full of character and easy to get to but not truly comparable with those of the Caribbean or Pacific. The
water is cooler and the sand generally coarser or even pebbles.
Pretty shady, palm tree fringes are also rare, though hot sunshine,
good food nearby, friendly locals and low prices are common. In addition there is absolutely no chance of being attacked by a shark, though jellyfish do make an occasional explosive disturbance. The
beaches are best June-mid October, though the water is still a little chilly
up to June and, of course, crowded July-August.
Surf: Good surf is very unusual in the Mediterranean; the Atlantic Ocean is the accepted place for wave riding in Europe.
Greece: apart from Crete island most beaches are either in the Ionian Sea or the Aegean Sea
Cannes vs Nice
Unlike stony Nice, their bigger rival a few kilometres along the
Côte d'Azur, Cannes has sandy beaches that are small but offer
a reasonable amount of rent-free space while nearby cafés
serve excellent food at reasonable prices. The promenade is as pleasant
to stroll as Nice's and a lot less traffic, though much shorter.
However, Cannes' buildings away from the shore are frequently drab compared to some
of Nice's magnificent old structures while Nice's shopping, strolling,
eating out scenes and night life are more varied and lively.
Furthermore, Nice is a real French city with a wonderful
daily market whereas Cannes seems mainly tuned in to tourism or les yachties riches.
Street parking near beaches is not easy in either city.
Pay carparks are the best option and both places have a good selection not far from the sea. Alternatively take the train, though they can be erratic and inconvenient if you wish to stay for a firework display. Town traffic may be heavy in both
Côte d'Azur beaches, may be sandy or stony but the less-well-known strands can be very characterful and fun if you can find a place to park, or go there by train, though some beaches are near the stations and others are not.
There are no sharks, of course, but jellyfish sometimes appear, usually late in the season. Some wealthier locations such as Cannes and Monaco provide stinger nets. During July - August there are regular, impressive fireworks displays alongside the Côte d'Azur beaches, with Cannes and Monaco leading the magnificence, though other municipalities put on a good show too.
Cagnes-sur-Mer, for example, closes the street beside the promenade at 6pm once a week (causing traffic havoc) and provides live bands (free) and good dining (not free!) along the seafront topped off by excellent fireworks at 10 pm or thereabouts.
Good Sand: Cannes (and its adjunct La Boca), Theoule, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, St Tropez.
Grainy sand or shingle (bare feet OK): Menton, Villefranche,
Pebbles (difficult to walk, may need water shoes): Nice, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Villeneuve-Loubet.
St Tropez, France
St Tropez has one of those resounding, sexy names, like Marrakesh and Kathmandu but sadly without the same fulfilment these days.
It's a a great place with good size beaches, but writhing crowds and massive traffic jams (it took the bug crew 1 hour to drive to near St Trop from Cannes and 2 hours to travel the last 5 kms). Not a recommended holiday spot for normal mortals with thin wallets or crowd phobias. Get there by ferry from Cannes or St Maxime if you must. St Tropez Beach Pictures.
Juans-les-Pins and Antibes beaches are in the same conurbation but on either side of the foot of the Cap d'Antibes peninsula. For some reason that we can't fathom the rich like to eat, drink and wander along Juan les Pins' very narrow stretch of soft sand lined with pay loungers, parasols and hideous apartment blocks. Perhaps the quality beachside dining is the attraction?
The less well off, however, who want space to play with their families or lie down without being trampled, choose the wide sandy beaches on the other side near Antibes Old Town - Plage le Ponteil and Plage de la Salis, or in the case of Plage de la Gravette, actually in the old town.
Overcooked and undersanded though it is, we do love Plage de la Garoupe on Cap d'Antibes, home to a really good value café (red stripe parasols), a fantastic walk and some cute little coves and beaches.
Monaco. Surprisingly pleasant, Larvotto's half kilometre of imported, smoothed gravel offers clean waters protected by jellyfish netting (rarely needed but hedge fund managers like to take precautions!), good exposure to the sun and is divided evenly into pay and public sections, with a kid's play area at the Italy end. There are plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants with a spread of prices. Free toilets are available under the promenade and the stretch is an easy 10 minute walk from the city's core, Casino Square.
Menton, practically next door to Italy, Menton is quiet even in high season and has a fine micro-climate even better than the rest of the Riviera, some stylish architecture and a couple of good size beaches bordered by promenades and cafés. Our favourite is Les Sablettes, the smaller beach near the port on the Italian side. Shallow, calm and with comfortable though coarse sand it's a winner for families but popular with everyone.
On the Nice side is a huge curve of the Baie du Soleil
and beaches beginning with Plage du Fossan beside the unpleasantly modern new museum. It's one curve and beaches are pretty well identical, though the onshore cafés would disagree. The surface ranges from mid-size pebbles thru shingle to almost-sand while the Fossan corner of the Mediterranean does appear to collect jellyfish in season due to currents.
d'Agde near Montpellier is naturist-friendly, in other words get your
kit off. Not just in terms of nudist beaches but the entire city -
from restaurants to banks - goes for the natural look.
Ile Rousse, Corsica, France
This French island is sophisticated, flashy and one of the best
places for water sports in the Mediterranean. Corsica's
600 miles of coastline has numerous deserted shores and secluded
St Restitude, near Calvi (North West): St
Restitude is the place for a peaceful hideaway. A secluded small
beach backed by pine woods, with soft sand and clean water.
Palombaggia Beach, Santa-Giulia Beach, Golfe di Sogno Beach, near
Porto-Vecchio (South East): Port Vecchio
is an upmarket resort town spread over a rocky hill with its own
beach, a yacht marina, lively streets, and good
range of accommodation, cafes, and restaurants.
The best beach is Palombaggia Beach,
southeast of the town, a perfect crescent of white sand sandwiched
between an azure sea and a cluster of dunes, with an excellent beach
restaurant; other pristine beaches are Santa
Giulia Beach (good for watersports) a few miles to south,
and around Golfe di Sogno
to the north.
For more isolation take a boat or have a very long walk from St
Florent across to either Saleccia Beach
or Loto Beach.
Neither have facilities or many visitors, just lots of soft yellow
sand - including a mini-desert - and clear water. Saleccia has a
camp site beside the desert. See Corsica beaches page
Best May-June, & Sept. OK July-Aug , though hot and crowded
like the rest of Europe.
Camaiore, Versilia Coast, Italy
Versilia Coast: A stretch of the Italian Riviera known as the Versilia Coast encompasses Italy's best mainland beaches. It extends from Marina di Carrara through Marinas di Massa and dei Ronchi to Forte dei Marmi, Camaiore and finally Viareggio.
The beaches are very similar,
wide, soft and beige, with the sea shelving gradually and rips almost unknown. The biggest problem is that pay parasols occupy 90% of the best sand and parking is very difficult, though if you arrive early and are prepared to pay not a lot (25-80 euros per day for parasol and two loungers, then you'll be comfortable. From June to September the sea will be an acceptably warm temperature, though crowds hoover up free spaces late July-August. Versilia Coast Photos and more information.
Terracina, 1.5 hours SW of Rome, on the way to Naples.
of the best beaches on Italy's mainland, Terracina's is very long,
wide and offers plenty of comfortable sand that is pay-parasol free,
yet is within easy reach of cold drinks or simple meals from beach
The town itself is quiet and pleasant but not immediately adjacent
to the sea so wheels or at least 20 minute's walk will be necessary
to get wet. See Terracina
This small island is more African than European.
It has clear sea and superb shores, and it offers some of the best
swimming and skin-diving in the Mediterranean. Most of hotels are
within a short walk of the beaches ; there
are campsites as well. It's essential
to book ahead in July-Aug.
Getting there: by ferry from Port Empedocle, or by air from Palermo.
In summer time you can fly directly from Milan. Best May-Sept, but
avoid July-Aug if possible.
Costa Verde, Sardinia island
is quite wild and less developed than many islands and has a spectacular, cove-pocked, beach-packed
coastline. One of the prettiest stretches
in the Meditterranean is of course the Costa Smeralda,
the island's best-known resort area with 5 star development.
If you want to get away from the crowds, grab wheels and drive! Also Santa Teresa di Gallura (a daily ferry
service goes there from Palau) has stunning coves and beaches. See Sardinia Beach Pictures
Best May-June, & Sept. OK July-Aug , though hot and crowded.
Fine sand, clear water and classic Italian hospitality in Silvi
Marina, with lots of after-beach sightseeing in Abruzzo's
mountains and medieval villages.
Croatia (Adriatic Sea)
Croatia has low prices and a lengthy coastline dotted with islands and fine beaches, many of them shingle (small stones like rounded gravel).
Kolocep is one
of the Elafiti islands on the Adriatic coast, near Dubrovnik down south. It has some of the loveliest, secluded
beaches in Europe while Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn) on Brac Island, with its azur sea and crescent shape is a primary target for beach lovers.
Shingly Zrce has three 24/7 beach clubs that encourage Ibiza-style beach boogies, while Banje beach just outside the ancient walls of Dubrovnik is perfectly located for mixed days of hot culture and cool water.
Croatia also offers some great scuba diving walls, reefs, caves, wrecks off a few of their 1,000 + islands.
Best May-June and Sept. OK July-August, unless crowds are a problem. See Croatia Beaches.
Spain's good value Majorca/Balearic Islands are on dedicated pages.
Costa Brava (far north-east coast)
Cap de Begur is a charming area about
40 mins from Girona offering plenty of Spanish culture old and new
(Dali's weirdness lurks nearby at Figueres or Cadaques), but also
a collection of superb little beaches, ranging from Aiguablava
to nudist L'Illa Roja or family-oriented Llanfranc
and Platja de Raco.
Costa del Sol
de la Luz (south-west coast)
800 metres of fine, white sand and low key developement make Agua
Amarga village - embedded in the Cabo de Gata National Park
- a classic, relaxing beach resort, with excellent wild walks in
the Park too
Tarifa is another popular, attractive, low-key
beach area with few hotels but lots of activities. Due to it's location
on the most southerly tip of Europe winds are usually pretty strong
which is great for wind/kite surfers but can be irritating for swimmers
Bolonia beach, near Tarifa, is a 3
km long nudist beach, unspoilt and unsophisticated but a little
breezy and coarse sand, with all major services are provided. If
it's too busy for you try towards Cadiz, there are even less visited
beaches along the road.
There's plenty of availability of all sizes of sailing and motor yacht rentals in the Med, as the sea is relatively tame, the weather conditions usually good May-October, coastal sights are easy to see while ports are plentiful and many of them globally famous - Monaco, Cannes, Antibes, St Tropez, Cap Ferrat (France) Bonafacio and Calvi (Corsica, France), Portofino, Capri, Venice, Sicily and Sardinia (Italy), the Greek Islands, Bodrum (Turkey) and Spain's Majorca, Ibiza and Barcelona.
Yacht rental season is generally April-October, with the high season during July-August.
Click if you're interested in experiencing high life in the Mediterranean as a member of the crew of a motor or sailing yacht. The Med is in business mainly April - October and if you wish to follow the boat to the Caribbean or for the winter season that may be possible.
Sidi Abdel Rachman, Egypt
Sidi Abdel Rahman or Marsa Matrouh
Long stretches of brilliant white sand beaches along the Mediterranean
coast from Alexandria and around Mersa Matrouh are still undeveloped
and uncrowded. The atmosphere is relaxed, people are fun and
friendly and there's a good selection of small hotels.
Best May-Oct. Avoid winter time and Ramadan (Muslim fasting month, dates depend on full moon so may differ by one day depending on location. 9 July-7 August 2013. There's always a lively feast day, Idd al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan) and
beware the Khamseen (desert wind) around April.
Of course Egypt's most popular beaches are on the other side of the country, around the Red Sea, but note that there are two sides to that coin. The west side, on the mainland and featuring Hurghada, is mostly cheap but seriously lacking in style or interesting environment, whereas the east side (more-or-less divided by the Suez Canal) is based on the east of the Sinai peninsula, opposite Jordan, featuring Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, magnificent snorkelling, diving, hikes, bikes and camel rides around the Sinai peninsula. Get in some wheels and you can be in Israel's Eilat in no time and Jordan's Aquaba shortly after.
beach water tests for bacterial pollution (especially Streptococcus
and Enterococcus, usually caused by sewage or decaying matter):
The best water hit the beaches of Cyprus
and Greece, with Spain 3rd, Italy 4th, Portugal 7th, Britain 13th,
The worst beach water quality was found
in Poland and Belgium though French sand is surprisingly washed
by a lot of dirty seas.
In some cases - such as UK - the Environment Agency blames unseasonal
rainfall washing farming residue into rivers and down to beaches.
the best freshwater bathing sites tested by the EU were in Denmark,
Estonia, Germany and Austria. Britain's, including Hampstead Heath
ponds were very poor.
Some summers much of the Mediterranean - from Spain's Costa
del Sol thru France's south coast and down Italy as far as Sicily
- suffer from jellyfish invasion, specifically the mauve stinger or Pelagia noctiluca (so called because they glow
at night). The stings are painful and unpleasant but not generally
life-threatening, unless a swimmer has a weak heart, a sever allergic
reaction or panics on encountering a shoal of blobbies and drowns...
Pelagia noctiluca, Mediterranean jellyfish, Cap d'Antibes, France 2009
The cause of the stinger explosion is the usual suspect - global
warming boosting water temperatures by a couple of degrees as well
as increased pollution-derived nutrients and reduced cool freshwater
entering from rivers. However, overfishing of anchovies (which compete
with jellies for plankton salad), turtles and tuna fish (which eat
jellies for dessert) has also aided the mauve climate avenger's
European Beaches, but not the Mediterranean: Portugal | Spain's Canary Islands
Beach guides: Greece | France | Italy | Balearic islands | Turkey
Beach Pictures | Turkey
Beach Pictures | France