Waking up to the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore from your bed is what real luxury is all about – and in Spain it is very easy to make it happen. Choose a romantic boutique bolthole on a cove on the Costa Brava or a cool urban hotel on the endless beaches along the Valencian coast. Or maybe a resort-style complex right by the Mediterranean on the Costa del Sol, where you can have lunch with your feet in the sand. Just slip out of your hotel and into the warm, turquoise sea – whether you want to snorkel, surf or just float the day away. Stay at one of our top beachfront hotels on the Spanish coast to get the full moodlifting effect without even trying.
Far from the typical tourist trails, the cliff-edged, emerald-green eastern coastline of Asturias boasts some of the most exquisite beaches in Spain. Beneath the Picos de Europa, rocky coves, remote golden crescents, low-key beach towns and a buzzing surf scene await. But this superb country deserves exploration as much as sunbathing sessions, and the region’s beauty lies in the immediate accessibility of both sea and mountains – “mar y montaña”.
Head to Ribadesella and stay at Villa Rosario, an exquisitely preserved, classically Asturian 1914 palacio de indianos, whose surprisingly chic rooms deliver contemporary comforts in a beautiful historical setting crafted from riches made in the Americas. Outside its windows, the Bay of Biscay splashes against the town's gold-tinged beach. Kayaking, surfing, traditional sidrerías and top local restaurants are within easy reach, as are fashionable capital Oviedo and some of Northern Spain’s most luscious beaches.
Hidden away amid the tranquil, rural country of the Costa Trasmiera, Langre’s wild, secluded beaches are arguably Cantabria’s most spectacular. Endless green meadows top sheer limestone cliffs that lead down to two golden arcs of sand, fronted by thundering waves that make this a top spot for surfing. It was originally a hit with nudists for its wonderful isolation, and it’s hard to imagine that the lively capital, Santander, is a mere 25km away to the west.
A little further down the coast, Posada Las Garzas stands just across the street from Playa de Berria, a Blue-Flag sweep of fine white sand that’s popular with Spanish holidaymakers. For country-style seaside comfort, you can’t do better than this welcoming mango-yellow house, done up in a brightly coloured rustic-modern style, with polished-terracotta floors, wooden banisters, slim staircases and vivid pieces of art on the walls.
The city of Valencia boasts two particularly fine beaches for soaking up the southern Spanish sun: there's the Playa de la Malvarrosa and, adjoining it to the south, Playa de las Arenas. Lively bars and restaurants create a party atmosphere during summer months, and each year on June 23 locals and tourists alike flock down to the sandy shoreline for a raucous night of festivities to celebrate St John's Eve, including live music, dancing and night-time swimming.
Las Arenas Balneario Resort is in a great position for Malvarrosa beach, and also offers an added element of grandeur to any beach stay. Guests are able to retreat from the shoreline to the shaded gardens (where there's a large swimming pool) or to the luxurious spa, with its thermal pools and soothing treatments. Or else opt for Hotel Balandret, a sleek boutique hotel overlooking Playa de las Arenas. It is a top spot for sampling the famous Valencian paella and other seafood dishes at any of the seafront restaurants or admiring the yachts in the swish marina.
Tamariu, Costa Brava
If you like the idea of secluded smugglers’ coves and broad stretches of golden sand fringed with pines and coral pink rocks, look no further than the Costa Brava. Far from the braying crowds of the larger resorts, the stretch of coastline between Palamós, about an hour north of Barcelona, and Cadaqués near the French border has some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean. Without so much as a high-rise for miles, many of the small bays, such as that at Tamariu, still have the feel of the fishing villages they originally were.
The family-run Hotel Tamariu is positioned right on the town's small seafront promenade, with the rough-sand beach about 30 seconds’ walk from the front door. The hotel may be the oldest in Tamariu and one of the oldest on the Costa Brava but the interiors have been tastefully decorated to feel fresh and contemporary. The bar, lounge and restaurant are all bright and airy with beamed ceilings, nautical white and eau de nil walls, low leather pouffes and wicker lampshades.
Playa del Inglés, Gran Canaria
Playa del Inglés and the dunes of Maspalomas have been attracting sun worshippers since the heady, hippy days of the 1960s, and with good reason. Seven glorious miles of honeyed beach on Gran Canaria's southern coast morphs into an undulating landscape of seductive sand dunes – an idyllic, secluded place for those who prefer privacy and an all-over glow.
There are few genuine beachfront hotels in Playa del Inglés, and while Bohemia Suites & Spa offers floored-jaw views of the neighbouring dunes of Maspalomas, it’s a five-minute walk down to the beach itself. It makes up for this, however, with its colourful retro-chic design, a rooftop restaurant with a reputation for excellent and creative Catalan cuisine, and a pleasure palace of a spa offering traditional Thai massages, a sauna and steam room, and a small gym.
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Cala Mesquida, Majorca
Cala Mesquida, on the north-eastern tip of the island, is a stunning beach of pale sand, framed by dunes and pine forests. Aside from a few hotels lining one side of the small bay, this is a wonderfully remote and naturally beautiful part of the island, a fact noted by the Balearic government, who designated the beach a Natural Area of Special Interest in 1991. It is often assailed by a strong northerly wind – not ideal for swimming, but paradise for surfers and windsurfers.
If you need to stay somewhere with excellent facilities but want to explore a quieter part of Majorca, the Viva Cala Mesquida Resort should fit the bill. You stay in spacious apartments – it is definitely worth booking one with a sea view – and can choose any permutation from self-catering to all-inclusive. The hotel has three external pools, a children’s splash pool, plus a heated indoor pool in the tranquil adults-only Balneum Spa. There are also two hot tubs, a gym, hammam and sauna as well as treatment rooms.
Es Pujols, Formentera
Best beach in the Balearics? We could argue about that all day but Formentera, the little island south of Ibiza, has some pretty convincing contenders for the title. White sand and clear, calm water are the norm here, making Formentera a good choice for families with young children – the island is certainly not the sole preserve of the boho brigade. People also come to dive, kayak or windsurf, to cycle or hike around the island or go birdwatching in the wetlands – a great option in spring, when accommodation is very reasonable.
The Hotel Blanco Formentera is two minutes’ walk from Es Pujols beach, which has a handful of bars and restaurants. Stylish yet simple, the pared-down chic fits the no-fuss Formentera ethos to a tee. Don’t expect any frills here, just sink into the laidback life style of swimming, sunbathing and cycling. There are 78 bright, smallish but stylish rooms and suites – all white of course. Some give onto the pool, while others face trees at the back – quieter but not as groovy.
Playa Blanca, Lanzarote
The low-key resort of Playa Blanca in the south of the island curves around beaches of golden sand that are great for families. There are restaurants and shops nearby, not to mention the Aqualava Waterpark and Atlantico underwater museum. Then there are the idyllic Papagayo beaches further along the coast, which are a short drive or boat ride away (you can take a catamaran trip from town). Or you can take a ferry across to Fuerteventura for a quick change of scene.
Right by the sea, the five-star Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is a family-friendly complex perched right on Dorada beach, with views across the sea to Isla de Lobos and Fuerteventura. It's modern and practical, but well designed and attractive, with plenty of space too. The Kikoland area has lots of kids’ activities, including two pools just for children. There are tennis courts, a large gym with fitness and Pilates classes and a huge spa with a wide range of treatments.
Costa Calma, Fuerteventura
With its never-ending beaches and facility-filled hotels, Fuerteventura is a wonderful destination for families, but it is fast becoming a rather cool destination, too. This is largely down to the surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding scene, as well as diving and cycling. Costa Calma, as the name might suggest, is still largely free of the crowds you'll find further north (particularly round Puerto del Rosario), although who can say for how long?
If the big hotel scenario is not your thing, there are plenty of quirky, smaller options to choose from, both inland and on the coast. The four-star R2 Rio Calma is a standout hotel in the area though. It's a bit further away from the town's main beach (a long, sunbather-friendly stretch of sand), but is conveniently placed for the much quieter Playa de Matas Blancas, which is stonier, but arguably far better than its neighbour for surfing and windsurfing (each beach has its own surf school.
Marbella, Costa del Sol
Head to Marbella and you'll find it to be divided from the sea by the promisingly named Golden Mile, a long, uninterrupted swathe of beach to the city's west, as well as a series of enticing smaller beaches interspersed by yacht-filled marinas and clusters of restaurants, bars and clubs. Such clear delineation means that there is a stretch of sand to suit everyone, whether you want the buzz of a glitzy beach club or a laid-back family-friendly vibe.
Stay at the Puente Romano hotel and you can step straight out of the hotel on to the beach – and perhaps take a few lessons in stand-up paddleboarding too. The resort is laid out like an Andalucian village, with low-rise white buildings concealed by subtropical gardens, so you don’t feel you are in a huge complex. The impressive facilities include four pools (one beach-facing), an acclaimed tennis club, a Six Senses spa, a nightclub and no fewer than 12 restaurants.