From Italy to Greece and France to Croatia, these secluded beaches in Europe offer all of the beautiful views and none of the crowds. By Julia Buckley
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket-list adventure.
Sure, Europe has history, art, and a myriad of cultures packed into one easy-to-navigate continent, but if you’re going during summer, you also need to know about its beaches. Fringing the top half of the Mediterranean Sea, there’s everything on offer here, from thick, diggable sand to dramatic cliffs, teeny coves to deserted island coastlines. They’re not all busy, either. Here are 10 of Europe’s loveliest beaches that you can make your own.
San Giovanni di Sinis, Sardinia, Italy
The north coast of Sardinia is famous for its sugar-sanded, Maldives-style beaches, which is why everyone flocks there. But all of Sardinia’s coastline is spectacular — you just have to work a little harder to reach the less obvious beaches. The east coast offers one spectacular cove after the next, but they can be steep and inaccessible, and you don’t want to go rock climbing on vacation. So, my vote goes to the west coast, where the long, dune-humped Sinis peninsula dangles into the Mediterranean, about half an hour from Oristano. Ending in a natural reserve, one beach melts into the next — my favourite, just after the village of San Giovanni di Sinis, is a quick stumble across the dunes from some bar shacks, and it sits dramatically in the shadow of the ruined Roman citadel of Tharros.
Praia da Ilha de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal
The Algarve is one of Europe’s most-loved coastal regions, but while everyone flocks to the high-rise hotels in the west, the far east coast, wedged up against the Spanish border, is much less trammelled. As the name suggests, Praia da Ilha de Tavira is an island — or rather, it’s a dune-like sandbar floating just off the coast at pretty Tavira. The sand is thick, deep, and the colour of clotted cream; the gently shelving sea is as calm as a lagoon; and the beach stretches as far as the eye can see. There’s not much shade, but you can rent a lounger and rattan parasol.
Sa Riera, Costa Brava, Spain
A croissant of sand snatched from the rocky coastline, Sa Riera doubles as a tiny fishing village and a delectable beach. Sunbathe on either side of the plinth where the fishing boats were dragged up earlier in the morning, go scrambling over the rocks, or enjoy a snorkelling or diving session. The coastline around here is known for shipwrecks, caves, and ancient remains, and at Aiguablava, you’ll swim along a seabed littered with Roman amphorae. This is Spain’s cultural stretch of coast — both medieval Girona and the Dali Triangle (sites linked to the surrealist painter) are within an hour or so’s drive.
Psili Ammos, Patmos, Greece
You’ll need to follow the hoofprints to Psili Ammos — the donkey that delivers supplies to the beachside cafe each morning will lead you on the half-hour trek across the rumpled dunes. This is the southwestern tip of Patmos, the holy island in the Dodecanese where St. John is said to have holed up in a cave to write the Book of Revelation. These days, it’s equally quiet, though unlike the saint, you won’t be expected to do any work on this semicircle of cookie-coloured sand with steep cliffs rearing up behind. The far end is a nudist beach, but worry not — you’ll get no strange looks for being clothed on the rest of it. Take a dip in the shallow waters, sunbathe under the tamarisk trees, and don’t forget to buy a beer from the cafe — that donkey didn’t come here for nothing.
Argèles-sur-Mer, Languedoc, France
Wedged between the Mediterranean and Pyrenees mountains on the border with Spain, Argèles-sur-Mer is a gorgeous gumbo of French and Catalan architecture, complete with an imposing, square-blocked castle dating back to the seventh century, a couple of miles south. But it’s the beach that you’re here for — almost four whole miles (6.4 kilometres) of soft sand that you’ll want to get ankle-deep in. There are sun loungers for hire, but this is the kind of place to buy your own chair at the supermarket and haul it across the sand.
Latchi, Polis, Cyprus
Beaches don’t get much bigger than this enormous swirl of sand framing the gigantic Polis Bay in Cyprus’ unspoiled northwestern tip. And the Mediterranean doesn’t get much warmer, either — down here, it feels like stepping into a tepid bath, even in October or April. Outside peak season, you’ll pretty much have the entire bay to yourself, with just joggers for company. Bring your own gear and jump right in. For lunch, walk west along the beach, past the marina, to Yialos Beach Grill for some halloumi, souvlaki, lamb chops, and sheftalia sausages flamed over the sand-side, coal-fired grill.
Cala Saladeta, Ibiza, Spain
On the west coast of the White Isle lies Cala Salada, a little cove backed by thick shrubbery, with a sickle of sand and rock slabs cantilevered over the water to moor boats against or sunbathe on. That’s not your goal, though; instead, follow the footpath across the headland and you’ll reach Cala Saladeta, the next cove along, cocooned by low rocks and bushy tree-peppered headland. It’s quieter, with a sliver of sand and the odd dinky boat bobbing in the jade water. It’s also small, though, so if there are already too many people for your liking, take to the flat rocks shelving into the water. Didn’t bring snacks? Pop back to Cala Salada’s great little beachside restaurant.
Sveti Jakov, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Swollen streets, crowded waterfronts, and the air thickened with selfie sticks — that’s the Dubrovnik we all know and (try to) love. But just a mile south of town, it’s a different world at Sveti Jakov, a calm, pebble-sand beach overlooking peaceful Lokrum island, with views of the Old Town’s packed harbour in the distance. What’s the catch? You’ll face a bit of a hike to get there — either a walk or bus ride to the church at the top, then a 100-plus staircase down the cliff face to reach the beach. On the plus side, there’s a little restaurant to refresh you once you’re there — plus the Adriatic to wallow in.
Aretes, Halkidiki, Greece
Halkidiki’s three long, sandy “fingers” splayed out into the Aegean Sea are home to some of Greece’s best beaches — and that’s saying something. Aretes is one of its most laid-back options, though. The wave-like coastline wiggles itself into three distinct bays — the biggest, a wide sandy stretch that’s calm but popular; beyond it, a rocky stretch; and lastly, a small sandy cove that not many bother walking to. In fact, on a quiet day, it might be all yours. It’s perfectly sized for two, with grey-green rocks shearing up behind the tiny inlet. Head back to the restaurant on the main beach when you get peckish.
Limeuil, Dordogne, France
Let’s end with something that isn’t your average beach. Deep in inland, two and a half hours east of Bordeaux, the Dordogne and Vézère rivers converge at Limeuil, a pretty medieval town. But far more luscious than its honey-hued buildings is the shoreline, on the other side of the river. Here are pebbly shores and wide, grassy banks shaded by ancient trees that can stave off the intense summer heat. Wade into the river, look up at the limestone cliffs where early man used to live (this area is the cave-painting capital of Europe), swim in the slow-flowing water, and you’ll feel totally at one with nature. Then, toast your fortune with wine and frites from the food truck at the side.