From traditional piers to sunken cities visible through turquoise waters, if you're thinking about holidaying in Europe this summer there is a wide choice of beach destinations to choose from. Here's a selection of our favourites…
Santa Margherita Ligure - Italy
Beautiful Santa Margherita Ligure is a gloriously old-fashioned seaside resort on Italy's Ligurian coast, easily accessible from either Genoa or Pisa airports. Decidedly low-key compared to its glamorous neighbour Portofino (only ten minutes away by passenger ferry) the town's laidback waterfront is lined with pavement cafés, bars and gelaterie. Typically Italian candy-striped umbrellas and sunbeds fill the semi-circular beach, and a small yacht-filled harbour sits at the far end of the esplanade.
Accommodation ranges from simple B&Bs and family-run hotels right through to grand five-star palaces with private beaches and rooftop pools. Take a day trip by boat to the coastal towns of Rapallo and Camogli or stay close to home and wander through the gently sloping streets that wind their way back from the seafront. You'll soon stumble upon some fine examples of faded Riviera architecture including the ornate church of San Giacomo and the grand Villa Durazzo, wedding venue of choice for Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster back in 2007.
Kaş – Turkey
Located on Turkey's southern coast and accessible from both Antalya and Dalaman airports, Kaş is a small but thriving tourist town that has successfully managed to retain its character and charm. Once a modest fishing village, Kaş has become more developed in recent years and now has a reputation as one of the eastern Mediterranean's best dive spots. They don't call it the 'Turquoise Coast' for nothing – the water here sparkles green and blue and the visibility is so good that ancient sunken cities and shipwrecks can clearly be seen.
The town itself is a maze of narrow, flower-filled alleys lined with artisan vendors selling silver jewellery, ornate painted tiles, local honey, almonds and olive oil. The town beaches are fairly small and pebbly but many of the hotels on the Kaş Peninsula just west of town have dramatic bathing platforms built into the rocks with ladders leading directly into the sea. Alternatively, take a dolmus (local bus) to Kaputas beach, about twenty minutes away. This magnificent expanse of golden sand is impressively situated at the base of a deep gorge and is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
Arcachon – France
On France's stunning Atlantic coast sits the popular seaside town of Arcachon, at the southern entrance of the bay of the same name. Officially founded by Emperor Napolean III in 1857 it became a luxury resort for visiting dignitaries from Spain and Russia, as well as the bourgeoisie from Bordeaux (around 35 miles to the north) who would come to breathe in the healthy sea air and recuperate from their aches and pains.
The town beach is a vast, sandy affair, perfect for families, as is the jolly pier, promenade and nostalgic carousel. Architecture fans will find much to admire in the town's ornate Victorian villas which mix gothic, Art Deco and Venetian features to dazzling effect, and foodies will appreciate the no-holds barred Aquitaine cuisine (not to mention the wine), with oysters a particular speciality of the bay. Just south of the town is the largest sand dune in Europe, Dune du Pilat, and a climb to the top at dusk to watch the sun go down is an unmissable experience.
Piran – Slovenia
Gorgeous Piran styles itself as the Dubrovnik of the northern Adriatic, and it's an obvious comparison to make. Situated on the Gulf of Piran on Slovenia’s tiny 42km Mediterranean coastline, it gazes out across the Adriatic to Italy, borders Croatia to the south and is heavily influenced by both. Like Dubrovnik, it's certainly one of the best preserved historical towns on the whole of this stretch of coastline and is protected in its entirety, but over 500 years of Venetian rule have lent it a decidedly Italian flair.
Despite the town being very busy in summer, it's probably best suited to those seeking total rest and relaxation – there's not a lot to do other than explore its rocky beaches or seek shade in the central square's many cafés – though there’s a much wider stretch of sand at the neighbouring town of Portoroz, a scenic half hour's walk away.
Hel Peninsula – Poland
You may never have considered Poland for a European beach holiday, but the family-friendly Hel Peninsula, just north of the port city of Gdansk, offers a wide range of options for an inexpensive – and beautiful – alternative to the over-crowded beaches of the Med. This 22-mile-long sand bar, only 33 feet wide at its narrowest point, is fringed by pretty little red-roofed villages and a seemingly endless white sand beach, backed by tall, grassy dunes.
The sea here is shallow for such a long way out that it's become renowned as a perfect location for windsurfing – especially for beginners, whose feet will still be touching the bottom if they fall off their boards. And if the mere words Baltic Sea make you shiver, think again. Temperatures regularly hit 30C in summer. And what could be better than telling your friends that you've been to Hel and back?
For an exciting Polish holiday that will take you from one end of the country to another, consider combining some time on the northern beaches with some hearty hiking in the beautiful Tatra Mountains of the south.
If you are beach bound this summer, visit Virgin Money for great deals on travel insurance.
Do you have any recommendations for off the beaten path beach destinations in Europe? Share them with us in the comments below.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.