Aktau, Kazakhstan

Photo: AnastassiyaL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: AnastassiyaL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to beach destinations. You basked in Cambodia while everyone else was still in Thailand. You think Western Australia has better stretches of sand than Queensland. You see the Philippines finally becoming the next Indonesia. While the Portuguese coast was your go-to spot in Europe long before the boutique hotels started opening. So what’s next?

Europeans are starting to look east toward the Caspian Sea. The world’s largest lake is enormous. It’s nearly four times the size of North America’s Great Lakes—combined. It has salt water, seals, and tortoises, which you expect to find in the ocean. Plus, from the sea’s east coast, the sunsets are breathtaking.

Aktau, Kazakhstan, on the Mangyshlak Peninsula, sits on dramatic white cliffs overlooking the Caspian Sea. Like the rest of the mineral-rich country, the area was built around mining. Uranium, specifically. The city was filled with Soviet-style apartments and an industrial port. But after the nuclear power plant closed in the 1990s, Aktau started to modernize and focus on its beautiful setting. White-sand beaches lie south of the cliffs. Mild winters are followed by dry summers. While modern hotels, focused on the views, are being built.

Photo: Caspian Riviera Grand Palace
Photo: Caspian Riviera Grand Palace

The Caspian Riviera Grand Palace Hotel is one of those view-focused hotels. The 11-story hotel is built right into the cliffs. It’s glass walls overlook the turquoise water, the passing boats, and the small waves. Your room is large, though you barely notice the furniture when you see the balcony and the endless sea in front of you. The entire hotel, like most of the city, is quiet and truly undiscovered.

After memorizing the view from your balcony, go downstairs to the basement, one of few spots in the hotel without a view, to see the Oceanarium. Siberian sturgeon are bred, for caviar, in the large aquarium. The space becomes an elegant seafood restaurant at night. Play tennis—even the court overlooks the water. Relax with a black caviar treatment or in the hammam at the spa. Then feel the sea breeze at La Terrasse, the eighth-floor terrace, as the sun sets.

The next morning, you wake up when your room floods with sunlight. After a quick breakfast, you grab your beach bag to head south. It’s time to start exploring Aktau’s beaches: Nur, Dostar, and, a little farther away, Stiegl. They have sun loungers, beach bars, and long stretches of white sand. But, luckily for you, there are few visitors. At least for now. You might not recognize Aktau the next time you visit Kazakhstan.

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