Europe is fantastic. Full of so many incredible countries with such different cultures and stories and sights… and beautiful beaches. If you’re like me and you like to relax in the sunshine as a break from hitch-hiking and train-hopping and car sharing then these are my absolute favourite places in Europe to relax. I strongly recommend you visit these! I have added places that I stayed in along with some restaurants I enjoyed so you can make the most out of your trip, no hassle!
Don’t forget your sunglasses — this medieval harbour town has whitewashed stone streets and iridescent Adriatic waters that dazzle the minute the summer sun comes out. Twenty-five miles south of Bari, Monopoli is classic Puglia, with historic palazzos, a tangle of narrow streets, slips of sandy beach peeking through gaps in the fortified sea wall and fishermen lazily mending nets in the harbours. The modern boutiques of the new town are curled around the waterfront old town, which dates from the 17th century. Overlooking it all is the 1,000-year-old Santo Stefano castle, which was built for Benedictine monks, then passed to the Knights of Malta before being sold. It still has its moat, keep and trapdoors.
Life here is low-key.
Spend a morning wandering around the 18th-century cathedral and its 200ft-high tower, or exchanging energetic sign language with burly Italian farmers at the market on the wide Piazza XX Settembre. In the afternoon, hide away in one of the secluded rocky coves that line the coast, then join the locals on their evening passeggiata along the softly lit waterfront promenade. When it’s time for a drink, Carlo Quinto has superb cocktails and sea views from the top of the city walls (from £6; facebook.com/carloquintomonopoli).
Mix up the routine with visits to Polignano a Mare, whose gorgeous old churches are 15 minutes away by car, or travel five minutes more for the slender arcs of bleached sand at Torre Canne. You’ll find trulli, Puglia’s traditional cone-shaped houses, half an hour away in the Itria Valley.
Where to stay
Don Ferrante is an excellent-value little five-star hotel right on the sea, in a 16th-century fortress built into the town walls. Now painted all in white, it has a dinky pool, potted prickly pears and aloe plants on the terrace, and bedrooms with limestone floors and vaulted ceilings (doubles from £240, B&B; donferrante.it).
Where to eat
A quick stroll down the cobbled street from the hotel, Piazza Palmieri is a modern seafood place with a neat outdoor terrace where you’ll be served plates of crustaceans, cooked simply with a bit of salt, lemon and olive oil, at bargain prices (mains from £8; piazzapalmieri.it).
How to get there
Fly to Bari, 45 minutes from Monopoli, with easyJet, or to Brindisi (55 minutes) with Ryanair. A week at the Don Ferrante hotel starts at £1,230pp, B&B, including flights and car hire (long-travel.co.uk).
For the most part, tourists treat Supetar, on the island of Brac, as a waypoint between Split and the beaches at Bol, on Brac’s south coast, so they don’t stick around. Their loss: this former fishing village, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, is flush with Dalmatian charm. It has a horseshoe harbour studded with superb little restaurants, pebble beaches backed by tamarisk and pines, and medieval bleached-stone streets full of hidden piazzas, white wooden shutters and the odd solemn statue.
You can tick off the sights in an afternoon. Once you’ve taken in the alabaster curves of the Serbian sculptor Toma Rosandic’s neo-Byzantine mausoleum and looked inside the 18th-century Church of Mary Annunciation — where you’ll see the 6th-century floor mosaics from an earlier Christian basilica — you’ve pretty much done the lot. If you must, take the road 15 minutes inland to hilltop Skrip, a settlement dating from 1,400BC, with walls built by the Illyrians. Sarcophagi and Roman tombstones are on show in its cracking little museum.
Then it’s a case of lazy afternoons on the seafront, with a bottle of crisp posip from the local Stina winery, open-air concerts on Piazza Grande and beach time on the warm pebbles that trail down into the glimmering Adriatic. The Amber Dive Center could keep a whole family busy for a week (bay dives from £9; amber-divecenter.com). There’s further sun worshipping to be done in the secluded coves at Postira, 15 minutes down the coast. One of the island’s few sandy beaches is 10 minutes further east at Lovrecina.
Where to stay
Sea air, lavender bushes, rosemary and sage in the garden, pine trees all around: you could book Bracka Perla for the smell alone. West of town, the hotel looks like a white-stone fortress and has 11 rooms and apartments, all painted in bold colours, with terraces looking seawards or over the pool. It’s surrounded by a jumble of patios, gardens, statues of famous Dalmatians — including the Renaissance playwright Marin Drzic — and fountains (doubles from £127, B&B; perlacroatia.com).
Where to eat
Palute is the best of the seafront terrace restaurants, a family-run joint with a menu bursting with Brac specialities such as butalac, a lamb leg rubbed with wild herbs, splashed with sparkling wine and slow-roasted. Seafood platters are laden with grilled octopus, mackerel, prawns and whatever else has been pulled out of the sea that day (mains from £5; restaurant-palute.com).
How to get there
Fly to Split with airlines including easyJet and Monarch. The ferry to Brac takes 50 minutes (from £6.40 return; jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia), and local buses run every 20 minutes from the airport to the ferry port (£3.50; www.ak-split.hr). From Supetar, it’s an eight-minute taxi ride to the hotel. A week at Bracka Perla starts at £819pp, including flights, the ferry and taxi transfers (prestigeholidays.co.uk).
This small town, 12 miles east of Faro, is proper undiscovered Algarve, perhaps because it’s not the region’s prettiest place to look at. The working port has a quay cluttered with fishing dinghies, backed by cuboid white houses that aren’t brochure-beautiful, despite decorative doors and roof terraces tumbling with plants. Instead of idyllic, this place does authentic: there’s a lively covered market, old boys play boules and other locals meet for coffee and pasteis de nata(custard tarts) in the white- and blue-tiled cafes around the main square. You’ll hear barely any English — residents know just enough to understand that you want to know where the loo is.
Fuseta has one draw in particular: beaches. The lagoon shore in town has safe, sheltered shallows that are perfect for toddlers, but the real finds are the wind-rippled sand spits on the other side of the swirling Ria Formosa, the Algarve’s tidal lagoon and natural park. Take the 10-minute ferry across the lagoon to Ilha da Armona (£1.70; you can also go by water taxi or kayak) to access incredible stretches of white sand that line the Atlantic for miles in each direction. Walking, swimming, kitesurfing, sunbathing and exploring the wild, untamed coast should keep you entertained, but mix things up with boat trips to snorkel with the world’s largest natural colony of seahorses (£34; passeios-ria-formosa.com) or go whale-, dolphin- and flamingo-spotting.
Six miles inland is Milreu, one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in the Algarve. In nearby Estoi, there’s an 18th-century palace that’s now a luxury hotel — a great stop-off for lunch with mountain views (mains from £14; pousadas.pt). The best octopus on this coast is a 25-minute drive east, in the village of Santa Luzia, but be sure to make your way back to town for a last drink at O Farol, on the harbour, where all the locals go, especially for live rock and blues on Wednesday nights (facebook.com/farol.fuseta).
Where to stay
Just outside town at Moncarapacho, the Design Hotel Vila Monte Farm House is surrounded by citrus trees and has bright white, finca-style rooms, two pools and a restaurant serving rustic dishes. It lays on open-air film screenings and a free shuttle bus into Fuseta (doubles from £250, B&B; vilamonte.com).
Where to eat
For dinner, it’s grilled fish landed a few hours earlier, a few feet from your table. Casa Corvo, a canteen with plastic tables and chairs on a patch of pavement by the river, cooks it best, on a huge open-air charcoal grill. The jugs of sangria are optional (mains from £8; facebook.com/CasaA.Corvo).
How to get there
Fly to Faro with airlines including easyJet, Jet2, Monarch and Ryanair. A week at the Vila Monte starts at £1,227pp, B&B, including flights and car hire (sunvil.co.uk). It’s a 30-minute drive to Fuseta.
I just love Italy, I can’t wait to visit again soon. I am always on the look out for more stunning beaches so if you have any recommendations or stories then please get in touch with me! Gracias!