Exploring Europe’s great cities can be exhausting. For a quick refresh after tramping from monument to monument, make like a local and take a seaside break. Or skip the city altogether and head straight to one of the following destinations for a truly relaxing European vacation.
After sweating it out in front of the Mona Lisa at the unairconditioned Louvre, treat yourself to a few days by the sea in Brittany, a 2-hour train ride from Paris. Book a room at the Hotel Castel Beau Site (pictured) in Ploumanac’h, on Brittany’s Pink Granite coast (castelbeausite.com/en). The Champagne bar lets you know you’re in France. Every room faces the water. Hire a boat to take you to the Sept-Iles bird sanctuary, a little bit offshore. Rocky islands are home to sea birds including puffins. Sit on the pink sand beach, or walk a coastal footpath past the otherworldly rose-colored rock formations including one that looks like Napoleon’s hat. Take a picnic lunch to the famous lighthouse. Another footpath will take you to the larger town of Perros-Guire. Visit the Friday market there to sample Brittany’s culinary specialty, the crepe. Shop at All’Océan (all-ocean.com) for Breton sailor shirts and peacoats. Stay for dinner and enjoy a seafood plateau or mussels marinière at La Marée, (1 Rue Anatole Le Braz), overlooking the pretty harbor.
“Game of Thrones” fans can visit Dubrovnik (pictured) and Split (where the series is partially filmed), and then hop a catamaran to the island of Brac, to relax on Zlatni Rat beach in the village of Bol. Famous from a million travel posters, it is known as the Golden Horn because of its unique shape, a wide swath of sand that tapers to a point as it extends into the water. Westerly afternoon winds make it a good spot for windsurfing. Clear waters stocked with all varieties of marine life are perfect for snorkeling. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. There is plenty to explore beyond the sea. The beach borders a pine grove that contains Roman ruins. For hikers and mountain bikers, there are trails up Vidova Gora, the highest peak on the island and in all of the Adriatic. The Hermitage Blaca, which is accessible only by boat or on foot, was established in 1551 inside a cave, and grew into an impressive cliff-top complex housing production facilities for wine, honey, and furniture. Skip the larger Soviet-era hotels, which have been renovated but perhaps not up to American standards. Instead, book at Villa Giardino (dalmacija.net/bol/villagiardino), a stucco guesthouse with an English garden, breakfast terrace and sea views.
The Estoril coastline (pictured), sometimes called the Portuguese Riviera, is just 40 minutes from Lisbon, offering an easy beach break from the city.
Take the train to Cascais (pictured) and check into a hip seaside resort like Hotel Farol (farol.com.pt/en), a renovated 19th century mansion with rooms decorated by a group of top Portuguese fashion designers and a saltwater pool built over the Atlantic. Head to Praia do Guincho beach to watch world-class windsurfers and kite boarders. Or take a speedboat dolphin-watching excursion (dolphinexplorers.com). Pick up a bike, free of charge, in the historical center of town to enjoy Cascais’ nine-kilometer bike path. When nighttime comes, visit the Casino Estoril (casino-estoril.pt/en/), inspiration for Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.” Other attractions include the 19th century Palace Condes de Castro Guimarães and the Casa das Historias Paula Rego (casadashistoriaspaularego.com), a contemporary art museum designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura. Just a short drive away is the fairy-tale town of Sintra, set amid pine-covered hills and containing a dozen national monuments including vividly painted palaces and crumbling castle walls.
Elba (pictured), the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago, is a natural spot to seek relaxation after touring Florence, Pisa and Sienna. A quick ferry ride from Piombino (which is connected by rail to all major Italian cities) gets you to Portoferraio, with its picturesque harbor and beautifully preserved Medici fortifications. Napoleon slept here during his exile and you can visit his home.
Discover the ancient Etruscan and Roman history of the island at the Archeological Museum della Linguella (nwsdy.li/Linguella), located in an ancient salt warehouse within the fortress. Book accommodations at Hotel Ilio (hotelilio.com) on the wilder western side of Elba. Ask for a room with a sea view. Enjoy the hotel’s wine and olive oil tasting room. A dozen restaurants and beach bars are within walking distance, including outdoor pizzerias and seafood spots. The concierge will point you to the beach at Sant’Andrea, where you can rent umbrellas and lounge chairs. There are also opportunities for kayaking, snorkeling, and windsurfing nearby. Or rent a Vespa, a vintage Fiat 500 or an Alfa Romeo Spider (sprintage.it) to travel the island’s windy roads, discovering vineyards, fishing hamlets and scenic overlooks.
Pictured: The Livorno District on Elba Island.
Minorca, quieter cousin of party islands Majorca and Ibiza, is just a 3-hour ferry from Barcelona. Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993, its shores haven’t been marred by overdevelopment. Outdoor activities include hiking or horseback riding along the Cami de Cavalls, a 115-mile path that runs the entire coastline of the island and offers opportunities to explore many small, secluded beaches (pictured).
Minorca’s rich archaeological heritage includes ancient stone megaliths which dot the landscape. Taste local wine and cheese at the Bodega at L’Hort de Sant Patrici (santpatrici.com). Sample gin (a local specialty since it was introduced by the British in the 18th century) at the Xoriguer distillery (Anden de Poniente 91, Mahon). Pick up a pair of authentic Minorcan sandals, comfortable leather flats with rubber soles that are perfect for long walks in warm weather. Avarca Castell (avarcacastell.com) has several stores on the island. Check into an understated but luxurious hotel like the Alcaufar Vell (alcaufarvell.com), a grand old country house with a working farm and a swimming pool situated among wild olive trees. Families may want to be right on the sand, in which case the Melia Cala Galdana (melia.com) is a beautiful choice, with a crescent beach protected by limestone cliffs.
Pictured: Cales Fonts Harbor in Minorca.
Britain may not be famous for its beautiful beaches, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just a couple of hours from London by train are the sandy shores of Cornwall, where English bathers congregate in summer to enjoy the waves. Check into a farmhouse B&B like Ardensawah Farm (porthcurnofarmholidays.com) in Porthcurno, with panoramic sea views. Enjoy a breakfast of bacon and eggs from the farm. Walk the coastal paths along the cliffs and to the beaches. Check out the surfing break at Porthcurno Beach (pictured). Granite sea cliffs offer adventure climbing. Hire an experienced instructor (cornishrocktors.com) to show you the ropes. Take in a Shakespeare play or a musical at the open-air Minack Theatre, carved into a Cornish cliff top. Visit the Tate gallery (tate.org.uk) in St. Ives, a satellite of the London museum with impressive contemporary art exhibits and beautiful water views. Nearby Penzance, of pirate fame, has one of the mildest climates in the United Kingdom. Stroll the palm-tree-lined streets. Visit Morrab Gardens (morrabgardens.org), with its display of subtropical plants, or take a dip in the town’s art deco-era saltwater Jubilee Lido Pool (jubileepool.co.uk)