Geographically, UK residents are in one of the luckiest spots on the globe. Sure, our weather during winter months can be somewhat dreary and wet, but look on the bright side: we're a short swim across the Channel from Europe and all her beaches. This month, with our sights set on the much desired summer months ahead, we're counting down the Top 10 Beaches in Europe.
Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe that still boasts a relatively undeveloped coastline with plenty of beaches to rival the big players – Spain, Italy, Greece and France. The Sinemorets Resort on the south-east coast of Bulgaria is an idyllic spot, popular with luxury travellers and offering panoramic views of the Black Sea – an untapped gem that deserves way more coverage than it gets. If you'd rather a family-friendly resort stocked with amenities and hotels, try Bulgaria's Golden Sands or Sveti Konstantin.
Ile de Re, France
This picture-postcard island off the west coast of France is almost frozen in time. Traditional French houses, narrow alleys and quaint shops make up the main port town of St Martin, while the beaches are a commercial-free pleasure. Don't expect watersports and ice-cream vans - this island is about getting back to nature. This means climbing the sand dunes, smelling the flowers, walking in the pine forests, admiring (and then eating) the sea life, and cycling around the island - take our word for it, cycling is a must. If you're feeling sentimental, there are also donkey rides available.
Cirali is the most beautiful Greek Mythology classroom in the world. The ruins of Mount Olympus are a stone's throw from the beach, giving you plenty of walking to do before you take a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean Sea. At night you hike the rocky hills that surround the village to watch the natural flames at Yanartas; this phenomenon is said to be the spot where the fire-breathing creature Chimera was killed by Bellerophon on the winged horse, Pegasus. If you're lucky you might also catch a glimpse of the loggerhead turtles that are known to hatch on the beach at Cirali.
This ancient Portuguese fishing village has barely kept up with the new world, retaining its original charm and the foundations of a 12th century Moorish castle. Sesimbra is protected from the wind by the Arrábida mountain, making it an ideal spot for swimming and sun bathing. At the beach promenade you'll find fishermen selling their daily catch and the surrounding hills offer spectacular views of the bay. Located just 25 miles from Lisbon, Sesimbra is the perfect escape from the city.
Greece's Myrtos Beach needs very little introduction. It's the sort of spot that has reduced the best travel writers to sweeping clichés about perfect sand and water that matches the bluest skies ever seen. You'll find yourself totally amazed at the view from the hillsides that overlook the beach, and once you're down there you won't be able to take your eyes off the startling contrasts that are laid out in front of you. The picturesque bay is in one of the Ionian Islands - famed as the setting for Captain Corelli's Mandolin. So if it's a photogenic, postcard-perfect beach you're after, Myrtos will knock your socks off.
La Manga del Mar Menor, Spain
Mar Menor is officially Europe's largest salt water lake, while La Manga – a 13-mile stretch of beach - juts out to keep Mar Menor (the "little sleeve") on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. The beach is a big hit with tourists and locals during the summer months – you get two beaches for the price of one. The Mediterranean side has that perfect blue water, which everyone loves to wallow in to escape the heat; a perfect recipe for relaxation. The Mar Menor side is a hotspot for watersports enthusiasts, as it opens up to the wind giving kiteboarders and windsurfers a dose of natural speed.
Sagres is the most southwesterly point of the Algarve and back in ancient Roman times it was believed that the setting sun made the water boil if you ventured far enough into the sea. Things have changed a fair bit since then, but the setting sun is still shining as brightly on this gem of a town. Near-vertical cliffs face the ocean and protect the gorgeous beaches from the wind, making it both picturesque and peaceful. Up on land, the Fortress of Sagres (founded by Prince Henry, the Navigator) and other monuments to Portugal's epic history are open for exploration - allowing you to mix some history with your beach holiday.
Plage de Saleccia, Corsica
Corsica's isolated beaches are all rather dreamy, but this one in particular is worth making the effort to find. Plage de Saleccia is a beauty that makes you work for her affection. Located on the northeastern coast, this secluded stretch of beach is as naturally flawless today as it was two hundred years ago; there are no houses, buildings, spas or hotels in sight. It's spotless white sands stretch just over a mile and meet the Mediterranean Sea, while being flanked by rolling green hills and granite mountains - which offer a rather nice view while you're getting your tan on. Moor a boat if you have money to spend (and look out for the celebs and pretend you're part of their crowd) or make your way on foot along the coastal footpath from Saint Florent. Either way, remember to pack a picnic as there's a complete absence of shops and bars.
Curonian Spit, Lithuania
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Curonian Spit should be one of Lithuania's biggest draws, yet it's still relatively low-key. This only adds to its allure, since the 60 mile strip of sand dunes, beach and forest that stretches out into the Baltic Sea is one of the most beautiful coastal destinations in the world. Access the Spit from the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda via ferry and stop off in the village of Nida - the perfect jump-off point for exploration. Bring a picnic basket and take a stroll along the dunes, until you find a viewpoint that meets your level of perfection, and then plonk yourself down until it's time to go.