7 Charming European Coastal Towns to Have on Your RadarBy Rebecca Hallett
Europe’s coastline is a thing of wonder, its charms ranging from the crisp, bracing air and rugged beauty of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean seasides to the sun-kissed resorts and gorgeous cliff-hugging villages of the Mediterranean.
With tens of thousands of seaside miles shared between them, the countries of Europe offer a treasure trove of lesser-known coastal gems to discover — here are seven that you might want to have on your radar.
La Ciotat: Provence’s little cultural powerhouse
Just beyond France’s highest sea cliffs at Cap Canaille, the pretty Provençal town of La Ciotat awaits. Centered on a picturesque port overlooked by mellow-toned houses and backing onto the Old Town, La Ciotat is historic home to the game of pétanque, which was invented here in the 1900s and remains popular to this day — as you stroll around town, you’ll see people playing the game in parks and squares, the scene invariably a mixture of lighthearted fun and fiercely competitive focus!
Pétanque isn’t the only thing that was invented here, either. In 1895, the Lumière brothers screened a short clip called L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat at the Eden Theatre — the first moving picture ever filmed. Today, the Eden is the world’s oldest cinema — you can still catch a movie from its plush red seats — and the town’s cinematic heritage is incorporated into the colorful, modern design of the lobby at Moxy La Ciotat hotel.
Gialova: jewel of Greece’s Costa Navarino
Undoubtedly one of the most glorious sections of coastline in the Peloponnese region of Greece, the Costa Navarino is dotted with tiny villages and laidback seaside towns. Gialova is blissfully typical in many ways — cobbled squares, sandy beaches, and a palm-lined promenade where you’ll find restaurants serving up local wine and the freshest seafood. But neighboring the pretty town is something a bit more unusual: Gialova Lagoon, a protected wetland ecosystem covering over 6000 acres, and home to some 270 species of birds,
The best base for exploring this stretch of coast is The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino, which feels like its very own small town, offering everything from an aqua park and kid’s club to four golf courses and the signature Anazoe Spa. The resort has some of the region’s best sustainability initiatives in place to promote biodiversity, too, including protecting the sea turtles which nest on the beach here.
Poole: lesser-known star of the UK seaside
A real UK coastal gem, Poole enjoys a prime spot on Europe’s largest natural harbor, making it an irresistible draw for superyacht owners and watersports enthusiasts.
If you’re not windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding or simply basking on the three miles of white-sand beaches, you might fancy a trip over to Brownsea, a gorgeous wildlife sanctuary managed by the National Trust, and one of eight islands dotting the harbor.
Just a fifteen-minute drive away from Poole — or an hour’s stroll along the beach, ice cream in hand — is the genteel seaside resort of Bournemouth. Up on the cliffs overlooking the town’s golden sands and historic pier, the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel makes a great base for exploring this whole stretch of coast.
Cadaqués: Dalí’s Catalonian seaside secret
Tucked away in Spain’s eastern region lies picturesque Cadaqués, an irresistible cluster of whitewashed buildings on wooded slopes. The Catalonian village‘s pretty harbor and pebbly beaches make it a popular summer spot, while the year-round draw is its link to Salvador Dalí. The Surrealist artist is often the focus of exhibitions at the Museu de Cadaqués, and a kilometer (0.6 miles) out of town is the labyrinthine Casa Museu Dalí, where he lived for 50 years with his wife Gala.
The area is also great for watersports, as well as hiking and cycling, with the Camí de Ronda trail taking in some of the Costa Brava’s most impressive coastal scenery.
Portofino: colorful charmer of the Italian Riviera
Known for its colorful fishing villages seemingly frozen mid-tumble down improbable slopes, the Italian Riviera is one of the country’s most scenic stretches of coastline.
Portofino is one of the Riviera’s jewels, its pastel-yellow and terracotta houses built right over the clear water. The village’s steep, narrow streets are lined with high-end shops and galleries, while its semicircular harbor fills each summer with sleek yachts.
This is a destination to combine high-end shopping on dry land with snorkeling, diving or kayaking in the turquoise sea. Alternatively, hike up to Castello Brown for views over the colorful harbor, or follow the verdant three-hour trail to Camogli.
The nearby city of Genova makes a perfect base for exploring Portofino and other seaside villages on the Italian Riviera. AC Hotel Genova is comfortable and central, with sea and city views from its panoramic terrace.
Sopot: the hidden gem of the Baltic Sea
Located near Gdańsk, Sopot is one of Poland’s most popular spots for summer holidays. With four kilometers (2.5 miles) of white-sand beach and Europe’s longest wooden pier, it’s a classic seaside resort with a refined charm — as well as lively nightlife in the peak season.
Across the bay is the long, wooded Hel Peninsula, known for its kitesurfing, and you can easily cycle along to Gdynia or Gdańsk to see some of the Baltic coast’s most beautiful historic buildings and best museums.
There are plenty of great places to stay in Sopot, including the Sopot Marriott Resort & Spa, with its rooftop infinity pool and extensive spa facilities, and the luxurious, beachfront Sheraton Sopot Hotel.
Bergen: capital of Norway’s fjords
Norway has the world’s second-longest coastline, its intricate fjords dotted with tiny fishing villages of red-painted cabins and historic trading cities. Known for its Art Nouveau architecture and easy access to outdoor activities, the port town of Ålesund combines lots of these attractive Norwegian characteristics.
You can take to the water by kayaking along the town’s central canal, or taking a boat trip along Geirangerfjord or Hjørundfjord. Back on land there are several excellent hikes in the area, the easiest taking you up to Mount Aksla’s viewpoint over the city, and some of the most challenging but rewarding in the nearby Sunnmøre Alps.
The so-called “capital of the fjords”, though, is Bergen. Stay at Moxy Bergen to enjoy the city’s lively, youthful atmosphere; it’s in the perfect location to explore Bergen’s restaurant scene, nightlife and impressive collection of museums and galleries.