The 10 Best Mediterranean Beaches

From Voidokilia Bay to Israel’s very own Habonim Beach - 10 recommendations for spectacular beaches around the Mediterranean, plus a few a bit farther afield.

Moshe Gilad

I must have heard that old Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” at least three times this week, which can mean only one thing – summer is officially here. But although the Australian offers a slew of other life advice in that song, he fails to address the most fateful question of all – where? On which beach should we make sure to rub on some of that sunscreen?

We hereby present a few lists of excellent beaches to try, or dream of trying, this summer. The first is of Mediterranean beaches that I know and love. The second consists of beaches that are farther away, that I haven’t yet tried but which look like particularly marvelous places to venture to some day. And the third is Israeli beaches that are certainly worth a visit.

What makes an excellent beach? A certain degree of isolation, or at least privacy; clean, soft sand that’s pleasant to walk on; clear waters – turquoise-colored, if at all possible; some available shade not far from the water. And add to this the basic components of nearby civilization. A love of nature is very nice and all, but a kiosk that sells cold drinks, iced coffee or popsicles is a definite plus. And if you’re looking for even more added value, try a beach that has other appealing aspects to it – adjacent antiquities, a scuba-diving site, an interesting village to explore – something to pique your interest when you want to shake off the sand for a bit.

Three Greek beaches

Voidokilia Bay, an hour west of Kalamata, on the southern tip of the Peloponnesian Islands, is widely hailed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece – or in all of Europe, for that matter. It’s a perfectly round bay with a narrow passage out to sea. The broad, white-sand beach has not been built up at all, and, on the day I was there, the crowd was very sparse. Local tradition has it that, in antiquity, this was the site of King Nestor’s port and that Telemachus, son of Odysseus, arrived here with his ship. The nearby Costa Navarino Hotel is very fancy and expensive, but in and around the town of Pylos there are several small hotels and hostels, as well as camping grounds.

One hundred kilometers (62 miles) southeast of Mistra you’ll find Monemvasia (the name means “one entrance”), a Byzantine city with lovely beaches and dramatic scenery. To get there you go through the city of Gefyra. There are beautiful sandy beaches near Gefyra and dramatic rocky beaches on the Monemvasia side. In Gefyra you can stay at the Pramataris Hotel (http://www.pramatarishotel.gr). It has 15 rooms and is suitable for families. The price is about 60 euros ($82) per night.

One of the sandy beaches on the Greek island of Crete. Photo by Moshe Gilad

Crete: On the eastern tip of the island, 170 kilometers east of Heraklion and 24 kilometers east of Sitia is the town of Vai, which has one of the island’s loveliest beaches. It has a restaurant and umbrella rentals, but if you want to find a more isolated spot, climb up the steps leading to the outlook above the restaurant and continue down the path until you come to a wonderful secluded bay.

There are no hotels or hostels in Vai. You can find lodging in Palaikastro to the south, or in Sitia.

Three Turkish beaches

The best beaches are south of Antalya. About an hour south of Antalya on Highway 400 is the city of Phaselis, which has three small ports. The water is clear and inviting. Towering pine trees grow very close to the waterline, and the ancient city is surrounded by a number of small, delightful bays, where on most days you can sit in total privacy. The bays create shallow pools around the city that are perfect for kids. The nearest hotels are in Kemer, about 10 kilometers to the north. But Antalya is not that far away, either.

Olympos Beach in Turkey. Saltwater and freshwater. Photo by Moshe Gilad

Continuing south, you come to Olympos Beach. It’s best to go all the way down to the southern end of the beach, where the river tributary empties into the sea. Then you can alternate between swimming in the saltwater and freshwater. The river water is usually much colder than the seawater and very refreshing. The Old City of Olympos is right by the coast, and you can tour some ancient buildings and an ancient cemetery.

Wooden huts are available for rent along Olympos Beach. They are very basic and the price is quite low (about 50 euros a night). A lot of the crowd here is made up of young Scandinavians.

But the real jewel of Turkish beaches is Kekova, between Demre and Kaş. It’s further down Highway 400, about two and a half hours (160 kilometers) from Antalya. Kekova is a small island near the coast. The village opposite is called Simena. Part of the Old City is sunk in the water and glass-bottomed boats take visitors to view the remnants. The most magnificent view of the entire area can be found from the top of the Kalekoy Fortress.

There are several small and modest hotels in the area. The Sahil Pension in Kekova is a good choice (http://www.sahilpension.com). It has just four rooms and is right on the sea. Although quite basic, the location and the gözleme Turkish bread that’s baked fresh every morning are truly splendid. Most visitors to Kekova don’t stay there overnight, so the atmosphere is nice and quiet. Another option is the Mehtap Pension, which offers a great view, or the nearby Simena Pension. The prices are similar – about 70 euros per night.

Sardinia

Paradise found: the beach at Cala Luna, Sardinia. Photo by Moshe Gilad

There are wonderful beaches all around Sardinia, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d pick two – Arbatax is a small town with lovely bays to the north and south. There is an ancient stone watchtower on one. Near the La Bitta Hotel, the sand is very clean and soft. I’ve written of the other beach before – Cala Luna (“Moon Beach”) is a truly special place. The small village at the end of the road is called Cala Gonone. Cala Luna is five kilometers to the south and can only be reached on foot.

Malta

The prettiest beach I’ve seen in Malta is on the north end of Gozo Island. Legend has it that this is the spot where the nymph Calypso kept Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years. Doesn’t seem so bad, considering the stunning view and beach here. Calypso’s cave overlooks the gorgeous Red Beach (Ir-Ramla I-Hamra), so named for the color of its sand. The closest village is Nadur, easily reached by the No.42 bus. There are no hotels right by the beach, but there are a number of small restaurants.

Cyprus

Petra tou Romiou in Cyprus. Swim around the rock for eternal life. Photo by Moshe Gilad

Petra tou Romiou is a huge boulder standing in the sea, a few dozen meters off the western coast of Cyprus. Legend says this is the birthplace of Aphrodite – the goddess of love and fertility. The view from above the round bay as you come down the road is quite impressive, and it’s also a popular place to go for a long swim. The story goes that if you swim around the rock of Aphrodite, you will enjoy eternal youth. But that’s still no reason to forgo the sunscreen.

Dream beaches

Often topping the list of the world’s most spectacular beaches are those of the Seychelle Islands. The Seychelles includes 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, all of which seem to have pure white-sand beaches and fantastically clear waters. The main islands are Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.

The “Lonely Planet” guidebooks also tout the islands of Palau in Micronesia, featuring kayaking and some of the world’s best scuba diving. Then comes Tonga in the South Pacific – 170 islands with white sand, palm trees and turquoise waters, where one can also soak up Polynesian tradition and go whale watching. Other favorites are Principe and Sao Tome in western Gabon, Trinidad in the Caribbean, the Cook Islands in the Pacific and Cape Verde off the coast of Senegal.

The Guardian, known for its excellent travel section, also recommends Porto da Barra in Salvador, Brazil; Palawan in the Philippines; Nungwi in Zanzibar, Tanzania; Arambol in Goa, India; and Whitehaven in Queensland, Australia.

Meanwhile, back in Israel…

Dor Beach, near Caesarea, Israel. Photo by Moshe Gilad

I’d love to tell you about some wonderful unknown beach here you’ve never heard of before. That’s not going to happen. The Israeli coastline is not that long, and is quite familiar and well-traveled. There are a number of nice city beaches in Tel Aviv, Bat Yam, Haifa, Ashdod and Netanya, but that’s not what we’re after here.

If I had to choose one favorite bit of beach, it would be that five-kilometer stretch between Dor Beach and Habonim Beach (north of Caesarea). A really beautiful area where you can still find relatively secluded spots. The other candidates – Betzet Beach in the north and Caesarea Beach – are not as clean, secluded and pretty in comparison. Saddest of all, the Atlit Beach, which has such tremendous potential, is still under military control – for no logical reason.