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Breathtaking: Secret beaches in southern Europe

Featured in the Guardian on 20 January 2024. Copy written by Sorrel Downer, Liz Boulter, Carolyn Boyd, Mary Novakovich, Audrey Gillan and Heidi Fuller-Love. Holiday ideas provided by Sunvil.

There's something magical about visiting a lesser-known beach, as if it's a secret haven just for you – a place where you can create your own memories. These secluded bays are often remote, breathtakingly beautiful, and just waiting to be discovered. While "undiscovered" may be a stretch, given their popularity, finding the right combination of sand, sea, and lack of crowds is many a traveller's dream. So why not embark on a journey to uncover some of the finest hidden beaches in Europe? From Portugal and Spain to Greece, Italy, and Croatia, your personal slice of paradise awaits.

Ikaria, Greece - By Heidi Fuller-Love

The Greek island of Ikaria has gained a reputation for the longevity of its inhabitants. Among the island’s many stunning coves, Seychelles beach, located approximately 15 miles west of the capital, Agios Kirikos, is a major attraction. To get to the beach, visitors must scramble up a steep ascent, following a roughly painted arrow in the middle of the road near the remote port of Magganitis. The village is also well-known for its taverna, which serves fresh seafood straight from the boat.

Although it may seem presumptuous to name a Greek beach after an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Ikaria's Seychelles beach lives up to its name. The picturesque beach boasts white sand, pale pebbles, and stunning turquoise waters, all surrounded by weathered rock formations.

We recommend staying at the Erofili Beach Hotel, the perfect base for exploring the island.

Seychelles beach, Ikaria Seychelles beach, Ikaria

Karpathos, Greece - By Heidi Fuller-Love

Karpathos is a secret gem of the Dodecanese islands, accessible only by a four-hour ferry ride from Rhodes or a lengthy 20-hour trip from Piraeus, the port of Athens. The island's rugged beauty is crowned by the mountain hamlet of Olympus, where traditions still thrive, and women dress in traditional costume. Karpathos is a favoured holiday destination for Greeks who come for the pristine beaches, delectable cuisine like the wild greens called tsimeta, kopelies (vegetable pies), and other local specialties.

For an authentic castaway experience, take a five-minute boat ride off Karpathos's northern tip to the island of Saria. This deserted island is home to the barrel-roofed ruins of the homes of medieval pirates, and its crystal-clear waters make it easy to spot starfish resting on the ocean floor.

Stay at the Astron Hotel and Bungalows, an attractive and well established bungalow-style 3 star hotel which is set in 15,000 sqm of gardens.

 

 

Saria, off the coast of Karpathos Saria, off the coast of Karpathos

Lesvos, Greece - By Heidi Fuller-Love

Lesvos’s southern coast is lined with breathtaking beaches, but Skala Eressos, a two-mile curve of dusky sand fringed by sea the colour of a jay’s wing, is definitely the best. Several hours’ drive from the island’s capital, Mytilene, via a mountain road that corkscrews through lunar landscapes dotted with bizarre rock formations, Eressos was the birthplace of the poet Sappho in the seventh century BC. The resort itself is a magnet for those seeking alternative lifestyles: vegan cafes and yoga and meditation centres line the pedestrianised seafront, alongside traditional tavernas with wobbly blue tables where they serve ouzo with just about everything.

Immersed in four acres of lawns, vineyards and greenery- all at the disposal of guests - the Ilios Apartments are meticulously cared for by the characterful owner and make the ideal base for your Skala Eressos holiday.

 

Skala Eressos, Lesvos Skala Eressos, Lesvos

Crete, Greece - By Heidi Fuller-Love

The Sitia region on Crete's remote eastern tip is now home to one of Greece's newest Unesco geoparks. The area boasts stunning beaches, including the iconic Vai, known for its palm tree-studded beauty.

For those seeking a more adventurous route, Xerocambos can be reached via a narrow road that winds down through barren landscapes marked with twisted thyme plants – all while overlooking the glittering sea. It's definitely the most dramatic route to take, but the coves of Xerocambos are worth it – covered with golden sands and surrounded by seas as blue as those found in the Caribbean.

The Itanos is a 3-star hotel on Sitia’s pretty waterfront, only 200-metres from the beach. This hotel offers modern rooms, friendly service and a lovely roof garden with great views. (Contact a member of our Greece team, for more details on the Hotel Itanos).

Xerokambos, Crete Xerokambos, Crete

Rovinj, Croatia - By Mary Novakovich

The Croatia Summer Salsa festival attracts salsa enthusiasts to Rovinj every June. For two decades now, the festival has celebrated the art of salsa by filling the harbour with open-air stages and dance. However, if you're looking for a quiet getaway, the tiny island of Sveta Katarina is just a 10-minute shuttle boat ride away. This island feels like a secret hideaway far from the crowds, but without the high price tag. A trail through the woods leads to secluded stretches of rocky coast, with sunbeds beneath the pines. And the views of Rovinj from here are simply breathtaking.

Located within the ancient protected Zlatni Rat forest on one side and overlooking the Adriatic on the other, the Hotel Monte Mulini is in a beautiful location where guests wake up to birdsong and the smell of the sea and pines.

Sveta Katarina, Istria Sveta Katarina, Istria

Zadar, Croatia - By Mary Novakovich

Only 20 minutes by ferry from Zadar, the charming island of Ugljan remains undiscovered by most tourists wandering along Zadar's waterfront. Head to the northern end of the island to find the secluded Južna Luka, a tranquil U-shaped bay surrounded by tall pine trees. The crystal-clear blue-green waters beyond the large boulders along the shore beckon snorkelers. Take the footpath that encircles the round peninsula west of the beach and experience the enchanting sunset views. For stunning panoramic views, take a 20-minute walk to the top of Liburni Hill.

Hotel Bastion is a beautiful, four star, property where many aspects are five star including the rooms, the restaurant and bar-lounge. When entering the property, the outstanding design and gorgeous furnishings, glittering chandeliers etc are striking. The bar-lounge resembles a 1930’s French Riviera spot. Part of the hotel was once a castle within the city’s defensive walls dating back to the 13th century and since it is a preserved cultural monument, exterior changes are not allowed. Parts of the original walls are visible in some places including the restaurant terrace.

Ugi Otok, Croatia Ugi Otok, Croatia

Cadiz, Spain - By Sorrel Downer

It's surprising that the beauty of La Barrosa remains relatively unknown outside Spain. Although the access road through the back end of Chiclana is not particularly attractive, the old town and seafront are picturesque. Notably, the magnificent beach in front of it spans five miles of fine pale sand, 100 metres wide in some areas, and lapped by gentle waves. This beach is frequently featured on Spain's list of the best beaches.

Right on the sea front and a 10 minute walk from the historic centre of the city; the Parador de Cádiz is one of the ultra modern breeds of Parador. The building is all glass, wood, marble, clean cut lines and spectacular views to the sea, especially from the pool area which almost blends in with the ocean.

La Barrosa, Cadiz La Barrosa, Cadiz

Porto, Portugal - By Audrey Gillan

Located just south of Porto, Aguda is a stunning beach that's part of a series of breathtaking shorelines. With its golden sands, harbour and protective sea wall, you can enjoy a more sheltered atmosphere than some of the other beaches in the area. The village is home to historic fisherman houses and a seven-mile wooden boardwalk that leads to the fishing town of Espinho. This charming town is known for its exceptional seafood restaurants. Here, you can see brightly painted fishing boats using an ancient method called xávega, where a fine net is pulled to shore by tractor.

Stay at the Pousada do Porto (Pestana Palácio do Freixo), designed by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. It is one of the finest examples of Portuguese architecture from the baroque period. Built in 1742, the hotel has preserved the entire facade of the palace buildings, which became a National Monument in 1910.

 

Aguda beach, Porto Aguda beach, Porto

Puglia, Italy

Puglia’s best beaches are on its Ionian coast: one idyllic stretch is even called the “Maldives”. North of there, the walled town of Gallipoli is less famous than its Turkish namesake but just as beautiful, with a sandy “free” beach in its island old town.

Borgo San Marco, a fortified 15th century masseria (farmstead) set within 450 acres of cultivated land and olive groves, is the family home of Alessandro Amati, a major producer of extra virgin olive oil. The owner has retained many of the features of the original buildings, including vaulted ceilings, arches and the original, local stone ‘Pietra di Lecce’ flooring. This charming property offers comfortable and intimate guest rooms, simply furnished and decorated with antique pieces, in quiet and refined surroundings.

Gallipoli, Puglia Gallipoli, Puglia

Trapani, Sicily - By Liz Boulter

Trapani is an ancient city that has been around for over 3,000 years. It has been shaped by various cultures such as the Greek, Carthaginian, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, and Spanish over the years, and their influence is still visible in the old town. Its name, which originates from the Greek word 'drepanon', meaning 'sickle', accurately describes its 2.5 miles of beach, with crystal-clear water. The central Piazza Vittorio Emanuele beach is sandy and free, as is the Spiaggia Tipa, which is further east. To reach the hilltop Erice, you can take a cable car.

The Elimo Hotel is a small, family-run hotel which enjoys a central location within the walls of the ancient hilltop town of Erice. Access to a rooftop terrace affords wonderful views over the town, coastline and mountains.

Trapani, Sicily Trapani, Sicily

Whether you’re looking for powder-soft sands to sit back and tan, or the ocean for water sport adventures, contact our destination experts to find your perfect beach escape holiday. 

The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

23rd January 2024



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

Sunvil's holidays are designed by passionate travellers just like you. Our reservations experts and product teams, many of whom have been with us for many years, are passionate about our destinations and, through their personal, first-hand knowledge can answer any questions that you may have. They are well qualified to advise and recommend, based on your own holiday criteria. We can point you to those special, little-known places, some not found even in guidebooks.

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

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