The European Beach Towns to Put on Your Radar
Palm-lined stretches of white sand, charming cafés, warm weather, refreshing water – this isn’t Croatia but further down the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. The one-hour train journey from the capital, Podgorica, to the town of Bar passes through gorgeous lake country, past rocky mountains and along a shimmering coastline. Sit amid the opulence of mirrors and chandeliers while noshing on a veggie-loaded Dalmatian stew at locals’ favourite restaurant Knjaževa Bašta (“Prince’s Garden”; Ulica Jovana Tomasevica).
Each suite at Villa Geba, about 40 minutes drive from Bar, is different – the Moorish Salma Suite will have you thinking you’re in a luxury riad in Morocco – but every one looks out to the sparkling Adriatic.
San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily2/17
Wind-beaten cliffs rising above a golden beach and the 79 azure Mediterranean – time seems to stand still at San Vito Lo Capo, about two hours drive west of Palermo. The rock face at sunset is like a painter’s canvas, when pinks, oranges, reds and yellows colour its craggy surface. Gently lapping water is the perfect tonic for stress and Spiaggia di Màcari, just south of the peninsula that the town sits on, is the best place to find it.
The light and airy rooms at Parco Degli Aromi Resort & Spa in nearby Valderice have private balconies with coastal vistas, which you can also take in from the outdoor pool and jacuzzi.
Malta’s ancient capital, Valletta, with its labyrinthine cobblestone streets and balconies stacked like real-life Jenga towers, is a tourist magnet, which may be why many Maltese head for Gozo, the “other” island. Its quiet villages and rocky landscape look a little like nearby Sicily. Xerri’s Grotto, a small cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites, in Xaghrais, is a place few outsiders know about.
The luxurious Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz has breezy rooms, exposed-brick walls and tiled floors that exude a desert-oasis feel.
Cabo de Gata-Níjar, Spain4/17
A hot desert in Europe? Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Reserve, where some Game of Thrones scenes were filmed, is almost six hours drive from Madrid in Spain’s south-east corner. It’s popular with Spaniards thanks to its isolated and ruggedly beautiful landscape.
The whitewashed walls, tiled floors and stunning outdoor pool make hotel Cortijo Los Malenos, only a minute’s drive from the nature reserve, a cool sanctuary.
A horseshoe-shaped bay ringed by white stucco houses with doors as blue as the water, streets filled with people (and donkeys) and the squawk of seabirds on a salt-tinged breeze. Hydra, just 90 minutes by ferry from Athens, is where you’ll find Athenians watching life go by in cafés such as Isalos and visiting swimming spots framed by cypress trees.
In a glamorous early-1800s mansion, luxury boutique hotel Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality charms guests with distracting views of the Saronic Sea.
Güvercinada 85 (Pigeon Island), Turkey6/17
While its fairytale castle conjures images of slaying dragons and other deeds of derring-do, locals flock to this part of the Turkish Riviera off the coast of Kuşadası (less than 90 minutes by car from Izmir), to swim in the warm, sapphire waters of the Aegean.
A little further north, chill out at beachside Club Marvy in Menderes. When hunger hits, head for the on-site steakhouse or Dedem K. Corner back in Kuşadası, where you’ll find deliciously authentic kebabs.
Less than an hour by water taxi from Venice and five minutes from Burano, this island is all about la dolce vita, minus the crowds. Small wonder then that Italians (and Ernest Hemingway when he came in the 1940s) love it.
With barely a dozen residents, you’ll have no trouble getting a table at Taverna Tipica Veneziana or examining the mosaics at 7th-century Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta.
This quiet isle has ancient churches, rustic restaurants and a storied four-star inn, Locanda Cipriani, the hotel of choice for an array of famous guests.
Calanque Des Anglais, France8/17
Along the Côte d’Azur, less than two hours by train from Nice, a pebbly beach surrounded by red rocks gives way to turquoise water. The French visit for the refined escapism and the bistros, such as Chez Gaston in nearby Saint-Raphaël, with its sidewalk tables, steak béarnaise and extensive wine list.
Boutique hotel Les Roches Rouges in Saint-Raphaël opens seasonally (April to October) and has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Récif.
With the crashing waves of the mighty Atlantic on one side and dramatic rocks on the other (and the Santuario da Virxe da Barca church perched on them), the town of Muxía has an edge-of-the-map feel that lures visitors from Bilbao and Madrid, both about seven hours away by car. In Moreira, just south of Muxía, watch the sun sink beneath the waves.
Parador Costa da Morte combines bold design (soaking tubs in some of the 63 rooms are next to the bed) with a waterfront location.
Towards the bottom of the Greek mainland, about three hours’ drive from Athens, land and sea meet in glorious harmony and mythical drama. Beyond the mermaid sculpture on Gytheio’s harbour wall and across the bay, the island of Cranae is where, according to myth, Trojan Prince Paris first took Helen of Sparta after abducting her. When it’s time to dine, check out Saga Fish Restaurant for its ocean views and excellent local seafood, just north of the causeway that connects Cranae with the mainland.
Dining at restaurant Elia overlooking the water makes Alas Resort & Spa in Monemvasia a compelling proposition.
Marina Corricella, Italy11/17
The island of Procida, with its black-sand beaches, is where many Neapolitans head during the summer – and it’s only 40 minutes from Naples by ferry. The pastel-hued houses of its port and working fishing village, Marina Corricella, cover the steep hillside. You’ll find great seafood such as stuffed squid and spaghetti with clams. The terrace at La Lampara restaurant has water views and seats just 35 people.
Casa Bormioli Maison de Charme may look unassuming but its five guestrooms are light-filled and elegant.
Check out the world’s biggest waves – some up to 30 metres – from the stone Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo clifftop fortress in Nazaré, about 90 minutes by car north of Lisbon. Relax below grassy dunes on the sandy (and quiet) Praia da Légua further north – the waves here aren’t building-sized – then pop into A Tasquinha (R. Adrião Batalha 54, Nazaré; +351 262 551 945), where the same family has been serving fresh seafood for more than 50 years.
Book in at Praia D’El Rey Marriott Golf & Beach Resort, about a 30-minute drive from Nazaré, and watch the Atlantic from your balcony.
About 25 minutes by car, across the six-kilometre-long Öland Bridge from Kalmar (nearly six hours by train south of Stockholm or four hours from Copenhagen, Denmark), this island has pine forests, flour-soft sandy beaches and pretty towns with the white-trimmed red wooden houses that Scandinavia is known for. It’s so appealing, the Swedish royal family has a summer palace here. Next door to the regal pile, explore 13th-century Borgholms Slott – Northern Europe’s largest castle ruins – while you enjoy the crisp ocean air.
Ekerum Resort Öland has its own golf course.
There’s nearly 16 kilometres of sandy beach at this seaside spot about two hours by train from London’s Waterloo Station. Behold roaming peacocks at the castle on Brownsea Island and head to family-run M’s Bakery for topnotch sourdough and flaky layered “cube” croissants.
Lay your head at the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel, overlooking Poole Bay.
Sometimes called the “Parisian Riviera” and less than three hours by train from the capital, Deauville has long been a favoured haunt of French high society (F. Scott Fitzgerald even mentions it in The Great Gatsby). Kick back at Plage de Deauville with its candy-coloured umbrellas, beach huts and boardwalk.
Hôtel Barrière Le Normandy Deauville drips with crystal chandeliers. Coco Chanel opened her first boutique nearby in 1913.
Find soft sand, luxury resorts and quaint towns on this island that’s the go-to beach destination for many German holidaymakers. It’s five-anda-half hours by train from Berlin along the Marsh Railway. Just breathing the salty air here has a calming effect, best appreciated at Hörnum Weststrand, a beach near Sylt’s southern tip that’s among its least crowded.
Severin’s on Sylt is built in traditional thatched-roof style and looks like a palatial country estate.