From Australia to Zanzibar, we've scoured the planet to find the sandiest, silkiest beaches in the world. Here's our pick of the crop
Overlooked by Bamburgh Castle, this beautiful stretch of wild coastline offers clear seas and long sands that stretch to Seahouses, three miles away. On a clear day you can see out to Lindisfarne.
Conche des Baleines, Île de Ré
There are spectacular beaches along much of the south and west coasts of the island, but this vast, untamed curve of sand, bathed in bright Atlantic light and backed by dunes, is perhaps the best. Sunsets are magnificent, as are the views from the imposing Phare des Baleines lighthouse.
Kampen, Sylt (main picture)
This white-sand beach with its red cliff and bracing air is on the fashionable North Sea island of Sylt. Go native and grab a Strandkorb (giant wicker beach chair).
Perhaps the most dramatic of all the Ionian beaches. A huge sweep of white limestone pebbles set in a deep, wide bay. Viewed from the road above, it forms the perfect crescent as seen in guidebooks.
Dogs Bay, Roundstone, Galway
On the westernmost shores of Europe, this mile-long stretch of silvery-white sand is imbued with the wildness of Connemara. Set below a grassy headland and lapped by clear turquoise Gulf Stream waters, it's a good place to spot dolphins.
A slice of the Caribbean a little closer to home, with towering dunes, crystalline waters flanked by juniper trees and traces of the ancient Phoenician city of Bithia, on which Chia now stands.
Ramla Bay, Gozo
The red sands of Ramla Bay are at the bottom of a fertile valley. A half-hour ferry ride from the main islands, Gozo is steeped in Roman
Dominated at its western end by a white fort (this was thought to be
the end of the world before Portugal's seafaring days), the fine undeveloped beach is backed by orange cliffs, with impressive rollers attracting surfers around the world.
Luskentyre, Western Isles
Hidden at the end of a winding road on the wild north-west coast of the Isle of Harris, this is a long stretch of brilliant sand washed by shallow, startlingly turquoise water. Farther out are the steel-grey rollers associated with Scotland, studded with empty, windswept islands.
El Palmar, Costa de la Luz
South of Cádiz, Spain's Atlantic coast is edged with vast golden beaches that make you want to leap for joy. El Palmar is one of the best for children, with decent surf, lots of playmates, and inexpensive bars and restaurants in the village.
In the summer, this sleepy island becomes a haven for beautiful young Swedish things. Head to the northern end of Tofta beach if you are after peace and quiet; to the southern end if you want to party.
Patara, Turquoise Coast
This 12-mile stretch of soft-sanded Mediterranean coastline is flanked by incredible mountains of sand. A nesting area for the endangered loggerhead turtle, it remains undeveloped thanks to its national park status.
Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire
It is a half-mile walk from the carpark to this magnificent National Trust-managed beach, but it's worth it for the crystal-clear water and dramatic sandstone cliffs, the views of outlying islands, the fossils, rock pools, seals, surf and space.
The Americas and Caribbean
The Bahamas: Pink Sands, Harbour Island
Probably the most beautiful beach in the world, Pink Sands turns salmon-coloured in the setting sun. The pristine quality of the water, the safe snorkelling, sheltered swimming and two 'chic shack' hotels are bonuses.
Bermuda: Warwick Long Bay
With pink sands set against a background of scrub grass, this half-mile beach is more secluded than the better- known bathing spots of Elbow Beach and Horseshoe Bay, with a coral reef that calms the water for swimmers.
The most spectacular expanse of pure white sand in the Caribbean. It is so large that even when its 50 hotels are full, there is still space to lay out a towel on the sands.
Jamaica: Boston Bay
Forget the tourist-heavy beaches of 'Mo-Bay' (Montego Bay) and head for the waves in Port Antonio. It is a real surfer community, with a laidback vibe and the smell of pork jerky in the air. Rent a board and hit the swell, or watch all the action from the shore.
Brazil: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Hardly undiscovered, but the impressive city backdrop, clean sand and wild waves provide a suitably gorgeous setting for the bronzed Cariocas who flock here to frolic and pose in the sun.
California: Venice Beach
The focus here is not so much on the sand and sea as on the boardwalk. At weekends it becomes a spectacle of Los Angeles unorthodoxy, with rap artists on rollerblades, chainsaw jugglers and iron-pumping weightlifters vying for attention.
Chile: Easter Island
It is more than 2,300 miles west of continental Chile, but the pink sands of Ovahe Beach are among the most beautiful in the world. Better known for the moai (the monolithic stone statues carved in the shape of human heads) it is 15 minutes from Hanga Roa village.
Hawaii: Waimea Beach
There may be more beautiful beaches, but none is more significant in the surfing world. Waimea, on Oahu's northern shore, remains, according to the eight-time world champion Kelly Slater, the yardstick by which surfing beaches are measured.
These flour-white sands, unlike those of its brash, built-up neighbour, Cancun, are rarely busy and there can be few better backdrops than the Mayan ruins in the ancient city of Tulum.
Africa and the Indian ocean
Cape Verde: Santa Monica beach, Boa Vista
With 35 miles of white beaches and emerald-green water, you will notstruggle to find a spot on this island. Santa Monica beach, with its never-ending series of golden bays, is probably the best of the lot.
Egypt: Laguna, Bay of Dahab
This natural Red Sea lagoon is 30 miles north of Sharm el-Sheikh, between the desert and the Sinai mountains. The long golden beach is ideal for windsurfers. Unlike its built-up neighbours, it has a more bohemian feel, with a smattering of Bedouin-style cafes.
Kenya: Lamu beach
This eight-mile crescent runs south from the Swahili village of Shela. A dawn walk along the water's edge to the lodge at Kizingo for breakfast is a rare chance to explore a virgin Indian Ocean beachscape. Encounter translucent crabs and sand dollars on the beach.
Mauritius: St Géran
Part of a 60-acre private peninsula, this pristine beach offers free water activities for children -- a glass-bottomed boat and water-skiing -- and a hydrotherapy spa.
Surfers head to Essaouira. Visitors looking for a calming retreat opt for this natural lagoon, protected from the Atlantic rollers by vast cliffs and fringed with great restaurants.
South Africa: Noordhoek beach, Cape Town
Because it is set on the tempestuous Atlantic and subject to heavy waves, Noordhoek is not really a swimming beach. But it's four miles long and good for surfing.
Stretching down from the north-west tip is Zanzibar's most beautiful expanse of sand. Blindingly white, it has water so bright blue that it appears almost fluorescent. There are few hotels, so you will have much of it to yourself.
Abu Dhabi: Emirates Palace beach
Everything about this billion-dollar resort screams opulence, including its mile-long private beach. If you want something a little more remote (and affordable), take a dhow over to one of 200 deserted islands off the coast.
Dubai: Al Mamzar
This beach park is less crowded than Jumeirah. It is man-made, resulting in plenty of greenery, picnic areas, lifeguards, areas for swimming and five vast beaches.
Oman: Shell Beach
With more than 1,000 miles of coastline stretching from the Musandam peninsula to the Yemeni border, Oman offers some of the finest coral reefs outside Australia. This one, near Muscat, teems with marine life.
Andaman Islands: Long Island
One of the few tropical islands that offer a true Robinson Crusoe experience. There are no hotels: travellers have to camp in the forest behind the powdery sand, fringed by untouched coral reefs.
Indonesia: Seminyak, Bali
Every night glamorous crowds gather at the Ku De Ta bar to drink cocktails, chill to funky music and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Philippines: Bounty Beach, Malapascua
There is stiff competition for mantle of best beach across the thousands of islands of the Philippines. Divers flock here to see the thresher sharks and manta rays feed among its spectacular reefs.
Vietnam: Long beach, Phu Quoc
Long Beach offers mile after deserted mile, a backdrop of tropical forests and mountains, swaying coconut palms and spectacular sunsets.
New Zealand: Abel Tasman National Park (picture p36)
These golden stretches of sand, sandwiched between the bush and rocky headlands, stretch from Marahau north to Totaranui and are accessible only by sea. Travel by kayak and you might see seals.
French Polynesia: Tikehau, Rangiroa
This oval-shaped atoll lies six miles off Rangiroa. Jacques Cousteau declared it to be the richest atoll on earth, and it remains one of the great diving destinations.