With 3,000 miles of coastline, Spain has never lost its touch when it comes to a beach holiday, and each costa offers its own distinctive look and vibe. Whether it’s to be a cliff-rimmed cove, a lonely, tucked-away bay, or a mile-long stretch of powder-soft sand ruffled by surf, there’s a playa here to suit every mood and moment. I've picked six of my all-time favourites to get you started.
Playa Hermosa and Playa del Cable, Marbella
Set against the rugged Sierra Blanca Mountains on Spain’s southern Costa del Sol, the ultra-glam resort of Marbella has some of Spain’s finest Blue Flag beaches braiding the 17 miles of coastline on its doorstep. For a more laid-back feel than you’ll find on central beaches, try small-but-lovely Playa Hermosa, a few miles east of Marbella, where dark golden sand edges into clear water. The sea is shallow enough for children to paddle in safely, and pedal boats and canoes can be hired if you fancy hopping off the sun lounger for a while.
There’s a cooler buzz at more central Playa del Cable, nicknamed ‘Bounty Beach’, where beachgoers hang out for drinks, DJ-spun chillout tunes and volleyball games. This long stretch of golden sand is beach party central.
Playa Hermosa is lined with restaurants and chiringuitos (beach bars), where you can grab lunch or a beer. Top billing goes to The Beach House, where you can nibble spicy prawns and crispy calamari on the sea-facing veranda. There’s often live music at weekends. Over on Playa del Cable, try La Dolce Vita Beach Bar for a chilled atmosphere, cocktails and winningly fresh seafood.
There are some terrific day trips within a few miles of Marbella. Spilling photogenically down a mountainside, Ojén, a 15-minute drive north, is the vision of an Andalusian pueblo blanco (white town). Its two major claims to fame are as the rightful home of aguardiente, a punchy pomace firewater, and as the host of a major Flamenco festival in August. Stop off at the viewpoint just before you enter the town to take in the full sweep of the village, coast and the Sierra de la Nieves Mountain range beyond.
Playa del Cable is just a 10-minute walk from central Marbella. Playa Hermosa is a 15-minute drive east of town, along the A7. Bus M-220 runs there every 30 minutes and the ride takes 50 minutes.
La Granadella, Alicante
Choosing a favourite playa from the Costa Blanca’s 120-mile stretch of fabulous coastline is tough, but many seem to agree that the honour goes to La Granadella, twice voted the country’s best beach in national TV polls. And what a beauty it is: a gorgeous crescent-shaped cove, backed by rugged cliffs draped in fragrant Aleppo pines, and with shingle gently shelving into crystal-clear water that deepens from brilliant turquoise to sapphire blue. Of course, its striking looks haven’t gone unnoticed - the little bay can get pretty crowded at peak times, so it’s best to arrive nice and early or visit out of peak season.
Below the water, pristine seagrass beds attract shoals of colourful fish, making this a great spot for snorkelling. Or you can hook onto a guided kayaking tour for a paddle to some impressive sea caves. Break beach time by stretching your legs with a walk in the surrounding pinewoods or along the cliffs to the ruins of an 18th-century castle.
Just back from the beach, longstanding Restaurante Sur has a terrace with prime sea views, fresh fish on the menu daily and house specials, from gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns) to a highly authentic seafood paella.
Roughly midway between La Granadella and Alicante is Altea - a sudden blast of old-world Spain, with a pretty whitewashed old town sitting astride a hill that’s crowned by a blue-domed church. Go for a stroll in the meandering cobbled streets or linger over a coffee on the plaza. Altea is also the gateway to the Serra Gelada Natural Park, where dramatic cliffs plunge abruptly into deep-blue water. It’s ideal for coastal hiking, where with any luck, you’ll spot bottlenose dolphins out at sea.
Getting to La Granadella is part of the fun. Head towards the Cap de la Nau headland, then turn off down the gorge and wend your way through pine forests to the beach. Be sure to arrive early if you want to snag a spot in the car park. Easily doable in a day, La Granadella is 60 miles north of central Alicante via the AP-7 motorway.
Platja de Formentor, Mallorca
Whether you arrive by boat or on the rollercoaster of a road that swings over the cliff tops from Port de Pollença, Platja de Formentor is hands-down one of Mallorca’s loveliest beaches. Even locals rave about the long ribbon of pale sand, fringed by dense pine forests and shelving gently into shallow, glass-clear azure water that’s ideal for snorkelling.
The beach can get busy in the peak season, especially in July and August, so try to visit first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. Sun loungers and parasols can be hired for a fee, but are pricey, or you can always take your towel further along the beach to one of the smaller, quieter coves. Most of the action centres around where the boats dock, where it’s possible to hire pedaloes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards.
There are a couple of self-service snack bars on the beach, and plenty of pine shade for a picnic. For more choice, head into nearby Port de Pollença. A great family-run choice for homemade food, including delicious shellfish, is Bar de Coral. Or snag a table at beachfront Abbaco for creatively prepared seafood, from ceviche to paella-like fideuà with tartar of sea bass, kimchi prawns and green apple.
At Mallorca’s northernmost tip, Cap de Formentor is Mallorca at its wildest and most dramatic best. The hairpin bend-riddled road that leads from the beach to the cape takes in uplifting panoramas of the wind-buckled mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana range, lookout points aplenty, and sheer cliffs plunging to caves, hidden coves and a sea of bluest blue. Drive to the end of the road to reach the lighthouse, where you can glimpse Menorca on clear days.
Platja de Formentor is an easily doable daytrip from the Alcúdia area. Bus number 355 runs frequently from Port d'Alcúdia to Port de Pollença. Here you can either hop on one of the boats that run from 11am to 4pm for a 25-minute crossing, or take a half an hour ride on bus number 353 to Platja de Formentor.
Playa de Cabopino, Calahonda
Costa del Sol beaches don’t get much more enticing than Playa de Cabopino. Bookended by Cabopino Marina, this mile-long swathe of soft golden sand has plenty of towel space and calm, clean water, perfect for family paddles. The atmosphere is relaxed, but there are watersports surfing, diving, banana boat rides and the like, should you wish to ramp up the action.
Playa Artola is arguably the most beautiful stretch of Cabopino, with a boardwalk twisting through dunes freckled with juniper and wildflowers, but bear in mind that parts of it are a Zona Natura (nudist area). On a breezy day, it’s a great area to fly a kite or take a walk to the Torre Ladrones (Thieves' Tower), a stout medieval watchtower built during the period of Muslim rule in Spain.
Check out Andy’s Beach Bar for drinks and grilled seafood after a dip; there’s occasionally live music. Or amble over to the more traditional Taberna Los Javieres for tapas or paella.
Go for a wander around whitewashed Cabopino Marina, one of the most attractive on the Costa del Sol. Here you’ll find a cluster of bars, cafés and restaurants where you can unwind, post-beach, over drinks and snacks. If you’re into golf, there are a number of world-class courses within easy striking distance.
There’s a large free car park at the beach but it fills up quickly. Cabopino is a five-minute drive west of Calahonda, or take the bus from the Leila Playa stop to Camping Cabopino, which is a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Platja Tamarit, Tarragona
On Spain’s aptly named Costa Dorada, the lively port city of Tarragona swings effortlessly between culture and coast, with a bevvy of Roman sites and access to nine miles of beaches - from secluded nudist coves to family-friendly Blue Flag bays. Presided over by a stout 11th-century castle, Platja Tamarit is a favourite with many beachgoers, with more than a mile of fine sand and clear, shallow water. Stiff breezes bring in the waves that surfers and kite-surfers rave about.
Unfurling east of Tamarit is the equally lovely Platja Altafulla, fringed by a genteel seafront promenade, popular with the sailing crowd, and retaining plenty of original Spanish flavour. Altafulla is distinguished by its Botigues de Mar, 18th-century abodes where fishermen once stored their gear, many of which have now been transformed into homes.
Altafulla is a safe bet for lunch. Try beachfront Bar Polini for cold drinks or paella with a sea view. Or head into the town to the likes of Lola Bistro for outstanding tapas in a cosy, rustic setting.
If you’re interested in history, you’ll be in your element in Altafulla, where the walled medieval Old Town is perfect for a wander. Near the eastern end of the beach is UNESCO World Heritage Els Munts, a beautifully preserved Roman villa. Tarragona continues the Roman theme, with a stash of must-sees, including original Roman walls encircling its historic centre and a well-kept amphitheatre that dates to the 2nd century AD.
Platja Tamarit is a 15-minute drive east of Tarragona via the A7. If you’re not in a hurry, you could stop off at the pretty cliff-flanked cove of Cala Fonda and wild, wood-backed Platja Roca Plana en route (both are nudist). Alternatively, it’s a seven-minute train ride from Tarragona to Altafulla-Tamarit.
Playas del Pinar and Gurugú, Castellón de la Plana
Off the well-trodden tourist trail, the provincial capital of Castellón de la Plana in eastern Spain has alluring playas just a pebble-throw from its centre. It’s the gateway to the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast), an unsung beauty of a costa. First up is Playa del Pinar, which takes its name from the pine tree park that borders it, where you can seek shade or unpack a picnic. A boardwalk threads down to the beach itself, a broad stretch of golden sand stippled with palm trees. The continuation of Playa del Pinar is the vast, usually peaceful swathe of Playa del Gurugú, with the Desert de les Palmes Mountains rippling in the background.
For a more off-the-radar feel still, drive around an hour north to wilder, remoter Playa del Pebret in the Parque Natural de la Sierra d'Irta, where you'll find a fine scoop of pale sand fringed by fragile dunes.
For healthy beachside snacks, cocktails and reggae beats, try Solé Rototom Beach on Playa del Gurugú. Or for something more traditional there’s Restaurante Mediterraneo down by the fishing port, serving fresh-as-it-comes seafood in an intimate, taverna-style setting.
Much of the appeal lies in Castellón’s natural surrounds. Rent a car to head up into the misty mountains of the Desert de les Palmes Nature Reserve for some hill walking, say, or take a day trip by boat out to the Islas Columbretes. Once a pirate haven, these little islands are now a marine reserve where you can walk among Mediterranean scrub and wild herbs while keeping watch for sea birds, such as Audouin's gulls and Eleonora's falcons.
The beaches mentioned are central to Castellón de la Plana, which has its own airport with flights to a handful of European destinations. Playa del Pebret is a 36-mile drive north via the AP-7 motorway.
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