The i-escape blog / An insider’s guide to Folegandros: sunsets, snorkelling and romance / Lucy Richardson

By Lucy Richardson, Editor

For an easy sunny getaway, you can’t beat a buzzy town with a beach. You can spend days dipping in the ocean, evenings dining out at great restaurants, and you won’t need to drive far for your activities – in fact, you could go car-free for the entire holiday if you wish. These are among our favourite seaside destinations in Europe, and with airports nearby, they’re all ideal for a hassle-free beach break.

Olhão, Algarve, Portugal

Olhao, Porutgal

Olhão is a rare gem. This authentic fishing town (Portugal’s largest fishing port) is just 20 minutes along the coast from Faro Airport and has access to some of our favourite beaches in the Algarve.

It’s very much a working town, buzzing with life seven days a week. Cobbled streets are lined with boutique shops and simple restaurants serving deliciously fresh catch of the day, and down by the water, a bustling market has a daily spread of fruit, veg and fish. On Saturdays, there’s a farmers’ market too, selling everything from budgies to bunnies, baked goods to pottery.

For beach thrills, taxi-boats whizz you into the Ria Formosa Natural Park, whose beautiful islands have deserted beaches and laid-back appeal. We love Ilha da Culatra and Ilha Deserta, though all offer stunning stretches of golden sand. See our insider’s guide to Olhao for more top tips.

Stay at: Convento, a Moroccan riad-style hotel, is great value and has a fab roof terrace; Casa Rosa Villa Hotel is a cute, colourful and very affordable boutique retreat near the centre of town.

Get there: Fly into Faro, 15km away, then hop in a taxi or rent a car, or transfer to Faro’s Bom Joao railway station and catch the train to Olhão from there (6 mins).

Cascais, near Lisbon, Portugal

Cascais is Lisbon’s summer playground. Once a small fishing village, now an upmarket resort town, it’s fringed by blonde-sand beaches and is just 40 minutes along the coast from the capital.

Historically, Cascais was a retreat of Portuguese nobility, so the architecture is grand. Elegant buildings and lavish villas rise along the beachfront, and there’s a marina with flashy craft. At the town’s heart is the old fishing village (car-free in summer), now with boutiques, bars, and restaurants serving fresh-off-the-boat seafood. Elsewhere are galleries, parks and pretty churches.

Praia da Conceição and Praia da Duquesa are the main beaches, but there plenty more to choose from. The waves on this stretch of Lisbon coast are ideal for surfing; windsurfing, paddleboarding, sailing and waterskiing are also popular pastimes.

Stay at: Hotel Albatroz sits on a rocky headland between two golden beaches; Villa Cascais is a 19th-century mansion with sea-view rooms. Both hotels are just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station.

Get there: Fly into Lisbon, jump in a taxi or take the bus to Cais do Sodre railway station, then catch the train to Cascais (1 hour).

Tarifa, Andalucia, Spain

tarifa, spain

Unless you’re Spanish or a keen kitesurfer, you probably won’t have heard of Tarifa. This lively town at the southern tip of Spain’s Costa de la Luz is effortlessly cool and has one of the best beaches in the country.

Situated at the start of the Strait of Gibraltar, it’s got the Atlantic on one side, the Med on the other, and you can – quite literally – stand in the middle of the two. Strong gusts create excellent kitesurfing conditions, and this has led to an influx of surfer types who come to ride the waves and hang out in the beach bars. Tarifa is all about having fun: you eat tapas, you socialise, you dance to DJ sets, you end the night with ice cream.

Across the water is Morocco, and you can cross continents for the day to visit Tangier; it’s a jarring cultural experience being in Western Europe one minute and North Africa the next. Look out for whales along the way.

Stay at: El Cancho is a pair of secluded eco-houses (for 2-6) with the most spectacular view over Tarifa’s sweeping beach. It’s just outside of Tarifa (3km) and is blissfully peaceful.

Get there: Fly to Gibraltar Airport, then cross the border into Spain on foot (50 metres from the airport). There are plenty of car rental companies along the strip, or you can catch the coach to Tarifa from La Linea bus station (10-minute walk).

L’Escala, Catalonia, Spain


L’Escala is a charming beach town in Catalonia, close to the French border. It’s an old fishing port, famed for anchovies, and still has a working fleet today. Recent years have seen the town develop into a fashionable seaside retreat, a result of its pretty beaches and pristine turquoise water.

The old town has cute cafes, boutique patisseries and trendy restaurants spilling onto the streets. The main beach is Riells, offering safe swimming. Or a quieter option is Empúries, which fronts an ancient Greco-Roman archaeological site – the oldest of its kind in Spain.

Diving is popular here, with some good dive sites and wrecks just off the coast. Or explore the water by jet-ski or glass-bottom boat, heading out to find hidden coves.

Stay at: Casa Calvari is a boho-chic townhouse (for 6-7) with a rooftop pool. Beaches are within walking distance.

Get there: Fly to Girona Airport, then take the train to the city centre, and from there a bus to L’Escala (45 minutes). You could also fly to Barcelona (train to Girona, bus to L’Escala).

 Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Taormina is charming in a sophisticated, quintessentially Italian kind of way. This is Sicily’s smartest resort town, long frequented by A-list royalty (Liz Taylor, Greta Garbo). Its breathtaking setting on a hillside means you get glittering views over the Ionian, while Mt Etna smokes inland.

The town’s flower-filled streets make for pleasant strolls. Bar-hop along Corso Umberto I, the main drag, for an aperitivo in the early evening, then stay for dinner and classy cocktails. The Greek Amphitheatre, perched high above the coast, is a must-see and has regular open-air performances in summer.

A cable car takes you down to the beach at Mazzarò, where you can snorkel in the translucent water or wander across to the pretty islet of Isola Bella.

Stay at: The Ashbee is a classically styled boutique hotel in a grand villa with stunning sea views; Hotel Villa Carlotta is an intimate oasis in a turn-of-the-century villa, built into Taormina’s cypress-spiked cliffs.

Get there: Fly to Catania, then catch a direct bus or take the train to Taormina-Giardini Naxos (50 mins).

Stari Grad, Hvar, Croatia

stari grad

On the quieter side of Hvar, on the Dalmatian Coast, the ancient town of Stari Grad centres on a pretty fishing harbour filled with painted wooden boats. This is the antithesis of Hvar Town: unspoilt and peaceful, with far fewer tourists. It’s not a big place, but it’s got a quaint centre, good restaurants and makes a good base for exploring the island.

Stari Grad is one of Croatia’s oldest towns, dating back to 384BC when it was settled by the ancient Greeks – exhibits in the Stari Grad Museum document this long history. The town centre is car-free, so you can amble along its quiet, cobbled alleyways, pausing to call in at the boutiques and the 16th-century Tvrdalj Castle (aka Hektorovic House). Lunch on the waterfront is also a must.

The town beach is a 10-minute walk from the harbour, while the Stari Grad Bay has around 40 sand, pebble and rocky bays to discover – some of which are only accessible by boat. The water here is clear turquoise, so it’s perfect boat-hopping territory.

Stay at: Hidden House, a boho-chic townhouse with three gorgeous self-contained suites (for 2-4 each). Great value, and great owners who are on hand to help.

Get there: Fly to Split, take a taxi to the port, then a ferry (1.5-2 hrs) direct to Stari Grad on Hvar.

Skiathos Town, Skiathos, Greece

Skiathos Town

Skiathos Town, the only major settlement on the small Aegean island of Skiathos, is a lively little place. Its red-roofed, white-tiled houses cluster a pretty waterfront where there’s a yacht-filled harbour and a promenade lined with buzzy tavernas. In summer months, you’ll find a good nightlife scene here, with plenty of cocktail-fuelled revelry to be had.

The town sits in a sheltered spot behind a peninsula on the east coast of Skiathos, so the bay remains warm and windless. Megali Ammos is the closest beach, a 5-10 minute walk from the town centre, where there’s a good selection of bars and restaurants, and you can watch boats coming to shore.

But don’t limit it to that; Skiathos is home to some of the Aegean’s best beaches (around 65 of them, in fact), so rent a moped or a boat and head off around the island to explore – the wild beaches on the north coast are particularly stunning, as are the bays on the upmarket Kalamaki Peninsula.

Stay at: Koula’s House, a sea-view hideaway in the old part of Skiathos Town yet minutes from the waterfront action. There are 5 rooms and 2 apartments – all are great value.

Get there: Fly to Skiathos Airport, which is served by year-round flights from Athens, and direct flights from the UK and elsewhere in high season. Ferries and, in summer, hydrofoils arrive daily from Agios Konstantinos (which is easily accessible from Athens by bus, if you don’t want to fly).

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy


Sorrento is an old classic. This smart resort town is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, so it’s a great place to base yourself for hair-raising adventures along those iconic plunging cliffs.

It’s touristy, yes, but it’s also deeply romantic. On Sundays, the whole town turns out for a morning stroll along the Corso, while each evening, bars serve aperitivi, shops stay open late, and the town’s twinkling lights dance on the water.

Take boat trips to Amalfi’s most picturesque places – Positano, Ravello, or the island of Capri. Or just chill by Sorrento’s waterfront, people-watching or jumping off the pier for cooling dips.

Stay: Maison La Minervetta is a cliffside boutique hotel perched above Sorrento’s harbour, with views that take your breath away.

Get there: Fly to Naples, then catch a bus to Sorrento or transfer to Napoli Centrale station and take the train (1 hour).

Want to go somewhere bigger? Check out our favourite beach cities in Europe, or click to see all our beach hotels

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