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Best for sun-worshippers: Bondi Beach

I once spent six months working in television in Sydney, and that's when I first visited Bondi Beach. Back then, it was a bit unloved – there was nowhere to eat and the beach was run-down and grubby. In spite of its close proximity to the city centre, Bondi just wasn't fashionable. Nowadays, things are very different – the neighbourhood has been reinvented and Bondi has become the most vibrant beach in Australia; perfect for a fun weekend break from the city. The combination of a beautiful bay, golden sands and a cosmopolitan crowd ensures that this is a beach for everyone – surfers, serious swimmers, hikers, sunbathers and families enjoying communal picnics. Once frequented by backpackers, junkies and down-and-outs, the cleaned-up, restored Bondi is chic, and boasts, among other things, award-winning chef Sean Moran's Panaroma on Campbell Parade, a great neighbourhood restaurant where he offers organic produce, delicious roast chicken and fresh fish, all served simply. Think River Café, Aussie-style.

Fed up with the sand? Try some shopping – funky boutiques, health-food shops, and places selling serious sports equipment and beachwear line the surrounding streets. There's a rather ugly big new hotel which dominates the esplanade, but I prefer chilling out at Ravesi's, bang on the seafront. Don't be put off by the noise from the heaving bars on the ground and first floors (where you can drink cocktails lounging on sofas on the long terrace) – they've spent millions of dollars on sound-proofing. You can get a studio apartment with a little terrace to lounge on in private and your own fridge to keep your chardonnay nicely chilled. Bliss!

You could brave the waves, but I prefer to swim at the beautiful outdoor seawater pool at the southern end of the beach run by the Bondi Icebergs, a real Sydney institution. To become a member, you have to swim 3 out of 4 Sundays during the Aussie winter – or you can just pay for daily membership – there's a café for coffees, a restaurant for lunch and dazzling white terraces to lie around on and ogle the hunks ... you could almost be on Mykonos! There are outdoor yoga classes as well as swimming lessons on offer. In rough weather big waves crash right over the outside lanes – too frightening for me, but diehards love the spray.

The main Bondi shopping street is Hall Street, and on Gould Street, just parallel to the sea front, the Earth Food Store makes the best organic juices. You can buy a pineapple and they'll turn it into an instant drink packed with vitamins. A short walk inland down Bond Road brings you to more shops and Remo General Store, a no-frills establishment which sells really eclectic T-shirts, bags and office stuff. Great for presents – and they have a website (remogeneralstore.com). There's also a weekly farmers'/food market on Saturdays at Bondi Beach Primary School. On Sundays it sells junk and bric-à-brac.

Waverley Council have just opened up an extension of the coastal path, so now you can work up an appetite by hiking over the headland from Bondi to Bronte Bay, all the way down to Waverley Cemetery, passing the exquisitely beautiful Tamarama Cove en route. My weekend in Bondi encompassed walking, swimming, drinking, eating and finally a trip to the Sydney Opera House (just 15 minutes away by cab) for the annual Drag Show starring Amelia Airhead, Vanity Faire and Tess Tickle. The costumes were better than anything in Vegas, and I laughed till I cried. They'll all be on display again at the Mardi Gras in March. If you're visiting Sydney, Bondi is a lot more fun than staying in a soul-less downtown hotel. After all, this city is all about the beach.

Ravesi's, 118 Campbell Parade, Sydney, NSW 2026 ( ravesis.com.au ). Rooms from A$249 (about £140). Sean's Panorama, 270 Campbell Parade, Sydney, NSW 2026 ( seanspanaroma.com.au )

Superb sands

# Mozambique is out of the wars and into the tourist brochures, with hundreds of miles of pristine beaches, a burgeoning crop of eco-hotels and several protected island archipelagos. Try Coral Lodge 15.41 ( corallodge1541.com ), a new dune-top luxury retreat in La Varanda nature reserve. From $295 (£180) per person, per night all-inclusive.

# El Palmar, on the Costa de la Luz, has expanses of golden sand that beg you to turn cartwheels. Add superb surf, affordable al fresco restaurants and lots of pan-Europeans to splash around with and you've the makings of a fabulous Spanish family beach holiday. Villas from holiday-rentals.co.uk

# New York. Yes, you read that right, the Empire State has some gorgeous yellow sand beaches, with arguably the best found on Fire Island ( nps.gov/fiis ), a 32-mile-long spit of protected National Seashore, backed by dunes and fronted by the rolling Atlantic, all just two hours' drive from Manhattan.

# Oman has 1,000 miles of pristine coastline stretching from the Musandam Peninsular to the Empty Quarter desert. If you want something really remote, with squeaky-sand beaches and lavish service, try Zighy Bay ( www.sixsenses.com/Six-Senses-Hideaway-Zighy-Bay). Doubles from £416.

# Or closer to home, why not try a luxurious break at Hawke's Point, a chic and tastefully appointed new apartment complex with fabulous vews overlooking St Ives' Carbis Bay. Stroll on the beach, stop off the Tate – and while you're out the concierge service food4myholiday.com will even stock your fridge with Cornish goodies. From £250 for a long weekend, based on two sharing. See hawkespoint.com