Secret Beaches of Europe
We reveal the secluded sandy spots that only the locals know about…
Simos Beach, Elafonisos, Greece
This small Greek island, lying between the Peloponnese and Kythira, is packed with Greek holidaymakers in August, but most foreign tourists are yet to discover it. If you want to avoid crowds, travel in May, or even September, when white sea lilies are in bloom.
The beach is divided into two (Megalos and Mikros Simos), with a stretch of white sand acting as a divide. For a nature-embracing experience, it’s even possible to camp within the dunes.
The clear, shallow Caribbean-style waters are perfect for snorkelling, although there’s also the option to relax on sunbeds with umbrellas.
Calamosche, Sicily, Italy
For guaranteed seaside seclusion, try this quiet cove on Sicily’s south-east. There are no roads to access the beach, which is set within the Vendicari Nature Reserve, so you’ll have to park the car at the reserve’s gatehouse and travel by foot.
The 20-minute path winds along easy terrain through wetlands planted with aromatic herbs and visited by migratory birds.
Just make sure you bring everything needed for the day, as there are no cafés or shady spots on site. Two high rocky ridges shield bathers from the wind, making the sea calm enough for gentle swims.
Playa de Oyambre, Spain
Combining mountain and sea views, this protected beach in northern Spain is as picturesque as they come. Gaze out to the snow-capped Picos mountains while nuzzling into golden sand dunes, or make a splash in the ocean surf.
Park in the smaller car park (next to a bend in the road) and walk alongside a trickling stream to reach a quieter section of the beach. Further along the road, there’s a bigger car park with access to a busier area, snack bars and a lifeguard.
Keem Bay, Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland
Snorkelling off the west coast of Ireland might not sound too appealing, but the surprisingly clear waters around the horseshoe-shaped Keem Bay are worth braving chilly temperatures. It’s advisable, though, to swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
Those who prefer to stay dry can admire cliff-top views from Europe’s most westerly point, while eating ice cream from a small van permanently parked on the roadside.
You can reach the beach via a windy road which forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way driving route; take the turn off at Newport but allow two and a half hours for the journey there and back.
Praia da Ursa, Lisbon, Portugal
Less than an hour’s drive from Lisbon, this scenic, sandy beach sits in the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The final 3km leg of the journey can only be done by foot along a steep and rocky path, but the 30-minute journey is worth it for the views alone.
Praia da Ursa means ‘bear beach’ in Portuguese, and refers to a huge rock which locals claim – with a bit of imagination - resembles a bear’s head. Sheltered from the waves, it’s a safe swimming spot – although the Atlantic is always chilly!
If the hike is too much, it’s still possible to admire the rock formations from the car park. Just follow an easy path for five minutes and the beach will come into view.
Kelebekler Vadisi (Butterfly Valley), Oludeniz, Turkey
Unless you fancy shimmying along sheer drops, the best way to reach this wild and unkempt beach is by boat.
The white pebble cove is awash with colour from June to September, when 60 different types of butterfly can be found here.
There are also some small waterfalls, although you’ll have to trek further into the steep-sided valley to see them. The area has been designated a nature reserve, so don’t expect to find any amenities, but a regular boat shuttle operates from Belcekiz Beach.
Skagen, North Jutland, Denmark
A day at the beach doesn’t necessarily mean hours spent sunbathing. The Råbjerg Mile, close to fishing town Skagen, is home to a spectacular migrating dune.
The 250-acre stretch of sand is moving north-east at a rate of up to 18 metres a year, creating an ever-shifting landscape. Miles of grassy dunes are perfect for hikers, although those who’d rather not exert themselves can take a taxi from Skagen (about 20 minutes) to the dunes.
Time a visit for sunset when the fine sand glows with a reddish hue – but bring a jumper, as even summer evenings can be chilly.