Top 10: Urban beaches
01 – Rio, BRAZIL
No other city can match Rio’s jaw-droppingly dramatic landscape, framed by long golden beaches. Ipanema is where the beautiful people come to pose and party, and the most desirable section where the smart local set hangs out is Posto 9, off Rua Vinicius de Moraes. Try the cheese on sticks (such as halloumi – low-fat and friendlier to bikini-conscious bodies) roasted in a mini brazier and rolled in herbs. Wash it down with a crushed ice acai drink or lethal Caipirinha Maracuja (passion fruit).
If guys are brave enough to ditch the baggy boardshorts (too touristy) and wear a ‘sunga’ (Brazilian tight lycra swimshorts) there’s a great stall on the beach at Poste 8 (the gay area). Swimming can be dangerous (Ipanema means something along the lines of ‘dangerous currents’) so it can be difficult to get back to shore if you swim out beyond the breaking waves.
Top tip: if this happens to you on a busy weekend, swim over to other people in same situation and wait for helicopter rescue – the rescue service drops a net into the ocean that scoops people up and deposits them rather ungraciously on shore. For less risky fitness thrills, go for a jog along the pavement of neighbouring Leblon and bump barely-there bikinis with a very honed, toned and tanned array of body-conscious sunseekers. (It gets more family orientated around there, towards Poste 10).
And while Copacabana, which is only a hop and skip up the coast, may have once been worth singing about, today it is too touristy – try and avoid. (There tend to be more unsavoury characters hanging about here waiting for people to go in the sea and then rob their possessions too – this happens less on Ipanema as it’s so wide and full of friendly eagle eyed locals.)
If you really want to make the most of the coast, hire a bicycle and do a beach crawl. Sundays are especially good for this as cars are banned during the day on the Ipanema beach road.
02 – Paris, FRANCE
For the past few summers, the banks of the Seine in the French capital have been transformed into a beach – Paris Plage. Dance lessons, climbing walls, games, and swimming (in floating pools, not the Seine, thankfully) are there for the active, or if you prefer, just collapse on a beach chair under a parasol. Pack your bikini by all means – but remember, this is Paris, so make sure your swimwear is couture.
03 – Los Angeles, USA
California is no slouch when it comes to postcard-perfect sea-and-be-seen hangouts, and LA is the star of the show. Bohemian Venice Beach is a playground for body-builders, rollerbladers and Baywatch-fit beauties. A must if you’re in Santa Monica, after a cocktail at the Viceroy, saunter along the Ocean Front Walk and the Promenade to the fairground on Santa Monica Pier.
If it’s surfing you’re in the mood for, Malibu is always a winner, while south of LAX, Manhattan Beach is brimming with beautiful people and big sunglasses – to be quintessentially Californian, use the cycle path to get there. Zuma, north of Malibu is a great locals’ beach (Top tip: take a picnic as the food on offer otherwise is nothing-special burger and fries.)
But for LA’s most romantic beach, El Matador wins our heart, about 10 miles north of Malibu, with its rocky shores and hidden coves.
04 – Barcelona, SPAIN
Barcelona set the standard by which every modern city in search of a beach-front makeover would like to be measured when it created a brand-new swath of sand on the Med, Barceloneta, for the Olympics in 1992. Today it bristles with flashy restaurants, jumping bars and a shimmering Franky Gehry-designed fish, no less.
A little too on the stag-and-hen circuit by night, unless you’re lucky enough to have nabbed a table at the chic Agua (pictured) on Pg Marítim de la Barceloneta (+34 93 225 12 72; www.aguadeltragaluz.com) but by day, this coast-hugging stretch may not have the softest sand, but it is definitely the best place to grab some rays if you’re in the mood for some tanning.
05 – London, UK
Shoreditch is still arguably London’s hippest neighbourhood (after all, Soho House has just opened up a branch here, complete with a fabulous rooftop pool: Shoreditch House), and the City Beach Club (www.citybeachclub.co.uk) at Truman Brewery, E1, is one of the most inspiring hubs for alternative cultural goings-on. Come summer, it is now also home to a giant sandpit for adults to play in with lashings of music, drinks and food as well as imported palm trees. City boys and girls also come to this sand-in-the-city spot to cool off in their lunch breaks and feel the Jamaican sand between their toes.
06 – Miami, USA
If you can prise yourself from the white sands a stroll from hotels such as the Setai, and should you fancy a hefty side order of beefcake with your steroid-enhanced serving of Cobb salad, then plant yourself at one of the many cafés that line art-deco-enriched Ocean Drive in Miami’s South Beach. Year-round sultry heat and humidity is matched by the heat generated by the look-at-me eye candy that struts past, making this pumped-up paradise strip one of the most extraordinary beaches in the world when it comes to grade-A people watching.
07 – Amsterdam, HOLLAND
Over the summer months, there are a number of sun-scorched beaches open to the public across Amsterdam, such as Blijburg aan Zee on the new IJburg Island complex, where bands or DJs provide a beach-party atmosphere every Sunday evening. Probably the most popular beach in the city is Amsterdam Plage, but venture a little further out of town (30 km: a 20-minute train journey) and you’ll find the in-the-know coastal resort of Bloemendaal, the ‘Ibiza of the North Sea’. We suggest you head for Republiek Beach Club (www.republiek.tv; pictured) on the beachfront.
08 – Palma, SPAIN
For sand, sea and sexy Balearic sounds Purobeach on Pagell (+34 971 744 744; www.purobeach.com) is a winner. And, if you’re a guest at Puro Hotel, you’re entitled to use the free shuttle bus service from the hotel to this seaside shindig. Situated just outside Palma, Mallorca’s fabulous first city, the Virtual Beach Club at 60 Paseo de lletas (www.virtualclub.es) is another fun-filled option for seaside frolics. By day, you’ll find a cool crowd lazing on hammocks listening to chill out tunes as the surf rolls in at their feet. Have a massage on the house or at sunset, kick back with a cocktail before the cave-club fires up later on.
09 – Sydney, AUSTRALIA
Sydney is a city blessed with more spectacular beaches than most towns have impressive buildings. One of the best walks in the world has to be the coastal path from Bondi to Bronte, where you’ll see surfers sharing the waves with dolphins. For a more exclusive scene, head to one of the harbour beaches (as opposed to one of the ocean beaches with crashing waves) in the Eastern Suburbs – Redleaf Pool in Double Bay is a secret spot with its own floating pontoon to swim out to. Nearby Nielsen Park is also a favourite with those who won’t dignify any old plot with their beach towel. Newport and Avalon beaches are a three-quarter-of-an-hour drive over the bridge north of Sydney centre – stunning setting (and surfers)
10 – Venice, ITALY
After a day spent canal-crossing and negotiating the narrow streets of this fine watery Italian city, ditch wrestling with the tourist throngs, and escape to the peace and quiet and the golden sands of the Venice Lido. The island that stretches between open sea and lagoon is only 10 minutes away from St Mark’s Square and it is hailed by many as one of the best seaside resorts of the whole upper Adriatic.
FEATURE BY: Richard Bence
THANKS TO: Kirsty Drury, Janie Balcomb, Ed Orr, Juliet Kinsman