Summer travel: European beach destinations

With the summer holiday season just around the corner, it’s never too early to start planning your escape to the beach. For many Americans, this means balmy Floridian shores, the sun-kissed Californian coast, far-flung Hawaiian islands or hedonistic Caribbean resorts.

But if you’re looking for a slice of culture alongside your generous helpings of sea and sand, then consider escaping to one (or several) European beach destinations. A quick jaunt across the pond is all that separates you from basking in glorious Mediterranean climes.

The French Riviera is arguably the most glamorous destination on the continent, but the surprising diversity of European beaches easily caters to travelers of all budget levels. Therein lies the real appeal as you can seek out whatever wave-lapped strip of land that happens to take your fancy.

On that note, we’re proud to kick off our summer travel round-ups by highlighting five European beach destinations that we can’t stop thinking about. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, we’re hoping that it inspires you to dig out the swimsuits from your closet’s nether regions.If your bags are packed with beachwear, flip flops, an absorbent towel and the proper amount of skin-healthy sunscreen, then you’re ready for the following locales:

Barcelona The capital of Catalunya, the second most populous city in Spain and home to the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think European beaches. But the city is actually hemmed in by a series of attractive beaches, including the mile-long Playa de la Barceloneta.

Although it’s definitely not the most beautiful beach in the bunch, Barceloneta wins in the category of convenience. It’s actually accessible by metro, which provides ample opportunities for urban denizens to tomar el sol or ‘drink the sun.’ Best part: tapas bars line the beach, ensuring that you’re never too far away from a glass of wine, flaky bread, dried meats, ripe cheeses and all manners of cured olives.

Nice While there are certainly glitzier destinations along the French Riviera (we’re looking at you, Saint-Tropez!), Nice is distinguished by its rich cultural heritage – and fantastic seafood. The old town is home to a series of pedestrian-built squares lined with alfresco cafes and bistros. Menus pay homage to the local proverb: ‘Fish are born in the sea, and die in olive oil.’

The beach itself is fronted by the Promenade des Anglais or ‘Promenade of the English,’ which was commissioned by wealthy English vacationers in the 18th century. Today, La Prom (as it is affectionately known by locals) is perfect for a leisurely stroll while staring out into the azure expanses of the Mediterranean. C’est Magnifique.

Balearic Islands This archipelago floating off the southeastern coast of Spain is comprised of fifty major and minor islands including Majorca, Minorca, Formentera, Cabrera and Ibiza. The geography here is dramatic, with rocky coastlines punctuated by sheltered swaths of postcard-perfect sandy beaches.

Ibiza in particular is regarded as Europe’s ultimate summer clubbing destination. The island plays host to some of the world’s top chill-out bars and dance clubs including Cafe del Mar, Space and Pacha. From June to October, this is where you’ll find the top DJs on the electronic music scene, not to mention thronging crowds of party-crazed revelers.

Sardinia Although Sicily is Italy’s most famous island destination, when it comes to beaches you need to head a bit further west out to sea. Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, has a history of human occupation dating back to the Phoenicians. Here you’ll find ruined cities of Punic columns and colonnaded streets in addition to stately medieval settlements and a few modern commercial hubs.

When it comes to beaches, Sardinia is most definitely a heavy-hitter. The coastline is rough and rugged, with immense caverns that have been slowly carved out by the pounding surf. In gentler stretches, powder-white strips of sand nestle protected grottos and tranquil lagoons. Outside of the resort towns, you can cruise ocean highways in the seat of your favorite Italian sports car.

Greek Islands Something of a right of passage amongst the backpacking set, island-hopping in Greece is all about the pursuit of pleasure. From slow-lunches of feta-strewn salads to late-night tumblers of anise-scented ouzo, Greece is quite literally a feast for the senses.

For those in search of bronze glory, there are more than 6000 Aegean, Ionian, Cycladean and Dodecanese islands to choose from. But if we had to narrow it down a bit more, we’d focus on the following: Mykonos for its beach chic, Kos for its seclusion and serenity, Corfu for its elegant vistas, Santorini for its artistic inspiration and Crete for its archaeological underpinnings.

Hvar For a taste of up and coming Europe, look no further than the northeastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is fringed with pine forests, dotted with red-tiled cities and defined by curvaceous bays and floating islets. Prices are on the rise following the introduction of the euro, yet Croatia still remains an affordable corner of a generally expensive continent.

Anywhere in Dalmatia will do you some good, but we’re personally hooked on Hvar. This limestone island is drenched in sunlight, scented with lavender and home to a burgeoning wine industry. Don’t miss Dubovica Beach, which lies next to a stone-hewn village that appears to have leapt out from the pages of a fairy tale.

Did we leave out one of your favorite European beach destinations? Most likely as there are far too many noteworthy spots to list in one blog post. But that’s why we’re inviting you to chime in and let us know what we missed. Be they classic tourist spots or veritable hidden gems, European beaches might just be some of the most enviable destinations for summer travel.

** All images are courtesy of the Wikicommons Media Project **