Belinda Beckett Set Off On An Eco Beach-Combing Trail To The Easterly And Westerly Extremes Of Andalucia To Pick Out Her Favourites.

They’re the region’s most pristine playas, environmental gems protected as national and natural parks and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. Some are Natural Monuments. Not strictly virginal, their charms have already been uncovered by birdwatchers, naturists, hard-core hikers and high season tourists. But some play very hard to get, hiding below towering cliffs or across deserts of prickly pear, far from tarmac roads and civilisation. They also come with a safety warning: strong currents and stiff Levante winds can make swimming treacherous and most of these beaches have no lifeguards, first aid posts or safety flags.

Another snag of there being no services (no loos, showers, cafes selling menús del día and bottles of ice cold water) is that you have to lug all your beach paraphernalia with you – cold boxes, beach brollies, loungers, windsurfers, tents, towels – along trails more suited to Indiana Jones than the average family as Harrison Ford would confirm (one of Almeria’s beaches was a location for the Last Crusade).

There’s no handy beach parking either. These are protected areas with designated car parks governed by strict daily traffic quotas and they’re usually a fair trek from the surf. Later you have to cart all your wet stuff back to the car, taking your rubbish with you as there are no bins, which rather puts these beautiful beaches out of reach of the very young, the very old and anyone with a mobility problem.

But the effort, if you’re up to it, will reward you with wow factor; virgin sands, snorkelling-quality water, rock pool aquariums swimming with tiny fish and crustaceans, Instagrammable geological formations and some of the most untainted coastal landscapes on the planet. For the planet’s sake, be sure to keep them that way!


The Agate Cape

For high drama, nothing beats the beaches that cluster beneath Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park’s rust-red lava cliffs.

Volcanic rock formations and an eerie spaghetti western landscape provide the backdrop to a collection of over 50 coves and bays whose added attractions extend underwater to include sea grass beds, coral reefs and rock pools teeming with marine life. It was a tough task narrowing the choice down to a fab five.

Unesco Biosphere Reserve beaches come at the price and many lie at the foot of 100-metre cliffs or across desert scrubland dotted with European fan palms, pink snapdragon and agave cactus. You could be in Mexico.

Save these virgin coves for a calm, sunny day and take note of the park’s warning: ‘In adverse weather conditions or strong wind, avoid all beaches without surveillance and lifeguard service or where you can’t stand in the sea.’

El Playazo

Simply known as ‘The Beach’, this sandy bay is one of the easiest to access, 3.4km from the famous goldmining town of Rodalquilar and with parking close to the sands, so you won’t be alone. With mountains at one end and an 18th century castle at the other, it offers safe swimming and a beautiful picnic setting. Rodalquilar’s abandoned goldmines and shanty towns are well worth checking out en route.

Los Genoveses

A bathing belle of a beach with aquamarine water, gently-shelving sands, wrap-around dunes and a border of cactus pastures grazed by goats. A couple of kilometres from the fishing village of San José, where you can catch a beach shuttle bus in summer, it’s still worth biking or hiking it for the scenery. Named after the 200 Genoese galleons that sheltered here in 1147 before helping Alfonso VII recapture Almería from the Moors, the Spanish Armada also rested up here before the Battle of Lepanto. Bring a metal detector and search for buried doubloons!

Mónsul Cove

This cinematic beach has been the backdrop for a host of Hollywood movies and pop videos – Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, David Bisbal’s Ave María… Harrison Ford had his photo snapped by the Comb, an iconic boulder that fell to the shore. The cliffs, are a textbook illustration of how molten lava poured over them, cooling just before it reached the ocean into a curtain of surreal shapes which morph from mustard to mauve as the light changes. Reach it from San José by car or the summer shuttle bus.

Las Salinas

The safest beach in an eastern Levante wind, and the longest in the park at 8km, running between the Med and the only operating saltpans in eastern Andalucia. Striking rather than beautiful, the salty lagoon attracts storks, egrets and pretty flamingos and the restored church has become an Instagram icon.

Los Muertos

The Beach of the Dead, near Carboneras, doesn’t sound like a welcoming place and its name is a warning. The fine shingle and coarse sand beach is steeply shelved, it’s too rocky to stand in the water and positively dangerous in a Levante wind so not ideal for young children or non-swimmers. If that doesn’t put you off, the steep 20-minute descent will. Precisely for these reasons it’s never overcrowded. It’s also stunning.


Bolonia’s Secret Sisters

Beautiful Bolonia has topped more best beach lists than the grains of sand that make up its 30-metre dune which has National Monument status. With beach showers, chiringuitos and the famed Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia on its doorstep, it’s virgin no more but you only have to look around the headland for two beaches that fit the description, both within the Strait Natural Park.

Punta Paloma

To the east, 10km from Tarifa, it’s worth the detour off the N340 to Punta Paloma along a road that slices through towering dunes. The reflected light from the white sand gives the impression of driving through a snowscape. These shifting sands cover the treetops while fences installed to prevent the dune from moving are almost buried (mind the spikes). Park here and descend to a secluded bay of rock and sand. A short drive further up the road through an old military zone leads you to ivy-clad El Mirlo where you can grab a bite and lap up Morocco views.

Playa El Cañuelo

To the west, this incognito cove is a 1km hike across a headland that will reward you with white sands, transparent (although often choppy) waters and a satisfyingly low beach towel count. The easiest approach is from Zahara de Los Atunes. Park at the eastern end of Atlanterra, head for the Faro Camarinal lighthouse and across a landscape of pine, junipers and rock roses. Take note that in exceptionally high tides the beach all but vanishes underwater.


Playa Torre del Loro

The attraction is the ruined watchtower in the centre of so-called Parrot Tower Beach which was built to ward off pirates (not parrots but maybe the pirates owned some). Local lore says you can visit four municipalities just by walking around it, as it straddles the borders of Palos de la Frontera, Moguer, Lucena del Puerto and Almonte.

Punta Del Boquerón

Cádiz has its own spectacular sandbar flanked by the Atlantic on one side and the saltflats and marshes of the Bay of Cádiz Natural Park on the other. Anchovy Point is a National Monument stretching from Playa Campo Soto in civilised San Fernando, brimming with boardwalk cafes and all mod cons, to remote Playa del Castillo opposite Chiclana, getting wilder with every step you take.

At the tip you can enjoy offshore views of Sancti Petri islet’s castle lighthouse from a Caribbean-copy beach. A restricted military zone until the 1960s, today the only shooting is done with a camera by birdwatchers and beach snappers. From the car park at the San Fernando end, the Point is a glorious shoreline walk past wetlands and curious WW2 bunkers. You can also get there more directly by boat from the port of Sancti Petri pueblo.

Acantilado del Asperillo

If Mars had a sea, the landscape might resemble the Cliffs of Asperillo. Chiselled by wind and rain and striped with layers of sediment deposited over millennia which has raised them to a height of over 100 metres, this curious fossil dune system runs for 12-kilometres along the beach. To reach this 15,000-year-old Natural Monument, turn off the A-494 at km 39 towards Cuesta Maneli.

A Dip in Doñana

Book-ended by the frenetic summer resorts of Mazagón and Matalascañas, a 25 kilometre strip of platinum sand fringing Doñana National Park offers total escape from the mass sun-worshipping world. Although the beaches have different names you can walk to them all via the shoreline. Reached off the main A-494 via dirt tracks where you soon have to park up, be prepared for a walk of up to 20 minutes through forests of stone pine, juniper and gorse on the fringes of Iberian lynx country, although you’ll be unlikely to spot one. But keep an eye out for endangered spur-thighed tortoises, Lataste’s vipers and Egyptian mongoose which also enjoy the freedom of this amazing Unesco World Heritage park.

La Flecha del Rompido

The Rompido Arrow is often called one of the Seven Wonders of Huelva. Cupid’s Arrow would be an even better name, as this sensational 13-kilometre sandbar is love at first sight. Aside from the jaw-dropping beauty of this Natural Marshland spit, joined to the mainland between Cartaya and Lepe, La Flecha offers the novel choice of swimming in the River Piedras on one side or the Atlantic on the other. It’s also a chameleon beach, home to the colour-changing reptiles and a shape-shifter itself, growing 30 metres longer annually so you never see the same peninsula two years running.

It’s a 3km walk from La Antilla but more fun to take the ferry. FlechaMar ( runs a regular service from El Rompido and the 10-15-minute trip means that a chilled mojito is never far away. The same company offers tapas cruises – a chance to sample local hams, cheeses, Lepe strawberries and D.O. Condada de Huelva wine. The price you pay for civilisation’s proximity is that you don’t get La Flecha to yourself.