From Brazil to Bali: the world’s most inspiring destinations for sun, sea and sand in 2021

Many of you have been counting the days until you can travel again – and with hope on the horizon, those days are now numbered and the world will soon open up. Beat the January blues (and the lockdown blues, and any other blues) by giving yourself something to look forward to: a balmy beach break, full of silky sands, shimmering seas and glorious sunshine. Here’s a handful of the best beach breaks high on our holiday list right now, here to inspire and warm you up this winter.

Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Bengali, Portugal. Image: getty/Andre Distel Photography

If you’re looking for a spot of beach-hopping, then consider a road trip along the Algarve. The southern coast of Portugal is home to over 150 beaches, some wildly popular with tourists – Praia de Odeceixe, Meia Praia in Lagos, Praia Faro, to name a few – but there are plenty of secluded surprises for you to find, too. Starting west in Aljezur, take in some stunning views from the rugged Praia da Amoreira, where the sandy beach gives away to rocky dunes; if you can say one thing for the Algarve, it’s the variety of landscapes you’ll see along the way. Drive off to Salema, where you can take walks along remote cliff paths and wind up at Praia de Santa, a sheltered cove close to Salema’s historic town, before making your way to Carvoeiro to visit Praia de Bengali, an epic sea cave in sandy hues. Along the way, spend a night or two at PortoBay Falésia, a beach resort and spa sitting on the edge of Praia da Falésia in Albufeira. The 15-kilometre-long beach boasts a backdrop of red and white cliffs, making it a wonderful contrast to the ocean-blue waters in front of you. The Algarve is like the Italy of beaches; every time you go, you’ll discover something new.

Where to stay:

PortoBay Falésia, Albufeira, Portugal

Crete, Greek Islands

Vai Beach, Crete, Greek Islands

Most Greek Islands encompass the history and charm of the once great civilisation, but none more so that Crete. As the largest of the islands, you could definitely argue bigger is better: more beaches, more history, more tavernas. For those that like a healthy mix of culture along with their beach holidays can dive right into the remains of Minoan palaces dotted around the island; head to Knossos Palace, the legendary home of the minotaur. As for where to stay, we prefer the north coast. Facing the glittering Cretan Sea you have Ikaros Beach Luxury Resort & Spa, a five-star village style retreat that oozes luxury with its own stretch of sandy beach; for a change of scenery, Malia beach is just two kilometres away. For spectacular sunrises, Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa faces east and holds a secluded location in the hills. Adventurous types can rent a boat and head to Spinalonga beach on the islet Kalydon, which faces the hotel. 

Where to stay:

Ikaros Beach Luxury Resort & Spa, Crete, Greece

Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa, Greek Islands

Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui, Thailand

The mother of Thai Islands, Koh Samui has grown and evolved over the years to become the go-to destination for friends, families, solo travellers, couples – you name it, Samui has it covered. Leave the full-moon parties to the backpackers and delve into a world of relaxation. Satin-soft sands await along every coast; lap up morning rays on Chaweng, scuba-dive like a pro at Lamai, or watch the sun set at Lipa Noi beach while enjoying a Thai massage. Not only that, but Koh Samui is something of a haven for your inner-yogi: there are dozens of yoga centres both along the coast and in the forest, so you can find your zen anyplace, anytime. When in Thailand, eat like a local and enjoy Pad Thai, Tom Kha Kai and Som Tam, to name a few tasty dishes. For those with a sweet tooth, mango sticky rice and kalamae will go down a treat. 

Maldives, Indian Ocean

Maldives, Indian Ocean

These paradisiacal islands need no introduction; the Maldives are the epitome of beach luxury, where powder-white sands give way to waters of the bluest sapphire. Over 1,200 tiny islands make up the idyllic Maldives, each one as perfect as the last – so your only choice is where to stay. For those looking for refined hospitality and plenty of contemporary-chic, the five-star Fushifaru Maldives is one to look out for, set on the island of Lhaviyani Atoll (known locally as Faadhippolhu). These secluded private villas, surrounded by swaying palms, are simply stunning – and you can opt for your own private pool, should you wish. The resort is also home to a dive centre, which means you can see for yourself how life below the water rivals the beauty above. That said, an increasing number of inhabited islands are slowly opening themselves up to tourists who find themselves travelling on a range of budgets: the Malé atoll is one of the most accessible and combines wonderful beaches with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Where to stay:

Fushifaru Maldives, Lhaviyani Atoll, Indian Ocean

Maragogi, Brazil

Ponta de Mangue beach, Maragogi, Brazil. Image: getty/wagnerokasaki

For a country the size of the European continent, there’s a lot to see in Brazil; and while the big cities of Rio, São Paulo and Salvador will attract many, the north of Brazil offers plenty in the way of idyllic beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Take Maragogi, for instance; a small, paired-back beach town which is welcoming more and more tourists by the year. Why? For the beaches, of course. The town’s central beach is more of a local hangout, but the bars and restaurants that line it more than make up for this – head to Odoiá restaurant and feast on delicious moqueca (a coconut and seafood stew) or enjoy the largest calamari you’ve ever seen. Arrange a boat trip to see the spectacular coral reef a couple of miles out to sea – in fact, the Brazilian coral reef is the second-largest reef in the world. For more beach bliss, go on a buggy tour and explore the more picturesque beaches; Ponta de Mangue, Antunes, Carneiros, and São Miguel dos Milagres are stunning to the point of perfection; lie back in a hammock, drink a coconut or two, and marvel at the silver-white sand and electric-blue waters. 

Sanur, Bali

Sanur, Bali

Those looking for something more far-flung should consider Sanur, a quiet beachside town in the southern region of Denpasar. Five kilometres of silky sands protected by a reef and breakwaters make this a true haven; it’s usually a little quieter than the west, although it’s worth exploring the multitude of beaches there: Seminyak beach is a thirty-minute drive, and Katu and Batu Bolong are either side. Halfway up the golden sands of Sanur sits Maya Sanur Resort & Spa, a sophisticated five-star beach resort with easy access to plenty of restaurants, cafés and bars in the area. The waves along Sanur beach are gentle, so if you’re looking for surfing opportunities, you’re better off heading to Padang Padang further south. However, because the reef is so close to the shore, Sanur is a great spot for some snorkelling filled with technicolour wonder.