For a relatively small continent, Europe has some extraordinary coastlines. Their variety is dizzying, from sheltered rocky coves fringed with olive trees to vast stretches of soft sandy beaches. Whittling down the list for possible beach holidays on this continent can be tough, so here are a few places that will get you in the mood for lazy days in the sun.
Sandy beaches are a rarity in Croatia, but on this small island in the Kvarner Gulf, you’ve got 22 to choose from. Rab’s aptly named Paradise Beach on the Lopar peninsula is a good place to start for a relaxing beach holiday. It's got a 1.5km sweep of sand and clear shallow waters. Or take a half-hour hike through woods to reach Sahara Beach in a sheltered inlet – a popular spot for naturists.
It’s hard to find a beach with a more dramatic backdrop than Tropea’s steep cliffs, where brightly coloured houses cling on, seemingly in defiance of gravity. Down in Italy’s toe, Calabria’s prettiest town hovers over several sandy beaches as well as a rocky promontory topped by the church of Santa Maria dell’Isola. Calabria is one of Italy’s least developed regions, and its warmth comes not just from the southern sun and the famously spicy cuisine, but from the people too.
Just north of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey are some of the country’s least developed beaches. Start in the small village of Sinemorets and work your way down the indented coast, where quiet golden-sand beaches are surrounded by protected nature reserves and pine forests. Bring your own picnic to the secluded sands of Lipite Beach and Silistar Beach, as you won’t find the bars and clubs that dominate the resorts further north.
Everyone’s on a bike on this chilled-out French Atlantic island, where 100km of cycle trails wind past sandy beaches, vineyards, salt pans and pine forests. Head inland where oyster beds hint at the gorgeous seafood on offer at the food market in the village of La Flotte. After a day on the dunes at Sainte-Marie-de-Ré’s beach, try one of the quayside cafés in St-Martin-de-Ré.
Strap on your swimming shoes to get the most out of the long rocky beach at Monodendri on the east coast of Paxos. You’ll be able to see every detail of the pebbles in the sparkling waters of the Ionian Sea here. Pine and olive trees offer shade, and both of the beach restaurants serve classic Greek dishes; one even has an outdoor pool.
Norfolk’s North Sea coast might not have the balmy climate of its Continental counterparts, but the 6km of Holkham Beach’s soft and often empty sands are very tempting all the same. Rent a bike and check out the Norfolk Coast Cycleway along the coast to Wells-next-the-Sea, where rustic beach huts give the area an old-fashioned charm.
There’s a wonderfully traditional and mellow air to the beach at Santa Margarita Ligure. Away from the smart yachts in the pleasure port, you can still watch the fishermen offload their catch, destined for the seafront restaurants. The town makes a good base for exploring this part of Italy’s Ligurian coast, with classy Portofino just to the west and the exquisite Cinque Terre villages a short train ride away.
Germany’s largest island is also one of its most popular holiday destinations, a fascinating mix of Victorian resorts, sandy and stony beaches, and a national park with imposing chalk cliffs. The most entertaining way of getting around Rügen is by the historic steam railway which connects its eastern beaches. For one of the strangest relics of Nazi Germany, stop at Prora and check out the ruins of what was supposed to be the world’s largest beach resort.
The windswept coast of France’s Languedoc region seems to go on forever as it stretches from the Camargue to the Spanish coast (when it technically becomes Roussillon). Even in the height of summer, there’s plenty of sandy beach to go round. On the western fringe of the Camargue is Plage de l’Espiguette, nearly 10km of untamed dunes and, refreshingly, not much else. If it’s beach bars you’re after, head to nearby Le Grau du Roi or La Grande Motte.
The Costa da Morte in Spain’s northwestern tip might be known as the Coast of Death – thanks to a few too many nineteenth-century shipwrecks – but its beaches are heavenly. Carnota is the longest beach in Galicia, a wild 7km stretch of white sand backed by marshland, dunes and mountains. Stroll along the wooden walkways that cross the marshes and catch glimpses of herons and other wildlife.
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