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Eight km south of Zefyría, down a winding, surfaced road, is Paleohóri, one of the island’s best beaches, warmed by underground volcanism. A little rock tunnel leads west to a second beach, which is backed by extraordinarily coloured cliffs and where steam vents heat the shallow water.
Shipwreck Bay, Zákynthos
Surrounded by steep cliffs, this popular idyllic bay, with golden sands and bright blue waters, is often known as “Sumggler’s Cove” on account of the enormous, rusting shipwreck laying bare on its shores. A paved road leads on from Volímes to the cliffs overlooking the bay (real name Tó Naváyio), with hair-raising views down to the shipwreck – a cargo ship, which was mistaken for a drug-running vessel and run aground by the coastguard in the 1960s.
Ayía Kyriakí, Mílos
Further west of Paleohóri is Ayía Kyriaki – a pebble beach under imposing sulphurous and red oxide cliffs. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mílos, with its clear waters, a few trees for shade, and surrounded by the wild rocky landscape.
Ayía Eléni, Skiáthos
About 600m from the bus stop in Koukounairés, Ayía Eléni is a stunning, broad, sandy beach looking west towards the mountainous mainland. It’s bigger and more family-oriented than the neighbouring Banana beaches, with a couple of beach bars and, pedaloes and kayaks to rent.
Some of the Ionian Island’s best swimming and snorkelling is on offer on this islet, the smaller sister island of Paxí. Vríka, reached by boat from Corfu, is a sandy beach offering two tavernas – one at each end – of which Spiros serves great grilled and oven food. Quieter bays are accessible if you head south of Vríka.
Longás Beach, Corfu
Shaded till early afternoon and backed by sheer vertical red cliffs, this stunning beach is an excellent hangout. The beach is accessible from Avliótes, a handsome hill town with the odd kafenio and tavernas but few concessions to tourism.
This is the prettiest destination on the east coast of the island, sitting on a rocky bay at the top. It’s a small fishing port with an end-of-the-world feel to it as you approach from a distance. This bay has a few lovely little coves with some of the clearest water around, perfect for swimming.
Áyii Anáryiri, Spétses
This is the largest and most popular beach on Spétses. It’s a long, sheltered, partly sandy bay with an offshore swimming pontoon and a watersports centre offering kayaks, pedaloes, windsurfers and catamarans to rent, as well as waterskiing. At the end of the beach concrete steps lead round to the Bekiris Cave, a low-ceilinged, shallow cavern you can clamber in through and then swim out.
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Kékes beach, Thássos
Of all the beaches in Alykí the sand-and-pebble west bay gets oversubscribed in peak season. To avoid this head 1km further southwest and hit the secluded Kékes beach set in a lovely pine grove.
The prettiest of the beaches on the Kalamáki peninsula, fine-sand Vromólimnos is a bit of a walk from the nearest bus stop, and hence a little quieter than many south-coast sands. It still has several cafés from which to enjoy sunset views, though, and a busy water-ski operation.
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Káthisma beach, Lefkádha
This shadeless kilometre of fine sand, which becomes a nudist and freelance camping spot – and a lot less crowded – beyond the large jutting rocks halfway along, is the most popular beach on this coast.
Lalária beach, Skiáthos
Glistening white pebbles and turquoise waters, backed by steep cliffs and a natural rock arch, form a photogenic contrast to the island’s other, mostly sandy, bays. The bay is only accessible by taxi or excursion-boat but the three sea-grottoes just east of it rate a stop on most round-the-island trips.
This area of Lefkádha gives way to three of the Ionian’s choicest beaches, where azure and milky turquoise waves buffer strands enclosed by dramatic cliffs. The nearest – down a 4km paved road – is Yialós, followed by Egremní, then Pórto Katsíki.
Anthony Quinn bay, Rhodes
This scenic bay, on Falirakí’s northern flank, is named after the late Mexican American actor whom Greeks took to their hearts following his roles in Zorba the Greek and The Guns of Navarone. Quinn bought much of this area and built the first road to the beach, but during the 1980s the Greek government managed to swindle him out of his claim and legal battles continue to this day.
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Áyios Nikólas beach, Karpathos
The finest beach in the area, this broad 100-metre stretch of good quality sand still feels pleasantly rural, even though a newly built hotel has just joined its long-standing taverna.
Elafónissos, now only 19 square kilometres, was part of mainland Greece until 375AD, when an earthquake separated it. One of the tiny island’s two surfaced roads leads to Símos, a large double bay with fine pale sand heaped into dunes and views to Kythira.
Tholos cove, Tílos
To combine walking and beach-bumming, this little cove, quieter than beaches nearer to Livádhia, is situated along a pleasant trail that begins by the cemetery and chapel of Áyios Pandelímon, then curls under the seemingly impregnable castle of Agriosykía.
These top 20 beaches in Greece have been chosen from the Rough Guide to Greece.