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Nothing says rest and relaxation like a vacation at the beach. However, not all beaches are created equal. Some shorelines are clogged with hotels and swamped with noisy tourists. Fortunately, there still many coastlines that are virtually untouched. From the shores of Florida to the warm waters of Australia, these 10 exquisite beaches offer unparalleled ocean views and unsullied white sands. So take a load off, take a vacation…

1. St. George Island State Park, Florida

One of the few unspoiled beaches left in Florida, St. George Island is located in the Gulf of Mexico and boasts rolling dunes, pristine white beaches, and gently undulating oat grass. Unlike many popular Florida beaches, St. George’s Island is not surrounded by excessive development, making it the perfect destination for visitors who want to relax and enjoy the calm of the ocean.

2. Hapuna Beach, Hawaii

Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, Hapuna Beach is as close to paradise on earth as mere mortals can get. If white sands and clear turquoise water aren’t enough to awe tourists and locals alike, the beach is also the perfect spot to ride the waves on a surfboard or bodyboard. Other favorite water sports include swimming and snorkeling.

3. El Nido Beach, the Philippines

Located on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, El Nido is world famous for its blanched beaches and fascinating limestone formations. El Nido is home to several low-key resorts which do their best to avoid dominating the naturally beautiful area. The beach is particularly well-known for its distinctive stilted cottages that hover invitingly over the water and offer a way for visitors to live in tune with the tides.

4. Ko Kradan, Thailand

Nestled in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Southern Thailand, Ko Kradan is far from the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s typical tourist traps. With unclouded waters and sugary beaches, Ko Kradan is a welcome haven from the stress of modern life. Ko Kradan’s thatched bungalows and laid-back lifestyle make it the perfect destination for those who want to experience pure beach life. The warm waters around the island are a popular diving spot and have become a preferred site for underwater weddings.

5. Whitehaven Beach, Australia

With all of the beautiful beaches Down Under, it can be difficult to pick just one, but Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island outstrips all of the competition. The shockingly white beach and crystalline waters will instantly overcome first-time visitors. The high water visibility in the Coral Sea allows divers and swimmers unobstructed views of the ocean floor. Best of all, the island is only a two-hour boat ride away from the Great Barrier Reef.

6. Boulder’s Beach, South Africa

South Africa’s loveliest beach sports massive granite boulders, aquamarine waters, and smooth, white sand. It is also home to an adorable colony of endangered African penguins, who delight tourists by waddling up and down protected portions of the beach. The beach’s namesake rocks provide shelter from the wind and swift currents, making it an ideal relaxation spot on South Africa’s often blustery coast.

7. Caló des Moro, Spain

The crown jewel of Spain, Caló des Moro is a beautiful sheltered cove in Majorca. Lovingly maintained by its private owners, the beach is open to public visitors. The unspoiled bay is the perfect place for swimmers to take a dip in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and attracts visitors from around the world who are anxious to see the area’s pristine beauty for themselves.

8. Baia de Sancho, Brazil

Perched on the edge of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago in Brazil, Baia de Sancho has an international reputation as one of the world’s loveliest beaches. The local ecosystem is ecologically diverse, with multiple species of tropical fish and friendly turtles greeting divers who take the plunge into the bay’s clear waters. The beach is part of the Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park and is also home to protected species of crabs, coral, and birds. Due to its remote location, Baia de Sancho is not as crowded as other famous Brazilian beaches, but it is the perfect place for tourists who are seeking a little peace.

9. Playa del Amor, Mexico

One of the most unusual beaches in the world, Playa del Amor is located in the unoccupied Marieta Islands near Puerto Vallarta. In the early 1900s, the Mexican army conducted explosives testing on the islands. In the process, they blew a large hole into the volcanic rock that covers the northern end of the easternmost island, revealing a beautiful beach only accessible by swimmers at low tide. Although the Mexican government restricted access to the islands in 2016, small numbers of swimmers are permitted to visit this unique beach daily.

10. Race Point Beach, Cape Cod

The inspiration for legions of painters, Race Point Beach lies on the end of Cape Cod. Made up of windswept dunes sprinkled with beachgrass, bayberry shrubs, and wild cranberries, Race Point is protected by the federal government as part of Cape Cod National Seashore. The beach is a popular destination for hikers and bicyclists who can traverse the region’s many trails and take in the area’s natural beauty. Race Point Beach is also home to the picturesque 19th-century lighthouse, Race Point Light, a historical landmark that is still in operation.

While virgin sands and unsullied shores may be few and far between, there are beaches that have mostly resisted commercialization. Whether they are in hidden tropical paradises or part of strictly protected land, these beautiful beaches provide a sanctuary from the overcrowded seaside.

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Give Your Courtyard a New Look

We all love our outdoor patios, but sometimes a courtyard can be an awkward space. Typically surrounded by 2-3 exterior walls, it can be hard to know how to use it, and so we tend to forget about these lovely little outdoor spaces. But maybe it’s time to give it an overhaul. It will add value to your home and just might become your new favorite hangout.

Here are the top ten ways to give your courtyard a new look and make it a part of your home that you can be proud of:

1: A good clean up. An untidy courtyard offers little in the way of stylish comfort and relaxation. Weedy garden plots, neglected plants and grubby tiles will all respond to a little loving care. This may be all you need to get your courtyard on the way to glory. If there is clutter in your courtyard, you can hide it out of sight in storage space disguised as seating.

2: Disguise the ugly spots. It’s easy to hide unattractive brickwork. You can put up a trellis and train flowering climbers to grow over it, or you arrange trees and shrubs in elegant pots to hide it. If you don’t want too much greenery to look after, try a mural painted on the brickwork or on a weatherproof board. Bamboo makes an excellent disguise for ugly bricks – either grow it against the wall or use bamboo screens.

3: Make an outdoor table setting. Courtyards are meant to be used, and there is nothing better that enjoying coffee in your own outdoor café setting. You can choose from a wide range of tables and chairs to suit your décor, from wrought iron to sleek modern designs. If your courtyard has no shade, you can add a wide umbrella to keep the sun off. Set a couple of pot plants near the table setting for extra chic.

4: Choose a theme and follow your dream. Perhaps you long to live near the beach, wallow in a tropical oasis or live in a country cottage? While you are waiting, let your courtyard reflect your dream. A mural can give you an ocean view, and you can fill your courtyard with shells and other treasures that remind you of the ocean. Used bleached wood for seating and decking, and decorate with white ropes and driftwood. Fill your courtyard with lush palms and delicious tropical flowers for your oasis, and add coconut matting and a palm frond umbrella. For a country cottage look, build up flower beds or pots with good soil and grow beautiful English flowers, Decorate with old fashioned garden ornaments like sun dials and bird baths.

5: Add a water feature. Your imagination is the limit here. Do you want one wall to become your water feature, lit up at night so the rivulets sparkle, or would you prefer a fountain, or a small pond with gold fish? A water feature will give a city courtyard the feeling of the outdoors, and adds tranquility and movement to your outdoor space. Plan the rest of your courtyard around the water feature and you will have the perfect spot to escape the city’s bustle and relax when you come home.

6: Furnish for comfort and style. You should regard your courtyard as another room and furnish accordingly. A deep hammock piled with cushions might be just the ticket for relaxing with a book, or perhaps you would prefer a day bed under a shelter or gazebo, where you can lounge with a bowl of fresh fruit and a pile of magazines? Weatherproof fabrics make luxurious furnishings an easy choice for the modern courtyard. If you want to keep it simple, deck chairs and banana lounges will suit a small space and can be folded up when you need more room.

7: Create sound. Hang wind chimes in the branches of any tree, or from your pergola or gazebo. Bamboo cut at different lengths and hung from another piece of bamboo with fishing line makes a stunning wind chime. Old spoons and other pieces of cutlery, shells, lengths of aluminum and crystals can also be used to make wind chimes that will fill your courtyard with tinkling sound.

8: Entertain a lot. Have a BBQ installed, and a small bar. If you want to keep it simple, you can have a hibachi, or a Chinese steamboat. The steamboat gives a great party atmosphere where guests can dip pieces of meat, shellfish and vegetables into steaming hot broth to create their own meals. Nothing makes your courtyard more attractive than the laughter of friends.

9: Think of your décor. Don’t just crowd stuff in, plan your courtyard carefully as you would a room in your house. Get paint swatches from the store, leaf through catalogues, block out your design elements on graph paper. Choose a color scheme that complements the room that leads out to your courtyard, or that provides the right setting for your chosen features, such as plants, water feature or furniture. Remember that the courtyard will be exposed to the elements, so be sure to choose materials that will survive all weathers.

10: Make it productive. Even a small courtyard can hold an herb patch, a couple of fruit trees and a little vegetable plot. Climbing beans and peas are excellent vegetable choices for courtyards, fruit trees can be grown in pots, and strawberries and herbs can spill out of hanging pots. One of the nicest things you can do is pop outside to gather a handful of fresh ingredients for your kitchen, and herbs will not only add fragrance to your courtyard, they will help keep insects at bay if you choose the right ones.

Gail Kavanagh 2007

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