Four Great, Random Beaches

Four Great, Random Beaches

Bondi, Venice, Ibiza, Koh phi phi: I think we’ve all heard enough about these places. There are 1000’s of hidden gems across the world. But today I just want to illuminate four of them.

1. Blue Lagoon, Comino, Malta
Cominoto beach

Malta. A beautiful archipelago south of Sicily with all the charm of the Mediterranean and all the benefits of Anglicization. It’s the main island of three which lends this tiny nation its name, also serving as the main attraction centre with  its famous fortress capital of Valletta, prehistoric megalithic temple ruins and much touted nightlife among many things. To the north is the lesser known Gozo, usually relegated to the domain of daytrips but still drawing in respectable numbers of tourists. And in between both there’s the disproportionately tiny Comino with a permanent population of 4. This desolate island hardly seems worthwhile visiting – especially when you can count its features on one hand, namely a small hotel, a medieval watch tower, a tiny chapel, and a 300 year old gun battery. However, it’s a small lagoon that’s been formed in cooperation with a tiny microisland – Cominotto – that gives Comino a massive must-go status. The Lagoon is freakishly beautiful, with perfect clarity in the warm, shallow and impossibly clear, turquoise waters. You can also rent snorkel gear and deck chairs at the tiny dock from where you arrive, and there are quite a few fish in the water . Comino itself can hardly be said to have a beach – it does, an inevitably crowded 7 meter wide anomaly, on what for the most part is a jagged rocky outcrop sitting only a smidgen higher than the water level itself. It’s actually rather uncomfortable walking precariously  over it to get into the water, but it only makes the soft coral sand feel all the nicer once you’re in. For a proper beach you’ll have to make a little more effort.

When me and a friend arrived on the first tiny ferry at 9:20am on a beautiful September day, we practically had the entire lagoon to ourselves for an hour or so. It was brilliant, but then as more hoards of tourists arrived we decided to hop over to the tiny, totally deserted Cominotto for a bit. Assuming you have greater upper body strength  than a kitten, its pretty easy to swim the 120 metres across the shallow lagoon to Cominino. The inwards facing side of Cominotto has a small, increadibly beautiful beach which most people can’t be bothered to get to, and it definitely adds to the exclusivity of getting to Comino in the first place. While there are no commercial boats to Cominotto from Comino, a few enterprisers do head over there for the purpose of setting up pay-per-use deckchairs. While I did say that swimming across is pretty easy I should mention that on the way back, my friend – who went on ahead of me – got caught off guard by the slight increase in current, panicked, and had to be rescued by a lifeguard. This was rather extraordinary though, given that I had zero troubles and could hardly of been considered fit at the time.

Getting there is quite simple with small ferry services regularly making the 20 minute(one way) trip to the island from two harbors at the Northern tip of the main Maltese island

2. Praia a Mare, Calabria, Italy

One of the many beaches along the Praia coastline

Calabria is, and has been for many centuries now, the poorest region in all of Italy, and it often shows. But for natural beauty and avoiding tourists it’s absolutely perfect. Praia a Mare is a tiny 2,000 person town though its population swells considerably in the summer with an influx of Neapolitans who come for its outstanding beach. Other than them, virtually no one has even heard of it and hopefully it stays that way (granted by writing this I’m not doing helping).  The water is brilliantly turquoise clear, in sharp contrast to the water on the Adriatic side of the country which is murky and borders on the Dead Sea for saltiness. The beach is several miles long, sandy at one end and gradually becomes rockier and rockier the closer you get to the areas defining landmark:Dino Isola. The awesome hostel I was staying at – Onda Road (also the only hostel in the area) – organized small boat trips out there where you can go cliff jumping and also swim with the fish in the enchanting Blue Grotto. Further down the coastline things become cliffier and more isolated, but there are amazing beaches carved out in between the cliff faces, one of which contains another piece of natural phenomena: a small difficult-to-get-too ocean side vent in a cliff which leads to a tranquil water cave of surreal beauty due to the unique natural light effects  – the Light Grotto. To top it all off, the main beach of Praia a Mare is also host to half a dozen beach clubs which go crazy in the summer.

To think that this is a place practically unknown even in Italy is fantastic. I honestly feel sorry for those who’ve gone to Rimini believing that they’ve found a great summer town. Praia a Mare is a freaking gem.

3. Pirita Beach, Tallinn, Estonia

Pirita from 100 metres out (water depth 1.2 metres)

Estonia and great beaches aren’t two things you’d probably think of to put together in the same sentence. In fact you’d probably never even think of Estonia outright for anything. Part of this has to do with the fact that half the people on earth think that it’s part of Siberia and the other half haven’t heard of it at all. But while anyone who knows me knows I’m a champion for the promotion of this tiny Baltic nation, even I was surprised by the brilliance of Pirita beach (incidentally not even its most famous one*). Located a few miles from the capitals centre, Pirita is occasionally known as the Russian Skeleton beach by some cynical locals – no doubt the jumbo sized ones. But I saw nothing that any fair minded person would call anorexia, especially after Milan, which hands down takes the cake (or should I say vomits) for anorexic gatherings in general. There are a lot of incredibly beautiful girls though, many of them Russian, as well as families, people playing volleyball, and those just relaxing in general. Meanwhile cafes, restaurants and pine forests line the back of the beach unobtrusively. I didn’t find the place pretentious at all. It’s simply one of the best places to go on a nice summer day in Tallinn.

The Baltic water is totally calm, very clear, and Pirita beach in particular is very shallow – you’d have to wade out for hundreds of meters before you were over your head. But the thing that’s most striking is the salinity of the water. It’s practically non-existent, more like swimming in a lake than any sea I’d ever been in. I was also surprised at how warm it was, given that Estonia is a country famous for it’s Nazi and Napoleonic-killing winters. Any trip to Tallinn in the summer without going here would be a miss.

*For the record, the most famous Estonian beach is at the countries summer party capital of Parnu. I went there and had an amazing time, but didn’t end up spending any of it at the beach as it was raining for the whole two days I was there. Parnu and it’s beach are definitely worth checking out though, just try and get there earlier in the summer.

4. Jūrmala, Latvia

Jurmala beach

Twenty miles from the Latvian capital lies the beach town of Jūrmala. A spa and wellness centre since the early 19th Century, this is a town well known to Latvians and Russians, but rarely on the radar of anyone else. It’s a huge beach, in fact the entire spaghetti shaped town is basically a beach, one that straddles a 33 mile spit of land sandwiched between the sea and the Lielupe river to the south. It’s truly beautiful in the summer with its white sand, light waves, practically saltless water and distinct wooden cottage style buildings. There’s also a lot of infrastructure towards making it the beach experience of the Baltic’s: Cafes, professional volleyball nets, beach bars, an over supply of stunning beach babes, and practically limitless space.  As well as its beach, the town mixes quaint with cosmopolitan, the wooden art noveau style is maintained without and the main street is lined with lots of great restaurants, clubs and spas – all at surprisingly low prices.  It’s too bad I had so little time in Jūrmala , I could have spent a couple days here and when I’m next spending summer in Latvia it’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

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