937 5400). Cocoa Beach is an hour's drive east of the airport.

28

BLUE LAGOON, ICELAND

Even on an island partially inside the Arctic Circle, life can still be a beach for the locals, thanks to its natural geothermal pools. As Simon Calder explains: "on midsummer's day this month, thousands of locals will be stripping off and diving into natural springs with plumbed-in geothermal heating."

When to go: this month for round-the-clock daylight.

How to get there: for information on holidays in Iceland, call Icelandair (0171-874 1000). A return to Reykjavik from Heathrow, Manchester or Glasgow costs less than pounds 300 return.

29

WEST SANDS, SCOTLAND

Vital statistics: this windswept beach in St Andrews has vast stretches of sand and, according to the Good Beach Guide (www.goodbeachguide.co.uk), fairly clean sea. As town beaches go, it's great, with a castle adding to the impressive backdrop. Its claim to fame, however, is as the location for the famous running scene in the Eighties film Chariots of Fire (West Sands was masquerading as a beach somewhere in England).

When to go: on May morning, to take part in the traditional (chilly) swim, or on 30 Nov, for the St Andrews Day celebrations.

How to get there: Virgin Trains (0345 222333) runs from most parts of England, while Scotrail (0345 550033) offers sleeping cars from London (from pounds 99 return).

30

WAIKIKI, HAWAII

This is one of the main holiday destinations in Hawaii, with most tourists congregating in its 1.5-mile curve of hotels. But Waikiki is actually a string of beaches: great if you want to party in the hotel disco with your fellow (mostly Japanese and American) hotel guests, or simply slip away for a moonlit stroll.

When to go: autumn, when Aloha Week - a celebration of all things Hawaiian - takes place. How to get there: connections are easy from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Expect to pay around pounds 500-pounds 600 return to Honolulu airport, from where there is a frequent, cheap bus direct to Waikiki, just half an hour away.

31

PINK SANDS BEACH, BAHAMAS

This aptly named beach on Harbour Island blushes its way through the year, ruddiest where the water laps at its shore. The hue of the pristine sand is caused by the breakdown of coral from the reef; as Sarah Miller points out: "you don't believe the colour at first, but it really is pink." The place to stay is Pink Sands, an exclusive but discreet resort that doubles as a Caribbean hang-out for paparazzi-shy celebrities. The island also has quaint colonial houses and good diving.

When to go: in the middle of a dreary British winter to cheer yourself up.

How to get there: British Airways (0345 222111) has regular flights to Nassau (from around pounds 545); or get a cheap flight to Miami, then a connection to Eleuthera airport. From there, take a water taxi to Harbour Island and a regular taxi to Pink Sands.

32

CAPE SCOTT BEACH, CANADA

Cape Scott Provincial Park is tucked away on the remote north point of Vancouver Island, on Canada's west coast. Alex Steele-Mortimer was seduced by the sense of wilderness and history: "the beach was once an early Danish settlement, but in the end it was too rugged for them to survive there." Determined modern-day romantics can make the eight-hour trek there from the nearest town, Port Hardy.

When to go: summer. How to get there: fly to Vancouver (around pounds 550), or (probably cheaper) to Seattle, then take a ferry. If cash is no object, take a seaplane from Vancouver Harbour to Victoria, then to Vancouver Island. Call the Canada Centre (0906 871 5000; www.canadatourism.com) for details.

33

REIGHTON SANDS, YORKSHIRE

Chris Davies describes Reighton Sands as "a rural beach with a large expanse of sand, making up the southern end of the 4-mile-long Filey Beach. Backed by cliffs, this area is a firm favourite with families, walkers and naturalists." A short way up the coast is Scarborough, the oldest resort in the country, and home to the Stephen Joseph Theatre (01723 370541), which premieres every new play by local boy Alan Ayckbourn.

When to go: 12 Jun to 10 Jul, when the new Ayckbourn play, House and Garden, is showing; tickets from pounds 7.

How to get there: a train from London King's Cross to Filey, changing at York and Seamer, costs pounds 46 return on GNER (0345 225225).

34

MAROVO, SOLOMON ISLANDS

In the South Pacific's third-largest archipelago is Marovo, the world's largest island-enclosed lagoon, and a proposed World Heritage site. The lagoon is stuffed with reefs and cays, each protected by barrier islands with golden strands and sandbars. Among the best beaches are Sanihulumu, Porepore, Sambulo and Lumalihe.

When to go: the dry season, end Apr to early Nov.

How to get there: fly to Brisbane (now around pounds 500 on Royal Brunei through discount agents). From Brisbane, Solomon Airlines flies to the capital, Honiara, for around pounds 280 return if booked in advance. The airline's UK office is at Biggin Hill in Kent (0171-707 4587). 35

BOSSANY HAVEN, NEAR BOSCASTLE

Getting to this quiet Cornish beach is half the fun. Kore Antonsen remembers: "as you walk down to the beach, the rock kind of gleams silver where it's wet. We had to walk down cliffs, past a huge waterfall to get there." For surfers, this is a prize spot, and definitely worth the effort of reaching it - just beware of the tides.

When to go: the beach only works for surfing at low tide.

How to get there: treat yourself to First Class on Virgin Trains' (0345 222333) extensive Cornish network; if you buy a pounds 50-or-more First Open Return ticket this summer, you qualify for two free First Class weekend returns.

36

FISTRAL BAY, NEWQUAY

Newquay is Britain's surfing capital, and Fistral Bay is the biggest beach in town. Over the summer months, people flock here to try out the sport, with six schools on hand to give expert tuition. So, if you want to have a go where there'll be plenty of other beginners looking just as silly, this is the place, dude.

When to go: 26-30 Aug for the National Surfing Championships (details on 01736 360250 or www.britsurf.org); for surf schools, call tourist info on 01637 871345. NB: hordes are expected for the eclipse, 11 Aug.

How to get there: Virgin Trains (0345 222333) to Newquay from various towns; eg return fare from Birmingham from pounds 30.50.

37

TRAIGH STIR, SCOTLAND

Way up on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides is Kore Antonsen's favourite beach, a vast expanse of white sand petering out into perfect blue sea. "It's just off the west coast of Scotland, but feels like the Caribbean," says Kore. "The water here is really clean and blue, and it can get very warm. But the best thing about it is that no one ever goes there."

When to go: Apr-Sept, for acceptable weather for dips.

How to get there: British Airways (0345 222111) has a range of discount deals to get you to and around the Hebrides, while the "Hopscotch" ticket from Caledonian MacBrayne (01475 650100 for enquiries, 0990 650000 for bookings) gives bargains on ferries.

38

CAERFAI, PEMBROKESHIRE

Caerfai Bay is a small rocky cove in spectacular cliffs just a mile from St David's. The Pembrokeshire Coast is Britain's only predominantly sea-based national park, and includes a vast section of the west Wales coastline. One means of access is the long-distance Pembrokeshire Coast Path: beware that the clifftop stretches can be dangerous if you don't keep an eye on your footing; still, all the more reason to keep a tight grip on your trail mate.

When to go: Chris Davies prefers low tide, when "a spectacular sandy beach is revealed". How to get there: rent a retreat from Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire (01437 765765; www.coastalcottages.co.uk), as a romantic base for daily walks.

39

WINEGLASS BAY, TASMANIA

The east coast of Tasmania, nicknamed the "sun coast" for its pleasant climate, harbours Wineglass Bay, a spectacular arc of white sand inside Freycinet National Park. To visit, you have to sign in and out of the park at Coles Bay, from where it's just over an hour's walk to the beach - so not for tiny children. There's a free campsite; just remember to bring drinking water with you.

When to go: Oct-Mar.

How to get there: there are no direct flights between the UK and Tasmania. Get a cheapie to Melbourne through a company such as Travelbag (0171-497 0515; from around pounds 600 return). From Melbourne airport, the cheapest way to Tasmania is a standby flight on Kendell Airlines.

40

ARCACHON, FRANCE

The Bassin d'Arcachon, on France's Atlantic coast, is famed for its oyster farms, its picturesque local fishing villages and for having the largest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat. As Sarah Miller points out, Arcachon itself is a great place to try surfing, with plenty of other distractions nearby.

When to go: it's been a glamorous French holiday destination for years, so avoid the crowds here in August.

How to get there: fly to Bordeaux on British Airways (0345 222111; pounds 146 plus tax), or to Biarritz on Ryanair (0541 569 569; pounds 47), then rent a car or hop on a train. For more information, contact the French Travel Centre (0891 244123, a premium-rate number; www.franceguide.com).

41

WOOLACOMBE SANDS, DEVON

This is a two-and-a-quarter-mile golden beach backed by sandy hills and the Woolacombe Downs. "The National Trust organises trips to watch the seals off Morte point," says Chris Davies, "and rock-pool rambles are organised by voluntary marine-conservation officers".

When to go: eight seal-watching trips take place each Wed in Jul and Aug; call the Morte Hoe Heritage Centre (01271 870028) to book.

How to get there: catch the National Express (0990 808080) coach destined for Westward Ho!, worth it for the sign alone; return tickets from pounds 30.50. Westward Ho! is actually slightly away from Woolacombe, so hop off the bus at Barnstaple and get a cab for the remaining few miles.

42

KUTA BEACH, BALI

No longer the quiet tropical hideaway it once was, Kuta Beach is now established as a rather chaotic resort, full of bargain hotels, tourist shops, restaurants and back-packers. For some, this is a disaster; for others, it's a fun place to hang out: despite the commercialisation, it's a beautiful spot.

When to go: festivals take place all year, so go when it's relatively cooler and drier (Apr-Oct).

How to get there: Lauda Air is promoting its flights from Vienna to the island heavily; through discount agents such as Trailfinders (0171-938 3366), a return fare from London via the Austrian capital costs pounds 405 return.

43

UNAWATUNA BEACH, SRI LANKA

A few kilometres from Galle, on the island's south coast, this is your classic golden sandy beach; a wide curving bay with clear waters and a laid-back atmosphere. The backpackers have already discovered it, so it won't be long before it becomes a rival to the already developed Hikkaduwa, but for the time being it's lovely.

When to go: Oct-Mar, when sea turtles lay their eggs on Unawatuna; it's also the best time to avoid monsoons.

How to get there: Air Lanka (0171-930 4688) flies daily non-stop, with the lowest return fares through discount agents (around pounds 500); about pounds 100 less on Emirates via Dubai or Kuwait Airways via Kuwait. From Colombo airport, a series of buses will take you to Unawatuna.

44

SANDALWOOD BAY, SCOTLAND

Handa Island is a good spot for lovebirds - or those who just love birds. This huge red sandstone hunk off the coast of Scotland, north of Scourie, is renowned for its seabirds. It's a private property administered by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, so visitors are asked to make a donation to its upkeep. A stroll around the purple moorland will take around three hours, but leave time for canoodling on the beach at Sandalwood Bay.

When to go: late May to mid-July, for the puffins. How to get there: catch a train to Lairg, then a bus for the 42-mile trip to Tarbert (01549 402025 for times); from there, it's a 15min boat ride (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm on demand; call 01971 502340 for more info).

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PRAIA DA ROCHA, PORTUGAL

Just outside Portimao, in the west of the Algarve, this beach is a favourite of Alex Steele-Mortimer for its "wonderful red cliffs and strange rock formations". It's been popular with holidaying families since the Fifties, for its vast sands and dramatic backdrop - impressive enough to detract your attention from the inevitable mammoth hotels.

When to go: in spring, to avoid the heat and crowds.

How to get there: Go (0845 605 4321) flies daily to Faro for around pounds 120 return. There should also be plenty of charter seats around. From Faro airport, take advantage of some of the cheapest car rental in Europe - but watch for the continent's most dangerous drivers.

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DEAD SEA, ISRAEL

Eerily glassy in the Judean desert glare, 400m below sea level, Israel's Dead Sea is truly a wonder to behold. This is best done from a reclining position in the water, supported by the legendary salt. With wild camels sauntering past, and bizarre salt formations rising up around you, this is one of the most surreal experiences you're ever likely to encounter. Afterwards, come back down to earth with a good wallow in the vats of warm, black, mineral-rich mud dotted around the beach at Ein Gedi, the area's main resort.

When to go: year round (up to 68F in Jan, up to 100F in Aug). How to get there: try Thomas Cook for charter or scheduled flights (from around pounds 300); Ein Gedi resort info: 00 972 7 6584342.

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PORTHCURNO BAY, CORNWALL

Sarah Miller says: "there is more to this place than just a beach - it also has the Minack Theatre." This hosts plays, opera and musicals in a spectacular, Greek-inspired setting. To get to the theatre from the beach - which is made up of tiny white shells - you have to clamber up steep steps. Worth the effort, and bring something comfy to sit on.

When to go: this year's season runs from 24 May to 18 Sept (box office: 01736 810181). How to get there: First Great Western Trains (0345 000125) sleeper from London Waterloo, which arrives at around 8am daily except Sun. Have breakfast in the cafe across from the station before grabbing a cab for the five-mile ride to Porthcurno.

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HAT RIN, THAILAND

Thailand is one of Sarah Miller's favourite beach destinations: off the west coast, some of the beaches are as close to perfect as you can get. If you're here to party, pack your copy of Alex Garland's The Beach, and head east instead. Hat Rin, on the island of Ko Phangan, is not as spectacular as some of Thailand's beaches, but you're sure to meet some like-minded travellers. And it's a short and inexpensive boat ride to numerous quieter coves.

When to go: at full moon for the infamous laid-back parties.

How to get there: first find a cheap flight to Bangkok, around pounds 300-pounds 400 return. From there, fly to Ko Samui and across to Ko Phangan, or take the train to Surat Thani, and take a boat.

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SALT WHISTLE BAY, THE GRENADINES

Mayreau is a tiny little island just 1.5km long, but it has one of the Caribbean's best beaches, according to Sarah Miller. The clear waters, white sands, calm swimming conditions (ideal for children) and protected anchorage for yachts make for an ideal tropical location, and there's superb snorkelling nearby at Tobago Cays. But watch out for the manchineel trees here - their sap can give your skin nasty blisters.

When to go: it's the Caribbean, so any time is a good time. How to get there: to Barbados on BWIA, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. From there, connect to Union Island, then take a 30min boat ride. For more info, contact St Vincent/ Grenadines Tourist office (0171-937 6570).

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ACAPULCO, MEXICO

Slapped on Mexico's Pacific Coast, Acapulco is a mesmerising sight. Stroll along the warm sands at night and behold the lights from the bay's towering hotels sparkling above you. If you need a daytime diversion, nip up to La Quebrada to watch divers swooping off the cliffs, or, better still, head 10km up the coast to Pie de la Cuesta, a white-sand spit with palm trees and a lagoon - but beware the dangerous undertow.

When to go: Nov-Mar. How to get there: US carriers will get you there cheaply via an American city. Through specialist discount agents such as Journey Latin America (0181-747 3108) or South American Experience (0171-976 5511), you'll pay around pounds 400 return.

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