Váï

For an exotic Caribbean vibe – this is where Mars’s “taste of paradise” Bounty bar advert was filmed in the early 1970s. Also known as Finikodassos (Palm Forest), this gently curving golden sand beach is backed by Europe’s largest natural palm grove – some 500 densely clustered trees in an oasis fed by a stream – which have stood here for more than 3,000 years. According to (spurious) legend, the palms grew from date stones discarded by Saracen pirates and washed up by the sea. They are, in fact, a species of palm (Phoenix theophrasti) native to much of southern Greece and known to the ancients. Happily, they seem to be immune to the depredations of the Rhyncophorus  ferrugineus weevil which has killed most of Greece’s other palms – the trees here secrete a goo which envelops and suffocates the creatures.

Who goes?

A happy hippy enclave during the 1960s, Váï was later invaded by backpackers and rapidly degenerated into a rubbish-strewn campground. The palm grove was consequently proclaimed a conservation area and camping forbidden. Today, in high season (July to August) the beach is packed with predominantly north European tour groups from nearby resorts. More laid-back, independent travellers roll up here from May to June and September to October.

What is there to do?

Hire a sunbed and straw umbrella then take to the water with a snorkel. Jet skis and windsurfing equipment are available for rent. After the beach, visit Toploú Monastery (Apr-Oct daily, 9am–7pm, winter Fri only), a 15th-century fortified retreat, housing a fine collection of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons. The largest landowner in the region, Toplou counts Váï Beach among its properties.

Bars and bites

Facilities on the beach include a sprawling Greek taverna and snack bar, plus several fast-food kiosks in the nearby car park. Infinitely more inspiring, a 10-minute drive south in the hillside village of Angathiás, is Taverna Angistri (aka Nikolas O Psaras; 0030 28430 61598), purveying some of the freshest and most keenly priced fish around. The views from the terrace over Koureménos and Hióna beaches are magnificent. 
 Just downhill from Angathiás, at Hióna beach, are three more full-service tavernas – Kakavia is fine.

Getting there

From the popular north coast resort of Sitía, public buses run several times daily to Váï (14 miles/23km distant) near the island’s northeastern tip. From Váï’s car park (€3 fee charged), it’s a 2-minute stroll to the beach.

Paleóhora

Arguably the best beach on the southwest coast – or rather two beaches, bracketing the lively resort here: long, sandy Pahiá Ámmos stretching west, and compact, all-pebbly Halikiá on the east.