Where can you find more glorious beaches per square mile than anywhere else in the world? The answer is Greece, in particular the evergreen Ionian Islands. Whether it’s golden sand between your toes, dramatic backdrops, a rugged atmosphere or the most fantastically turquoise water you’ve ever dreamt of, one of the following will certainly tickle your beach towel.
Best A-lister: Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia
About 30km from Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, this serene strip of sugar-white pebbles and seemingly airbrushed cobalt-blue water rewards the traveller with silence and simplicity; no whirring jet skis here, just a simple kiosk to grab a snack and admire the view. It doesn’t need Hollywood to give it glamour either (though Captain Corelli’s Mandolin borrowed its good looks on film), for Myrtos has long been one of the most famous beaches in Greece. Yes, it may take a mildly hair-raising 2km of hairpins to descend to it from the mountain road, but you’ll be glad you did. If you have kids, be careful of the sharp shelving of the beach into deeper water.
Where to eat: While there’s a snack bar on Myrtos Beach, it’s more memorable to hop in the car and head to Platanos, a delightful restaurant that sits on pretty Assos harbour and is celebrated for its fresh ingredients.
Best-kept secret: Voutoumi Beach, Antipaxi
You may have just found the place to meet your mermaid. Imagine a beach bookended by blonde rocks, a deep-green woodland backdrop, and cyan-hued water gently lapping at your feet, and you’re getting close to Voutoumi Beach. So diminutive and under the mainstream radar it is though, most travellers miss it. It’s found on the almost uninhabited island of Antipaxi (well, there’s about a hundred people on a really busy day!), itself a confection of vineyards, wildflowers and indigo bays. You’ll have to catch a caique from sister island Paxi to reach it; the last boat home is at 5pm (€7 return).
Where to eat: It’s a bit of a climb up some steps from Voutoumi Beach to Bella Vista (+30 26620 31766), but this restaurant earns its name with magnificent views of the bay below, and a standard menu of fresh fish and local fare (mains €10).
Best drama: Porto Katsiki, Lefkada
Foamy white horses rolling over aqua waters toward towering cliffs, the sucking sound of miniature pebbles as the waves roll back into Poseidon’s navy realm – welcome to Lefkada’s Porto Katsiki, one of the world’s top beaches. Elemental, wind-blown and ruggedly beautiful, it feels special as if at any moment a sea monster or god might burst to the surface. Your first view of this dramatic triptych of sky, beach and ocean will likely steal your breath. And come late afternoon, the sun turns those serene white cliffs the colour of honey, to match the coppery-skinned bodies below. To reach it, walk a hundred steps through a wooded passage and down the cliff.
Where to eat: If you don’t fancy the snack bar in the car park, just 10 minutes’ walk from the beach (directly on the hill above) Bilvi is a nice spot for lunch (mains €8) with all the usual contenders from calamari to souvlaki.
Best for swimming: Petani Beach, Kefalonia
A corkscrew road on the Paliki Peninsula drops vertiginously down onto a bay with such an arresting navy-and-turquoise complexion that you could be forgiven for driving off the edge of the mountain. Make it to the bottom and you’ll find a lovely little beach with the finest white sand, and water so clear it looks as if the yachts which pull in for lunch are floating. There are loungers for the lazy and the sweet notes of bouzouki music for the weary; for those in search of mermaid epiphanies, the gently shelving beach has some of the most enticingly clear water in Greece.
Where to eat: Erasmia taverna on Petani Beach has front-row sunset views and a menu of freshly caught fish (mains €7).
Best for selfies: Navagio Beach, Zakynthos
You may get a sense of déja vu on arrival here, but ask yourself: when was the last time you drew up to a postcard-perfect bay, with the surreal remains of a rusty ship wrecked on its shore and framed by limestone cliffs? More likely is that you’ve seen this most photographed of Greek beaches on innumerable holiday brochures, for Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach on Zakynthos is truly iconic. For the ultimate traveller’s selfie follow the signs to the Agios Gergio Kremnao monastery, where a little viewing platform gives onto the beach about 200m below. And if you arrive after 3pm or early in the morning before a carousel of cruise boats arrive, endlessly disgorging passengers on the beach, you may have the place to yourself.
Where to eat: There are no snack bars or tavernas on Navagio Beach (which is half its charm); however, the boat which brought you here will provide food and drinks as part of the €15 deal.
Best for families: Agios Spyridon Beach, Corfu
The popular resort of Paleokastritsa, thickly insulated by forests of olive trees, tumbles photogenically down the mountain to its six small beaches. The highlight is the kaleidoscopic water lapping the sandy Agios Spyridon Beach – think peacock-feather greens and sapphire blues. Presided over by the 13th-century, hillside Moni Theotokou and with a backdrop of tavernas, it’s the perfect spot to swim and flop on the fine sand of the child-friendly, gently shelving beach. If the kids get bored, they can go on the nearby yellow submarine, a glass-bottomed boat experience.
Where to eat: For a lunchtime feast of swordfish, grilled prawns and a nautical theme that could make Captain Jack Sparrow feel at home, look no further than the waterside Limani taverna, five minutes’ walk from Agios Spyridon Beach.