Porthcurno, UK

The closest Britain gets to beach paradise in Cornwall, with turquoise waters that glint in the sunshine and fine yellow sand. High cliffs on either side enclose and protect the bay, and it’s also overlooked by the famous open-air Minack Theatre. The swimming is great, too, with kiddies safe in shallow pools and experienced swimmers catered for by the steep shelf and deep water.

Porthcurno, UK

Torre Guaceto, Italy

Italy generally falls foul to overcrowded beaches lined with packed bars and restaurants, but Torre Guaceto in Puglia is a bit different. It’s a protected nature reserve, and quite difficult to get to, so crowds are severely diminished, the water clean, the sand pristine and the plant life intriguing.

Torre Guaceto, Italy

Ramla Bay, Gozo

Gozo, not far from Malta, is known for its excellent scuba diving but if you prefer your holidays on sand rather than deep under water then Ramla Bay is the spot to head for. It’s the biggest beach on the island, equipped with red-tinged sand and pretty dunes blanketed with tamarisk.

Ramla Bay, Gozo

Vik, Iceland

Black-sand beaches are always a tiny bit disconcerting, and Vik Beach in southern Iceland is no exception. This is the wettest part of the country, so you’ll be lucky to visit on a dry day, but even in the rain it’s a magnificent sight. Dark cliffs bear down as waves crash against the inky basalt sand.

Vik, Iceland

Ploumanac’h, France

Ploumanac’h is on Brittany’s so-called Pink Granite Coast, and it’s where you’ll find dinky Plage de St-Guirec, a wonderful crescent of yellow sand framed by peculiarly shaped, pink-tinged rocks. Shrimping and sunbathing are the activities to do here, and there’s great hiking along the coastal cliffs.

Ploumanac'h, France

Cala Turqueta, Menorca

Away from the blustery winds that make the windsurfers so happy in the north of the island, Cala Turqueta sits on the southwestern coast of the flat Balearic island of Menorca. It’s a beautiful beach with stunning white sand that’s more than pristine, and its shallow waters make it perfect for young families.

Cala Turqueta, Menorca

Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera

South of the party island of Ibiza, the Baleriac island of Formentera is quiet and small, and has many magnificent beaches, including Illetes, which extends from La Savina to Espalmador. The water is perfect for swimming and splashing – warm and shallow and clear – and the sand soft as a duvet, mixed with little bits of coral.

Platja de Ses Illetes, Formentera

Falsterbo, Sweden

A chic and smart beach resort on the southwestern tip of Sweden, Falsterbo has ridiculously white sand – bring your sunglasses to avoid the glare – and the cutest beachside huts you’ll ever see. It’s a very peaceful and sedate spot, thanks to the ban on jet skis and motorboats, and excellent ice cream shops are never far away.

Falsterbo, Sweden

Palanga, Lithuania

Palanga is the busiest and most popular seaside resort in Lithuania, and the reason is its large, sandy beach and glorious, undulating sand dunes. If you like parties, come here in the summer (June–September), when the resort’s population explodes and the beach parties never stop.

Palanga, Lithuania

Playa de la Concha, Spain

One of the world’s best city beaches, Playa de la Concha is a fantastic strip of yellow sand where locals and tourists hang out on hot summer days. It might be busy in season, but people-watching is part of the fun. If you’re after a post-swim snack, look no further – the city is also famous for its wonderful pinxtos (Basque tapas).

Playa de la Concha, Spain

Troia, Portugal

Portugal does pure, unadulterated beach extremely well. And Troia, stretching 18km just south of Lisbon, is no exception. Kick off your sandals and sink your feet into the soft sand, dive into the inviting waves or enjoy watching dolphins cavorting not far from shore.

Troia, Portugal

Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Beautiful Butterfly Valley is difficult to access – a steep walk down cliffs or a boat trip – but all this contributes to its undeveloped charm. A deep canyon licked by azure water, it’s named for its fluttery inhabitants who appear between June and September. If you can’t quite tear yourself away, it’s possible to stay overnight in basic wooden huts.

Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Lara, Cyprus

If you’re lucky, you might glimpse evidence of loggerhead and green turtles, as this is where they nest, drawn to the seclusion of lovely Lara Beach on the northwestern coast of Cyprus. It’s tough to reach via a long bumpy road but the peace and serenity is most certainly worth the trek.

Lara, Cyprus

Rabbit, Sicily

People wax lyrical about Rabbit Beach on the southern coast of Sicily. The water has a bluey green hue, the sand is a startling white and there are few facilities to disturb the serenity. Yes, it’s difficult to reach but once you get here, you’ll be thanking yourself.

Rabbit, Sicily

Playa de las Catedrales, Spain

Incredible rock formations that resemble flying buttresses lend this beach in Galicia its grandiose name, “the beach of the cathedrals”. Come when the tide is low for the best views of the spiked rocks, arches and caves.

Playa de las Catedrales, Spain

Biarritz, France

The Basque country’s favourite beach, that’s got a strong surfing heritage due to its wind conditions and powerful waves. The waves make swimming here a bracing affair, but if you’re equipped with surfboard and the know-how, then you can’t go wrong.

Biarritz, France

Sylt, Germany

Sylt’s nickname, the “German Hamptons” speaks volumes for the place: genteel and sophisticated, with a clientele to match, the island on Germany’s North Sea coast has a fabulously long stretch of immaculate beach. If posh restaurants and glitzy boutiques aren’t your thing, escape to the sand dunes with a bucket and spade.

Sylt, Germany

Myrtos, Greece

A frequent winner of the “best beach in the world” award, Myrtos Beach on the island of Kefalonia has impossibly blue waters that will imprint on the visitor’s mind probably forever. It’s not sandy (Greece doesn’t really do sandy beaches) but the white pebbles are gentle, and with no watersports allowed, it’s an idyllic spot for a peaceful swim and a sunbathe.

Myrtos, Greece

Golden Sands, Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s best seaside resort, with the purest sand and very clear water. Big and boisterous with a casino, mini-golf, water parks, fairground rides and all the accompanying hotels and bars, the resort is an extremely popular summer spot for Bulgarians.

Golden Sands, Bulgaria

Brela, Croatia

With its long coastline and diminutive islands, it’s no surprise that Croatia is a veritable honey pot of beaches – each one vying for position of best beach. Bol on the island of Brac might be the most famous, but little Brela, on the mainland opposite, is a less touristy, more relaxed option, studded with private coves fringed with pine trees.

Brela, Croatia

Rhossili Bay, Wales

On a sunny day at Rhossili Bay, you could be in the Mediterranean, so they say. At low tide there’s a huge swathe of lovely sand, and the cliffs that surround the beach are green and lush, home to chattering sea birds. Take time to hunt out the wreck of the Helvetia, shipwrecked here in 1887.

Rhossili Bay, Wales

Plage de Saleccia, Corsica

The French island of Corsica has plenty of exquisite beaches, but Plage de Saleccia in the north is often touted to be the best. Crystal clear water and pale, fine sand do attract the crowds (and cows) in high summer but the surroundings more than make up for “beaucoup du monde”.

Plage de Saleccia, Corsica

Elafonisi, Crete

A strawberries-and-cream beach, with gorgeous pinky sand that’s made of thousands of broken shells. It lines the “island” of Elafonisi, the southwesternmost point of Crete; certain bits are busier than others, but it’s perfectly possible to find a quiet and secluded cove – azure waters and baby-soft sand are the rewards for your search.

Elafonisi, Crete