Summer on the world's most romantic content is glorious... if you know where to go to avoid the crowds.
The Amalfi of Asturias
This windswept stretch of the North Atlantic coastline is decidedly off-radar – its westerly neighbour Galicia gets all the gourmet attention and it’s a smidge too far from Madrid or Bilbao for a weekend break. Which is why the sleepy little fishing port of Cudillero is a bit like a real-life fairytale: the tiny harbour is postcard pretty; the sorbet-coloured villas are Amalfi-esque; the dramatic beaches are astonishingly empty and there are actual fisherman hauling in your catch of the day. Visited mostly by in-the-know Spaniards, the village is wonderfully absent of international chain hotels and is instead speckled with family-run casonas and small, no-frills guesthouses. A fancier option slightly out of town is the Casona de la Paca, a crimson-coloured three-star pile with an air of colonial luxury.
Côte d’Argent, France
Where the French go to escape tourists
The wild waves of the North Atlantic crash in front, a shady band of trees sways behind and a clutch of surfers and French families have 230 kilometres of silver sand almost to themselves. Welcome to the Côte d’Argent, perhaps the most beautiful coastline in France, where you can pop open a beach umbrella without hitting one next to you. Bookended by the Gironde estuary in the north and the River Adour in the south, the Silver Coast (south-west of Bordeaux) has so many unspoilt seaside towns it’s difficult to choose one but favourites include Hossegor (for surfing and clubbing), Capbreton (for swimming and shopping) and Moliets-et- Maa (for golf and more surfing). The utterly delicious tuna tataki at La Tetrade Côté Lac in Hossegor will keep serious seafoodies happy.
The grand dame of the Italian Lakes
Why go to Como when Stresa can give you the Italian Lakes experience with more glitz and fewer tourists? On the prettiest edge of Lake Maggiore overlooking the Borromean Islands, Stresa is gobsmackingly beautiful, with a (slightly faded) Fellini-style glamour that makes you want to dress up for dinner. With not a big-name hotel in sight, it’s the gilt-edged resorts along the lakefront that give the town its swagger. The most splendid is the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées & Spa, a palatial confection of marble, chandeliers and old-world charm. Five-star Villa e Palazzo Aminta comes a close second. Visit before the rest of the world discovers this retro gem. And once you’ve explored the cobblestoned streets of the town and dined in Piazza Luigi Cadorna, jump on a three-island boat tour to Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.
The holiday spot for chic Stockholmers
Swedes call the island of Gotland the “Majorca of Sweden”, which is unfair considering this sleepy Viking outpost, about 90 kilometres off the east coast in the twinkling Baltic Sea, is the opposite of glitz. Aside from the cobblestoned streets, narrow laneways and rubbly church ruins that add a step-back-in-time feel to the main town of Visby, a trip to Gotland is all about nature, with deserted beaches the star attraction. Even more beautiful is the teeny island of Fårö, a free, seven-minute car-ferry ride from Gotland and so secluded you can drive its almost 20-kilometre length and often not see another car. You will, however, see giant limestone “rauks” (monolithic stones that look like an homage to Stonehenge), old windmills and weather-beaten beach huts on the northern peninsula. Back on Gotland itself, stay at Fabriken Fulrillen, a minimalist hipster marvel set in a disused quarry.
Azores Islands, Portugal
A lush getaway in the middle of nowhere
Rugged, wild and stunningly beautiful, Portugal’s emerald-green Azores Islands are also blissfully empty, partly because they’re not remotely close to anywhere and partly because people just don’t know about them. Of the nine islands that sit like jewels in the volcanic North Atlantic archipelago, São Miguel is the largest, its landscape a dreamy combination of forests, volcanoes, crater lakes, hot springs, mountains and beaches. The Furnas Boutique Hotel Thermal & Spa is an oasis where hopping from the outdoor thermal pool to the indoor thermal pool might be all you can manage.
The Med minus the mayhem
Italy owns a sliver of it and Slovenia a small chunk but Croatia claims the lion’s share of this peninsula on the Adriatic’s northernmost tip. Long overlooked in favour of the Dalmatian Coast, Istria has remained delightfully untarnished by the tourist rabble. What makes it so special is the region’s Italian influence (Italy owned Istria from 1918 to 1945), not just in terms of food (fresh oysters and sardines), wine (loads of good local drops) and its laid-back feeling but also the architecture: there’s a hint of Cinque Terre about the seaside town of Rovinj, while Pula, Istria’s capital, is heaving with Roman ruins (including an amphitheatre that’s a better-preserved version of Rome’s Colosseum). If you’re not fussy about staying coastal, the San Canzian Village & Hotel is a renovated old fortress. In Rovinj, Villa Tuttorotto is a 16th-century boutique hotel that’s perfect for a seaside stay.