Sunday, June 5, 2011

Some of the Best Beaches on the Planet

Mondello Lido, Sicily

Italy's most famous island, Sicily is ringed by beaches, from the wild Vendicari Nature Reserve to sandy stretches near Giardini Naxos. But for its size and scene, the Mondello Lido near Palermo could well be the top choice here. Just five miles from Palermo, the island's capital, it's an easy weekend (and weekday) escape from the city and visitors make for the wide, white-sand beach in droves.

Ample hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs await, and the beach has every imaginable water sport and plenty of space to zonk-out-on-the-sand. Framing the picture is a sort of Sicilian Diamond Head, Cape Gallo, a rocky point jutting north into the Mediterranean and Mount Pellegrino.

Where to Stay: The splendid Hotel La Torre is a short walk from the beach, with ocean-view rooms that will run you $130-210 and a lovely outdoor terrace and swimming pool. The Villa Esperia is a slightly more affordable choice three blocks from the beach with rooms from roughly $100.

Getting There: Many airlines fly to Palermo, but you'll have to connect in Europe from the U.S. Conveniently, Mondello is closer to the airport than Palermo's city center.

Cinque Terre

The "five lands," a group of five villages that hug the sea between La Spezia and Genova on the northwestern coast of Italy, certainly can't compete based on just the size of their beaches, which could be generously described as small. But dramatic, looming cliffs and the strikingly blue sea and off Cinque Terre make these beaches worth a visit. They've even earned recognition from the UN as a protected World Heritage Site.

Perhaps the best of the bunch is in Monterosso al Mare, where the sandy strand is bisected by a picturesque weathered rock outcropping. Beach chairs and parasols are available and the water is the definition of acquamarine. In Vernazza, a tiny slice of sand is bolstered by a concrete pier that juts into the sea, providing visitors with a perfect diving platform.

Where to Stay: Because day-trippers can overwhelm the small towns, staying overnight offers a better experience. In Monterosso, La Poesia is a four-room guesthouse with negotiable rates set up above the water. Vernazza's tiny Elisabetta guesthouse has incredible sea views worth the hike up Via Carratino and definitely worth the price tag of $65-$90.

Getting There: The intrepid can hike between the villages—or take a train, the easiest way to reach the area from elsewhere in Italy. The journey from Florence takes about 3.5 hours; from Genova, it's about 90 minutes.

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