Brexit day – 31 January – is nearly upon us. But in reality, little will change on that day for travellers; we'll still be part of the EU in all but name for the next 11 months, which is why now is the perfect time to celebrate our favourite seaside spots in Europe.
Here’s our pick of the best beaches on which to relax, unwind and forget about the oncoming storm.
France’s southwest Basque coast doesn’t have the glam of the southeast – but that’s the charm. For starters, it’s windy here; so come to do all kinds of activities that are suffixed by “surf”. The city has a handful of smart beaches to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with the Grand Plage. There’s a distinct Fifties vibe, with candy-coloured striped umbrellas and windswept promontories fronting Biarritz’s Art Deco buildings.
Playa d’en Bossa, Ibiza
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more up-for-it beach in Europe. Stretching south from Renaissance-era Ibiza Town, this strip of sand is popular with more than glam holidaymakers. On its shores are the megalith open-air club/hotel hybrid Ushuaia and music-focused Hard Rock Ibiza, which host the White Isle’s best talent each season.
Usually overlooked in favour of neighbouring Barcelona, Valencia has a bigger and better city beach. Wide, sandy El Cabanyal is easily accessible from the city in just 15 minutes by the very efficient tram system, and the beach promenade runs the entire length with restaurants, bars and cafes. While in town, stop by the hemispheric City of Arts and Sciences, designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava.
The Northern European coast might not be an obvious beach holiday, and it’s doubtful Poland’s largest port city ever came to mind as having a beach. But consider Jelitkowo beach, a peaceful stretch of sand popular with Gdansk’s families, easily reached by tram. Though also consider that in winter, the Baltic Sea isn’t the warmest…
Volcanic Ischia, long overshadowed by neighbouring Capri in the Bay of Naples, has so may beautiful beaches that it’s hard to choose a favourite. The crescent-shaped Spiaggia dei Maronti on the south side of the island, immortalised in Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, just clinches it. Plus, the Cavascura natural springs is right behind, where the water is naturally warmed by the island’s geothermal heat.
The second you leave the party resort of Magaluf behind, this Balearic island brims over with beauty and has no shortage of idyllic sandy beaches set in sheltered bays. A personal favourite is Cala Llombards to the southeast of the island – the water is usually a brilliant turquoise and as clear as anything you’ll find in the Caribbean, while the landscape is lent an air of drama by rocky outcrops dotted with scrubby trees.
The largest island in the Mediterranean has sandy beaches galore; the only problem is choosing which one to spend the day at. Calamosche, to the southeast, sits within a nature reserve. It’s a world away from a slick beach resort – be prepared to walk 20 minutes from the car park and take everything you need for day, including water, snacks, suncream, towels and umbrellas – but what it lacks in facilities it makes up for in the clearest water, protected from the wind by cliffs, and a wild, unkempt beauty.
The tiny island of Gozo off the coast of Malta is definitely worth the trip for the food alone (don’t miss the local sheep cheese: pale, creamy and steeped in wine, black pepper and olive oil). Beach-wise, check out the small but perfectly formed Hondoq Ir-Rummien, a local’s favourite known for golden sand and clear waters. Directly opposite the island of Comino, it’s reached through the village of il-Qala and is a top spot for diving and swimming (and even beach barbecues of an evening).
Cascais and beyond, Portugal
The beaches dotted along the Portuguese coast west of Lisbon have a couple of things going for them: firstly, they’re accessible by a cheap and regular train service (great news for non-drivers); second, they’re just a 30-minute to an hour hop away from the Portuguese capital, making for a perfect city/seaside combination. Choose from stops Cruz Quebrada, Caxias, Santo Amaro, Parede and Estoril for nearby sandy beaches, or plump for Cascais itself at the end of the line, which is a proper resort town. The sea in these parts can get choppy, which also makes it a brilliant destination for surfers.
The Greek isle of Corfu is awash with Venetian architecture and glorious beaches lapped by the Ionian Sea. Spilios Beach is tucked away on the east of the island, coupling soft sand with sapphire water that’s often calm as a millpond. It’s biggest boon is the large number of loungers and parasols, which are completely free to use for the day. There’s also a boat hire shop on the shore if you fancy chartering a vessel and exploring further afield.