Imagine yourself on a secluded island beach. Is the sand powdery white or freckled with seashells? Are the waves crashing against dramatic cliffs or gently lapping a sloped shore? What about you? Are you sunning on a beach blanket? Floating above a reef? Hiking through dunes? These seven beaches -- swept across island shores from Europe to Hawaii to the Seychelles to Australia to the Caribbean -- should fulfill every surf-and-sand fantasy you can dream up. Consider your vision a reality.
Apella Beach: Kárpathos, Greece
Mention the Greek isles, and you'll trigger visions of sailboats anchored near pebble beaches and coves concealed by pine-treelined mountains. Apella Beach on Kárpathos is a living incarnation of those daydreams. Nestled between the islands of Rhodes and Crete, Kárpathos, a relatively untouched fragment of the Dodecanese island chain, boasts some of the most picturesque shores in the Med, and Apella Beach is high on the list. Tucked along the east coast of this narrow strip of an island , the beach represents what is most attractive about Kárpathos: Like the island as a whole, the beach sees very few visitors and offers travelers a taste of Old World Creece. Relax on the fine white sand at the far end of Apella Beach or walk on the stones that line the shore. Either way, prepare for a low-maintenance day: There are no concessions on the beach, and road access is limited. A day on Apella is all about soaking up your surroundings -- from the cliffs above you to the turquoise sea fanning out in front of you. Make the vision a reality by boarding a ferry in the island's capital city, Pigádhia. You can take the ferry back or continue northward on land to Ólimbos, where the townspeople follow 100-year old customs and traditional music fills the streets.
Cayo Costa State Park: Cayo Costa, Florida
Finding beaches in Florida isn't a problem. Finding an island beach off the coast of this popular peninsula that feels like it hasn't already been claimed, on the other hand, may seem like a daunting quest. But just west of North Fort Myers, you'll find Cayo Costa State Park, a 9-mile-long strip of untouched white sand in the warm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The protected, northernmost tip of Cayo Costa island is both a reminder of what early Spanish traders must have seen when they first approached these rugged shores and the embodiment of what has kept travelers coming back to the Sunshine State ever since. Pack a lunch (there are no concessions on Cayo Costa) and set up a picnic beneath the mangrove canopies. Bring a rod and reel for world-class tarpon fishing in the gentle surf, and carry a tote bag to carry the beach's other treasures: seashells. Offering some of the best shelling in the world, Cayo Costa's powdery sand shimmers with tiny coquina shells, mosaics of broken tulip shells, fully formed lightning whelks, pastel-colored mollusks and a plethora of other species washed up on shore by gentle, lapping waves. You can get to Cayo Costa by private boat from nearby islands, such as Sanibel or Gasparilla, or hop a ferry from Pine Island, Florida. Tropic Star of Pine Island Inc. offers chartered water taxis for daylong excursions and overnight camping trips.
Palm Beach: Barbuda
The secret to keeping people off the beach is keeping people off the island. Which is why Barbuda, with only two boutique resorts & an assortment of guesthouse accommodations, is a wonderland of unexplored and underpopulated shores. Palm Beach is the pinnacle of that isolated experience. Located on a strip of land between Codrington Lagoon and Low Bay, the pink sands -- a corn-flake-like amalgamation of tiny bits of coral and seashells -- are rarely shared by more than a few people. The beach stretches the entire length of the west coast, making it the longest beach on the island and an easy place to find unoccupied space. With all that beach to yourself, what to do? Start by counting frigate birds. Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary is located off the north end of Codrington Lagoon. You can only reach the sanctuary by boat, and you're bound to see a few of the red-bellied birds soaring above the sea the closer you get to the reserve. If bird-watching isn't your beach bag, turn your eyes seaward toward the turquoise Caribbean for a boat trip or water sports. Depending on the season, the sea can be raging with waves or lake-water calm, so be sure to check local weather before heading out. Light- house Bay resort on Low Bay is a good place to use as your landmark for a day trip or as a base camp for an extended stay on Barbuda. The resort has launches to carry day and overnight guests to Palm Beach.
Maha'ulepu Beach: Kauai, Hawaii
Po'ipu beach on Kauai is a bit of a star these days. Thanks to a recent nod from the Travel Channel, snorkelers and turtle watchers flock to its golden dunes in high numbers. But if you don't mind trading surf for sand -- the water is usually too rough to swim, and there's no lifeguard on duty -- head about five miles east for a more secluded beach- going experience on the Garden Isle's south shore. Maha'ulepu Beach, where several historic battles took place (the name means "falling together"), is a 2-mile-long treasure trove of Hawaiian history, with ancient petroglyphs on the rocks nearby and a winding trail across lava formations and sand dunes to Kawelikoa Point. The historical experience of Maha'ulepu has been preserved by the Grove Farm Foundation, a private organization that owns the beach and offers access to the public during daylight hours. Part of the charm of this coast is its ruggedness although it lies close to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, you'll find yourself isolated from typical amenities. So play it safe (no daredevil dives into the rough sea), bring plenty of provisions (especially if you plan to spend a full day on the unspoiled shores) and take out what you take in (to keep those shores in their unspoiled state). Find this historical haven by following Po'ipu Road past where the pavement ends, continuing all the way to Maha'ulepu Beach. Arrange to stay in the Gillin Beach House -- a cozy three-bedroom bungalow and the beach's only accommodations -- and feel like you have Maha'ulepu all to yourself.
Pompierre Beach: Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe
You'll feel like you've stumbled onto a Caribbean gem when you reach Terre-de-Haut in the Les Saintes archipelago of Guadeloupe. And when you find Pompierre Beach, on the island's northeast coast, you'll be sure of it. The powdery sand bay isn't exactly undiscovered -- French travelers have known about this pristine lagoon for years. But wander to the palm-tree-lined shores when there isn't a ferry from Trois-Rivières or Pointe-à-Pitre in port, and you'll feel as though picturesque Pompierre (which has been called the best beach in the Caribbean) was designed especially for you. Well, you and the goats. In addition to its famously calm blue water -- courtesy of the postcard-inspiring, half-circle- shaped bay -- Pompierre is best known for its goats, which share the shore with beachgoers. These days the goats are, by law, supposed to be penned up by their owners. So if you buy lunch from a vendor on the way to the beach, your sandwich should be safe from the notoriously nosy critters. When lounging at a palm-tree-shaded picnic table gets tiresome, dip into the glassy water for a swim. Just be careful of rip currents. Reach the moon-shaped Pompierre Beach on foot, camera in hand: You can follow a paved road from the village center on a leisurely 15-minute walk. Or venture on a scenic coastal hike through the hills from one of the island's other famous beaches, Grande Anse.
Anse Parc: Frégate Island, Seychelles
The Seychelles, an archipelago east of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is famous for granite rock formations towering above deserted white-sand beaches and inky blue seas framed by swaying palm trees. Anse Parc on Frégate Island embodies this vision. The small beach lies on the west coast of this private island, which covers less than a square mile on the far west end of the archipelago and offers a microcosm of exotic flora and fauna. Explore a lush jungle of coco de mer plants and giant Banyan trees, see 14 species of birds and even meet its most popular residents, a thriving population of more than 400 wild Aldabra tortoises. In fact, part of the allure of Anse Parc is strolling the trail that leads to its sandy shores. Winding through an old copra plantation, the trail takes you on a tour of some of Frégate's most beloved attractions, including the ghostly ruins of a pirate settlement, the rare Seychelles magpie robin and the island's iconic tortoises lazing on the beach in perfect beach-bum fashion. Sink your toes into the sand (so soft it's like a memory-foam mattress) and try to count the lolling reptiles who seem to own this stretch of beach. Get as comfortable as you want; luxury-class service is only a short 10-minute walk away back at the Frégate Island Private resort. Your journey to Anse Parc starts with an exciting crossing by air. From Mahé Island, the biggest island in the Seychelles chain, board a helicopter and fly to Frégate. Once you're there, follow the tortoises southwest toward Anse Parc.
Sunset Beach: Lizard Island, Australia
When Captain Cook sailed to these shores in 1770, he noted that "the only land animals ... were lizards and these seem'd to be plenty." Thus Australia's Lizard Island was named. But if you happened upon the island today with a flag and an unmarked map, you might come up with a different name for this 4-square-mile chunk of land on the Great Barrier Reef. Quartz Island, perhaps, for the pinkish white sand made of coral and shell fragments. Or Sacred Kingfisher Landing, for the striking, blue-and-yellow birds that migrate here in the spring. Or Isle de Luxury, for the expensive villas perched just above the rocks that line the beach in a forest of eucalyptus bush. Whatever moniker you bestow on the island, you'll find that Sunset Beach is aptly named. You can watch the sun -- as it sets, moves through clouds or just hovers in the sky -- from a viewing arena reserved just for you, a backyard-size pocket of sand amid the granite boulders strewn across the shore. When you've had your fill of rays, unpack your snorkel (which you should carry with you at all times on Lizard Island for the innumerable snorkeling opportunities) and enjoy the simple ecstasy of easy and exclusive access to the world's most sought-after underwater ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef. Explore Lizard Island's private luxury by boarding a transfer flight from Cairns, Australia. Book one of the villas situated along Sunset Ridge on the west coast and walk through the bush down to Sunset Beach.