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Visit almost any large European city in July or August and it will feel noticeably empty. Why? Because everyone’s at the beach, of course. Madrid-based TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino explores some of the best European beach destinations, appropriate for both European city-dwellers and foreign tourists anxious for a a little sun and sand.
1. Ibiza, Spain
The convenient part about Ibiza is that although it’s an island, you can easily arrive there by plane from several European cities or by boat from Barcelona. The third-largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Ibiza is known for being sexy, full of parties, and strewn with beaches to fit any style of traveler.
Just a 10-minute drive from nearby San Jose (where many hotels are found), Cala d’Hort is a small, idyllic beach where you can relax over a cocktail and/or some fresh seafood at the laid-back Es Boldado. Sa Pedrera is a unique beach, nicknamed Atlantis for its “treasure” where you can discover faces, dragons and other symbolic carvings in the rocky cliffs (sculptors have been carving here for centuries); it also doubles as a hiking or rock climbing area.
If you’re hoping to see the sassier side of Ibiza for a little fun in the sun, hit up Cafe del Mar at the busy and famous San Antonio beach, where you can sip mojitos and watch the sunset among a trendy, easy-on-the-eyes crowd of beachgoers.
If you’re heading to Ibiza to party and have money to spend, stay in the Hard Rock Ibiza (room rates start at 498 euros/$679 in high season) or for a more tranquil stay, try the boutique hotel Ses Pitreras (room rates start at 300 euros/$409 in high season). Keep in mind that Ibiza is pretty dead if you don’t go in high season, which is end of May to early September. However, low season may be a great time to get better prices and have a calm beach vacation if that’s what you crave.
Tip: Wear white, it’s the signature color of Ibiza.
2. Le Bombarde, Sardinia, Italy
One of the hottest spots in Northern Sardinia for Italian beachcombers, most of whom are young, scantily clad and good-looking, the enchanting Italian paradise of La Bombarde offers soft white sands and blue-green waters surrounded by a forest. From the nearby town of Alghero, you can bike here (the trip will take about 3o minutes), hop on a bus or drive. It’s about a two-hour drive from the upscale yachting area Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda (yachting with Giorgio Armani, anyone?). Le Bombarde beach is authentic Italian — I’ve never seen an American here, so if you want full immersion, this is your spot. Don’t forget your Speedo and your tan — you’ll feel out of place here if you are pale and wearing big swim trunks. The beach bars often have night beach parties that last long into the wee hours of the morning, and the highly coveted sands get packed during the day, so get here early if you want to rent a chair or score a prime spot.
It’s also a great location to test your luck at windsurfing, and you can rent your equipment or sign up for a class at J & B. There are campgrounds in the woods surrounding the beach, or the only beach hotel available is the Hotel dei Pini (room rates starting at 220 euros/$300 in high season), which offers their own private section of the beach or you could also stay in the nearby town of Alghero.
3. Senhora da Rocha, Algarve, Portugal
Nestled between rocky, tall cliffs and situated between Sagres and Faro, this Algarve sands paradise is quaint and relaxing. While it fills up in summer, you can get great weather in late spring without spotting a single other soul on the beach if you are looking for a quiet time to go. Fly into Faro and rent a car or take a bus to this curious seaside spot. The (only) small beach bar there served up some of the very best dorada a la sal (salted bream) I have ever had that was caught just moments before it hit my plate.
If you get tired of laying on the beach, take a walk up to the cliffs for stunning views or pop into the Capela da Nossa Senhora da Rocha, the small chapel perched atop one of the nearby cliffs. Rumor has it the Virgin Mary has “appeared” here several times. If you’re seeking a bit more excitement, visit the nearby town of Armação de Pêra, which has stretches of beautiful beaches, lots of restaurants, and makes their own specialty wine. Sagres also isn’t far off, and you can make it a point to stand on the westernmost point of Europe there.
For a family- friendly vacation in the area, stay at the Pestana Viking Resort (room rates start at 194 euros/$264 per night in high season) perched on a cliff-top overlooking this beach. The kids will love the big outdoor/indoor pools. (I once stayed in a sea view room in low season (April) for just 55 euros/$75 a night).
4. Plakias, Crete, Greece
The beach options in Crete alone are literally ENDLESS, but one of my favorites is Plakias. It seems to have something for everyone. Located in the Rethymnon region, Plakias beach has a few beach bars and rental chairs, but wasn’t overly crowded or touristy. There is a small nude section on one side near the rocks, but you can stray far away from this if it isn’t your thing. The snorkeling is surprisingly fantastic. I barely swam off the shoreline and unexpectedly encountered some reefs and some enormous tropical fish.
This would be a great spot to come for a romantic beach day or have a whole a romantic beach week at the Alianthos Garden Hotel (room rates start at 110 euros/$150 in high season). Just beware, if you plan on driving over from the north side of the island, you will drive through a rocky, windy mountain range. Signs suggest that if it’s very windy to not drive through the range, but of course, it’s tough to measure this, so hold on to your hat and hope for the best.
5. Cassis France
This picturesque French seaside port is an easy drive, train or bus from Marseille, about 20 km (12 miles). The lovely part is that it’s just as beautiful as Cannes and St. Tropez, but not nearly as touristy or overpriced. It also happens to have some great scuba diving due to small neighboring beaches with sheltered inlets called calanques, which can be found on the Plage de Corton, Plage de L’Arene or the Plage de Bestouan. Cassis Divers offers many packages including day trips or full on diving vacations for 7-10 days. This beach is calm, but also has plenty of restaurants and activities, making it perfect for a family trip. Relax at the cute boutique hotel Le Jardin D’Emile (rooms rates start at 109 euros/$148 in high season) that has rooms overlooking the beautiful Cap Canaille and Bestouan Beach.
Do you plan on taking a beach vacation to Europe this summer? If so, share your trips below.