You've donned oversize sunglasses and slathered on sunscreen for a blissed-out day of sunbathing along the French Riviera-you and about a million other pasty tourists. Finding your own little slice of sand in Europe can be as challenging as finding a local boutique open in August.
"You have to be prepared to make that extra effort: a drive down a dirt track, a hike down and around a hill, or a boat ride around a headland," Kirsty Hathaway, editor of Beach Tomato, says. "There's a direct correlation between just how amazing a beach is and the difficulty in getting there."
Your effort will be heartily rewarded at secret beaches like the Côte Sauvage near France's jam-packed Île d'Oléron. Break a sweat with some dune hiking, and you'll reach 18 miles of sugary sand ringed by fragrant pine forests and fronted by the rugged Atlantic, a favorite spot of in-the-know surfers.
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At Cala Varques in Majorca, Spain-far from the foam-party masses in Magaluf-you can catch a boat ride or a hike down a rocky footpath to the crystalline waters of Cala Varques. There are underwater caves to explore and cliffs for diving.
Another way to beat the crowds: follow the lead of celebrities like designer Christian Louboutin and actress Kristin Scott Thomas. They've been spotted sunning themselves among the thatched beach shacks and pristine shores of Comporta, a boho enclave about an hour south of Lisbon. But let's just keep that between us.
It's also worth thinking beyond the obvious beach destinations. Scotland doesn't immediately bring to mind suntans, but the northern isles have some of the most dramatic coasts in the world. "I spent my childhood summers on the Isle of Arran, dining on fresh lobsters, pooling for shrimp in the rock pools, skimming rocks into the sea," recalls Hathaway.
Read on for more off-the-beaten-path beach escapes. And don't worry-you can still rock those shades.
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Thanks to feisty locals with little patience for outside intrusion, the Mediterranean island of Corsica remains relatively undeveloped-despite its bright blue, perfectly clear water, rugged mountains, and bracing pine and eucalyptus forests. The Ortolo Valley, once a wine region, is especially peaceful. Explore the walking trails and small beach coves from Domaine de Murtoli, a compound of 16 renovated shepherd villas. murtoli.com
Between Portocolom and Porto Cristo, this white-sand beach, accessible only by boat or a rocky footpath, has swimming pool-like water, ringed by pine forests. One of the cliffs nearby grants access to a 1/3-mile network of underground (some underwater) caves. Pack water and a lunch, as there is nothing for sale here. It's all about 20 minutes south from Manacor, where La Reserva Rotana, a 17th-century stone house, has been transformed into a private golf course and antique-decorated resort. reservarotana.com
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Comporta, Alentejo Coast, Portugal
Hurry to experience this unspoiled, seven-mile slice of the Atlantic shore an hour south of Lisbon. Its protected white sand and brisk waves, whitewashed village and thatched-roof shacks have seen the likes of designer Christian Louboutin, actress Kristin Scott Thomas, and super-decorator Jacques Grange. It won't stay this tranquil forever: an Amanresort will soon be joining the golf, wine, and hotel complex developed by the local agribusiness giant Herdade da Comporta. herdadedacomporta.pt
By Colleen Clark, Alexandra Marshall