Top choice in Hania Province

Tucked into Crete’s southwestern corner, this symphony of fine pink-white sand, turquoise water and gentle rose dunes looks like a magical dreamscape. As the water swirls across the sands, rainbows shimmer across its surface. Off Elafonisi's long, wide strand lies Elafonisi Islet, occasionally connected by a thin, sandy isthmus, which creates a lovely double beach; otherwise, it's easily reached by wading through 50m of knee-deep water.

Elafonisi Islet is marked by low dunes and a string of semisecluded coves that attract a sprinkling of naturists. Walk the length of the beach and up to its high point for mind-blowing views of the beaches, sea and raw mountainscape. The area is part of EU environmental-protection program Natura 2000.

Alas, this natural gem is less than idyllic in high summer, when hundreds of umbrellas and sunbeds clog the sand (dash out to the island, where you can find peace). The invasion puts enormous pressure on this delicate ecosystem and on the minimal infrastructure, especially the toilets (€0.50). Come early or late in the day; better yet, stay overnight to truly sample Elafonisi’s magic. Outside high season, when there's no public transport to the beach and very few tours, you may have it all to yourself. There are a few snack bars and stores at the beach entrance.