Affordable Beach Resorts


There's nothing like a hotel by the sea – especially when it costs less than $300 a night. T+L sent correspondents around the globe, from the tiny undiscovered island of Holbox, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, to the shores of New Zealand's South Island. What we found: 25 perfect escapes.



BROOME, WA
$230

The endless turquoise strip of Broome's Cable Beach is the raison d'etre for The Pearle (14 Millington Road, Broome, WA; 08 9194 0900; thepearle.com.au) but, as with most places here, it isn't on the beachfront. Fortunately there are rewards for staying put. Many of the apartments have private lap pools, and the resort pool is a classy blue oblong overlooked by the excellent Cafe at The Pearle. The biggest apartments are heralded by impressive, oversized recycled teak doors, behind which the first "room" is outdoors, complete with barbecue, garden and decking. Stone and stainless steel sets the tone indoors. It's roomy, low key and there's all the mod cons to go with the king bed and soaker shower head. Or just switch off and open the louvres, the better to smell the sea air.

WHAT TO DO Walk to beautiful Cable Beach. You'll work up a thirst, but the astonishing king tides and sunsets with camel train silhouettes are worth it.


MARGARET RIVER, WA
$220

It's not as cheap and cheerful as the caravan park it replaced, but Smiths Beach Resort (Lot 2, Smiths Beach Road, Yallingup, WA; 08 9750 1200; smithsbeachresort.com.au) has kept a "beach shack" feel. If you baulk at the eight-berth beach houses' lofty tariff, rest easy – you can also access the beach, pool and Bouzy champagne bar from a two-bedroom self-contained pod. There's less space to flick towels and no ocean views, but the elegant styling is intact.

WHAT TO DO Get picnic supplies from the in-house gourmet store and bottle shop en route to the beach or forest. The Cape to Cape walk trail is right at your doorstep.


MERIMBULA, NSW
$163

Coast Resort's (1 Elizabeth Street, Merimbula, NSW; 02 6495 4930; coastresort.com.au) white cubes designed by Monckton Fyfe form an eye-catching bridge between the sapphire waters of the beach and the serene gloss of the lake in the NSW South Coast town of Merimbula. The 4.5-star development's two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouse suites are a standout from the town's otherwise dated accommodation options. Smeg appliances, outdoor entertaining areas and crisp linen complement stunning water views from the floor-to-ceiling windows (but note: the ocean views are reduced to glimpses on the ground floor). The hoards of seachangers who have transformed towns all along the coast – drawing artisan bakeries, delis and boutiques to their newfound homes – are yet to influence this beautiful spot 471 kilometres from Sydney. So expect a holiday where pleasure will be found in the simplicity of catching a wave, exploring national parks or tracking the lake's edge via a boardwalk in the still of the early morning.

WHAT TO DO Feast on oysters every which-way on the relaxed deck of the on-site restaurant at Wheelers oyster farm or grab a dozen from its adjoining shop for your own private party.


MOLLYMOOK, NSW
$230

Bannisters Point Lodge (191 Mitchell Parade, Molly-mook, NSW; 02 4455 3044; www.bannisterspointlodge.com.au) is propped on a South Coast headland in a town that attracts both surfers and migrating whales. The past four years have seen the property updated from a 1970s motel – it now offers its guests an infinity pool, an outdoor cocktail lounge and a spa that specialises in hot-rock therapies. The 31 rooms are done up in rattan furnishings; balconies overlook eucalyptus trees and the ocean. Just a five-minute stroll down the hill is the white sand of Mollymook Beach. For the best views at the hotel, head to the private outdoor spa on a deck above the clifftop.

WHAT TO DO Weekend markets in Milton, four kilometres north, feature antiques and crafts.


KILLCARE, NSW
$250

Less than 90 minutes north of Sydney, the tranquil villages of Hardy's Bay and Pretty Beach remain largely unscathed by modernisation. While covetable private weekenders abound in this neck of the NSW Central Coast, stylish accommodation has always been scarce. Bells at Killcare (107 The Scenic Road, Killcare, NSW; 02 4360 2411; killcarebells.com.au), a boutique resort at Killcare Heights, is changing that.

Major refurbishment to the dated, but beautifully situated, Bells resort has seen the addition of a spectacular restaurant show-casing the skills of executive chef Stefano Manfredi, who blends northern Italian heritage with a contemporary Australian approach. Breezy, beachy, blue and white decor extends from the main building through to supremely comfortable self-contained cottages peppered around the leafy grounds.

While weekend tariffs are a little expensive, midweek deals – particularly dinner, bed and breakfast packages – offer great value. After indulging in stracci pasta with rabbit ragu, stuffed calamari and a wickedly rich Amedei chocolate truffle ball, you'll be glad you only have to walk a few paces to your room.

WHAT TO DO Explore Bouddi National Park, just across the road from Bells. Reception has a brochure detailing 17 routes, including a five-kilometre circuit down to Maitland Bay, named after an 1898 shipwreck that claimed 24 lives. Other walks continue along the coastline past small, secluded beaches amid eucalypts, angophoras and burrawangs. Or hire a dinghy from Hardy's Bay for waterborne exploration.


MISSION BEACH, QUEENSLAND
$240

Unspoiled white beaches, shimmering aqua waters and towering rainforest have long drawn peace-seekers to idyllic Mission Beach on Queensland's far north coast. Fortunately, empathy with its unique charms has seen development occur at a protective pace (after all, there are endangered cassowaries to look after). In keeping with that spirit, the arrival of 4.5-star Elandra Resort (Explorer Drive, Mission Beach, Queensland; 1800 079 090 Australia or 07 4068 8154 New Zealand; elandraresorts.com) at isolated South Mission Beach has involved stylishly transforming an existing resort. Its 55 rooms and suites nestle unobtrusively into the landscape. The public areas are centred around a curvaceous pool, offering mesmerising views across to Dunk Island, just four kilometres offshore. Swish white decor coupled with a stunning mix of artefacts from Indonesia, Africa and India features in both the chic cocktail and restaurant areas as well as guestrooms (think pressed metal bedside tables, chandeliers adorned with antlers, and rustic wooden doors). Food follows a similarly global path with Middle Eastern flavours (zaatar, dukkah) alongside fresh seafood and the locally inspired sugar cane and crocodile koftas. Thumbs up for the in-room "treasure chest" which trumps the usual minibar, offering everything from the practical (sunscreen kits and anti-bug balm) to the indulgent (choc-coated berries and wildberry and nougat slice).

WHAT TO DO Tired of lazing on oversized sunlounges? Charter a boat (tinny, kayak or catamaran) at South Mission Beach, or snorkel the outer reef.


AWAROA BAY, NEW ZEALAND
$208

When he created the isolated Awaroa Lodge (Awaroa Bay; +64 3 528 8758; awaroalodge.co.nz), leading Kiwi architect Ian Athfield was inspired by the classic New Zealand bach (weekend cottage). Set deep within the Abel Tasman National Park, the 26-room ecolodge is in harmony with the outdoors: earth-toned interiors, recycled-driftwood bannisters, balconies overlooking wetlands that teem with native birds (including rare white herons). The golden, iron-ore-laced sands of Awaroa Bay are a two-minute walk through the bush. To get to the hotel, you can take a plane, helicopter or boat, but the least expensive way is via a water taxi from the Abel Tasman National Park entrance at Marahau (aquataxi.co.nz; one-way fare $33).

WHAT TO DO The 51-kilometre Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which runs past the lodge, makes for a great hike.


CHA-AM, THAILAND
$205

A formidable marble staircase framed by a Jenga-like entry in naturally aged wood leaves you in no doubt about the intentions at Alila Cha-Am (115 Moo 7, Tambol Bangkao, Amphur Cha-Am, Petchaburi; +66 32 709 555; alilahotels.com/chaam). Sophisticated, thoughtful design underpins the resort, which is two-and-a-half hours by road from Bangkok and 26 kilometres from its busy neighbour, Hua Hin Beach. A focus on privacy sees charming, understated touches: garden hideaways, couples' cabanas and reflection pools. Inside the 79 rooms, a Thai touch infiltrates furnishings and fabrics, and a capacious rain shower gives a euphoric edge to bathroom time. Cool daytime hangout The Red becomes yet cooler after dark. You can even get an evening spa treatment after a hard day's luxury at the adjoining Chill Pool. Beyond the resort, the crisp white beach – Thailand's longest – has a proliferation of seafood eateries. Or stay cosseted in Clouds Loft, Alila's fine diner.

WHAT TO DO If you tire of the on-site splendour, watersports and cycling are on offer, or visit the nearby summer palace of King Rama VI.


KUI BURI, THAILAND
$100

An hour's drive south of royal resort town Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand is X2 Kui Buri (52 Moo 13, Ao Noi sub-district, Muang District, Prachuap Khiri Khan; +66 32 601 412; x2resorts.com), the latest in a string of boutique resorts to occupy this up-and-coming coastline. Its remoteness is alluring – surrounding fishing villages and national parks offer a glimpse into rural Thailand without having to rough it. Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag teamed local wood with stone to create 24 villas, scattered among huge old tamarind trees that provide respite from the midday heat. Rooms are dramatic, with granite walls and ceiling-to-floor glass doors opening onto courtyards, 19 with plunge pools (sadly not private enough to skinny-dip). Inside, rooms are dressed with plantation timbers, Thai cotton and stools fashioned from tree trunks. Book a beach-facing room to wake to the surf. An in-house spa offers treatments with freshly harvested ingredients – coconut body scrubs and seaweed masks.

WHAT TO DO Explore Kui Buri and Sam Roy Rod National Parks – the latter means "300 hilltops". Spot wild elephants, gibbons, tapirs and migratory birds. Or visit the granite Huay Dong Ma Fai waterfall and its swimming hole. The resort will pack you a picnic lunch.


PHANG NGA, THAILAND
$190

The Aleenta (33 Moo 5 Khokkloy, Takuathung; 1800 251 958 Australia or 0800 441 098 New Zealand; aleenta.com) is a cluster of sugar-cube rooms tumbling down to an expanse of golden sand in Phang Nga, the undeveloped coastline north of Phuket Island. The second hotel by Thai Anchalika Kijkanakorn (her first is in Pranburi, south of Bangkok) mixes sleek local design with superb views over the azure Andaman Sea. Spare, without being minimal, the rooms have polished concrete floors, Jacuzzis and access to a pool – shared by the duplex suites (beachfront villas have their own). Book room 102 for uninterrupted views of the beach.

The Chef's Table (dinner for two, without wine, $180), a changing-daily five-course degustation menu starting with a glass of Champagne and ending with the perfect cheesecake. If the food doesn't wow you, the artwork will – a rotating collection by gallery Soul of Asia, with works by Asian artists like Zhang Xiao-gang. Work it all off the next day with a complimentary exercise class: yoga, Thai boxing or beach walking.

WHAT TO DO Venture into Phuket Town's charming old quarter, a rickety collection of colonial mansions and Sino-Portuguese shop houses built during the island's halcyon days as a tin-mining town. Stop in at meticulously restored China Inn Café (20 Thalang Road; +66 76 356 239) for Peranakan cuisine and regional collectibles.


GOA, INDIA
$189

In 2003, Mumbai fashion photographer Denzil Sequeira opened up his ancestral compound, Elsewhere (Goa; +91 932 602 0701; aseascape.com; minimum one-week stay), to paying guests. Four colonial beach houses and three candy-coloured tents sit at the water's edge; for the most affordable option, book the latter, outfitted with a muslin-draped four-poster bed, modern bathroom, private lanai (porch) and your own wooden pier. The hotel is set in a forest of coconut trees on a hidden spit sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and a saltwater creek, near the former Portuguese port of Goa.

WHAT TO DO Ask manager Vinod Pednekar to arrange an afternoon dolphin cruise with local fishermen, or check out the innumerable starfish that wash up on nearby Mandrem Beach.


THOM KHAN KEP, CAMBODIA
$185

A former resort town for socialites and dignitaries who built opulent holiday villas here, Kep's serenity was wrecked when it was sacked by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Decades of fighting left the genteel seaside village a ghost town, the burnt-out ruins of art deco mansions reclaimed by the jungle. These days Kep is reinventing itself as Cambodia's new Riviera, a gentler escape from the flashy casinos in nearby Sihanoukville. The trend got a boost with the opening of Knai Bang Chatt (Phum Thmey Sangkat Prey, Thom Khan Kep, Kep City; +85 5 1287 9486; knaibangchatt.com), three brightly coloured '50s and '60s villas restored by Axel Vervoordt, son of legendary Belgian interior designer Boris. Highlighting the jazzy concrete facades, Vervoordt kept interiors simple with Cambodian antiques and blue and white linen against rich local timbers. The property originally opened as an all-inclusive villa but was recently transformed into an 11-room hotel with a waterfront restaurant. The rocky beach isn't suitable for swimming – cool off in the pool instead, or have a massage under the shade of a four-poster sala. Next door, a blue fisherman's hut has been converted into a boat club and bar. Steal a table on the deck for a legendary sunset.

WHAT TO DO Take a boat to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) where you can snorkel in clear water or snack on fresh-caught calamari and crab – a bargain for $5 a plate. Go while you have it to yourself; Rabbit Island, and scores of others in this Cambodian archipelago, is tagged for mass tourism development.


PHU QUOC, VIETNAM
$145

The palm-fringed isle of Phu Quoc is one of Asia's most buzzed-about destinations, and La Veranda Resort & Spa (Tran Hung Dao Street, Duong Dong Beach; +84 77 398 2988; laverandaresort.com) is one reason why. The poshest of Phu Quoc's dozen hotels and guesthouses, this intimate 43-room resort sports yellow exteriors, whitewashed louvres and tropical gardens, recalling a colonial plantation. Deluxe villas are the best choice for sea-facing porches and spacious bathrooms. There's a good restaurant, lively bar and modest spa, but the real draw is the location: a 19-kilometre stretch of soft sand. Swim out to the pontoon and doze to gentle afternoon swells, or indulge in a $5 surfside massage. Next door, the Palm Tree restaurant (Bai Truong; no phone; dinner for two $16) serves grilled seafood from dawn to late. But better go soon as an impending development boom will soon bring mega-resorts and cruise ships to this impossibly quiet island.

WHAT TO DO The concierge can arrange snorkelling or diving in the An Thoi archipelago, as well as nighttime squid-fishing trips.


CANDIDASA, BALI
$180

Health and nature buffs flock to the rugged, volcanic-sand shore of Alila Manggis (Desa Buitan, Manggis Karangasem, Candidasa; +62 3 634 1011; alilahotels.com), an hour east of touristy Kuta's nightclubs and adjacent to Mount Agung, an active volcano considered Bali's most sacred peak. All 56 rooms face the Bali Sea and overlook a lush central garden with coconut trees and frangipani – the setting for the resort's free daily yoga sessions (all levels welcome). The rooms are set in two-storey thatched houses that surround a palm-fringed pool.

WHAT TO DO Dive at the Blue Lagoon, a reef just 15 minutes away. You'll come face-to-face with scorpion fish, turtles and white-tip sharks. More adventurous types can trek up Mount Agung – a four-hour climb.


CALIFORNIA, USA
$140

The floral prints and canopy beds at the Sea View Inn (Camino Real, Carmel; +1 831 624 8778; seaviewinncarmel.com) are a little frilly, but the draw here is the hospitality: fireside breakfasts and tea in the garden. The eight-room Victorian bungalow lives up to its name; it's only steps from a broad beach on the Monterey Peninsula. Try to book Room 7 as it has the largest windows and lovely garden views.

WHAT TO DO Go on an art buying (or just looking) spree in town – Carmel has more than 100 galleries within the 2.6-square-kilometre centre.


HAWAII, USA
$186

Tucked among the pricey resorts of Hawaii's southern Kohala Coast is one of the Big Island's best-kept secrets: a tiny village with access to prime snorkelling and surfing beaches. The Puako Bed & Breakfast (25 Puako Beach Drive, Big Island; +1 808 882 1331; bigisland-bedbreakfast.com) is as low-key as its location; host and hula performer-instructor Punahele Andrade has outfitted the four guestrooms with tropical furniture and bright Hawaiian quilts. After a breakfast of Belgian waffles, Hawaiian sweetbread and Kona coffee, the rugged black-lava and white-coral beach beckons. For pristine, sandier stretches, head to Beach 69, in the Hapuna Beach State Park.

WHAT TO DO Visit the ancient Petroglyphs at Puako. Take a horseback tour of the 60,700-hectare Parker Ranch in Waimea, 32 kilometres away. This stunning property is a working ranch with historic homesteads, manicured gardens, cattle country and elevated ocean vistas.


HOLBOX ISLAND, MEXICO
$190

Holbox (pronounced "Ole-bosh") is a tiny spit off the Yucatán Peninsula. At the chic 16-room CasaSandra Hotel (Calle Igualdad; +52 984 875 2171; casasandra.com), Cuban-born owner and artist Sandra Pérez wanted the property to feel more like a residence. So she spread CasaSandra out over five buildings and filled each of the spaces with one-of-a-kind regional pieces: rough-cut antique wooden tables from Guadalajara, rattan furniture, hand-woven linens and bath products. Outside, palapas (open-sided beach huts with palm-thatched roofs) dot the sand, and the azure water's edge is 50 uninterrupted steps away. The hotel arranges fishing excursions with CasaSandra's chef, Félix Diaz, who will prepare your catch for dinner.

WHAT TO DO From June to August, Holbox is one of the few places in the world where you can swim alongside harmless whale sharks – the largest known fish in the world. Holbox Tours & Travel (+52 984 875 2173; holboxwhalesharktours.com; $90) runs six-hour tours that guarantee time in the water with these gentle giants.


CONCARNEAU, FRANCE
$165

Near the fortified port town of Concarneau, Les Sables Blancs (45 Rue des Sables Blancs; +33 2 98 50 10 12; hotel-les-sables-blancs.com) presides over an unspoiled strip of sand. The hotel opened about a year ago, and has a mod, minimalist look, with bright orange chairs on a vast lantern-lit bar terrace where guests gather at night. Most of the 20 rooms have sea views from the bed and sliding doors onto private balconies. Le Nautile, the on-site restaurant, is known for creative seafood dishes like squid sautéed with bacon and cocoa beans.

WHAT TO DO On a clear day you can see Les Glénans, an uninhabited archipelago called "the Tahiti of Brittany". The hotel arranges day trips by boat to its largest island, which has a dive school and pristine beaches.


SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN
$210

The 65-room Hotel Codina (21 Avda. Zumalacárregui, San Sebastián; +34 94 321 2200; hotelcodina.es) was revamped in July 2006 from an outdated hotel to a stylish business-meets-beach haven. Rooms have free wi-fi (a rarity in Spain), sleek wooden furniture and oversized windows. The hotel is only a few metres from the half-moon cove of Ondarreta Beach. For the best beach views, ask for a room with a patio on the north-facing corner of the seventh floor.

WHAT TO DO Picnic in the royal gardens of Palacio de Miramar, Queen María Christina's old haunt, overlooking the ocean.


ISCHIA, ITALY
$210

On the volcanic island of Ischia – famous for hot springs and therapeutic mud – near Lacco Ameno, sits the Hotel della Baia (Lacco Ameno; +39 081 986 398; www.negombo.it), a chic 21-room inn. An outdoor bar is surrounded by bougainvillea and lime trees; first-floor rooms' garden terraces overlook San Montano Bay and a private beach. Negombo Park, located across the road, has 14 outdoor geothermal pools of varying sizes and temperatures, scattered over a rocky hillside.

WHAT TO DO Visit the Museo Archeologico di Pithecusae in Lacco Ameno. The museum houses ancient artefacts, including the Coppa di Nestore (mentioned in Homer's Iliad), from the ancient Greek settlement of Pithecusae.


ATHENS, GREECE
$175

The seven-storey Poseidon Hotel (72 Possidonos Avenue, Athens; +30 210 987 2000; poseidonhotel.com.gr) rises above a winding stretch of coastline between Athens and Cape Sounio, home to the Temple of Poseidon. The 88 rooms are stylishly sparse: pale wood furniture, crisp white bed linen. Terraces along the eastern side of the hotel look across the road to hip Edem Beach, dotted with the resort's white umbrellas and lounge chairs. Sip retsina at the rooftop restaurant as the sun sets over the Saronic Gulf.

WHAT TO DO The hotel is five minutes away from the Alimos and Trocadero marinas, where you can rent a boat to Aegina to see the ancient Aphaia Temple.


OLUDENIZ, TURKEY
$190

Built in the style of a seaman's manor, Oyster Residences (Ölüdeniz, +90 252 617 0765; oysterresidences.com) evokes the town's quaint traditional architecture with its stone walls and an olive tree-shaded courtyard. But the real treat is the attentive staff, known to leave flowers on your balcony. The hotel accesses a one-kilometre-plus expanse of ivory sand and a turquoise lagoon on a tiny inlet along a rugged stretch of the Turkish Riviera. Book rooms on the ground floor, which have garden terraces that open up to the pool and courtyard.

WHAT TO DO Visit the town of Kayaköy, where hundreds of abandoned Greek-style houses are said to have inspired the novel Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.


KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA
$295

Robinson Crusoe fantasies meet environmental sensitivity at South Africa's Thonga Beach Lodge (Mabibi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal; +27 35 474 1473; isibindiafrica.co.za). Inspired by traditional Thongan fishing villages, there's an understated luxury here. Think thatched roofs, wide decks, mosquito nets, candlelit beach dining and cocktails under the Mdoni trees. Accommodation is designed for minimal impact on the environment and maximum exploitation of views. Mud-stone-toned ensuite bedrooms look out over dune forest or Mabibi Bay.

The lodge is the only commercial venture in the World Heritage-listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

WHAT TO DO Snorkel, dive, swim and bird watch. Or ogle giant leatherback and loggerhead turtles in nesting season (November to March).


DE KELDERS, SOUTH AFRICA
$120

It's all about whales in this hamlet 90 minutes up the coast from Cape Town. To offer guests the best vantage point, Whale Sanctuary Lodge (41–43 Cliff Street, De Kelders; +27 28 384 2806; whalesanctuarylodge.co.za) is set on a cliff above Walker Bay, where you can spot orcas, southern rights and humpbacks out at sea. A private balcony juts over the water in each of the six suites, which have marble floors and leather furnishings. The Orca suite is the biggest (65 square metres) and has the best views, with two entire walls made of glass. There is a slightly rocky beach below the lodge, but there are 24 kilometres of deserted golden sand just a five-minute drive away in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve.

WHAT TO DO The hotel can arrange cage-diving with great white sharks, in the nearby town of Kleinbaai.


KORBA, TUNISIA
$79

Over the past decade, the owners of the 27-hectare Africa Jade (Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Korba; +216 72 384 633; africajade.com) – one of the world's first Club Meds – have turned it into a domed, columned palace ornamented with African art. All 260 rooms have oversized wicker furniture, mosaic-tiled baths, and private verandas overlooking the ocean. The property is set along a vast stretch of white, dune-rimmed beach on the Cap Bon peninsula. True to its Club Med roots, there are plenty of diversions, with four restaurants, as many tennis courts, an archery range, 1115-square-metre pool and new thalassotherapy spa.

WHAT TO DO Ask the concierge to arrange a sunset camel ride along the beach or shop for ceramic and silk in the souks of Tunis, an hour's drive west.


Reports by Richard Alleman, Megan Anderson, Alysha Brown, Ada Calhoun, Gillian Cullinan, Jennifer Flowers, Ozgur Gezer, Kendall Hill, Tina Isaac, David A. Keeps, Peter Jon Lindberg, Christine Long, Shane Mitchell, Simon Thomsen, Leisa Tyler, Hannah Wallace, Sarah Wildman, Elizabeth Woodson.

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