10 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns in Europe – Taste Travel Guide
Yes, we know it is difficult to match the thrum of the city and the throb of the nightlife, but sometimes you need to throw cities aside and venture towards areas where the air is fresher, where there are fewer tourists, and where you can – more often than not – see the wood for the trees. Welcome, then, to the coast, where you can feel the warm breeze on your face as you drift from one small town or village to the next. From the obvious to the not-so, we choose the best spring/summer spots at which to investigate, explore, and chill out. Cities? Some other time, perhaps?
Justifiably known as the ‘Pearl of the Costa Brava’, Cadaqués was once a favourite destination of the artists Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, and Salvador Dali (who described it as “dreamy and perfect”). They weren’t wrong about its visual appeal. A former fishing village that is less than three hours from Barcelona, Cadaqués has a population of about 3,000, and is quite the perfect – some say idyllic – place to spend a long and lazy weekend. Is it something of a tourist magnet? Yes, but the town has managed (via zoning regulations) to hang on to what has always made it so charming: individuality and a sense of heritage.
MANAROLA, CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
Ah, people, you just have to get here: Manarola is located on a piece of land about 780 metres above sea level. Above a tiny harbour, warm colours of the houses and the rockface via in competition with each other, while in the village centre, a compact piazza tempts you with a range of seafood restaurants. A word of warning to those that may have mobility issues or guilty feet: with steep and narrow laneways leading to and from the sea, Manarola could be difficult to negotiate (especially after a visit to nearby Groppo, which is famous for its wine!).
POLPERRO, CORNWALL, UK
It is almost unfair to many other coastal places in Cornwall to choose Polperro (population of about 1,600) over them, as there isn’t one port village in the region that doesn’t elicit the words “charming” and “gorgeous”. We are plumping for Polperro, however, because the streets are so narrow that cars are banned (parking is at the nearby hamlet of Crumplehorn). If you’re looking for the definition of quaint and picture-postcard, then this is the place: pretty, flower-adorned cottages, independent shops selling art, pottery, and jewellery, several restaurants, and about seven gloriously distinctive pubs.
A fishing village in the municipality of Moskenes is as small and incredible as you could ever imagine. With a population of less than 350, Reine is located 125km west of Svolvaer Airport, and situated on the island of Moskenesøya, on northern Norway’s Lofoten archipelago, above the Arctic Circle While it is – inevitably – a quiet place to visit, Reine’s natural scenery and location take some beating. Fishermen’s huts and cabins (some of which have been converted into visitor accommodation) dot the small section of coast it inhabits, but you’re here for the truly awe-inspiring landscape and very little else. A hiker’s paradise? Or just, simply, paradise?
Imagine drama as landscape and you’ll have some idea how commanding and compelling the small town of Kotor is. Nestled between the sea and the mountains, and comprising ancient (churches, cathedrals, columns and palaces) and contemporary (you should see some of the restaurants here; it also has a shopping mall with UNESCO standard architectural design), the town is equal parts history and beauty. The former has set Kotor on UNESCO’s list of protected cultural heritage, while the latter is equally apparent with an Old Town that is charm personified.
OIA, SANTORINI, GREECE
There are too many photogenic villages and towns on various Grecian islands, but if you’re looking for one in particular that blends a labyrinth of tiny shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants with stunning vistas and views of Santorini (thanks to its position on the top of a cliff), then Oia is exactly that. Perhaps the most well-known of all the villages on the island and considered to be the most attractive in all of Greece, Oia is bathed in blue and white colours that match the sea and the sky. Is it like Heaven on Earth? We reckon it is.
With a visual appeal that has as much Italian as Croatian sensibilities, Rovini boasts many things that could easily take you away from the country’s other (and definitely best-known) coastal destinations such as Dubrovnik and Hvar. Another plus point is that Rovini isn’t as jammed in the touristy summer months. This noted, the town is one of Croatia’s most popular, with a beautiful setting on an undulating peninsula, winding, steep and thin streets, picture-pretty harbour, and more than several terrific seafood restaurants.
SANARY-SUR-MER, PROVENCE, FRANCE
Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region in south-eastern France, and a mere 50km from Marseilles, Sanary-sur-Mer surely has the most blissful climate in France: up to 280 days of sunshine. A seafood lover’s delight – every day at the harbour, local fishermen sell their catches to the restaurant chefs – the harbour town also is noted for its daily morning market outside the town hall. Local vineyards, meanwhile, are located a few miles from the centre. Ah, the French! They have it sussed, haven’t they?
ELIE, FIFE, SCOTLAND
A seaside village in the East Neuk (a coastal area) of Fife, Elie has a harbour that dates from the 16th century, boasts two acclaimed golf courses and has a linked village with Earlsferry (they were formally merged in 1930). The beach here is remarkable, as are the views across the Firth of Forth. Simple pleasures, perhaps, and not always as warm as you might want, Elie is nevertheless a gem in the crown of Scotland.
CACELA VELHA, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL
Less than 30km from the Spanish border, Cacela Velha is not only a gorgeous historic sight (and site) to behold but it is also where Praia da Fabrica – a beach long regarded as one of the most marvellous in the world – languishes. Unlike a lot of other towns and villages to be found along the Algarve, there isn’t much to do after dinner, but if you’re the kind of person that prefers Moorish ruins and moreish seafood (served in tidy village restaurants) over loud music, then you are most welcome.
AILLIHIES, BEARA PENINSULA, COUNTY CORK, IRELAND
Last but not least is Aillihies, which at a distance of almost 400km from Dublin is the furthest coastal village west you can get to on the island of Ireland. Despite its remoteness, the village is a thriving community with attractive shop and pub fronts (one pub, O’Neill’s, has a terrific upstairs restaurant). The village is also known for its historic copper mine (and associated museum).
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA