With more than 8,000 km of coastline, Spain has long been a primary destination for European sun and surf seekers. In fact, Spain is the third most visited country in the world, thanks in no small part to its seemingly endless beaches and sunshine. But it’s not simply the quantity of hidden coves or vast stretches of sand attracting visitors; according to the internationally renowned Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), Spain is home, collectively, to the best beaches in the world.
The FEE began designating “Blue Flag” beaches in 1987, an eco-label awarded as a sign of excellence based on four criteria covering water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, plus safety and access including for people with disabilities. Heading into the 30th year of these global rankings, Spain has been at the top of the table every single year.
On 5 May, 2016, the FEE Blue Flag programme (http://www.blueflag.global) announced the latest list with Spain totaling 586 designated beaches and 100 marinas. One in every five Spanish beaches meets the Blue Flag quality requirements and one in every six Blue Flag beaches in the world are found in Spain. Turkey ranks second internationally with 444 designated beaches, followed closely by Greece, then France and Portugal.
So where are all of these pristine and environmentally sound Spanish beaches? Here’s a round up of some of the best in the top four regions of Spain.
Valencia is the region with the most Blue Flag beaches this year, with 125. Here the warm, reliable Mediterranean climate and impressive range of services make the beaches of Alicante, Benidorm, Castellon and the city of Valencia itself famous as a convenient and beautiful beach holiday destination.
Muchavista beach, near Alicante, exemplifies the Blue Flag mark of quality: an average width of 300 metres of immaculate golden sand four km long, crystal clear waters, a broad programme of activities including youth environmental workshops, good infrastructure and accessibility for those with reduced mobility.
Galicia, on the north-west coast of Spain, fell to second place this year in terms of numbers of Blue Flag beaches, but many consider the region to have the absolute best beaches in the country. The summer climate is milder than in many southern and island destinations in Spain, and it is easy to find a secluded cove or open strand without hoards of tourists. The clear Atlantic waters and white sandy beaches are idyllic and the islands visible out to sea give a fantastical impression shrouded in mist. There’s no glitz here and the majority of visitors are local or from other parts of Spain; here you come to enjoy the best of what a beach, in its most basic essence, can offer.
Viveiro Bay is one such prime beach on the Galician coast. A scenic natural inlet hugged by pine and eucalyptus covered hills. As beautiful as Viveiro Bay is, it is one of many stunning beaches in this area near the town of Covas. On foot it is possible to wander from open beach to private cove to a secluded sandy spot beneath the cliffs and back again. By car there are endless accessible beaches, each with its own charm, making Viveiro Bay a perfect base for exploring the richness of this picturesque coastline.
Boasting 98 Blue Flag beaches, Catalonia has the third most designated beaches in Spain. Here, on the north-east coast, the Costa Brava is famed as one of the most unspoilt and romantic stretches of coast in Europe. It essentially the same coastline as the glitzy, French Cote d’Azur, only further south and more accessible at a fraction of the cost. This stretch of coast is a gourmand’s paradise, with nearby Barcelona and the surrounding region possessing one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred chefs in Spain and home to the best restaurant in the world.
While Tossa del Mar may be the most famous of the Catalonian resort towns, for a more tranquil and sublimely rugged beauty, head to Cap de Creus, the easternmost point on the Spanish mainland. The relentless winds on the cape have created a surreal landscape of oddly shaped rocks and geological formations edging on barren plateaus overlooking deserted shores. So intriguing is the coast here that it influenced the work of the master surrealist himself, Salvador Dalí.
Finally, this lineup would certainly be incomplete without the diverse beaches of Andalusia. This southernmost Spanish region was awarded 76 Blue Flag beach designations across its lengthy 800 km of coastline this year. Even many of the built up areas of the Costa del Sol fly Blue Flags on their beaches, and you can find secluded coves in between beach clubs and resorts. The eastern end of Malaga Province has some of the prettiest natural beaches on the entire southern coast, and with the best climate in Europe there aren’t many days unsuited for the beach.
The Costa de la Luz, on Andalusia’s Atlantic coast is a haven for water sports enthusiast. The wind and waves make it a favourite for surfers, wind surfers and kite surfers. Bolonia beach is one exemplary stretch, popular with surfers but also very family friendly and big enough for all to enjoy. There is so much fine sand on this huge arc of a beach that the dunes, driven by the same Atlantic easterlies the surfers revere, pile up to over 30 metres high on the north end of the beach and are reputedly the largest in Europe.
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.
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