Off-the-Radar Beach Retreats

By: Melissa Biggs Bradley, Courtesy of Indagare

In my years of traveling, I have seen a lot of beaches, yet my love for them has not waned. Beaches evoke escape and serenity and romance and childhood’s happiest moments—so many things of beauty but they can also disappoint with crowds or over-development. I have been lucky enough to sample beaches on six continents, and as everyone does, I have my favorites that I return to and also the blow-me-away ones that I probably won’t see again but will never forget. I was recently asked to name a dozen fabulous and lesser known beach getaways.


Brazilians don’t like to talk about Angra dos Reis with foreigners; they prefer that their paradise to remain a hidden secret. The archipelago, with more than 2,000 beaches and comprised of 365 islands, is one of the last unspoiled beauties in the world. I describe it as a bit like the coast of Maine except in the tropics because there are dozens of tiny islands, some with private houses and some with just a restaurant. You spend your days boating to surf beaches or snorkel spots or to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and colonial town of Paraty.

Getting There: Angra dos Reis is a two-and-a-half hour drive south of Rio, or a thirty-minute helicopter ride.

Who Should Go: The off-the-beaten path region is a perfect fit for intrepid travelers who like to be ahead of the crowds. Renting a villa is the most luxurious way to experience the islands, so it can be a fun destination for families or a group of friends.



This sexy Mallorcan property opened a few years ago and is now the only five-star resort on the island where the Spanish royal family spends its summer holidays. The island itself has long attracted artists and writers and has rural areas and sleepy villages as well as a very sophisticated crowd who own lovely villas. Housed in a former military fortress, Cap Rocat feels a world away from the main town of Palma, encouraging blissful isolation but close to shopping and lots of restaurants.

Getting There: There are flights from most European capitals to Palma de Mallorca airport. The resort is a 20-minute drive away.

Who Should Go: Cap Rocat is an ideal romantic escape for couples; children are not allowed.



Few people know about Guana Island, one of the last privately owned islands in the Caribbean. It is located in the British Virgin Islands and the owners are a fascinating family who are committed to maintaining the island’s ecosystem and have brought back many expatriated species. The island is one of the last unstudied ecosystems in the Caribbean. Guests stay in lovely simple cottages; family-style meals are served in the main house. The island is great for a takeover for people who love nature and simple living. It has a roughly 30:1 ratio of acres to guest.

Getting There: Flights arrive into Tortola, and then you take a 10-minute boat ride to Guana.

Who Should Go: Low-key couples that want to get away from it all, while still having an active vacation.



Originally built as an Amanresort, Imanta is a hideaway on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Hidden at the end of a dirt road, the property has only a dozen rooms. Its newly unveiled Treehouse is one of the best honeymoon spots in North America. The hippie-chic accommodation, which was built as the owner’s residence, is tucked away a mile from the main resort, and is almost entirely without walls, floating as it is in the tree boughs. The villa comes with its own private beach, a spring-fed pool and private chef. And for those who don’t need quite so much privacy, the casas at the main resort are great choices.

Getting There: Flights arrive into Puerto Vallarta airport. Imanta is an hour-drive away.

Who Should Go: Travelers drawn to the beauty and surf of the Pacific coast who want an intimate boutique hotel experience. The hilly property is not suitable for those with mobility issues.



The beach town of José Ignacio has been called the Hamptons of South America or been compared to Montauk or St. Barth’s of twenty years ago—with a hint of Latin flair. It has long been on the radar of Brazilians and Argentinians, but the Vik family (who live between Greenwich and Monaco but have Uruguayan roots) have created three five-star hotels that have brought the region to the attention of choosy travelers. There is Estancia Vik, Playa Vik and the newest is a third, art-centric property, Bahia Vik, which boasts a hot-spot restaurant and some of the best beachfront bungalows in town.

Getting There: With no time change between the east coast and José Ignacio, guests arrive from an overnight flight without any jet lag. Flights arrive into either Punta del Este (via Buenos Aires) or Montevideo (via Miami). José Ignacio is a forty- or ninety-minute drive away, respectively.

Who Should Go: Chic travelers and families who appreciate elevated design but a low-key, barefoot beach vibe.



The former private island of Malcolm Forbes in Fiji was bought a few years ago by the founder of Red Bull. He intended to keep it as a private paradise but, thankfully for us, he decided to share it and I would argue it is probably the most amazing resort/hotel in the world today. The 3,200-acre private island has twenty-five residences, including some on the beach, others high in the hills and others over water, which allow you to dive right out of your front door. Some residences are a mile away from the others for maximum privacy. There is a world-class golf course and a fleet of boats. In fact, it is the only resort in the world with a recreational submarine; the two-seat Super Falcon submersible can dive to depths of 400-feet, so guests can explore the South Pacific waters without getting wet.

Getting There: From the US the easiest way to get to Laucala is to fly to Nadi and then they will send their small plane for a forty-minute transfer, but you can also fly via New Zealand.

Who Should Go: Laucala is the perfect spot for honeymooners or couples celebrating a special romantic milestone, but it is also great for families who travel in high style, but who don’t like to sacrifice hands-on experience with adventure along the way.



Another what I call passion project or hotel opened by an individual with a clear vision is the just-opened Playa Grande, which was founded by the decorator Celerie Kemble and her husband. They found a gorgeous stretch of beach in the Dominican Republic and have put together a small resort that boasts the decorator’s seriously stylish beach aesthetic in a boutique experience along with resort amenities. The original 2,000-acre plot of land that the couple bought has since been parceled out into a golf club, an Aman in development (due to open in 2016), but there remains miles of virgin, wide beach. With only nine bungalows (6 one-bedroom and 3 three-bedroom stand-alone villas, the property feels less like a hotel and more like a country club, as they are tucked amidst immaculate jungle landscaping and never far from the main buildings. The predominant structure resembles a plantation house, with gingerbread filigree, hand-painted Dominican tiles, cane and wicker furniture and particularly special burnished copper light fixtures hanging from cathedral ceilings.

Getting There: The closest airports to Playa Grande are Samana (a one-hour drive to the east) and Puerto Plata (a one-hour drive to the west), but more flights fly into the capital, Santo Domingo, a two-hour drive away on mostly good roads.

Who Should Go:The most personalized, special property on the Dominican Republic is laid-back, but is sure to appeal to couples and families alike. Guests of Playa Grande, however, need to be able to survive without a spa or gym onsite.



Further afield and much harder to reach but also a passion project is Nihiwatu. The property on the Indonesian island of Sumba was a long time surfer’s mecca but it was recently taken over by Chris Burch (co-founder of Tory Burch). He has committed to upgrading the eco property but keeping a focus on the preserving the local community and landscape. Visitors get access to “The Wave,” one of the best surfing spots in the world, and the eco-friendly hotel doubles as a charity; the Sumba Foundation aims to eradicate Malaria from the island and 90% of its funding comes from Nihiwatu guests.

Getting There: Guests fly into Bali and then take a one-hour connecting flight to Sumba (most depart in the early morning, so an overnight in Bali is often required).

Who Should Go: Surfers and philanthropic travelers.



Mozambique is an African country that has emerged from a period of strife and now has a handful of luxury hotels cropping up but the most incredible one hands down is Vamizi island. It is one of the first and most spectacular resorts off its African coast, set on an island about seven miles long and a fraction of that wide. Turtle nests can be found along the soft, white sand beaches and the snorkeling and scuba diving are world-renowned. Unfortunately, development in both tourism and industry are flooding into Mozambique so I encourage beach lovers to go soon while it remains pristine.

Getting There: International flights arrive into Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Pemba, Mozambique. Vamizi offers flight transfers from these airports to the island on certain days of the week.

Who Should Go: Honeymooners or couples looking for a far-flung escape, where island time is the only time.



Lord Howe Island, a small island at the very bottom edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The result of underwater volcanic activity, the remote island is a World Heritage site and comprise a completely unique ecosystem; 70% of the island is untouched and it boasts a number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. I took my kids there a few years ago because in March most of the GBR is in the rainy and stinger season, but Lord Howe is far enough south to be great for snorkeling and diving. There is one luxury lodge called Capella on the island, but it is a real barefoot luxury spot where you ride bikes to the beaches and the hotel comes and delivers food for you to do your own Barbie on the beach.

Getting There: The main island is a two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane.

Who Should Go: Outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore the islands’ unique topography. The bird-watching is some of the best in the world.



Tetiora Island in French Polynesia was actor Marlon Brando’s private paradise for many years but after his death his family has turned it into an eco resort with a mission to protect its marine life and pristine beauty. It opened last year with 35 villas, which range from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. The entire island is a natural reserve and guests can take part in tons of water activities but also go out on field trips with the scientists working on the island including one of Brando’s granddaughters.

Getting There: You get there by flying from LA to Papete in Tahiti and then taking a small private plane.

Who Should Go: Great for couples and families.



Still in development, the Pink Sands Club is a new resort on the island of Canouan in the Grenadines. The closest well-known islands are Barbados and Mustique and this property promises to be a mix of both of them. Currently there is a great golf course and some villas built but the owners of Sandy Lane on Barbados are slated to build a world class hotel to complement them.

Getting There: Most people fly to Barbados or Grenada and then connect to Canouan.

Who Should Go: People who love to play golf or fish and want to be first at the next great spot in the Caribbean.


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