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Spain's best hidden beaches: Sunbathing without the madding crowd
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Jun 16, 2019
MAINSTREAM package trips to Spain inevitably seem to take you to the most built-up, rammed-full beaches, so infrequent visitors could be forgiven for believing the country's coasts are synonymous with mass tourism, fighting for towel space and general overcrowding.
Luckily we know this is not true – and whilst the Telegraph has attempted to reconfigure the misconceptions with its list of the top 10 'hidden' beaches in Spain, calling on a panel of holiday industry experts, we still think they've missed a few out – so we've decided to add a few of our own number one choices.
Some of the Telegraph's beaches are in regions that rarely feature in travel agency windows, but you'll be surprised at how many more are out there in the parts of the country you always thought were full of British pubs, chip shops and concrete jungles.
And you don't even need to look very hard.
This far north-western region just above Portugal almost never appears in holiday brochures – yet, although its summers are generally cooler than on the Mediterranean and in the south, they are still plenty warm enough to catch the rays, stake out on the sand and top up your tan. Relatively unknown to northern Europeans, Galicia is, nevertheless, popular with the national market, meaning it retains a very 'Spanish' feel, albeit with more of an air of its Celtic heritage than the exotic Latin atmosphere of Europe's far south. It's been described as 'Ireland with sun' and 'Scotland with sun', and its stunning scenery certainly bears testimony to that.
Galicia's urban beaches are very geared up to tourism with all the facilities and services you need for optimum convenience on a relaxing holiday.
Among its remote beaches, The Telegraph recommends the Cíes Islands – an emerald-green, unspoilt archipelago with white sands and turquoise waters – calling it the 'Caribbean of Galicia', although hordes of sunseekers and Piña Colada stalls are conspicuously absent, given that this is an officially-protected nature reserve and restricted to 2,200 visitors a day. Also on the list is the Viveiro Bay and Celeiro Port in Viveiro, Lugo province, where the old town is considered quaint and charming.
We also recommend the Las Catedrales beach in Ribadeo, Lugo province, so-named because of its huge, natural rock structures which look for all the world like pillars in a giant, ornate temple, or the mile-long, lush, forest-covered turquoise Villarrube beach (first picture) in Valdoviño, A Coruña province, sandwiched between dunes and 'fed' by the famous Galicia river network. Otherwise, head to Spain's northernmost tip, Ferrol (A Coruña province), where the rural Doñinos beach (second picture) is surrounded by nothing but greenery, six kilometres from the nearest town and close to a huge blue lagoon.
Beach holidays in Catalunya advertised in northern European travel agencies seem to focus exclusively on the Costa Brava, or the coast of the province of Girona, the northernmost province in eastern Spain bordering onto France. Lloret de Mar gets plenty of visits, as it's lively, popular and with top tourism facilities, but if you're looking for a beach where your nearest neighbour is so far away you can't hear them talking, the Telegraph thinks you should go to Llafranc – a third of a kilometre of coast, it's small enough to guarantee peace and quiet but large enough to keep a family entertained for a week or two.
Still on the Costa Brava, we recommend the coves in Begur – zealously guarded by majestic cliffs and dense pine forests, with wooden walkways allowing you to explore the coastal landscape en route to the crystalline waters of its many bays, the best parts to find peace and quiet are in the Aiguafreda ('Cold Water', but it's not especially, so don't take it literally), Sa Tuna, Sa Riera and Aiguablava ('Blue Water', and do take this literally) coves.
Outside of the Costa Brava, the coast of Tarragona – known as the Costa Daurada and Catalunya's southernmost shores – tries to keep Tamarit beach in the provincial capital a secret. Named after the castle above it, this protected reserve is enclosed by thick pine forest and you'll only find a handful of bathers on it at any time.
The southernmost part of mainland Spain is almost exclusively known to northern European tourists through its bustling Costa del Sol, the coast of the province of Málaga – except, of course, for the Alhambra Palace, the country's most-visited monument, based in Granada. Although Marbella is great for celebrity-spotting, and the likes of Fuengirola, Torremolinos, Estepona and Benalmádena are excellent if you want life, soul, entertainment and fun along with your sundrenched daytime rest, if you're hoping to escape the crowds and visit somewhere 'a bit Spanish', the Telegraph recommends the El Cañuelo beach in Nerja, Málaga province, close to the Granada border. Nerja is in fact one of the most traditionally-Spanish seaside towns on this heavily-touristy coast, and one where you can truly absorb some local culture. The Telegraph also champions Mónsul beach in Almería, whose fine sand and clear waters contrast sharply with its fascinating landscape of eroded lava rock.
Not remote, but certainly low-density and based in a town with a very traditionally-Spanish feel – and replete with sherry merchants plus a daily ferry to the city of Cádiz – is El Puerto de Santa María, a huge beach where you'll have space to spare for chilling out. Back in the province of Málaga, Marbella's Cabo Pino beach (third picture) is said to be one of the most beautiful on the Costa del Sol, cordoned off by the 20-kilometre Artola Dunes, officially declared a 'national heritage monument'. Part of it is a naturist beach, so you won't have to feel embarrassed about stripping off to get an all-over tan.
If you're not into clubbing and boozing, don't let images of Magaluf, San Antonio or Palmanova in high season put you off: finding stunning countryside, culture, arts and architecture (and great shopping and dining) is perfectly possible in the Balearics even in the peak holiday months, and a brilliant trip is guaranteed even if you never go near a beach.
If you are, however, seeking sun, sea and sand but don't want to be surrounded by hordes of British revellers and package tourists, the Telegraph recommends the Cala Pregonda in Menorca, with its red sand at the end of a half-hour walk from the car park, the Cala Codolar in Ibiza, close to the better-known Cala Comte but with far fewer people and more affordable prices in the beach kiosk bar, and Mallorca's S'Illot, enclosed by thick forest and nestled between the pine-lined shores of Alcúdia and the remote coasts of Pollença, or the stunning rock formations in the Cala Llombards, 10 kilometres from Santanyí.
We recommend a trip to Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands and famous for its mineral mud which is reputed to be great for your skin – and warm and salty, so helps with arthritis, aches and pains, too. Cars are restricted on the entire island, meaning so are people. Any one of Formentera's beaches fits the bill, although we particularly recommend Ses Illetes, based in the Ses Salines nature reserve, and Es Pujols (fourth picture).
On the larger islands, Caló des Moro, Es Trenc and Cala de Sa Calobra in Mallorca, the Cala Turqueta, Cala Macarella and Cala Tortuga in Menorca, and Cala d'Hort and Aigües Blanques in Ibiza are all perfect for that elusive tranquillity and contact with nature.
The Telegraph does not mention anywhere in the region that makes up more than half of mainland Spain's Mediterranean coast – and package holidaymakers will probably only have heard of Benidorm, although less than two kilometres outside this high-rise Blackpool-with-sun are towns so rustic and traditional that the Costa Blanca capital almost feels like a figment of your imagination.
In fact, you can barely get closer to Benidorm at the Cala Fonda, a rocky cove in Villajoyosa – few fellow bathers and raw nature are guaranteed. About an hour north, in Jávea, stunning cliffs, mountain ranges, heathland, forest and just a handful of private villas – if any – are the backdrop for the truly spectacular and very well-hidden Granadella and Portitxol beaches, the latter of which has its own 'village' fiesta every summer where tourists and foreign residents blend in with locals and are treated as one of the family, and which are a world away from the cosmopolitan and bustling Arenal beach in the town and also brilliant for snorkelling and scuba-diving, attracting fans of both from all over Spain and Europe.
Vinaròs and Peñiscola in the province of Castellón are thriving holiday resort towns, albeit tourists are mainly Spanish because they are rarely listed in northern European travel agency choices, but close by, you can still seek out nature, countryside, secluded rocky bays, dunes and plenty of sunbathing space – snorkelling is highly recommended at the former's Cala Saldonar, and at the latter's Cala Pebret (fifth picture), you should pack your binoculars, since the cove is a natural habitat for a long list of species of endangered birds, including birds of prey.
Or grab a ferry from Alicante or Santa Pola to Tabarca Island, a natural paradise just a short distance from the mainland with pale-blue waters and beaches that are never busy, such as the Cala del Sur.
First picture, of Villarrube beach, Galicia, by Ramón Espelt Photography
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