Most people think of city vacations when it comes to Europe, but there are plenty of world-class beach destinations well worth a trip across the pond too. Here are just a few of the places you should consider for your next European beach vacation.
The French Riviera
The Mediterranean coast of southeastern France offers a wealth of famously chic beach destinations like Saint Tropez, Cannes and the independent state of Monaco. A favorite of the aristocracy since the 18th century, the French Riviera is the place for glamorous people to be and be seen. It also happens to be filled with gorgeous beaches.
Located on a sheltered gulf, Saint Tropez is one of the longest-standing favorites of the rich and famous. The historic center retains the old-world charm of this Mediterranean seaport, which combined with its plethora of first-class shops, hotels, restaurants and nightlife, makes it a popular luxury beach destination.
Although Cannes is most famous for its film festival, its beaches are no secret either. With the golden sands of Mace and Zamenhof beaches and many private beach clubs off of Boulevard de la Croisette, along with fancy restaurants, boutiques and hotels, Cannes is sure to please the jet setter looking for the best of everything.
Last but not least, is Monaco, a petite independent state bordered by France on three sides. Known universally as a playground for the uber-wealthy, the city of Monte-Carlo is centered on a gorgeous harbor filled with super yachts. This prestigious city is home to palatial hotels, five-star restaurants and glitzy nightlife, with the opulent Monte-Carlo casino and yearly Grand Prix being star attractions. Here you can relax on luxurious beaches by day and enjoy the best in entertainment by night.
The Greek Islands
Why choose the beaches of just one island when you can have many? With hundreds of inhabited islands on offer, there are a lot of choices in the Greek Islands. If white sandy beaches and a vibrant nightlife are your style, head for the party islands of Mykonos or Ios where luxury beach resorts abound. For those who prefer a more serene vacation, Naxos and Crete offer a slower pace along with beautiful beaches, hiking and tours. Santorini is also a good choice with its incredible views, food and wine, however, don’t expect golden sands. The beaches here are made of volcanic sand which is generally black or red.
Almost every island in Greece has at least one great beach, so you really can’t go wrong choosing something more off the beaten track either. Another option is to hop between a few islands. Ferries are inexpensive and frequent, allowing visitors to move about between the islands at their leisure. The best time for a beach vacation is late May to early October when the water and weather is at its peak.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Although Cinque Terre isn’t home to expansive beaches, it’s one true gem in Monterosso al Mare, the fifth village of Cinque Terra (which means Five Lands) makes this a standout option for your next Italian beach vacation. Situated on a rugged section of the Italian Riviera coastline, the five villages and surrounding hillsides are part of Cinque Terre National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Visiting Cinque Terra is like stepping into another world. Old terraced houses are built into the steep, craggy coastline above cliffs that drop dramatically into the turquoise sea. Here there are few roads that allow cars and there is no largescale modern development. Walkways and trains connect the villages on land and boats ferry locals and visitors about on the water. Few places are as utterly charming as Cinque Terra.
The beach at Monterosso is Cinque Terra’s only sandy beach, which means it can get crowded in the middle of summer as tourists flock to the region, however, outside of peak season its clear, aqua waters are absolutely perfect. With day beds and umbrellas for rent on the beach by day and amazing fresh local seafood and boutique hotels for nighttime, it’s hard to beat this spectacular Italian seaside destination.
Menorca is the low-key island alternative to touristy Mallorca and Ibiza in the Balearic Islands off of the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. With endless miles of undeveloped coastline boasting fine sandy beaches and aquamarine bays fringed by pine trees, this quiet island seems a world away from the crowded sands of Mallorca and Ibiza (and actually offers more beaches than the other two combined).
The island’s capital Maó is perched high above a natural harbor on the eastern side of the island, while at the western end lies the beautiful white-washed medieval city of Ciutadella. Regardless of where you stay, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views and countless beaches to explore in this UNESCO Bisosphere Reserve.
Located at the southern end of Croatia’s fantastic Adriatic Coast, Dubrovnik is a place where you feel like you are stepping back in time. Encircled by towering 16th century city walls, the Old Town of Dubrovnik is a labyrinth of old world beauty where the narrow limestone laneways of the Placa are lined with shops and restaurants amidst homes and well-preserved churches and palaces.
Historically an old port, Dubrovnik is today a vibrant UNESCO protected city that boasts over two hundred and fifty days of blue skies and sunshine each year. The coastline of Dubrovnik offers a mix of cliffs and wide sandy beaches, with opportunities for jet skiing, caving and scuba diving as well as decadent beachside relaxing. Whether you’re on a private hotel beach or one of the many sandy public beaches, the azure waters of Dubrovnik beckon all travelers.