10 May 2013

Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, photo by Alexander Heilner

A beach often plays a central role in taking time away from the day job. If you’re on holiday, chances are you’re on one; if you’re travelling, chances are you’re trying to find one; and if you’re working, looking for a change of scene, chances are a beach was the scene you were looking to change to.

With that in mind, a beach will sell itself, but perhaps these were not the beaches you were looking for.

Land reclamation is a process by which sand and rock is relocated – often from ocean dredging – to give your country or town a new extension. It’s the reason New Orleans could be built on a swamp; it’s why a portion of the Netherlands isn’t underwater; and it founded large parts of Panama City when construction of the Panama Canal resulted in quite a bit of leftover gravel. One of its most attractive qualities is that land reclamation gives you a beach where once there was none.

As such, here is our guide to the best beaches in the world that aren’t, in a manner of speaking, real.

Palm Islands, Dubai

Palm Islands from space (courtesy Nasa)

Popular haunt of the affluent elite and general workers looking for a stark change of scenery, Dubai is the 21st century city on the beach. It’s known for its extravagance and an often-dogged 'anything you can do…' attitude. Hence, when Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum decided that 72 kilometres of natural coastline just wasn’t enough, the answer was to double it, naturally. Or rather, unnaturally, and in the process create one of the most ambitious tourist attractions and biggest man-made islands ever conceived – a 5-square-kilometre palm tree.

Palm Jumeirah was the first of Dubai’s three Palm Islands, adding another 79 man-made kilometres to the coastline. The other two – Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira – were announced shortly after construction work began on Palm Jumeirah. The complete archipelago adds 520 kilometres of new beach to Dubai. Interestingly, whilst the palm is symbolically significant for Dubai, moreover its shape has the practical merit of offering the most amount of beachfront for the amount of sand available. On Palm Jumeirah alone, 94 million cubic metres of sand, dredged straight from the Arabian Gulf, sit on top of 7 million tonnes of rock. Much of this rock was used to build this, the world’s first crescent-shaped breakwater, 11.5 kilometres long and stretching 50 metres underwater.

Rock, as opposed to concrete, was also used so a natural reef would form. Since its completion, marine life once thought to have fled the area has reportedly returned and schools of dolphins have made a home of the shelter the Palm’s fronds provide.

Tropical Islands Resort, Germany

Aerium Tropical Islands resort, photo courtesy of Airwater

Heading inside now, we find one of the largest man-made indoor beaches at Tropical Islands Resort in Brandenburg, Germany.

Occupying an aircraft hanger known as Aerium, the space was originally intended to house an airship, albeit one that was never actually built. Nevertheless, Aerium is one of the biggest buildings in the world by volume. Bought by Malaysian company Tanjong PLC in 2003, the hall now has a tropical sea with a 200-foot sand beach, the largest indoor rainforest in the world with a substantial collection of rare species of flora and fauna, and a rainforest village with replicas of the buildings of Borneo, Bali and Samoa.

Sentosa Island, Singapore

Sentosa Island, Singapore - photo by William Cho

From Tanjong, the company, to Tanjong Beach.

Many that choose to work abroad do so in Singapore; for a start the Singaporeans have a more welcoming ethos to work permits than most. With such a cosmopolitan population, a fittingly cosmopolitan hangout was required. And so it was that “Asia’s Favourite Playground” on Sentosa Island was born, officially named in the early ‘70s.

Sentosa Island lies south of Singapore’s main island, occupying a similar area to the Palm Jumeirah, about 5 square kilometres. Although the isle isn’t imported, its 3.2 kilometres of beach is. The three beaches, the expansive Palawan, newly renovated Siloso Beach and the quieter, more secluded Tanjong Beach are made of sand bought from neighbouring nations including Malaysia.

Boasting “tropical living” just 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre, Sentosa Island is also home to top class amenities including super-luxury villa communities, adventure parks – Universal Studios Singapore is here in Resorts World Sentosa – hotels, casinos, spas, golf clubs, fine dining restaurants, nightclubs, beach bars: you name it, Sentosa has it.

Of course, the general climate plays a pretty vital role in defining this as “tropical living”. Unfortunately for us Brits, importing sand and palm trees does not the tropics make. The video to ‘Agadoo’, perhaps…

Camden Beach, London

Camden Beach, London - copyright The Roundhouse

Or perhaps not, as London has quickly begun to realise its populous might benefit – last year aside – from a little al fresco action, and gone in heavy on outdoor spaces for socialites.

Seeing as available outdoor space in the centre is often limited to those parking bays with overly complex payment instructions, the logical bits left to occupy are roofs. If you are taking a sabbatical, there’s a good chance you haven’t quite made it out of the capital yet. And if that’s the case it’d be worth acclimatising yourself for a summer of adventure. Be outside, learn a language, and remind yourself what a beach looks like.

Luckily, come late June, Camden Town’s theatre and event venue The Roundhouse will open its roof terrace once more for Camden Beach – a 900-square-metre ‘coastline’ complete with deck chairs, tiki grill and margarita beach bar. It’s impressive enough that North West London now has a stake in the English Riviera; what is more baffling is how one gets 150 tonnes of sand onto a roof.

Chicago Beaches

Chicago skyline from the beach, photo by Ildar Sagdejev

On a year out it’s likely you’ll find yourself touring the US, perhaps even working there if you’re eligible (read: lucky enough) to secure a visa. Inevitably you’ll wind up one day in Chicago. Why? Because America’s Second City is the epitome of cool.

This friendly, laid-back metropolis is like New York – chilled. It’s the home of the US’s most beautiful architecture, blues music, the original deep-dish pizza, wind, and most of the Midwest’s beaches. That’s because the Midwest – ‘mid’ being the operative part there – doesn’t tend to have beaches.

And neither did Chicago until the late 19th century when local laws that prohibited public bathing came under fire. Essentially a public beach was an easy way around the issue, meeting demand for public bathing and avoiding the need to change the law. As such the lakefront in Chicago was subject to massive land reclamation from Lake Michigan to create bathing areas and recreational parks. Indeed, some of the debris from the ‘Great Chicago Fire’ of 1871 was used to lay the foundations of today’s Grant Park. In 1910, protection structures were installed up and down the shoreline and while most were limestone or woodpiles, beaches also served to provide support.

Each beach has a special story in Chicago. In July 1913, for example, local physician Dr Rosalie Ladova famously defied public bathing restrictions by removing her bathing skirt and swimming in her bloomers. Whilst this may seem a bit ‘Carry On…’ these days, the doctor was arrested for disorderly conduct. In court, Dr Ladova said poignantly: "I believe in swimming, but women cannot swim in skirts." Presiding Judge Gemmill agreed, throwing out the charges against her and setting remarkable precedence.

Today, Chicago has 45 kilometres of golden shoreline, marked particularly by its cleanliness and the glimmering skyline of mirror-like office buildings and apartment blocks. Beach volleyball and bloomers for lunch, anyone?

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California

Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, photo by Jef Poskanzer

Taking a road trip across America is a rite of passage near synonymous with a gap year. If you’re not saving rainforests then you’re probably contributing slightly to their demise by driving a rust bucket from New York to California. And no matter how snaked your route, inevitably all roads lead to the California coast.

A few hours north of San Francisco is a little place called Fort Bragg. Not THAT Fort Bragg. Frankly, California’s easygoing counterpart is how you’d imagine the exact polar opposite of North Carolina’s hardened commando base would be. This Fort Bragg is a place of chilled vibes, good surf, seaside picket fences, beatnik poetry and a beach made of glass.

Technically, Glass Beach isn’t a fake beach; at least, not the beach itself. It is, however, an example of where nature reclaimed land from us, as opposed to the other way round. In the twilight of the 19th century, the locals still had no official refuse site, thus Fort Bragg’s beach became their unfortunate dumping ground. After a clean-up operation in the ‘60s, what was left were tonnes of smashed glass fragments, weathered and rounded into pebbles by decades of wash. The result is a pointillized carpet of colour. Each gemstone green or reddish brown tells the story of a drink had between friends over a century ago – friends probably telling stories of generations before them. Nowadays, Glass Beach attracts many a tourist seeking a souvenir or two; however, it is protected as part of MacKerricher State Park. Ironically, where it was once illegal to dump the glass, now it is against the law to remove it.


The author of this post is Jonathan Bright, a writer with Kenwood Travel. If you like the sound of Dubai and its beaches, visit Kenwood Travel's Dubai section - they have some fantastic luxury hotels!