The ultimate guide to Europe’s secret seasides

Beautiful seascape in the village of Scilla, Calabria, Italy
Lesser-known destinations such as Scilla in Calabria offer an escape - Alamy

At certain dinner parties, listing the destinations you’ve visited has become a competitive sport. Dubrovnik? Done it. Positano? Spent a summer. St Tropez? Bought the T-shirt.

Despite this, some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches and seaside villages are hidden far away from the tick-off resorts, where both tourists and prices are sky high. There are towns where swathes of empty sand come backed by a sleepy beach bar or two and islands with little harbours full of bijou B&Bs and trailing paths that join the dots between empty coves.

If you’re after fewer English voices, better value for money and some unexpectedly stunning scenery, these are the places to make for. And we’ve found 10 of the best secret coastlines to put a smile on your face.

From a Croatian island closed to tourists until 1988 to Spanish city beaches steps away from restaurant-filled town squares, these under-the-radar destinations should ensure a sublime summer holiday. Just don’t tell the other dinner party guests…



Southern Spain swelters in summer, which is why its residents increasingly make for cooler, greener Galicia. This north-western region is fast gaining popularity among foreigners too: in 2023, searches for local city Vigo shot up more percentage points than any other European destination, according to Skyscanner.

For now though, Galicia’s beaches are largely foreign-tourist-free and there are plenty to choose from: the region has 1,000 miles of coast. Refreshing and cool, just like the albariño it produces, the Rias Baixas wine region is a place where old fishing villages and towns stretch up towards Portugal and the three dots of the Cíes islands glimmer offshore. It’s here, in national parkland, that the best beaches are to be found.

They’re so protected that visitor numbers are capped during Easter and high season, so it pays to book ferry tickets in advance. Figueiras may be the most beautiful (a milk-white stretch backed by dense forest) but, as it’s also a nudist beach, only the bravest Brit will visit. As an alternative, Rodas is right by the ferry pier, a wide curve backed by dunes and bookended by hills.

Back on the mainland, the town of Baiona is a medieval stop-off on the Camino de Santiago and comes filled with buzzy backstreets where restaurants serve Galician specialities such as cuttlefish stew. It has its own rather spectacular city beach too, Ladeira.

Rodas Beach. Cies Islands. Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. Vigo estuary. Rias Baixas. Pontevedra province. Galicia. Spain
Galicia has many quiet beaches such as Rodas - Alamy

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A 10-minute drive from Baiona, two-bedroom O Eido das Presas is hidden among the intense green of those rained-on fields. Vintage Travel has a week from £2,898 for up to six. Ryanair flies from Stansted to Vigo, from £75pp return.


An hour’s drive east of Malaga airport, just past the bloated resort of Nerja, the beaches around Almuñécar have surprisingly avoided colonisation by heat-seeking Brits. Instead, they’re where the residents of landlocked Granada and its surrounding villages head for R&R, along with other international visitors.

This is the Costa Tropical and its mountain-backed coastline evokes Hawaii or the wilder Caribbean islands. You may not find white sand here (there’s a mix of grey and shingle), but there’s plenty of beach space and a beguilingly sleepy atmosphere that invites long siestas under the palm trees.

The area’s prettiest spot is La Herradura, where a handful of chiringuito beach bars spill out onto palm-scattered shingle in front of the seafront promenade (with its tables under the trees and a signature dish of lightly-floured just-caught squid, La Gaviota is one of the best). From La Herradura, it’s possible to hire a kayak and paddle to Playa Calaiza, a secret cove west of town that can’t be reached by car.

Nights, meanwhile, are for Almuñécar’s untouristy Old Town, where twisting alleys packed with shops segue into unexpectedly grand squares. They’re perfect for aperitifs in the evening’s fading heat.

La Herradura,Granada Province, Costa Tropical, Spain. Beach and palm trees.
La Herradura is a secret resort on the Costa Tropical - Alamy

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Stay on La Herradura’s beach at three-star Hostal Boutique La Caleta Bay, a posh B&B with views straight out to sea (and free wine in the minibar; doubles from £95). Wizz Air flies from Gatwick to Malaga from £106pp return.


The Calanques

French people, with their penchant for hiking, love the Calanques (rocky, limestone inlets) that stretch east from Marseille towards Toulon before the flashy stretch of the Riviera where visitor numbers are at their highest. You don’t have to go far from the country’s most manic city to find pine-fringed peace – but you will need walking boots.

It’s an hour’s scramble along the GR98-51 trail from Callelongue, where Marseille peters out, towards the sandy cove of Marseilleveyre. At this little beach, the water is tinged deepest forest green and hazy views stretch to the islands of the Riou archipelago. There are plenty of other coves and inlets to explore here, if you can stomach the hikes to get to them.

No less beautiful, the beaches around the resort town of Saint Cyr sur Mer (around an hour’s drive east) are easier to access. Port d’Alon, where salt and pine mingle in the air and cactuses sprout from the ground, is as magical as the south of France gets – with the added bonus of its own car park. From here, it’s a quick drive to the sleepy harbour of La Madrague, where villas climb up the hillside and cicadas sing on the breeze.

France, Bouches du Rhone, Marseille, european capital of culture 2013, Calanque de Marseilleveyre (Calanques National Park
Walkers will love the rocky Calanques east of Marseille - Alamy

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Stay in one of the apartments at Hapimag La Madrague for sunset views over the water, as well as a communal pool, boules court and tranquil restaurant under the trees (from £380 per week based on two sharing, room only). EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Marseille Provence, from £60pp return.



Mafia legends and a rather arduous journey seem to have kept Brits away from the toe of Italy, a wild place of wolf-inhabited forest and rugged stretches of sand. While Tuscany and the Cinque Terre fill to the brim in July and August, Calabria’s bath-warm water and cactus-smattered coastline is popular with Italian visitors – but a bit of a secret for everyone else.

The driving here is just as good as the Italian Riviera. Calabria’s coastal roads curve between the cliffs and the sparkle of the sea and link some of its best sites along the way. Around 20 minutes’ drive from Tropea (the region’s biggest and brashest resort), the serene beaches of Capo Vaticano top lists of the world’s best with good reason: there’s reef below the neon-blue water line, golden sand between dramatic granite boulders and views towards the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli’s smouldering volcano.

Drive 40 minutes further and you reach the town of Scilla, which hugs the coast in a flurry of sorbet-coloured terraces topped by an ancient fortress (hard to believe it got its name from the nymph Scylla, transformed into a monster by Circe in Greek mythology and destined to terrify sailors as they made their way along the coast).

Don’t leave before trying the town’s famous swordfish sandwich, topped with rocket, lemon and sea salt. Right by the water, Civico 5 is famed across Italy for its popular version.

Capo Vaticano, Ricadi, province of Vibo Valentia, Calabria, Italy, Europe. The beach Praia i Focu
Locals love the rugged beaches in Calabria such as Capo Vaticano - Alamy

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Tui ( has a week at the four-star Baia del Sole, from £610pp B&B in May, including flights from Gatwick.


Costa Verde

While the Algarve and Comporta draw the English, Portuguese holidaymakers love the north-western corner of their country on the border with Spain (not far, in fact, from Galicia’s beaches, see above). Here, the pace of life is relaxingly lazy, there are vineyards and inland towns to explore and blustery beach resorts serve up surf lessons and sandy boardwalks that clamber between the dunes.

Most enticing of all is Viana do Castelo, a monument-strewn port around an hour’s drive north of Porto. There’s so much to see here that its secret status is something of a mystery. The grand old town comes with huge mansions and delicate fountains, there’s a hulking great early 20th-century cathedral and a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel – and then there’s the crescent of Praia do Cabedelo which sweeps southwards to the energising hammer of Atlantic waves. Nights are for sunset dinners overlooking Praia da Amorosa: clams, crabs and grilled fish are as fresh as it gets at Restaurante Tasca Do Gomes.

Three quarters of an hour inland, the city of Braga is worth a day trip for its perfectly-preserved old town and the Baroque sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, looking down on its sprawl from blossoming gardens. On the way back, cool off on the Blue Flag river beach of Praia Fluvial de Merelim São Paio, where a criss-cross of paths leads to wild swimming areas. There’s a picnic spot and playground too.

Sanctuary of Saint Lucia seen from the Mount of Saint Lucia at sunset, Viana do Castelo, Portugal
Spectacular sunset: Sanctuary of Saint Lucia seen from Viana do Castelo in the north of Portugal - Getty

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Ten minutes’ north of Viana do Castelo, Villa Homem is in the village of Afife which has its own dramatic, dune-backed bit of sand. It costs from £3,651 for up to 12 people through Oliver’s Travels. TAP flies to Porto from Heathrow, from £115pp return.


The Pelion Peninsula

Forget the islands: for Greek peace and quiet, it’s best to stay on the mainland. It only takes a little longer to reach the Pelion Peninsula from London Gatwick than it does from Athens, a five-hour drive away. The out-of-the-way location may partly explain why it’s escaped the full beam attention of holidaymakers, despite having at least a week’s worth of sleepy villages to explore, as well as hiking trails along old mule tracks and an east coast where spectacular beaches sit shoulder to shoulder in the shadow of Mount Pelion (once thought to be the summer residence of the Olympian gods).

This region’s landscape is every bit as pretty as the islands. Sugarcube houses tumble down from the mountains, looking out towards Skiathos on a hazy horizon. But without the tourists, there are none of the mega-resorts. Instead, holidaymakers make for little fishing villages such as Katigiorgis, where a few tavernas, cafés and apartments cluster by the sand.

You can fish here or book horse-riding trips into the countryside, though more straightforward sun-worshippers might prefer Agios Ioannis and Papa Nero where the white sand is as busy as this region gets and the water is so clear you can see fish darting between your feet. Behind them, paths twist upwards between the trees towards hilltop villages, passing dancing streams and waterfalls en route.

A horse in the shade of an olive tree on the island of Paleo Trikeri, southern coast of the Pelion Peninsula, Greece
Equine action: A horse on Paleo Trikeri, Pelion peninsula, Greece - Alamy

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Headwater has a seven-night, self-guided Walking The Pelion Peninsula trip that takes in trails, beaches and isolated villages, from £1,819pp including flights from the UK.



Flower-filled Alaçati isn’t exactly off the beaten track, but most British visitors give it a wide berth, preferring to stick to the resorts around Bodrum and Fethiye. Quite why is a mystery: Alaçati’s photogenic old town is happily devoid of the showy glitz of the former and the brash bars of the latter, filled with stone terraces trimmed in sky-blue shutters and perfumed with orange blossom.

It’s no wonder Turkish weekenders visit in the summer, when the narrow streets are filled with street markets and live music (expect prices to match Alaçati’s popularity). Designer shops, posh restaurants and cosmopolitan cafés are all easy to find here – as are characterful boutique hotels carved out of its old stone houses (Alavya, where cool rooms are set in a cluster of terraces around a serene pool, is the best of all). The one thing that seems to be missing at first glance is a beach.

For that, you need to drive 10 minutes to the sugary stretch of sand at Ilica, which comes backed by glam second homes. Or make for the sleepy port of Ceşme, from where you can take a boat to the Greek island of Chios for a beach day with a difference or eat at one of the tavernas on the harbourside.

Alacati, Turkey: People eating in a cafe restaurant. The town is a popular tourist destination.
Alacati is a popular destination for Turkish people - Getty

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Audley has a week at Alavya Alaçati, from £4,200pp B&B including flights from Gatwick and three days of private tours.



While Croatia’s best-known sites struggle with over-tourism, the island of Lastovo seems almost to have avoided visitors altogether. Once used as an army base and closed to tourists until 1988, this Adriatic dollop has now been designated a natural park – but a three-hour ferry ride to reach it from Split or Dubrovnik has kept visitors away (though it’s quicker to access from Korcula).

In winter, winds speed furiously along its craggy coastline and storms batter the forests of its interior but, between July and September, Lastovo is the ideal place to get away from it all. Sun-dappled trails ring the cliffs and the air echoes with birdsong and the calls of crickets while little coves make perfect pit stops for picnics and snorkelling (rent a scooter from the tourist office to hop between them).

Perhaps the prettiest is Jurjeva Luka, a pebbly squiggle cosseted by gentle hills that shelter the still water from squalls. Away from the beaches, the tiny town of Lastovo clambers steeply up a hillside towards its 14th-century church, surrounded by the vines that produce the island’s wine.

Food shouldn’t disappoint either. The local speciality? Lobster, caught from the waters around the island and cooked over hot coals or served with spaghetti. It’s particularly good at Triton, a restaurant in pretty Zaklopatica that’s popular with the yachting crowd.

Europa, Croatia, Dalmacia province, Lastovo island, Adriatic sea, Zaklopatica bay,
Lobster cooked on hot coals is popular in Zaklopatica Bay, Croatia - Alamy

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Vrbo has a two-bedroom beach house on Lastovo with its own boat dock and kayaks, from £2,799 for up to six people (reference number: p4264778). Jet2 flies from Stansted to Dubrovnik, from £105 return. Book the onward boat journey via Direct Ferries.



Like a Hallmark movie set come to life, this Swedish island comes with cobbled streets, pastel-painted clapboard cottages and facades smothered in perfect roses. It also comes with its own version of Swedish, Gotlandic, and its own language, Gutnish – so impenetrable that it’s little understood between the island’s villages let alone by outsiders.

Perhaps it’s this otherness that keeps visitors away from Gotland’s main town, Visby, despite it being one of the cutest capitals in the world. This is a place where thousands of people dress as bunnies and chickens to parade through the streets at Easter and where medieval turrets still ring a centre packed with pancake-serving cafés, ancient churches and a blossom-filled botanic garden. The town’s beach promenade trails along by the water, giving access to plenty of quiet shingle.

To see Gotland’s best beaches though, you need to go further afield. Set in a nature reserve on the other side of the island, the sweeping stretch at Sandvikens is backed by dainty wild flowers. Meanwhile, a five-minute ferry hop from Gotland on the neighbouring island of Fårö, you’ll also find some incredible beaches – extended, white-sanded affairs bordering a jewel-toned sea seemingly straight from the Caribbean (although, as it’s the Baltic, not quite as warm). Best of all is Sudersand, where the shore is shallow enough for paddling and the wide sand is perfect for beach games.

Gotland, Sweden
The town of Gotland has its own language and version of Swedish - Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

Book it

Simply Sweden has a six-night itinerary with time in Stockholm and Visby, from £995pp B&B, including flights from the UK.



British travel journalists have been banging on about Sylt being the next big thing for decades. So far, nobody in the UK seems to have listened. The Germans knew it all along though, so you’ll find plenty of domestic tourists on the island’s blustery beaches (with a handful of Dutch people too).

In the 1960s, this was as debauched as seaside resorts got. Brigitte Bardot spent long nights partying here with her then-husband, the German playboy and motor company heir Gunter Sachs. But all hedonists grow old eventually, including Sylt which has now earned the moniker “the Hamptons of Hamburg”.

What it lacks in balmy weather, Sylt makes up for in Michelin-starred restaurants, swish hotels and seemingly endless swathes of dune-backed sand set between 12 villages. Still, with the Hamptons tag in mind, the island capital of Westerland, with its bleak tower blocks and shops housed behind kitschy castle-like facades, may seem a little disappointing.

Instead, head north to Kampen, where the gold-tinged landscape glimmers under vast skies and you can drive or bike the flat road towards Vogelkoje, a chalet restaurant hidden in a flowery garden that serves up vaunted new takes on meaty Bavarian classics. Also in Kampen are a handful of Hamptons-like hotels in old thatched or tiled mansions.

Sylt, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany - Mother and son playing on Ellenbogen beach with Leuchtturm List Ost in the background
The Hamptons of Hamburg: Bardot spent time in Sylt in the 60s - Francesco Carovillano

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Try Hotel Village for cottage-core bedrooms and a cute garden full of sun loungers (doubles from £309 per night, B&B). Lufthansa flies from Heathrow to Sylt via Munich, from £176pp return.