12 of the best beach towns in southern Europe

Category: Beer Humor
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Quiet islands, Venetian harbours, sumptuous seafood and golden sands these seaside towns in France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Portugal are ingrained with the spirit of summer

Sanremo, Liguria, Italy

Called City of Flowers for its bloom-laden streets, Sanremo is Italy’s Monte Carlo – with a grand 1905 casino but not Monaco prices. It’s popular with families, and in true Italian style most beaches charge for entry. However, there is a spiaggia libera in the centre, off Corso Trento Trieste, and it’s fun to take the trolleybus (filobus, line U) west to the free beaches of Bagni Azzurri and Tre Ponti. Sanremo’s atmospheric old town, called La Pigna, is a warren of covered alleys, steps and little squares.

Where to eat/drink
On the main road behind the marina, Basilico e Pinoli does excellent coffee and breakfasts, with lots for vegetarians and vegans. At Osteria Camelot – in an 18th-century house at the foot of La Pigna – try octopus carpaccio (€10), swordfish gnocchi (€10) or seared tuna with sesame (€15).

Where to eat stay
With a roof terrace overlooking the central beaches, Residence dei Due Porti has smart apartments from €85 a night (minimum stays in summer). Families can get good-value deals in places such as Hotel Marinella, handy for the beach, with half-board in a spacious quad room €220 a night for four in July.

Getting there
The nearest airport is Nice, served by easyJet from seven UK airports, and by Ryanair from Stansted. Eurostar trains go from London St Pancras from £190 return. It’s a scenic 90-minute train ride along the Côte d’Azur and over the border to Sanremo (from €5.80 one-way).
Liz Boulter

Sciacca, south-west Sicily

Photograph: Antonio Zanghì/Getty Images

In this south-coast port (pronounced “shacka”) founded by ancient Greeks, tourism comes second to fishing. The town spreads uphill from the harbour, with panoramic Piazza Scandaliato the town’s beating heart. Above are steep streets of 16th-century houses, a baroque cathedral and the remains of a castle. It’s also a short drive to the ruins of Selinunte, more evocative and less busy than Agrigento’s. There’s a sandy beach by the harbour, but 7km to the east is wilder Sovareto, with white sand and clear water.

Where to eat/drink
Tired of fizzy Peroni? Head to
Mastro Malto beer shop on the harbour, with a wide choice of mostly Italian craft ales on draught and in bottles, and tasty nibbles. This is, obviously, a town for dining on fish. Try Pane e Vino (Vicolo Sammaritano 22-24, no website) in an alley above the piazza, for fish caponata – with aubergines and onions – and huge prawns. Dinner for two with wine about €70.

Where to stay
Sciacca’s accommodation is mostly B&Bs. Particularly striking is the Vittorio Emanuele (about €60 B&B), with five elegant rooms in a courtyarded 17th-century palazzo. Two rooms have terraces overlooking the route of Sciacca’s mid-August festival parade.

Getting there

Sciacca is about 1h 20min by car from Palermo airport, served by Ryanair from Manchester and Stansted, and easyJet from Liverpool, Luton and Gatwick.

Viana do Castelo, northern Portugal

Santa Luzia basilica seen from Praia do Cabedelo. Photograph: Fotokon/Getty Images

At the mouth of the river Lima on the Atlantic coast, Viana do Castelo is a particularly pretty town, backed by the basilica-topped Santa Luiza hill (jump on a funicular for amazing views, €3 round trip). The charming medieval centre radiates out from bar-lined Praça da República and the narrow winding streets and wide, leafy boulevards are dotted with churches and impressive buildings, with architectural styles from baroque to art deco. There are wild beaches galore: to the south is Praia do Cabedelo, an endless sandy stretch backed by dunes and pine forest that’s great for surfing and windsurfing, and cycle paths and walking trails run along both river and coast.

Where to eat/drink
For great fish and seafood try small, family-run
Tasquinha da Linda right on the port. The custard doughnuts from Confeitaria Natário are famous – expect queues.

Where to stay
Hotel Fabrica do Chocolate (doubles from €84 B&B) makes a fun, central base – it’s a converted chocolate factory with a good restaurant (chocolate fountains at breakfast!) and a chocolate museum on-site .

Getting there
Porto is the closest airport (67km away, an hour by bus), served by various airlines, including easyJet and Ryanair.
Jane Dunford

Peniche, central Portugal

Praia do Baleal. Photograph: Alamy

Set on a peninsula of the same name, 100km north of Lisbon, Peniche is a working port surrounded by sandy beaches and cliffs riddled with caves. Surfers gather here year-round because if there are no waves on one side of the peninsula, there are likely to be on the other. The most famous beach is Supertubos, which has one of the best surf breaks in the world, that produces curvy waves and hollow powerful tubes. There are also hidden coves to discover on Praia do Baleal, and Praia da Almagreira has fantastic dunes. Take a boat to Berlenga Grande, a wild island 12km off the coast, to discover sea caves and the 16th-century John the Baptist fortress (boats leave daily).

Where to eat
The harbour is packed with great seafood restaurants. Feast on caldeirada – a Portuguese stew of shellfish, eels and octopus made in a large pot for sharing – at Restaurante Marisqueira dos Cortiçais. Snack Bar Sol é Vida excels with its fresh crab – perfect with a bottle of vinho verde on the veranda.

Where to eat stay
The 19th-century mansion Quinta do Juncal offers rustic luxury for rustic prices (doubles from €60 B&B) or head out to camp on Berlenga island and wake to spectacular dawns (from €8, reservations via the tourist office,

Getting there
The nearest airport is Lisbon (easyJet and Ryanair fly there from several UK airports).
Edwina Pitcher

Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, Spain

Playa de Bajo de Guía. Photograph: Alamy

Sanlúcar is a heady mix of palaces, churches and cathedral-like bodegas, topped by a castle. For centuries it was home to the Duke of Medina Sidonia and a departure point for voyages to the new world. Seville aristocracy began decamping here for summer fun in the 19th century and a convivial, relaxed party spirit continues. Sitting at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river, facing the wild dunes of Doñana national park, it has 6km of sandy beaches and the pellucid sea informs every aspect of this lovely town, from the extraordinary light to the manzanilla sherry made from grapes grown in salty air. The best time to come – though actually the worst time to be sitting on Playa de la Calzada – is during August’s Carreras de Caballos, when horses are raced along the beach during the evening low tides (8-10 and 22-24 August 2018).

Where to eat
Eat fish at tables by the sea along Playa de Bajo de Guía – try arroz con bogavante (rice with lobster) at
Casa Bigote (mains €15), or in tapas form at the lively Casa Balbino.

Where to stay
Trawl AirBnB for private palaces, or opt for the quirky Posada de Palacio (doubles from €50 room only).

Getting there The closest airports are Jerez (34km, Ryanair from Stansted) and Seville (110km, several airlines).
Sorrel Downer

San José, Almería, Spain

Photograph: Loop Images/Slawek Staszczuk/Getty Images

The white buildings and arid hills are reminiscent of Greece. It’s backed by the cactus desert landscapes of spaghetti westerns and, in summer, is swelled by the cool and bohemian from across Europe, yet this remains a quintessentially Spanish seaside destination. It’s the place to go in Almería with the kids in July or August. San José bustles but is sweet and easy. Rent umbrellas, loungers, pedalos and kayaks from the man on the sand; or explore the crystalline marine park by kayak (adult from €25, child from €15, or go below (snorkelling from €25, diving from €30, The main beach is wide and white, there are smaller bays east beyond the marina, and the famous protected beaches of Genoveses and Mónsul start 1km to the west (accessible by shuttle bus).

Where to eat
While views at El Jardín (mains €9) aren’t the best, the fresh salads, pizzas and crepes are delicious. And don’t miss the arroz meloso de pulpo y almejas (sticky rice with octopus and clams) at upmarket 4 Nudos (mains €15) in the Club Náutico in the marina. The main beach is lined by restaurants.

Where to stay
Boutique hotel MC San José (low-season doubles from €70) is the chic choice, and Refugio Calahiguera (doubles €55), in a nearby cove, the budget choice.

Getting there Jet2 flies to Almería (32km from San Jose) from eight UK airports. Also see TUI, Ryanair, easyJet and Thomas Cook.

Galaxidi, Gulf of Corinth, Greece

Breakfast at the Ganimede Hotel

On the narrow streets of Galixidi, mansions bear testament to the town’s 19th-century heyday as a shipbuilding centre. Today’s Galixidi is a charming, low-key coastal resort on a natural harbour surrounded by mountains. Its five traditional squares lead up to the highest point of the town – the imposing Agios Nikolaos church. Rent a bike from Ganimede Hotel and ride out to the lovely pebbled coves on the forested headland, Pera Penta opposite the harbour, or discover the beaches nearby. Anemokambi beach, about 3km from town, is in a sheltered bay and has golden sand and pebbly bits. Profitis Ilias is a long sandy beach that’s popular with the young crowd for parties after sundown. Another fine beach is the pebbled Agios Vasileios about 15km south-west of Galixidi, just before Agioi Pantes. And 33km north are the spectacular ruins of Delphi, clinging to the edge of Mount Parnassos, home to the Delphic Oracle. Here, visitors can try tandem paragliding flight over Delphi (from €50,

Where to eat
Galixidi is a foodie hotspot. Try the stuffed onions at O Bebelis or fresh seafood at the portside Skeletovrachos taverna. In the morning sip iced coffee like a local at the Art Café Old Liotrivi, with great views of the town.

Where to s
The charming, central Ganimede Hotel (doubles from €80) does an incredible Greek breakfast of homemade pies, jams, breads and local honey.

Getting there
Several airlines fly to Athens, 230km south-east.
Merryn Wainwright

Volos, Thessaly, Greece

Photograph: Instants/Getty Images

On the northern shores of the Pagasitikos Gulf in central Greece lies the vibrant port of Volos, with Mount Pelion as its backdrop and the Pelion peninsula extending east and south like a giant fishhook. Take an evening volta (stroll) along the Argonafton waterfront and lose yourself (enjoyably) in the pedestrian side streets off Ermou. The excellent city beach of Anavros, just beneath the Archeological Museum, is perfect for a dip and has good tavernas. Alykes beach, 6km south-east on the headland and lined with cafes, is also excellent. From Volos, the Pelion peninsula makes a delightful day trip. To the east, its mountainous ridge drops dramatically into the sea; the western side is gentler. There are scenic mountain villages with majestic views over the Gulf and secluded pebbled beaches fringing olive groves.

Where to eat
Charming Ala Palaia (52 Krokiou) serves dishes from around Greece, such as the popular bean dish fava. Traditional taverna Ellados Eikones (9 Almirou) stays open late, serves tasty Greek dishes and has live music.
Where to stay
Elegant, comfortable and modern, the
Aegli Hotel (doubles from £85 B&B) is on the seafront promenade right in the thick of things and serves a particularly good breakfast.

Getting there
EasyJet flies to Volos (airport 24km away) from Gatwick.

Zadar, Croatia

Foša restaurant. Photograph: Dino Stanin

With a fascinating Roman, Byzantine and Venetian history, laid-back beaches, a shimmering promenade and audacious public art, Zadar is instantly beguiling. Among its attractions is Nikola Bašić’s underwater art installation, Sea Organ, with its mournful sounds and disco dancefloor-like Greeting to the Sun companion piece. Then there are the remains of the Roman forum and the imposing ninth-century St Donat church and wonderful Venetian marble lanes and stone houses. You can dive into the sea from the promenade or walk 15 minutes south to the pebbly Kolovare beach. For old-fashioned seaside atmosphere, head north along the coast to the Borik and Diklo beach resorts. The town is a great base for day trips: to islands, like Dugi Otok (from £6, 1½ hours,, one of the loveliest in the Zadar archipelago; and glorious national parks such as Paklenica.

Where to eat/drink
Foša (four courses from £29) serves gorgeous seafood in a romantic spot by Foša harbour, including prawn and smoked mussel gnocchi. For cocktails, grab a sunlounger at the Garden Lounge overlooking the main harbour.
Where to stay
Book well ahead for one of the four double rooms at Kuća Bajlo (doubles from £56), a stylish B&B in the south of the town.

Getting there
Zadar airport is 13km east of the old town. Ryanair flies from Manchester and Stansted; easyJet from Luton – both May-October only.
Mary Novakovich

Šibenik, Croatia

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