Looking for white sandy beaches you thought were only found in the Maldives, or tropical wildlife you would expect to see in South America? You don't have to travel far to experience the exotic as we've found Europe's answer to the most idyllic destinations, from Hawaii to the Sahara Desert.
Some of the most picturesque stretches of sand in Sardinia and Corsica are easily mistaken for the likes of Anse Source d'Argent in the Seychelles or Tahiti's beautiful beaches.
If it's adventures you're after, in southern France's Calanques you can feel thousands of miles away in Halong Bay by taking a kayak tour to remember. With its deep turquoise river surrounded by high cliffs, you'll easily feel like you're exploring the waters of Vietnam.
Perfect for families who don't fancy the long-haul flight to Costa Rica, Cyprus is an excellent spot to see rare loggerhead and green turtles during the nesting season. Between July and September, Alagadi Beach in North Cyprus invites turtle lovers to help release hatchlings into the sea.
Ireland, Gran Canaria and the Algarve also have their own unusual sights you never thought you would find in Europe. Discover ten of the best exotic European holidays below.
Exotic European holidays that rival far-flung destinations
Can you guess where this is? Clue: It's in Europe
Sitting in a magnificent horseshoe bay with shallow and translucent water, Porto Vecchio's Santa Giulia is arguably one of the most photogenic beaches on the island and is a slice of paradise which could be mistaken for Seychelles' Anse Source d'Argent, with its large granite rocks completing the scenery. Stay close by at Santa Giulia Palace, just 600m from the beach. Corsican Places offers accommodation at the attractive residence from £662 per person for seven nights including flights.
Europe's answer to Hawaii is an underrated gem scattered 900 miles off the coast of mainland Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. The Azores are made up of nine islands created from volcanic activity and is characterised by rugged cliffs, volcanic craters and bubbling hot springs. From watching whales in one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries, to hiking the dramatic cliffs, valleys and gorges, the Azores offer the ultimate exotic adventures in Europe. Jet off to the island of Sao Miguel with On the Beach for a seven-night holiday staying at the four-star Do Mar Hotel from £426 per person including flights.
If you're looking for long stretches of unspoilt beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters and natural fauna and wildlife, then Spain's Cies Islands offer a Caribbean-style escape in Europe. The archipelago is made up of three islands off the coast of Galicia, with the southern-most island Isla de Monteagudo and the Isla de Montefaro in the middle connected by a long stretch of sandy beach known as Rodas Beach. The only way to reach the island is by sea and there are no hotels on the islands. Spain-Holiday.com offers accommodation at luxury villa Casa Cangas (from £631 per week for up to six people) in Cangas overlooking the Rio Vigo, with views to the Cies Islands.
You don't have to travel to South America or Africa to see these beautiful birds as visitors to the Algarve can spot flamingos at the Ria Formosa National Park and the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve on a guided birdwatching tour. Ria Formosa is a haven for birdwatchers, being home to around 20,000 birds during the wintering period, and it has a unique coastal lagoon which boasts an ever-changing landscape and environment due to its exposure to the elements. Formosamar offers birdwatching tours, while Casa Modesta is a marvellous place to stay nearby.
Experience a desert by the sea in Gran Canaria where Maspalomas provides 400 hectares of Saharan-sized dunes. Maspalomas is a unique, wild place that you can explore by camel or on foot. The Blue Flag beach is six kilometres-long backed by the huge dunes which are part of a protected nature reserve. While some people believe the dunes arrived from the Sahara Desert, they were in fact formed by the Atlantic Ocean and the wind blowing on the coast. The dunes move from east to west at a rate of up to five metres per year. Stay at luxury hotel Bohemia Suites & Spa which offers a secluded setting and a panoramic view over the Atlantic Ocean and the Dunes of Maspalomas from its 360º Restaurant, with rates starting from 166 euros per night.
It's not famous for being dry or sunny, but as the Gulf Stream warms Ireland's south-west tip around West Cork and Bantry Bay, you’ll find a real micro-climate - so much so that it’s not uncommon to see 'palm trees', or cabbage palms, in people’s gardens. Bantry is home to wonderful gardens you can visit, including those at Bantry House, and particularly on beautiful Garnish Island in Glengarriff Harbour. Take the little ferry boat to the 15-hectare island garden and sit by the pool in the Italian garden. Who needs the subtropical gardens of the Med when you have Ireland? Get there with Irish Ferries.
The beaches around San Teodoro on Sardinia’s east coast are renowned for their white sands and translucent turquoise water. Top spots include the beaches at Lu Impostu and La Cinta, a three-kilometre stretch of fine sand with excellent facilities, while Cala Brandinchi beach is a perfect crescent of sand known locally as Little Tahiti. One of Sardinia's most beautiful beaches, Cala Brandinchi has amazingly clear and shallow waters while backed by pine trees and stunning surroundings. ExpertoItaly features several hotels in San Teodoro, including the Paradise Resort, a four-star hotel with a pool, overlooking Lu Impostu beach. Prices start from £525 per person on a half-board basis.
Head to southern France where you can experience the country's answer to Halong Bay at the Calanques, a wild national park with a deep turquoise river and cave network surrounded by high cliffs reminiscent of the limestone karst towers you find in Vietnam. Kayaking is the best way to see the shark peaks of the Calanques. Cariboo’s private tour with passionate local hiker, wild swimmer and kayaker Alexei takes in the magnificent white cliffs in a small group of up to eight people for 18 euros per hour. Explore the nooks and crannies of the alternative Cote d'Azur destination to St Tropez and Cannes.
Costa Rica isn't the only place to see turtles on the beach. In Europe, rare loggerhead and green turtles favour the pristine sandy beaches of North Cyprus when it comes to nesting season. Between July and September, you can visit Alagadi Beach and help release a turtle hatchling into the sea under the careful supervision of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project. For an authentic North Cyprus experience, stay at the charming family-run Lapida Hotel with its delightful garden, from £30 per room per night. The owner Fethi is always happy to introduce guests to the flora and fauna of the area, as well as its rich history. Meanwhile, his mum Mary serves tasty local dishes in the hotel’s restaurant.
Bask in Scotland's stunning West Highlands along a coastline dotted with picture-perfect sandy beaches interspersed with rugged cliffs and sea-stacks. At Achmelvich Beach on a sunny day, you could be fooled into thinking you are in the Caribbean as you walk on the white sands and paddle in the turquoise waters. Visitors can enjoy a combination of hill, glen and coastal walks to experience all aspects of this wonderful region. Wilderness Scotland offers a Wilds of Assynt holiday (from £1,195 per person) which takes in Achmelvich Beach.