Updated February 3, 2023
Published June 4, 2019
Drop the sunblock and back away from that beach towel. It’s time to seek horizons beyond Benidorm, Majorca and the rest of the beach-lover’s A-list, and we’re brimming with ideas for alternative holidays.
Golden sands and periwinkle-blue skies are guaranteed, but you’ll find them on unsung Mediterranean isles, quiet rivieras and rugged Atlantic islands instead.
With family-friendly beaches, theme parks and spas, as well as nightlife that captivates the 18-30 set, Benidorm is a tough addiction to break. But you’ll discover similar splendour along the Croatian Riviera.
Start with Split, a charming seaside town with some of the Adriatic’s cleanest beaches. Keep the kids entertained with a ferry ride to Hvar island, bike rides on Marjan Hill or segway tours of the old town.
Once you’ve stowed the young ones at a hotel kids’ club (try family-friendly Le Meridien Lav Split), you can wander through cavernous Diocletian’s Palace or guzzle cocktails on Split’s charming lanes.
Find Sardinia’s best sunbathing spots along the northern Costa Smeralda, also home to its most glamorous resorts. Western Alghero is also excellent for kicking back on a beach, but the most peaceful pace can be found amid the baroque beauty of towns such as Oristano.
And you won’t long for the Moorish forts of Majorca: Sardinia’s crumbling nuraghe (towers), which date right back to the Iron Age, add mystery to the island’s stunning coast.
There’s more than one sunshine coast in Europe, and the Costa del Sol might have met its match in eastern Bulgaria.
Blue Flag-awarded Sunny Beach is just one of numerous seaside dazzlers on the Black Sea coast. At the southern end of Bourgas Bay you’ll find Sozopol, one of the region’s oldest towns; it’s popular with kitesurfers and paddleboarders, and backed by a charming old town.
Further south find Ahtopol: this nostalgic beach town is beloved of budget travellers – but compared to Spain, most resorts along the Black Sea riviera will leave your wallet smiling.
Like the Canaries, this Portuguese archipelago boasts beaches and rippling cliffs, but it remains something of an unknown land for travellers. Almost all nine islands are ideal for surfing (the largest isle São Miguel has the best choice). Alternatively, embrace a quieter pace on Santa Maria island, a patchwork of golden coves, green pastures and white-washed houses.
The Azores is also one of the world’s best places to whale watch, with one-third of the world’s whale species letting off steam in these deep blue waters.
Plenty of beach destinations rival coastal Portugal, if you know where to look. Parga, on a pine-fringed stretch of Greece’s northwest coast, strikes a similar balance between family beaches and lively tavernas.
Sizzle on Krioneri Beach, the most central of Parga’s sunbathing spots, or seek out relative calm on family-friendly Valtos Beach (backed by an excellent camp site). Summer adds fizz to the old town’s bars, but sleepy Parga never gets too raucous.
Beyond the beaches, board a boat to pretty Paxos and Antipaxos, or unleash your inner Lara Croft by rambling the spooky ruins of the Necromanteion (20km southeast of Parga), which the ancient Greeks considered a gateway to the Underworld.
The Amalfi Coast doesn’t have the monopoly on glam. The ‘toe’ to Italy’s boot, Calabria is brimming with grand gems.
In Tropea, winding streets snake through its centro storico, offering up stunning sea views in the most unlikely of places. And along its coast, the impressive Santa Maria dell’Isola church is the postcard shot. For a little extra luxury, sailing is one of the top experiences in the area.
Further south is Scilla. Once famous for its star role in Homer’s Odyssey, today the town’s main drawcards are its pretty pastel houses, a sandy beach and Castello Ruffo, which sit high on a rocky promontory.
For many western European tourists, the name ‘Albania’ elicits more bewilderment than wanderlust. But Albania shares the same Mediterranean waters and balmy weather as Greece and southern Italy.
Though popular with Balkan travellers, only a trickle of foreign visitors arrive to Dhërmi, whose turquoise waters gleam brightly enough to warrant sunglasses, and the trio of islands of Ksamil cove are swimmable from the mainland. With its blend of clear waters and dreamy villages, Albania makes an excellent alternative to Crete (though we’d warn that Albanian rakia is a little stronger).
*Note: The easiest way to reach the Albanian Riviera is to fly to Corfu and take the cost-effective and quick ferry across to Saranda.
This French territory has 1,000km of coast and nearly 200 beaches. As in Malta, historic sights abound: don’t miss the Roman ruins of Aléria and Filitosa’s prehistoric sites.
Quicken your pulse along Corsica’s GR-20 hiking path or plunge into snorkel-worthy waters along the shores of La Balagne. With lavender and heather perfuming the sea breeze, and cuisine overflowing with blossom honey, boar saucisson and rich Brin d’Amour cheese, Corsica will beguile you through all five senses.
Though best-known for its wild nights, Ibiza’s appeal ranges from charismatic coastal villages to yoga tourism. But just 30km south of Barcelona, the town of Sitges is also tailor-made for good-timers and culture-fiends.
Sitges’ notorious ‘Carrer del Pecat’ (Sin Street) is packed with nightspots throughout summer, its gay nightclubs are legendary across Europe, and February’s Mardi Gras and October’s fantasy film festival bring a sociable and open-minded crowd to this buzzing part of Catalonia.
Best of all, Sitges’ excellent beaches are mere steps from the old town.
The main island, Porquerolles, is about 20 minutes from Hyères on France’s south coast and its national park designation means much of the island is wonderfully untouched. Transport is of the two-wheeled kind (cars are banned) and hotels are few and far between.
Plage Notre Dame is touted as the best stretch of sand on the island, though its other beaches certainly won’t disappoint. For history and panoramic views, there’s Fort St. Agatha, while art-lovers can get a fix at Fondation Carmignac.