CMN: ‘For someone to see the way I look as art is amazing’
Image copyright Brock Elbank Gemma Whyatt has birthmarks covering her upper back, neck, chest and ear, with hundreds of smaller marks all over her body.
It’s a rare skin condition called congenital melanocytic naevus (CMN).
The 24-year-old from Cambridgeshire is one of 30 people with CMN taking part in an international exhibition.
“For someone else to see the way I look as art and something to be celebrated is really amazing for me,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
Gemma, a fourth-year medical student in Leeds, was born with CMN, which is untreatable: “I was told they were my brown patches or birthmarks.”
As a child she says her life was like anyone else’s.
“I did normal things and had normal friends and I even did gymnastics and trampolining – which involved a leotard that revealed my birthmarks and I didn’t think anything of it when I was growing up.
“It wasn’t until I became a teenager that it really affected me.
“I realised I looked different and I felt quite self-conscious about it – I didn’t really know anyone else with the condition.
“I used to wear scarves, long sleeves, and I would wear full aussie cozzies instead of bikinis.”
Image copyright Brock Elbank Image caption Callum White, 17, from Gloucestershire says he “struggled to connect with new groups at school” because of his CMN But Gemma tells us she just got “fed up” of feeling self-conscious and when she was around 17 she booked a holiday to Spain with her friend where, for the first time in years, she wore a bikini.
“No-one even stared or said anything. It was kind of like exposure therapy in a way.
“I started enjoying life more to the full. It made me realise it’s not that big a deal and I didn’t need to limit myself.”
Image copyright Brock Elbank Image caption Brazilian Mariana Mendes has CMN on her face Gemma was the first person to sit for the photographer behind the How Do You C Me Now? exhibition and tells us it was “scary and nerve-racking”.
“I was only wearing my pants, with someone I’ve never met. I wasn’t wearing any make-up and I didn’t do anything with my hair.
“Usually I like to be in control of how I look and how I’m perceived, especially when taking pictures. But to give all of that to someone else did make me feel quite vulnerable.
“In doing so, it made me come to terms more with how I look and that I can’t always have control over how other people see me.”
Photographer Brock Elbank says: “It’s about celebrating unique individuals and to have hair and make up detracts away from their natural beauty.”
Image copyright Brock Elbank Image caption Agnieszka Palyska is from Poland CMN charity Caring Matters Now worked with Brock to find those who were willing to take part.
It took three years to complete and features children and adults from 13 countries.
Gemma says people from around the world have already contacted her.
“It’s not only about how it’s making me feel – people have got in touch and it’s given them their confidence. Or parents of young children that hope it’ll make their child feel better about themselves.
“I just really hope that when people look at these images they can feel challenged in the way they perceive beauty and see the beauty inside and outside.
“It’s not beauty despite the birthmarks, it can be beauty because of the birthmarks.
“It’s something interesting and different and unique and I really hope it might change the way they might think of people with visible differences.”
The exhibition is running from 14-24 March at the Oxo Tower gallery in London before going on a global tour.
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In our first year of marriage, I realized my husband had a serious problem – then THIS happened
Published 2 days ago In our first year of marriage, I realized my husband had a serious problem – then THIS happened Email
(iStock) It was in our first year of marriage that I realized that my husband Dave had a serious “neck problem.” We were talking on a beach, when I noticed his problem. You see, every time a beautiful, scantily clad woman would walk by us on the beach, Dave’s neck just couldn’t seem to stop twisting and turning to gawk at these girls as they walked past him – and he continued to watch them all the way down the beach.
Let me tell you, I was mad about it!
SIX MONTHS INTO MARRIAGE, I COULDN’T THINK OF ONE THING THAT I LIKED ABOUT MY HUSBAND – THIS CHANGED EVERYTHING
“Seriously, Dave! I’m standing right here, and you can’t stop yourself from ogling these girls?”
“What are you talking about?” he replied in an innocent tone that I wasn’t buying for even a second.
At first, I seriously thought he was kidding, but I soon realized that this “girl watching” had been such a habit that he didn’t even know he was doing it. Of course, you may be thinking, Who cares? Big deal. He’s not hurting anyone.
Well, in this case, you would be wrong – he was hurting me!
Like so many women – and many men too, for that matter – I didn’t exactly possess the greatest self-esteem when it came to body image. The mirror was not my best friend. Because of this, every time Dave stared at other women in my presence, it felt as though someone was stabbing a knife in my chest. And speaking of chests, I could also hear a lie being told somewhere in my head, saying, If you looked better in your bathing suit, he would only be looking at you!
It was torture for me.
I was only 20 years old, and I so desperately wanted my new husband to only have eyes for me. Outwardly I was angry, but inwardly I wanted to just sit down and cry, because his actions drew all of my insecurities out of their hiding places and into the ugly open air. I went to bed that night trying to turn my mind to anything positive – anything but the shameful thoughts that my body didn’t measure up to Dave’s dreams.
My last thought before my eyes fluttered shut were, Well, Jesus, at least the beach wasn’t full of topless girls. Thanks for protecting me from that!
Little did I know what was coming.
A few years later, Dave and I agreed to lead a mission trip where we would be sharing God’s love with people on the beaches in Sweden. A little known detail was shared with us as we pulled up to our first beach…half the women on the beach would be topless!
Are you kidding me?
The first day we were sitting in a beachside restaurant prepping for our day when it happened. The doorway was suddenly filled with three drop-dead gorgeous, long-legged, buxom beauties. Barbie and her two companions were actually real, live beings – and some kid out there forgot to put their bikini tops on!
The room was instantly quiet – you could have heard a pin drop. I glanced around our table to find that jaws were literally hanging wide open . . . and there may or may not have been drool pooling on the tabletop.
Then suddenly, I remembered my 26-year-old husband sitting next to me, and a rush of fear gripped my heart. I whipped my head around to look at him. The state in which I found him was almost sad – his head was bowed as low as it could possibly go without falling off altogether. I was instantly – albeit temporarily – relieved that his neck problem had not had a sudden flare-up in this exact moment.
To encourage him, I leaned over and sweetly whispered in his ear, “If you lift your head for even one second, you are a dead man!”
As Dave headed out to the beach, I headed to our hotel room to do some serious business with God.
I yelled out to him, “God, you know all of my fears and insecurities. I’ve told you countless times that this would be my worst fear. I’m afraid Dave will be sorry he married me when he could have someone else more voluptuous and beautiful.”
The truth is that as a little girl, I couldn’t wait to grow up and look like Barbie. Instead of transforming into Barbie, I stopped growing and maxed out at 5 feet and 1 inch tall – I was forever destined to be more like Barbie’s kid sister, Skipper.
As I continued my rant, I felt a small whisper collide with my anger. “Ann, can you trust me?”
“No! I can’t trust you! That’s pretty obvious right now!”
But as I continued my tirade, the question kept coming to my mind over and over again. It was relentless: “Ann, can you trust me?”
Finally, exhausted by my fear, anger, and tears, I fell on my knees before God and cried out,
“God, what choice do I have? I will trust you! Please help me. I’m clinging to you as my helper and guide . . . as my Father. I need you not only to help me get through this, but to help Dave get through this too.”
A sense of resolution and strength began to fill my heart, enough that I was able to push the anxiety down a bit. I again tried to take hold of the reminder that Jesus loved me – and that he loved Dave as well – more than I could ever hope for or dream.
I don’t want to sum everything up as if a lifelong problem of fear and anxiety suddenly dissipated after only a short prayer – no, these problems continued, but I had the peace and hope to face them.
That trip was a turning point of sorts. For the first time, Dave began experiencing a real level of success with his neck problem, and for the first time, I started realizing that my worth does not originate, cannot be increased, and certainly is not limited in any way by my physical appearance.
I became more aware than ever of my truest, deepest identity:
I am a daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lords – and he is a very proud and protective Father. I have been made and equipped to carry out a plan that my heavenly Father uniquely crafted for my specific life. I have been made with a purpose and destiny that both satisfy my soul and reflect the love of Christ to the world.
As I look back on that afternoon some 30 years ago, I chuckle at the insignificance of my dilemma. In retrospect, if that were the most difficult thing I had to deal with, my life would be pretty easy.
Since that trip, I’ve been faced with actual life-and-death issues related to my own health, the health of our babies, and the death of my very best friend and sister at the age of 45.
Time and time again in each of these situations, God asked me the same question he asked me years earlier at that topless beach: “Ann, can you trust me?”
It’s never been easy, but I have discovered that yes, I can trust Him. He is always there. He always loves me deeply. He carries me, and He never leaves me. He comforts me and encourages me to keep my eyes on him – I guess you can say that my eyes tend to wander when uncertainty or crises arise.
It’s my own neck problem.
God is calling us to stop leaning on our own understanding of our versions of the ways we think He should lead our lives.
Instead, he keeps asking us, “Will you trust me?”
The invitation is to the complete surrender of allowing him to work His plan – carried out His way – in our lives.
The safest – and also the scariest – place on earth is right in the middle of his plan for you.
Sometimes He does His most miraculous work in the middle of our greatest fear.
Will you trust him with your disappointments?
Feel better now? The rise and rise of the anxiety economy | Global
From squishy toys to colouring books to blankets, the anxiety business is worth billions. But is it all just making us even more anxious? Eva Wiseman reports. C onsider the squishy. The point of the squishy, a palm-sized mass of polyurethane in the shape of a fruit or a croissant or a unicorn cat, occasionally scented with strawberry, is to squish. The point of the squishy is to be held in the hand of a person with energy that needs redirecting and for them to direct it into the soft heart of the squishy, to squeeze it into almost nothing in their palm, only for it to reinflate again, asking for more. In 1988 a TV writer called Alex Carswell threw a pen at a photo of his mother after a stressful phone call with his boss. It gave him an idea.
It was the “Age of Stress” – the Daily Mirror (among other newspapers) had identified it as “a killer” – and so the perfect time for Carswell to launch his “stress ball”. By the 1990s it had evolved from something squishy designed to be thrown into something squishy designed to be squeezed, and to be squeezed mainly by kids, who collected them in small scented families in their rucksacks. In a 2015 study of patients undergoing varicose vein surgery, those that handled stress balls reported feeling “less anxious”.
“When you’re stressed, your body tightens up,” says Dr Kathleen Hall, founder of the Stress Institute , explaining why throwing or squeezing something feels good, “so a physical release helps to let go of some of that energy.” Carswell was not the first person to link a calming of the mind to a busy-ness of a hand – in 206 BC, the Han dynasty in China trained to stay mentally focused during combat by squeezing walnuts. The croissant squishy comes from an ancient place.
That repeated action led to fidget spinners becoming one of the most popular items bought on Amazon in 2017. They were not simply triangles of plastic; they were a stress-relief toy, a treatment for ADHD, an answer to smartphone addiction, a modern rosary – and the cause of moral panic, as teachers confiscated them as contraband. They were the stars of a growing anxiety economy.
Alongside products designed purely as medical aids, such as meditation apps, there is a thriving offshoot of lifestyle goods marketed through their anxiety-relieving qualities. Product innovation oriented around anxiety (encompassing stress, mood and sleep) spans nearly 30 different categories, including chocolate, yogurt, air fresheners, fabric conditioners and skincare. There is a company called Body Vibes which, for £30, will sell you a pack of anti-anxiety stickers that “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies”. Throw a squishy ball in the high street and you’re likely to hit something to cure your stress.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Face the facts: ‘Product innovation oriented around anxiety spans nearly 30 different categories, including chocolate, yogurt, air fresheners, fabric conditioners and even stickers.’ Photograph: Aleksandra Kingo/The Observer
If the 80s were the age of stress, this is the age of anxiety, with 30% of Britons experiencing an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. “The NHS Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey , published in 2016, indicated that anxiety and depression affected about one in six people,” confirms consultant clinical psychologist Dr Nihara Krause , founder of youth mental health charity Stem4 . This rise in anxiety coincides with a crisis in mental health care. And long waits for treatment often lead to more complications, and the problems multiply, a kind of silent mitosis, leading to even more pressure on the NHS as well as the patient. This has created a market for domestic anxiety cures that can be bought online, and fast.
“Because community services are cut,” says Krause, “there is little in the way of help for those who are unwell but don’t meet the threshold for acceptance to established services. And those who are severe can’t access help because specialist services are under-resourced. I am really keen on providing early intervention tools that are evidence-based and are therefore effective. Sadly there are a lot of products on the market that are not tested for their efficacy.”
Developed in the early 1990s by American engineer Catherine Hettinger , fidget spinners were designed as a calming tool, but when they went mainstream, marketers built on their medical promise simply by adjusting the aesthetics – much like adult colouring books, the publishing phenomenon of 2015 which sold millions due to their therapeutic mental health benefits; and more recently, the weighted blanket. In 2017 the sleep-health industry was worth between $30bn and $40bn. Mattresses were being marketed like iPads, iPads were swollen with sleep apps and the weighted blanket, a therapeutic aid, was redesigned as a chic lifestyle accessory.
A fleece Gravity Blanket costs £149 and is the colour of a Manchester sky. “Studies have shown that using a weighted blanket increases the level of serotonin and melatonin as well as reduces cortisol,” says its website. The company was founded by psychologist Joanna Goliszek. She ran a therapy centre in Poland, working with, she tells me, “an autistic boy with an urgent need for a weighted blanket. But most products available on the market were simply not affordable.” She started to manufacture them in her apartment and, in 2017, launched across Europe, reshifting their focus, the new customer being “everyone”. On Instagram, there are almost 32,000 posts with the #weightedblanket hashtag, including one from Tori Spelling, naked but for her blanket, explaining how it has changed her life by helping her sleep. Despite the fact that companies had been manufacturing them primarily for children with autism-spectrum disorders for many years (leading, as they went mainstream, to claims of appropriation), Time magazine named “blankets that ease anxiety” one of the best inventions of 2018, quoting figures from a sleek US start-up (also called Gravity, no relation) which had already sold $18m worth of blankets.
In early 2018, in her New Yorker essay The Seductive Confinement of a Weighted Blanket in an Anxious Time, Jia Tolentino wrote that their success “arrived deep into a period when many Americans were beginning their emails with reflexive, panicked condolences about the news.” It was no coincidence that they had become a million-dollar business when much of the world felt like it needed to be put to bed. They had co-opted a familiar coping strategy (the feeling of being held) by repackaging a product that originated to assist a vulnerable community and selling it to people who felt anxious, ie almost everyone.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Deep sleep: ‘This large flat beanbag gently forces you into a comforting stillness.’ Photograph: Aleksandra Kingo/The Observer
Mine arrived in a large box and, when I opened it, the blanket felt extremely cold. It took some effort to unfold it and then transport it to my bed – carrying the blanket felt not like carrying something objectively heavy like bricks or bags of tins, but like carrying a very light thing when you’re coming down with flu. I arranged myself under its grey soft weight, and then I fell asleep.
In the morning I woke in the same position. Unlike other anxiety aids, which encourage movement, fiddling, this large flat beanbag prevents movement. You are gently forced into a comforting stillness. Brushing my teeth the morning after a deep, deep sleep, I swilled the phrase “self-care” around my mouth.
In its earliest iteration it was used by doctors advising elderly patients on how to stay healthy at home, but by the late 1960s people used it more often in reference to the doctors themselves, having recognised that those in emotionally wearing professions could only look after others if they first looked after themselves. With the rise of the civil rights movement, self-care became political. Women and people of colour insisted that an autonomy over one’s body was necessary to fight racist and sexist systems, and indeed to survive. The phrase has since spread and mutated to include such diverse applications as gardening, antidepressants and peeling foot masks.
Today one of the places the phrase is most visible is in online articles about skincare routines, the ritual massaging in of oils and perfecting lotions, where the user is encouraged to concentrate less on how their skin looks tomorrow, but more on the mindful motions of looking after themselves.
“I know now that anxiety doesn’t really ever go away entirely,” wrote Olivia Muenter in an article called How My Beauty Routine Helps With My Anxiety, for Bustle , “but sometimes it shuts the hell up. And, for me, it’s often the quietest during my beauty routine.” She describes the action of moisturising as if it was meditation. Her skincare routine “pushes [her worries] away and what I’m left with is the simple act of doing something that makes me feel good”.
It’s at skincare that two arms of the anxiety economy cross, with the rise of CBD beauty . Owing to the increased interest in cannabis for medicinal use, the CBD (a non-psychoactive chemical compound found in marijuana) industry is expected to reach an estimated value of $22bn by 2022, with products including (but not limited to) teas, ice cream, vapes and hair conditioner. Last year Estée Lauder became one of the first mainstream beauty brands to release cannabis-infused products, alongside a growing list of smaller companies that included it in their brightening face creams, soaps, moisturising oils and mascaras, with the promise that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties. Though some claim it to be “stress-relieving”, simply by containing CBD their anxiety-relieving side effects are implicit.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest In a mess: will mindfulness drawing really make you feel any better? Photograph: Aleksandra Kingo/The Observer
A cynic might point out that considering the pressure the cosmetic industry has maintained in pushing customers to achieve unrealistic beauty standards, their new insistence that their primary role is to reduce anxiety is ironic. Evidence of CBD’s efficacy in skincare is largely anecdotal and a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found widespread mislabelling of CBD products sold online. There is a similar issue in all areas of the CBD industry – complications around legalisation have made it hard for researchers to discover what it actually does. Small trials suggest that CBD could be effective in treating anxiety, but only in far larger doses than are usually offered. While a product can boast in its marketing materials that CBD reduces anxiety, there’s no proof that the product itself – whether oil or tea – does anything at all.
It’s something that bothers Dr Krause. Having seen how the NHS has had to “unofficially perform triage when it comes to crisis-level mental health conditions” – meaning that people with anxiety disorders are often pushed to the back of the queue – she’s aware of the brands profiting from this. “The market seems saturated. There are a number of companies that are trading on fake news to promote a whole range of products that are meant to help with mental health problems but without any evidence base to them. Given that we are dealing with a vulnerable population it is questionable how ethical producing these tools without evidence base and systematic review of efficacy is.”
The anxiety economy shows no signs of shrinking, with white noise machines, salt lamps and meditation headbands advertised alongside yoga selfies on Instagram. Aids for anxiety disorders in 2019 are branded like covetable scented candles – scrolling through the products, one starts to think of it as a small but universal ill like dry lips or shaving rash, and one just as easily treated. Which, it could be argued, threatens to normalise this mental illness; to recode it as a standard part of modern life, rather than something that requires medical attention. If one in six adults suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, that means there are five who have no need to be part of this niche market, and yet still, under the blanket-style weight of advertising, find their thumbs hovering over the button.
Is anxiety itself being commodified? This is a disorder that can stoke its own fire – worrying about anxiety can make it worse. Could it be that these products, rather than simply easing anxiety, are in fact propagating it, meaning healthy people self-diagnose an illness they don’t understand? And what about the causes? Is a £30 “anti-anxiety sticker” really just a plaster for a larger wound?
Psychoanalyst Michael Currie notes that we rarely deal with the causes of anxiety – job insecurity for example, or social isolation – when trying to treat it. Writing in The Monthly , he says: “Anxiety-as-disease is treated much like an infection, as if the symptoms were a bacterium that should be eradicated.” Buying a blanket is significantly easier than changing the world.
Closing down my emails to Dr Krause, I realise I’ve been absentmindedly squeezing the scared-cat squishy that sits on my desk. Does it work? Debatable. Does it matter? Also debatable. Ten years ago, a study was conducted with sufferers of social anxiety disorder. Sufferers were asked to take part in a stressful public speaking event, before being treated for eight weeks and then doing it again. Assessed by psychiatrists, 40% of the patients showed an improvement in their symptoms, despite all having been given placebos. The act of using a product that says it will make us feel better may actually make us feel better; for mild anxiety, the cure may not be in the squishy, but in the mind. Slowly, in my palm, the cat expands.
Stress busters Anxiety has become a multi-million pound industry – but here are some ways to combat it for free
Take regular exercise Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming and cycling, encourage your brain to release serotonin, which can improve your mood. It also helps combat stress and release tension. Aim for at least two and a half hours a week.
Ditch the coffee It speeds up your heart rate and disrupts your sleep. If you’re tired, it’s harder to control anxious thoughts.
Contact support groups Go to anxietyuk.org.uk and mental health charity mind.org.uk – their services include talking therapies, crisis helplines, drop-in centres, training schemes, counselling and befriending.
Download a free app Catch It is a joint project launched by the universities of Liverpool and Manchester to help users better understand their moods; Elefriends is an online community from Mind and Verywellmind is an NHS mental health and wellbeing app designed to help with stress, anxiety and depression.
Topics Anxiety The Observer Health & wellbeing features
40 of the best beaches in Europe | Travel
Travel writers pick their favourite beaches to swim, surf, party, eat and just hang out from the Atlantic to the Aegean, from the UK to Turkey. Spain La Concha, San Sebastián It’s the Chrysler Building of beaches: instantly recognisable but nevertheless thrilling and heart-lifting. La Concha is the most beautiful urban beach in Spain: a scallop of cream sand and sparkling sapphire waters with forested headlands, an island – Santa Clara – and a peppering of boats. The belle-époque seafront dates back to days of long summer residencies, when children ate separately and hotels were plushly carpeted; but today’s city is vibrant and cool. La Concha is flanked by two smaller beaches: Ondarreta is almost a continuation to the west (ending in Eduardo Chillada’s Wind Comb sculpture); Zurriola, beyond the Kursaal Palace in Gros, is popular with surfers.
Stay La Pensión del Mar (doubles from €45 room-only) also in Gros, is friendly and affordable. For a few euros more, Sansebay (doubles from €70 room only) offers contemporary chic and La Concha views.
El Rompido, Huelva, Andalucía
Photograph: Santiago Bañón/Getty Images
Huelva’s Costa de La Luz ranges from Spanish all-inclusives near the Portuguese border to wild dunes in the east. Midway, around El Rompido, there’s something reminiscent of olden-day Devon: golden, loved and tidy, with golf, and bucket and spade shops, trimmed hedges, and low-rise hotels serving buffet meals. The beach is long, with icing-sugar sand, backed by pines and trails, and dotted with chiringuitos (beach bars) providing shade and plates of famous Huelva prawns. The sea is calm, thanks to the star attraction, a glorious 12km spit – La Flecha – Flechamar ferry (April-October). Pristine, with a spine of dunes, it has two more beaches (including a nudist area) but no facilities.
Stay A few kilometres west, Hotel Nuevo Portil Golf (doubles from €60 B&B) combines top location with bargain prices.
Playa de los Muertos, Almería
Photograph: Zu Sanchez Photography/Getty Images
The arid, rocky, Cabo de Gata nature reserve has many spectacular beaches, but this one’s dramatic setting, kilometre of soft sand, crystalline turquoise water and wealth of fish and rock formations to snorkel over, more than make up for the name (beach of the dead) and the short, steep path – or a longer less vertiginous one – down to the shore. In high season, vendors sell cold drinks but that’s about it, so go prepared. Access, and a mirador (lookout), are off the AL-5106. Follow the road west and you arrive at Agua Amarga , a barefoot sophisticated gem of a seaside town.
Stay Hotel Las Calas (doubles from €65 B&B), with its palms, pergolas and sea views, is an affordable seaside treat.
Playa de Poo, Llanes, Asturias
Photograph: Roger Day/Alamy
Continuing – nay, encapsulating – the theme of great beaches with unfortunate names, is Poo. Surfers are spoilt for choice on the north coast, but elemental forces that whip up the waves also carve out stunning, protected enclaves. This sandy haven on an estuary is contained by high rock walls, rendering it both calm and fascinating. At low tide, there is virtually no sea in sight; at high tide, it’s an emerald pool, clean, warm and shallow. Coastal paths through farmland lead to more beaches and, at low tide, Isla de Almenada. It’s a laid-back option, ideal for families with small children.
Stay La Farola del Mar (doubles from €55 B&B in low season) sits right on the beach. For more of a design ethos, the award-winning turf-roofed, modernist CaeaClaveles (doubles from €95 room only) is 10 minutes’ drive away.
Aiguablava, Begur, Girona
This small beach with clear green-blue water, white sand, and places to eat, drink and dive, is further enhanced by the fact it’s one of eight coves – all with various merits (sheltered, natural, nudist and more) strung like charms from the coastal footpath, the Camí de Ronda , below Begur. The path has four sections, and Aiguablava is at the south of the most southerly, linked to neighbouring Fornells and Platja Fonda (secluded at the base of cliff steps).
Stay Hostal Sa Barraca (doubles from €67 room-only, sabarraca.com ), with sea views from garden, terrace and rooms, is a relaxing option, 2km inland from Fornells.
Spanish beaches chosen by Sorrel Downer
Portugal Porto Côvo, Costa Vicentina, Alentejo
Photograph: Cro Magnon/Alamy
Protected by a ring of rugged cliffs, Porto Côvo’s tranquil horseshoe bay once provided a haven for fishermen. The nearby town lives largely from tourism these days, but its cobbled streets and whitewashed cottages hark back to an age when rowing boats and fishing nets lined the shore. On the Alentejo’s wild, south-western coast, Porto Côvo is a popular spot for hiking – try the marked circular trail inland or hit the stunning clifftop Fisherman’s Trail to Vila Nova de Milfontes .
Stay The three-room Cabeça da Cabra guesthouse (doubles from €85 room-only), in a converted primary school, is charming.
Nazaré, Costa d e Prata
Ever seen a video clip of crazy surfers towed out by jet ski and deposited on waves the size of 10-storey buildings ? If so, it was probably shot at Nazaré. A mecca for the world’s best (and most bonkers) surfers, the huge swells here make for an eyewatering spectacle. But it’s not all Point Break madness: the main beach also has plenty of space for relaxing in the sun. For a terrific view of the ocean, take the funicular railway to the clifftop settlement of O Sitio, Nazaré’s old town. A short drive to the south, the beach at Peniche offers a slightly quieter, less daunting surfing experience.
Stay Surfer-friendly Zulla has single, double and shared rooms from €20.
Praia da Falésia, Algarve
Photograph: Jacek Sopotnicki/Alamy
It takes a good couple of hours to walk from one end of soft, sandy Praia da Falésia to the other. Fortunately, the route has plenty of excellent beachside bars and seafood restaurants to keep you going. Fresh sardines and cold beer aren’t the only reason to dally, however. At low tide, it’s possible to hunt for conquilhas (small clams) in the shallows. White sand lilies flower at the base of the beach’s distinctive, burnished-red cliffs. Those with energy left can check out the surf schools at the eastern end of beach.
Stay Package hotels tend to dominate this coast, so venture inland a little to restored farmhouse Casa Porta Azul (doubles from €65 B&B).
Praia da Foz do Minho, Caminha
On Portugal’s northern border with Spain, Praia da Foz do Minho’s riverine shallows offer a respite from the crashing waves of the Atlantic. In the pyramidic shape of Santa Tecla mountain, it boasts one of the most stunning backdrops of any beach in the world. A stroll through the pine forest leads to the attractive ocean beach of Moledo; and a little way out to sea is a remarkable 17th-century island fortress, another feast for the eyes.
Stay For a great view of the river, try charming, turn-of-the-century Villa Id alina hotel (doubles from €70 B&B), a few kilometres upriver.
Praia dos Galapinhos, Setúbal
If it was paradise that Portugal’s early explorers set off across the oceans to find, they could have saved themselves a journey. Because in Praia dos Galapinhos, they had the real deal right on their doorstep: white sands, forested hillsides, crystalline waters, empty space, stunning sunsets. There’s just one (minor) downside: access is via a rocky, vertiginous path or, at low-tide, an athletic shoreline scramble. The upside, of course, is that the beach is far less busy than it should be. Pack everything you need because opportunities for replenishment are minimal.
Stay Casa d’Adôa (doubles from €60 room-only) offers a quiet, classy stay.
Portuguese beaches chosen by Oliver Balch
France L’Herbe, Cap Ferret, Gironde
Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images
The skinny peninsula that curls around the Bay of Arcachon is a playground for people from Bordeaux and Paris, but also home to dozens of working oyster farms. In the village of L’Herbe, alleys separate the clapboard oyster farmers’ cabins, and the tiny beach is overlooked by several oyster bars and the Robinson Crusoe-esque gazebo of Kykouyou restaurant . It’s ideal for a paddle after you’ve washed a few freshly caught crustaceans down with a chilled white wine.
Stay There are small holiday lets in the grounds of villas all over Cap Ferret. Le Patio de l’Herbe (from €110 a night) has two small doubles and a kitchen.
Plage de la Grève Blanche, Île de Batz, Brittany
A ferry runs from Roscoff to the Île de Batz, a pretty island of blue-shuttered granite cottages and rolling fields. There are bikes for hire for scooting to the east of the island, where the white sand of Plage de la Grève Blanche is lapped by turquoise water. Behind it is the Georges Delaselle botanical garden , where plants from the southern hemisphere thrive in the climate afforded by the Gulf Stream.
Stay By the harbour in Roscoff, Chez Janie (doubles from €69 room-only) has a good restaurant and bar.
Les Grenettes, Île de Ré
The bucolic island of white-washed villages and abundant hollyhocks has more than its share of good beaches, but one of the best is Les Grenettes, near the sleepy village of Sainte-Marie-de-Ré. The long beach looks out to the neighbouring Île d’Oléron and is backed by fragrant pine trees; it’s a mix of golden sand and rounded pebbles, perfect for lobbing into the tumbling waves. Take along a surf or bodyboard if you want to tumble in the waves yourself: the area to the left of the main path is good. Afterwards, pedal into the village for an ice-cream or a pineau de Charentes aperitif at welcoming Bar à Quai.
Stay Les Grenettes (doubles from €110 room-only) is a family-friendly hotel with two pools.
The south-west of Normandy’s Cotentin peninsula offers some glorious beaches that remain something of a secret except to locals and visitors in the know. The best of the bunch is Montmartin-sur-Mer, a vast stretch of fine, white sand, backed by wild, grassy dunes, that is so big you’re likely to have a mile of it to yourself – even in August. The tides in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel are some of the strongest in Europe, which means at low tide you may not even see the sea, but it leaves the sand in perfect condition for grandiose sandcastle building.
Stay Le Castel (doubles from €140 B&B) is a family-friendly, 19th-century chateau a short drive from Montmartin-sur-Mer.
Photograph: Getty Images
There’s a multitude of private beaches on the Côte d’Azur, but it’s possible to enjoy the sun for free on Villefranche-sur-Mer’s two public beaches. The longer Plage des Marinières is at the end of the quayside, overlooked by the coastal railway. Spread your towel on its soft, yellow sand, and take a dip before bagging a terrace table, with the sand between your toes, at one of the many waterfront restaurants. The smaller, quieter Plage de la Darse, on the other side of town, is pebbly but just as nice a place to catch the late-afternoon sun or take a paddle.
Stay Welcome Hôtel (doubles from €149 room-only, welcome hotel.com) has sea views.
French beaches chosen by Carolyn Boyd
Italy Fiorenzuola di Focara, Le Marche
Photograph: Roberto Del Bianco/Alamy
This walled village, mentioned in Dante’s Inferno, sits in the Parco Naturale del Monte San Bartolo , and its beach is a 20-minute walk down zigzagging paths. But it is worth the effort to reach this unspoilt mix of sand and shingle – cliffs behind and the Adriatic in front, the only buildings in sight the roofs of Fiorenzuola above. It has a DIY vibe unusual in Italy, with sunshades made from driftwood. The walk back up stokes appetites for dinner.
Stay Hilltop Castello di Granarola (doubles from €85 room-only) has rustic rooms (some with kitchens) and a large pool.
Cala Violina, Maremma, Tuscany
Photograph: REDA & CO/Alamy
Named for the squeaky sound the sand makes, this idyllic cove in the southern Maremma is less crowded than it might be as getting there involves a half-hour walk from the (€7) car park – pushbikes are allowed, though. Set within a nature reserve, its pale sand is lapped by clear water and backed by wooded hills, and there’s shade at its southern end. Beachgoers need to come with mats, umbrellas and other gear, but there is a kiosk selling drinks and sandwiches in summer.
Stay Those who don’t mind a slightly longer walk can reach Cala Violina on foot from agriturismo Il Cerro Sughero (doubles from €85, apartments from €340 for four nights) which has a pool and restaurant.
Porto Giunco, Villasimius, Sardinia
Pleasingly, the sand at Porto Giunco beach, which divides the Notteri lagoon (spot the flamingos) from the sea in the far south-east of Sardinia, has a delicate pink tinge from the granite rocks that surround it. There are a couple of bars with sunbeds at either end of this 800-metre beach, but the rest is spiaggia libera, where anyone can rock up with a towel and enjoy soft sand and gently shelving turquoise water. There are good views from the ruined watchtower at its southern end.
Stay Porto Giunco Residence (studios with kitchenettes from €58 a night) is in lush gardens a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Lido Fiori, near Menfi, Sicily
The view from Villa Melograno
In Sicily’s south-west, an arc of golden sand runs east from the fishing village of Porto Palo. The main road curves inland, and the quiet 10km beach is dotted with a few villas and a couple of bars. Loggerhead turtles like it: they’ve been nesting here since 2017, under WWF protection. The nicest stretch is Lido Fiori, halfway along. In early June, with highs in the mid-20s, rather than August’s mid-30s, you don’t even pay to park. My husband and son spent ages one afternoon trying – unsuccessfully – to divert a limpid stream that crosses the sand near excellent fish restaurant Salisá . The Greek ruins of Selinunte – as impressive as Agrigento but less busy – are half an hour west.
Stay Le 4 Stagioni has basic rooms from €70 B&B (and a good restaurant), but for a chic family break, check out new three-bedroom Villa Melograno (from €840 a week), a short drive away, with sea-view terrace and gardens.
Baia del Silenzio, Sestri Levante, Liguria
Photograph: Simon Dannhauer/Alamy
With cafes, shopping or sightseeing for those who don’t want to lie in the sun, sometimes a town beach fits the bill. The name of this half-moon cove between Genoa and La Spezia – Bay of Silence – may be a bit optimistic, but it offers soft sand sloping gently into warm, sheltered water, with pastel townhouses and bobbing boats. Baia delle Favole, 200 metres away across a neck of land, is livelier, with bars, sports facilities and boats to hire. The popular Cinque Terre towns are 40 minutes away by train.
Stay With just five bedrooms, Locanda del Borgo (half-board from €70pp) makes a peaceful stay 10 minutes’ drive away, with sea views and bikes to borrow. Chef Marcello cooks slow-food, zero-km versions of Ligurian specialities.
Italian beaches chosen by Liz Boulter
Greece Voidokilia, Peloponnese
Photograph: Iurii Buriak/Getty Images
Normally a beach this good would be marred by development. Fortunately, the lagoon it backs on to is part of a nature reserve, and Voidokilia looks much the same as it must have done when it featured in Homer’s Odyssey. This really is one of those “perfect crescents of white sand” – the Greek name means “cow’s belly”. As well as lovely swimming in the sheltered water, there’s a cave, a castle ruin above the beach, and numerous birds, including flamingos, on the lagoon.
Stay In the village of Petrochori, half an hour’s walk away, Petrasaki Cottages has simple self-catering chalets for four from €60 a night. Gialova village, the other side of the lagoon, has plenty of tavernas: Elia is great for seafood and local dishes.
Photograph: Georgios Alexandris/Alamy
Kythira seems to have avoided the overdevelopment of some Greek islands thanks to it being a little complicated to get to (internal flight or boat trip). Some would argue that Kalami is the best beach on the island, but similarly named Kaladi is just as nice and avoids the scramble down a 30-metre cliff, although there are lots of steps. The reward is three perfect little pebble coves, uncrowded even in August, and unsullied by tavernas and cantinas.
Stay Great-value rooms with kitchen and balcony at Sotiris Tavern (€50) in the pretty village of Avlemonas leave plenty of money for its famous lobster pasta. Xenonas Fos ke Choros guesthouse (doubles from €100) is a beautifully restored set of old buildings with knowledgeable owners .
Photograph: Jan Fritz/Alamy
The spectacular cliffs that form a backdrop to this beach vary in hue from white through yellow to a burnt red, and also provide shelter from the winds that can spoil many beaches in this area. There are several bars and tavernas with sunbeds for hire vying for your trade, but the beach is large enough to soak up the attention. And as if the setting weren’t enough, hot springs under the sea provide a free thermal spa. Stay Artemis hotel (doubles from €100 B&B) offers affordable luxury right on the beach. One of the best tavernas on Milos, Psar avolada , is just up the road.
Super Paradise, Mykonos
People go to Greek beaches for all sorts of reasons, and for some it is to party. Some places on Mykonos devoted to hedonism are truly grim, but not Super Paradise beach on the south coast. Golden sand, clear water and non-stop music and dancing make this the best hangout on the island – its famous club hosts all-nighters that attract hardcore partiers from all over the world. The nearby Jackie O’ Beach Club & Restaurant , also on the beach, is the place to chill, with good food, drinks and drag queens.
Stay Mykonos can be hugely expensive, but camping with your own tent at Paraga Beach Hostel , just round the coast, costs from €30 a night for two.
Photograph: Jan Wlodarczyk/Alamy
Crete has many world-class beaches, and some are getting overcrowded (there are rumours that the famous Elafonisi might start to restrict numbers). The white powder and blue lagoon water of Balos beach, at the tip of the Gramvousa peninsula in the far north-west, does get busy in the middle of the day when the boat trips arrive. The trick is to come early and stay late. This is easier said than done, as getting there involves a 12km drive on a dirt road followed by a 1km hike, but it more than rewards your effort.
Stay The starting point for the drive is the village of Kaliviani, home to Kaliviani Traditional Hotel (doubles from €65), with views of the Gramvousa.
Greek beaches chosen by Andrew Bostock, author of the new Bradt guide to the Peloponnese
Turkey Çirali, Kemer, Antalya
Photograph: Silverjohn/Getty Images
For the ultimate beach – the softest sands, which you can step straight on to – make for Çirali. Several miles of beach are backed by orange groves and shady gardens hung with hammocks and lanterns, and dotted with the discreetly low-density holiday cabins of hotels like the Arcadia. It offers fabulous breakfasts and bikes for exploring the nearby village, a place with a fierce environmental commitment, where the order of the day is salads, filled g özleme flatbreads and beer on shaded timber platforms. Walk the beach to the west end where a riverside footpath leads past a ticket office, sometimes manned, into the fig-strangled ruins of ancient Olympos. Or bike and hike out to the mysterious Chimaera, where flaming gases vent from a myth-haunted hillside.
Stay Arcadia Beach (doubles from £105).
Kabak, near Uzunyurt Köyü, Muğla
Photograph: Hydromet/Getty Images
The tarmac ends above Kabak, where a 4WD shuttles visitors down a precipitous mountain track. The raised hair is worth it: at the bottom there’s a hidden sand and shingle beach, yoga platforms, driftwood juice bars and the lingering scent of patchouli. This legendary Shangri-la has been at the heart of the Turkish Med’s alternative scene for decades, but rather than being exclusively a hippy hangout, Kabak’s always been open to all-comers. Discovered in recent years, Kabak nevertheless retains a rare beauty, largely because of the care of its devotees and the forest behind the beach, which is home to delightful Crusoe-style camps like Turan’s. Famed for diverse fauna and flora, especially its turtles and butterflies, Kabak is also popular with hikers, who use it as a base for exploring local trails and the long-distance Lycian Way .
Stay Turan Camping has deluxe tents on wooden platforms (from £34 a night for two half-board) and also houses and bungalows.
Iztuzu, Dalyan, Muğla
Photograph: Kenan Olgun/Getty Images
By valiantly fending off every last developer, this vast delta beach has survived as a spectacular stronghold for the endangered loggerhead turtles which nest here on summer nights when the beach is off-limits to visitors. Despite lines in the sand which mark where the parasols and the sun loungers stop – the environmental rules are strictly observed – there’s plenty of room on this famously golden and family-friendly strand. The beach is reached from the town of Dalyan, where the local boatmen’s cooperative runs regular shuttle services, which take half an hour to wind through the reed beds. The beach facilities – changing rooms, freshwater showers and a cafe – are decidedly simple, and the nearest overnight accommodation is in Dalyan’s likably no-frills riverside pensions. Other local draws include the ancient city ruins at Kaunos, where major excavations have been taking place, and wallowing in the open-air thermal mud baths.
Stay Dalyan Pansi on (doubles from £39)
Patara, Kalkan, Antalya
Photograph: Mustafa Olgun/Alamy
For more than 10 miles, the dune-backed sands of Patara beach run pristine and uninterrupted, with no structures more permanent than the palm-roofed facility shacks – with showers, changing rooms and cold drinks – at either end. There are loungers and parasols are for hire at the east end, which is served by shuttle minibuses from Kalkan – a bustling holiday port that’s just a 15-minute drive away and home to one of the Turkish Med’s most delightful, if a little pricey, boutique hotels, Villa Mahal . There’s a modest entrance fee, plus a supplement for visitors to the must-see ruins of Roman Patara, and what may be the world’s oldest standing lighthouse, among other historic marvels. Those with their own transport may wish to follow the locals to the more remote west end at Karadere (no fee), where extended families stage spectacular barbecues among the dunes.
Stay T ürk Evi (doubles from £35) is in the old part of town.
Akvaryum, Bozcaada, Çanakkale
Bozcaada harbor. Photograph: Alamy
Bozcaada is one of just two Turkish islands in the Aegean, with some of the region’s best sand beaches, and a must for visitors to nearby Troy and the battlefields of Gallipoli . It’s a small island, just a few miles long, so hire a bike to take in a few beaches – the locals tend to make for the sheltered ones, depending on the day’s wind direction – but be sure to get to Akvaryum. Named for the clarity of its shallow waters (it means aquarium), and bookended by miniature headlands, Akvaryum also boasts impressive legendary associations as the place where the Greek fleet hid while waiting for the Trojans to fall for their wooden horse ruse. Regular ferries make the 30-minute crossing from mainland Geyikli to the handsome Ottoman port, where attractive townhouse accommodation can be found.
Stay Latife Hanim Konağı (doubles from £49).
Turkish beaches chosen by Jeremy Seal
Croatia Maslinica, Šolta
The island of Šolta hides in plain sight: it’s a short ferry ride from Split, yet it receives only fraction of the visitors that head to big-hitting neighbours Hvar and Brač. Tucked into its western end is the fishing village of Maslinica, with a smart little marina and a cute, pebbly beach at the mouth of the harbour. It’s big enough for a beach cafe, kayak rental and a few sunloungers, but still has an intimate village feel. And its western aspect means extraordinary sunsets. Just beyond the beach is an archipelago of seven small islands, which can be explored via kayak or boat.
Stay Villa Berg (from €80 a night sleeping four) has two well-equipped apartments near the beach, with sea-facing balconies.
Sleepy doesn’t begin to describe Cres. Despite being one of Croatia’s biggest islands, it has little development along its long indented coastline. In the small hamlet of Valun in the west of the island, a path leads from the harbour to the pebble beach. Pine groves offer shade and shelter and there are paddleboards, kayaks and sunloungers to rent, and the atmosphere is as chilled-out as the rest of the island. Lunch in the village on superior fish in the harbourside restaurants.
Stay Waterside restaurant MaMaLu also has basic rooms upstairs, some with a terrace (doubles from €60 room only).
Čikat Bay, Lošinj
Photograph: Marco Secchi/Alamy
Čikat Bay was the preferred holiday destination of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef in the 19th century: he was very taken by its exceptionally fresh air, scented by pine forests and wild herbs. The bay is still enticing, its deeply indented three prongs sheltering tiny pebbly coves, as well as a partially sandy beach, a mini marina and some very grand hotels. It’s a proper family affair, with play areas, cafes and watersports, and a pine-shaded cycle trail/footpath hugs a fair chunk of the island.
Stay Villa Diana (doubles from €110 B&B) is a handsome four-star hotel on the waterfront, with sea views and a restaurant terrace.
Photograph: Simun Ascic/Alamy
One of the Adriatic’s greenest islands, Mljet also has that rare thing in Croatia: sandy beaches. Just 20 minutes’ walk from busier Saplunara beach is the more tranquil Blaće, in sheltered Limuni Bay in the south-east of the island. Pine trees provide a cooling backdrop to the warm, shallow waters, which feel more like a lagoon. There are no beach facilities – they’re back in Saplunara – but there is a sense of peace.
Stay Simply furnished Apartments Pavlić (from €38, sleep three) are in Saplunara village, overlooking the beach.
Just a few kilometres west of Croatia’s most recognisable beach, the V-shaped Zlatni Rat, there’s a much quieter scene at Murvica beach. Take the path from Murvica village down the hill past olive groves and vineyards to the shingle beach backed by fragrant pines. There are no crowds or neat rows of sunloungers here, just a rustic beach cafe, views of the island of Hvar and clear blue-green water.
Stay In an attractive stone house, apartments at Murvica Bol House (from €65 a night, sleeping five) all have barbecues and terraces with sea views.
Croatian beaches chosen by Mary Novakovich
The Baltic Sopot, Poland
Photograph: nightman1965/Getty Images
The bustling resort of Sopot is perennially popular and with good reason: it has one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in Poland and something for everyone – from families to party animals. The beach itself is a broad, well-looked-after strip that runs for several kilometres, backed by restaurants and cafes and a seaside cycle path that runs all the way to the port city of Gdańsk. The late-opening pier is good for catching sunsets, and fish-fry huts are a local speciality: the beachside Bar Przystań is famous for its seafood soup.
Stay Pensjonat Irena (doubles from £38 B&B ) offers cute rooms on a leafy street.
Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images
Built for 19th-century royals in search of sea air, this resort is a mix of belle-époque grandeur and small-town charm. Neo-classical buildings and manicured parks line a strip of gold-grey sand dotted with Strandkörbe , the two-person beach seats so characteristic of Germany’s Baltic coast. Heringsdorf is on Usedom island, which boasts almost 20km of uninterrupted beach. Take in the panorama from the pier then pick up a snack from one of the numerous stalls at the landward end of Heringdorf pier, or head inland to Domkes Fischpavillon for fresh fried cod.
Stay A grand 19th-century pile on the seafront, Hotel Esplanade (doubles from €80 B&B) has bright rooms and an indoor pool.
Blessed with a famously long and sandy coastline, Latvians are somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to places to throw down their towels. Ventspils on the west coast has the advantage of being both a beach resort and a lively port city. The fine, silky sands are popular with kitesurfers in spring and summer, and year-round for amber-hunters – nuggets of the ancient resin are frequently washed up after storms. The beach is separated by a belt of dunes from an open-air museum , complete with narrow-gauge railway, an aquapark and the Children’s Town activity playground.
Stay Raibie Logi (rooms from €58 B&B) has cosy doubles and family rooms in a charming timber house.
Set among the pines and reed beds of the Lahemaa national park, Võsu Bay is almost a relief after the long unbroken beaches that line much of the Baltic coast. With fine tawny sand between boulder-strewn promontories, the bay is exceedingly shallow, making it perfect for paddling and wading, and there’s a smattering of food and drink facilities in summer. Võsu itself is a straggling low-rise village with bags of rustic appeal, and there are loads of exhilarating nature hikes right on the doorstep.
Stay Rannaliiv Guesthouse (doubles from €58 room-only) offers simple rooms in a nice garden near the beach.
Photograph: Getty Images
Beneath towering dunes on the south side of the Curonian Spit, the cute fishing village of Nida serves as summertime capital for Lithuania’s arty elite. The beach is 3km from town on the opposite shore of the spit and has designated nudist and female-only sections, and a small children’s activity park. It’s everything that you would expect from a Baltic strand: long, straight, seemingly endless in both directions, and popular with sunbathers and paddlers during the short Lithuanian summer. Drinks and snacks are limited – save your appetite for the famously tangy smoked fish on offer in Nida itself.
Stay Nidos Seklyčia guesthouse (doubles from €50 room-only) has njoy the traditional furnishings and soothingly vegetal wallpapers.
Baltic beaches chosen by Jonathan Bousfield
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