Is it just us or does it seem like everyone and their mother is off jet-setting in Santorini and Antibes this summer? And while we wouldn’t be mad about a trip to Positano right about now, we always love finding vacation spots that are a bit more off the beaten path. Here are eight of our favorite secret European beach towns that you’ve probably never heard of.
1. Comporta, Portugal
While everyone is rushing to the Algarve, don’t overlook the sleepy fishing town of Herdade da Comporta, located just an hour south of Lisbon in Portugal’s Alentejo region. It’s relaxed and effortlessly chic with a landscape of cork trees, rice paddies and beautiful Atlantic coastline. Seaside restaurants like Sal and O Dinis pour local wines to go along with the catch of the day—grilled tiger prawns, clams stewed in garlic and white wine and arroz negro with calamari. Comporta is worthy of an easy day trip from Lisbon or a weeklong vacation in its own right. Pro tip: If you’re willing to wake up early, it’s well worth heading to Carrasqueira, a rugged fishing village built on stilts, to watch the fishing boats come in with their catch of the day.
If you go, book a room at The Sublime.
2. Saint Jean de Luz, France
You’ve heard of the Côte d’Azur, but you’ve probably never come across this beach town in France’s Basque Country. Just a short ride from the Spanish boarder, Saint Jean de Luz is a slow-paced, 17th-century fishing town made up of candy-colored timber houses, a glistening crescent-shaped beach, town squares lined with bistros and a picturesque fishing port overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Expect all of the things you love about France, like chocolate shops and macaron parlors, wine bars and quaint cafés. Plus, it’s the perfect starting point from which to explore the towns that make up French and Spanish Basque country like Getaria, San Sebastian and Biarritz.
If you go, book a room at Hotel Parc Victoria.
3. Tisvildeleje, Denmark
Perhaps you’ve visited the French and Italian Rivieras, but as it turns out, Denmark has its very own stretch of seaside towns. Our favorite is the town of Tisvildeleje, just a 45-minute drive north of Copenhagen on the Danish island of Zealand. It’s an unspoiled, Scandinavian treasure and the perfect starting point for exploring the surrounding coastline. Golden beaches are framed by lush forests, and the town streets boast seafood shacks, bakeries wafting with the smells of freshly baked sweets, upscale Nordic restaurants, and antique shops. If you’re looking for some activity, drive 30 minutes east to the Louisanna Museum of Modern Art (don’t miss the Yayoi Kusama Gleaming Lights exhibit) or spend a day eating your way through Copenhagen, a mecca for food-lovers.
If you go, book a room at Tisvildeleje Strandhotel.
4. Sifnos, Greece
Everyone has heard of Santorini, Mykonos and even Paros, but Sifnos, a jewel in the Cyclades, still goes under the radar, which is fine by us. Sifnos is home to the whitewashed homes and sparkling blue water you’d expect from any picturesque Greek island, but its claim to fame is the food. Sifnos is Greece’s culinary capital, a must-visit for any food lover. As you explore the towns and quiet villages of Kastro, Artemonas, Faros and Apollonia you’ll pass handsome boutique hotels, hiking trails and tavernas such as Agianemi serving charred octopus, hearty chickpea soup and sizzling souvlaki. As for the beaches, the most beautiful stretches of sand are hidden and best explored by boat.
If you go, book a room at Verina Astra Hotel.
5. Chia, Italy
Set in the southernmost tip of the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, you’ll find Chia, a haven for sunbathers, beach bums and surfers alike. While Italians frequent this idyllic town, it’s still relatively unknown to tourists. Porto Campana and s'Abba Durci, the two main beaches, are known for cerulean blue water and peach-colored sand. Then there’s Su Giudeu, set on a split between the ocean and lagoons where flamingos play and wade in the water. While July and August can be busy, Chia experiences beautiful beach weather well into October, making it an ideal destination for the shoulder season.
If you go, book a room at Hotel Laguna.
6. Vis, Croatia
While Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar have become popular tourist destinations, most travelers haven’t yet discovered the Croatian island of Vis. It floats, seemingly, in the teal blue water where the Dalmatian Coast meets the Adriatic Sea—the furthest island from mainland Croatia. The coastline is speckled with rocky cliffs and hidden beaches framed by jutting coves. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches on Vis: Stončica boasts water so crystal clear you can peer right at the coral reefs beneath your feet, and the sand at Zaglav is so soft it feels like velvet. But our absolute favorite is Stiniva, a secluded and jaw-droppingly beautiful stretch of pebbly sand and teal blue water nestled between two giant cliffs.
If you go, book a room at Hotel San Giorgio.
7. Cadaques, Spain
Located along Catalonia’s Costa Brava region, Cadaques is a two-hour drive from Barcelona toward the French border. With its terra-cotta rooftops, whitewashed houses and sky-blue water, it’s no surprise that this town has inspired artists from Matisse to Picasso. And unlike many of the buzzier spots along Spain’s northern coast, this coastal enclave stays relatively quiet, besides for a few weeks during peak summer. Once you’re there, you can explore the region’s many wineries, hike along the various nature trails, indulge in creative tapas or stroll over to the neighboring village of Portlligat to visit Salvador Dalí’s home studio turned museum.
If you go, book a room at Hotel Playa Sol.
8. St. Ives, United Kingdom
Of all the towns that make up the wild and wind-swept peninsula of Cornwall, St. Ives is a gem in the rough. It would be easy to confuse the dazzling bright blue seas, colorful boats, cobblestone streets and fishing cottages that make up this English town for coastal Portugal or even a port town in the Cyclades. The landscape is lush and bucolic with wildflowers and shrubbery giving way to sandy shores, and there are a handful of cliffside hikes and winding nature trails perfect for taking in the scenery. In addition to its beaches, this Cornish town is best known for its thriving art scene (don’t miss the Tate St. Ives gallery) and delicious food, especially the just-caught and fried fish and chips at Porthminster Beach Cafe.
If you go, book a room at Trevose Harbour House.