With more than 4,700 miles of coastline, Italy is home to some of Europe’s most picturesque seascapes peppered with secluded coves and stylish resorts. The dramatic scenery of Liguria’s Cinque Terre, where traditional villages perch on rugged headlands, attracts scores of tourists in the summer months; the Amalfi Coast is another major draw, with its cornice road that winds along towering cliffs. Italians descend on the beaches in July and August, although it’s possible to seek out tranquillity at one of the exclusive hotels that hug the country’s coastline.
Porto Ercole, Tuscany, Italy
Amalfi, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Portofino, Liguria, Italy
Away from the more familiar ‘costas’, try the beaches along the north coast from the Basque Country to Galicia, or the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic. Do you enjoy seeking out tiny coves awash with clear, turquoise water discovered on a walk through the pines? Or will miles of white sand, crashing waves and a surf or kiteboard keep you amused? Perhaps it’s a beachfront bar with a steady supply of Mojitos to keep you dancing into the early hours. Then again, you might just want to lie on a lounger while keeping an eye on your kids as they paddle on the shore. Spain really has something for everyone.
Tamariu, Costa Brava, Spain
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Malaga, Andalucia, Spain
We are reliably schizophrenic about the French. This is understandable. They are both our next-door neighbours, and hereditary foes. Clearly, and like a classy courtesan, France is so damned seductive that she lures us away from fiercely-held principles. You can see how she might. The most diverse country in Europe runs from celebrated mountains to the continent's finest coast via everything else in-between.
Marseille, Côte d'Azur, France
Cap d'Antibes, Côte d'Azur, France
Perros-Guirec, Brittany, France
Other island silhouettes on the horizon, a transparent sea lapping a sand or pebble shore (there’s a special Greek word for the sound – flísvos), a congenial beach bar a few steps away… for many visitors, these are the essentials of a holiday in the Greek islands. Venture further inland, however, and you will find atmospheric villages and monasteries, world-class museums and a laid-back lifestyle pursued mostly in public.
A country of dramatic mountainous landscapes and dreamy deep-blue seascapes, Croatia is now easier to visit than ever before. Many lovers of the great outdoors come to Croatia specifically for its adventure-sports facilities – between the sea and the mountains, sailing, scuba diving, sea kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing are all on offer. While Croatia’s rocky stretch of Adriatic coast is not suitable for large-scale tourist development, it is astoundingly beautiful, offering numerous small pebble coves backed by pinewoods and giving on to a crystal-clear turquoise sea.
Rovinj, Istria, Croatia
Mlini, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Golfers and sunseekers flood to the southerly Algarve seeking hidden coves and limestone rocks resembling abstract sculptures that rise out of the blue ocean all along the coast. Golden sands stretch from the west coast with its wild waves – a paradise for surfers – to the more gentle central and eastern Algarve, where long, accessible beaches alternate with mere handkerchiefs of sand at the end of dizzyingly steep steps carved into the rocks. There is much to discover in Europe’s most westerly country.
Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal
Armação de Pera, Algarve, Portugal
Sagres, Algarve, Portugal
Malta is best known in Britain as a sun and sea destination. There is certainly no shortage of either. Malta gets more than 300 sunny days a year and is surrounded by clear blue waters, some of the cleanest in the Mediterranean, and is much enjoyed by visiting swimmers, snorkelers and divers. Summer is delightful for the almost guaranteed bright blue skies and perfect Mediterranean Sea. This is the ideal time for sunbathing, swimming, diving and boat trips, as well as for local festivals and parish festas.
St Julian's, Malta
The stretch of Turquoise Coast running south and west of the gateway city of Antalya, known in ancient times as Lycia, is one of the most refreshingly undeveloped in the Mediterranean. This is due in no small part to the region’s rugged mountains which, bar a couple of narrow plains, a clutch of spectacular bays and a scattering of pretty coves, plunge straight into a startlingly blue sea.
Bodrum, Turquoise Coast, Turkey
Antalya, Turquoise Coast, Turkey
Marmaris, Turquoise Coast, Turkey
Contributions from: Annie Bennett, Kiki Deere, Marc Dubin, Jane Foster, Mary Lussiana, Lee Marshall, Anthony Peregrine, Terry Richardson and Juliet Rix.