caleta de sebo, la graciosa

Explore La Graciosa. (Photo: Getty Images)

Beach Travel

From la Playa to la Plage, These are 6 of Europe’s Most Underrated Beach Towns

If life’s a beach, Europe has plenty to boast about, but the best strips of sand aren’t always where you expect to find them.

So why not say goodbye to bustling tourist hubs and hello to hidden coves, pristine waters and sumptuous food at six of Europe’s most underrated beach towns.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before booking your trip.

Matala, Crete

matala, crete.
Experience the allure of Homer’s “wine-dark sea” in Matala. (Photo: Getty Images)

The peach-pink sands of Crete’s Elafonissi Beach are a big hit on IG feeds, but travelers in the know go to Matala, a bijou beach town where singer Joni Mitchell wrote her hit song “Carey” in 1970.

Explore the caves above Matala’s horseshoe-shaped beach where Mitchell and folk-singing pals camped out, and then shop for handcrafted jewelry in narrow lanes behind the seafront.

As sunset spills scarlet over Homer’s “wine-dark sea,” sup on rice-stuffed zucchini flowers and other home-cooked meze at Sunset, a family-owned tavern with spectacular views over Matala’s sheltered bay.

La Graciosa, Spain

Generally overlooked for the livelier charms of sister Canary Island, Lanzarote, La Graciosa is a no-car time warp where locals get around on bikes.

Rent yours in the tiny, whitewashed capital Caleta de Sebo and head out to discover near-deserted beaches backed by the mighty Montaña Bermeja volcano and lapped by crystal-clear waters where endangered Mediterranean monk seals come to frolic.

Fill up on more of that laid-back vibe at La Caletillas, a beach shack with breathtaking sea views where you should order a Canarian favorite, crinkly papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) doused in a fiery mojo sauce.

Zandvoort, Netherlands

Just a half-hour train ride from Amsterdam’s canals and coffee shops, Zandvoort is the Netherlands’ best-kept beach secret.

When you’ve had your fill of lazing on Zandvoort’s endless dune-studded beach, follow hiking trails to spot fallow deer and other wildlife that roam among peat bogs and polders in the surrounding Zuid-Kennemerland nature reserve.

Adrenaline junkies should also drive a sports car around Circuit Zandvoort, the celebrated Formula One track where racing legends ranging from Niki Lauda to Alain Prost have competed to win the prestigious Dutch Grand Prix.

Orhaniye, Turkey

Kizkumu Beach Orhaniye
Swim in Orhaniye’s sheltered coves. (Photo: Getty Images)

Although only a short hop from Bodrum, Orhaniye’s sheltered coves and sapphire waters are rarely on tourists’ radars.

After wallowing in Orhaniye’s bath-warm waters, be sure to “walk on water” at Kızkumu, dubbed “Jesus Beach” because of its walkable shallow sandbar heading far out to sea.

When the sun sinks over Orhaniye’s mirror-clear waters, bag a brine-side table at Zuzu Beach Club and enjoy breathtaking bay views from this beachside hangout. Succulent must-try Turkish culinary treats include Izgara kofte meatballs served with fluffy rice and succulent grilled red peppers.

Île Sainte-Marguerite, France

Cannes is a magnet for celebrities, but well-traveled A-listers prefer Île Saint-Marguerite, a little-known island just a 15-minute ferry ride from glitzy Cannes where pine-fringed beaches and sand-lined secret coves offer a haven from the crowds.

As well as being home to some of the French Riviera’s best beaches, Sainte-Marguerite is home to Fort Royal, the notorious stone fortress where the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned in the 17th century.

Visit this chilling museum before mingling with celebrities at La Guerite, the island’s swanky beach club restaurant where Greek chef Yiannis Kioroglou serves Mediterranean-inspired delights.

Isle of Arran, Scotland

Isle Of Arran
Skip the more crowded Isle of Skye for a visit to Isle of Arran. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dubbed “Scotland in Miniature” because of its labyrinth of hiking trails and abundance of wildlife, this atmospheric island just a ferry-hop away from Ardrossan is often overlooked for the better-known Isle of Skye. Just wander along Kildonan’s spectacular Silver Sands beach and you’ll surely wonder why.

Water-sports lovers should spend a thrill-packed afternoon power-kiting or sea kayaking with Arran Adventure, while shopaholics will get their kicks in the narrow lanes behind Brodick’s lively port where chic boutiques sell unique souvenirs.

To end your day on a high note, hike to the top of Goatfel peak and revel in spectacular views over Brodick’s grey-roofed houses and glittering bay. When you’ve worked up a hearty appetite, wander down to Brodick’s cozy bar and brasserie to lap up servings of gin-cured salmon and other luscious Scottish treats.