Top 10 beach lists are subjective things. Do you prefer pounding surf or child-friendly tranquil seas? Amenities and accessibility or “just like Croatia 25 years ago”? Are you waiting for the new airport to open the coast to tourism or hurrying to get there before the place is ruined? This countdown – in no particular order – is restricted to European beaches that have featured in Post Magazine travel articles. Well, someone had to do the research.
1 Sardinia, Italy The Italian island has enough sublime stretches of squeaky sand to keep any self-respecting beach lover happy for weeks. In 2013, I tracked down a spot in the northwest of Sardinia that I’d misheard a number of times as “spagerdelplozza”. Spiaggia della Pelosa turned out to be a screensaver come to life, with colours so swimming pool-like that you could almost smell chlorine. Alternatively, if you have money to burn, join rock stars, oligarchs and footballers on Sardinia’s glitzy Costa Smeralda, where there are dozens of achingly beautiful beaches to enjoy. Take a towel, sun cream and a yacht.
2 Costa Brava, Spain There was a time when northern Europeans spent two weeks in large Costa Brava resorts and returned home with golden tans, souvenir castanets and a newly acquired taste for cheap plonk. The brash holiday towns are still going strong but there are also countless tiny coves known only to Catalan tourists. Sa Tuna is far enough off the beaten track that you won’t hear much English spoken on its golden sands. Or much Spanish, for that matter. Whitewashed cottages tumble down to clear seas; fishing boats bob in the bay and the calm seas are ideal for snorkelling.
3 Crete, Greece The Greek island of Crete has three world-class beaches within an hour of each other. Elafonisi makes regular appearances in “best beaches” polls due to its pale pink and white sands and inviting turquoise sea. Balos Lagoon, which is at the end of a hair-raising dusty mountain road, is the most photographed beach in Crete – get there before the tourist boat arrives to appreciate its desolate beauty. Falassarna Bay is big enough to absorb the summer crowds and has cafés, tavernas and hotels. Jagged peaks frame a blonde strip of sand and the glassy Mediterranean looks photoshopped.
4 Blue Lagoon, Malta Malta is a “swim off the rocks” kind of place, with no outstanding beaches to speak of. But a boat ride away, on neighbouring Comino Island, is a sweep of talcum powder sand and gin-clear water known as the Blue Lagoon. Day-trippers bloat the population for a few hours each afternoon but, at other times, budding Robinson Crusoes can seek out their own sliver of sand. Comino is car-free and only 3.5 sq km in area, so it’s ideal for exploring on foot. You’ll probably bump into its four permanent residents, one of whom is an inventor. Honest!
5 Fuerteventura, Spain Beaches on six of the seven Canary Islands are rather hit-or-miss. Tenerife and Lanzarote have some passable patches of sand but the huge dunes at Maspalomas, on Gran Canaria, are more desert than beach. Fuerteventura, by comparison, has enough postcard-perfect bays to compensate. Make a beeline for the resort town of Corralejo or head south to Sotavento. Best of all, when winter comes to the rest of Europe, the water is still warm enough for swimming. The “vent” in Fuerteventura and Sotavento means “wind” but there are plenty of calm days, too.
6 Galé Beach, The Algarve Portugal’s sunny southern coast is blessed with 200km of reddish ochre cliffs, golden sand and frothing Atlantic Ocean. Big resorts such as Albufeira and Lagos draw planeloads of northern Europeans while the less developed region towards the Spanish border attracts locals and holidaymakers from Lisbon and Porto. The tiny bays around Galé Beach, near Albufeira, feel like the middle of nowhere, particularly outside high season, when the only people you’ll see are fishermen. Bring a good book or a very close friend.
7 Brela, Croatia Tourists rave about the indented Croatian coastline and countless Adriatic islands. Hvar, Krk and Brac might sound like someone clearing their throat but they encompass many gorgeous coves, including the white-pebble beach Zlatni Rat (“golden cape”). While hurrying to Dubrovnik in 2012, I paused for a couple of days at the mainland resort of Brela, expecting it to be a poor imitation of the islands, but soon stumbled on some idyllic pine-fringed bays (above) lapped by bottle-green seas.
8 Hossegor, France After the crowded beaches of the nearby French Basque town of Biarritz, pristine sands stretch into infinity at Hossegor. The coast here is rated as one of the best surfing spots in Europe and regularly hosts international events. However, families with young children need only walk 10 minutes from the Atlantic rollers to the calm waters of Lac d’Hossegor.
9 Galicia, Spain Unreliable weather means Galicia, in northwest Spain, sees fewer tourists than the better known costas. When the sun does come out, the region is transformed and beach lovers are spoilt for choice, especially outside the school holidays, when the coast is largely deserted. It’s worth taking a ferry to Rodas Beach, on the Cíes Islands, which is regarded by many as Europe’s most beautiful, but if you’re pushed for time, Lariño and Ezaro offer the same frosty white sands and powder blue seas a 90-minute drive from the city of Santiago de Compostela.
10 Ölüdeniz, Turkey Not quite in Europe but Ölüdeniz is only a short Mediterranean ferry ride from Greece. No Turkish travel agency or tourist information office is complete without a poster of the lagoon’s calm waters, which are popular with kayakers. The hypnotic beauty of the bay, with its finger of fine white pebbles encircled by pine-cloaked mountains, has inevitably led to development. Summers are busy, although the lagoon itself is a designated conservation area. Autumn is the best time to visit – the crowds have gone but the water is bath-like.