The World's 10 Greatest Beaches


Ah, yes, the beach.

It may be a stretch to take the catchphrase "life is a beach" literally, but it's no exaggeration to say that life is a whole lot better on a great beach.

Whether it's wiggling your toes in the sand and sipping Mai Tais in Hawaii, windsurfing Mediterranean waves in Sardinia, plucking 185-million-year-old fossils from a pebbly strand in England or observing nano-beachwear in Rio, you really can't go wrong on the beach.

With this in mind, we have shortlisted 10 great beaches from all over the world. The picks are, of course, passionately subjective and happily eclectic. Whether they are city beaches with shopping, clubbing and dining choices galore, or idyllic, edge-of-the-known-world sand beaches with nothing but you, the water and the palms, it's worth the time and trouble to find these world-class beaches:

Anse Source d'Argent, the Seychelles

OK, it's not right next door. In fact, it's a flyspeck in the Indian Ocean, several hours by air from the east coast of Africa. But this is the very definition of a paradisiacal tropical beach. Situated on the granite-ribbed island of La Digue, it has the azure sky, turquoise water, white sands, green palm fronds and baking sun that beach-lovers cherish. Nearby, coral reefs, nature preserves and marine national parks with sea tortoises and seabirds complete the picture. October to March, when the trade winds blow, is the best time to visit.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

This lively strand in suburban Sydney is ground zero in Australia's signature beach culture and the place where the beach volleyball competition was held during the 2000 Summer Olympics. Usually crowded but always fun, Bondi is home to water-loving Aussies in Speedos, and is also a popular draw for foreign tourists, especially on a summery Christmas day. Buzzy cafes, pubs and shops border the beach and fill the area around the Hotel Bondi and Campbell Parade.

Carmel Beach, Carmel, California

It is on this pretty expanse of sand that the town of 4,000 lives up to its full name: Carmel-by-the-Sea. Fringed by pines, this municipal beach is clean, safe and well-populated by sunbathers and surf-waders, hosting a comfortable mix of locals and visitors. At the north end, you can observe duffers playing the famous Pebble Beach golf course. Uphill from the beach, Ocean Avenue is lined with rather-too-cute galleries and shops but also with fine restaurants, usually French-accented. For good California seasonal fare, try the cozy Casanova restaurant, a 10-minute walk from the beach.

Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Don't hold Astrud Gilberto's can't-get-it-out-of-my-head "The Girl from Ipanema'' against the beach. Ipanema was a world-class destination before the 1964 hit song and it's survived in fine form ever since. Flanked by upscale apartments, shops, restaurants and cafes, the beach proper is a fine place for a dip and for showing off some truly spectacular bodies. Many trends have started here, not least the introduction of dental-floss-sized bikinis. Fresh slices of pineapple, chilled coconut milk and other treats from omnipresent beach vendors help to beat the heat.

Jurassic Coast, Dorset and Devon counties, England

Not just one beach but a 95-mile-long series of beaches and coves linked by winding public footpaths atop white, chalky cliffs, the Jurassic Coast is a haven for fossil-hunters and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pebbly "shingle'' beaches at Charmouth give up small fossils -- usually a type of marine snail -- imprinted on stones to amateur Indiana Joneses. The big harbor at Poole sends ferries across the English Channel to France, and pints of British bitter are on tap at waterside pubs such as the 17th century Poole Arms.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

How quintessential is the beach on this small cluster of islands south of Phutket, Thailand's most famous resort area? The waterside scenes in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach'' were shot here, most particularly on uninhabited Phi Phi Leh Island. One look will show you why: pristine sand, bathtub-warm water, verdant vegetation backed by the island's hilly interior. Diving, snorkeling and motoring around on long-tail boats are favorites, and the islands won't tax the budget.

Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Yes, the sands of this 3-mile-long strand really are pink -- thus the name. Pink Sands, 30 minutes by air from Nassau and 90 minutes from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, is a fine swimming beach, with warm, gentle waves, dazzling coral sands and clear aquamarine water that is ideal for snorkeling. Golf carts are the mode of choice for getting around on land. Laid-back and friendly, it's a gorgeous place to unwind.

South Beach, Miami, Florida

Are you buff and beautiful enough to hang out here? Actually, tourists of all shapes and sizes crowd this famous beach nearly year-round, but the slim and famous still mix with supermodels amid the Art Deco surrounds and the jam-packed clubs. The beach is perfect for people-watching, and the fame of the place guarantees a certain expectant excitement -- even if it can get a bit, shall we say, over-caffeinated.

Spiaggia del Principe, Sardinia, Italy

Rugged and remote until the Aga Khan developed it for the 1960s jet set, this posh beach in northeast Sardinia is much less remote now and popular in high summer. Homer's wine-dark sea provides ample opportunities for swimming, diving and boating in calm waters. The trenino verde, a slow but picturesque narrow-gauge train, traverses the island's rustic interior.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

I know, I know. Waikiki is loaded with travel kitsch and hordes of camera-besotted tourists ambling by in flip-flops. But, really, how bad can it be? The beach is lovely, if packed, the view of Diamondhead never gets old, the surfers are on their boards and Starwood's tropical-pink, renovating Royal Hawaiian Hotel will soon reopen. Just in time to settle in with a Mai Tai and some shave ice and hear "Hawaiian Wedding Song'' one more time as bridal parties rustle by.

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