A harbour, a beach, a taverna or two … the ideal Med break still exists. Here’s where to find it
For most of us, our idea of a perfect summer week is simple. We want a seaside town with a beach, a handful of seafront restaurants, a smart family-run hotel and not too many other tourists. Sounds straightforward, but they aren’t that easy to find. We’ve done the legwork and found five sublime spots in southern Europe, each with a fabulous place to stay and a restaurant that fits the bill.All prices are for travel in June
In its 1960s heyday, Llafranc, on the Costa Brava, was a La Dolce Vita-style hang-out of sex, drugs, surrealism and flamenco. Rock Hudson, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Salvador Dali spent sultry summer evenings drinking gin and tonics at the waterfront Hotel Llafranch, surrounded by the scent of cigarettes and jasmine. Today, the glamour of the town has faded, but not the romance.
This is a fishing village with bustle. On the seafront, you’ll find a long arc of blond sand sandwiched between the green water and a smart promenade of whitewashed hotels and restaurants. Small yachts park up at the eastern end and thickets of Aleppo pine crowd behind, with the odd terracotta roof poking through. You could easily spend a week sunbathing, snorkelling around the headland — where you might spot a red octopus — and discovering rocky coves.
Craggy Costa Brava
You can hike south through woods to Calella de Palafrugell, which has extraordinary botanical gardens, a redbrick neogothic castle and a raucous July festival, the Habanera, where the locals sing sea shanties and drink gallons of cremat, a hot coffee drink laced with burnt rum. In the opposite direction, the Cami de Ronda footpath runs over the cliffs, past the lighthouse at Sant Sebastia, to the wide beach at quiet Tamariu.
Where to stay The three-star Hotel Llafranch is still open for modern-day shenanigans, with simple, seafront rooms (doubles from £94, B&B; hllafranch.com). Or try Spain Holiday, which has a modern two-bedroom flat with a balcony and a shared pool, five minutes’ walk from the beach (ID12609; sleeps five; a week starts at £601; spain-holiday.com).
Where to eat Once you’ve tried the superb black rice at Hotel Llafranch’s restaurant (£14), grab a table at the family-friendly La Llagosta, down the seafront, for grilled sardines and octopus (mains from £12; hostallallagosta.com).
How to get there Fly to Girona from 12 UK airports with Ryanair or Jet 2. It’s an hour’s drive to Llafranc; a week’s car hire starts at £180 with zestcarrental.com.
Don’t forget your sunglasses — this medieval harbour town has whitewashed stone streets and iridescent Adriatic waters that dazzle the minute the summer sun comes out. Twenty-five miles south of Bari, Monopoli is classic Puglia, with historic palazzos, a tangle of narrow streets, slips of sandy beach peeking through gaps in the fortified sea wall and fishermen lazily mending nets in the harbours. The modern boutiques of the new town are curled around the waterfront old town, which dates from the 17th century. Overlooking it all is the 1,000-year-old Santo Stefano castle, which was built for Benedictine monks, then passed to the Knights of Malta before being sold. It still has its moat, keep and trapdoors.
Life here is low-key. Spend a morning wandering around the 18th-century cathedral and its 200ft-high tower, or exchanging energetic sign language with burly Italian farmers at the market on the wide Piazza XX Settembre. In the afternoon, hide away in one of the secluded rocky coves that line the coast, then join the locals on their evening passeggiata along the softly lit waterfront promenade. When it’s time for a drink, Carlo Quinto has superb cocktails and sea views from the top of the city walls (from £6; facebook.com/carloquintomonopoli).
Dramatic dining in Puglia
Mix up the routine with visits to Polignano a Mare, whose gorgeous old churches are 15 minutes away by car, or travel five minutes more for the slender arcs of bleached sand at Torre Canne. You’ll find trulli, Puglia’s traditional cone-shaped houses, half an hour away in the Itria Valley.
Where to stay Don Ferrante is an excellent-value little five-star hotel right on the sea, in a 16th-century fortress built into the town walls. Now painted all in white, it has a dinky pool, potted prickly pears and aloe plants on the terrace, and bedrooms with limestone floors and vaulted ceilings (doubles from £240, B&B; donferrante.it).
Where to eat A quick stroll down the cobbled street from the hotel, Piazza Palmieri is a modern seafood place with a neat outdoor terrace where you’ll be served plates of crustaceans, cooked simply with a bit of salt, lemon and olive oil, at bargain prices (mains from £8; piazzapalmieri.it).
How to get there Fly to Bari, 45 minutes from Monopoli, with easyJet, or to Brindisi (55 minutes) with Ryanair. A week at the Don Ferrante hotel starts at £1,230pp, B&B, including flights and car hire (long-travel.co.uk).
Horto, Greece The Pelion peninsula is blanketed with maple and chestnut trees, fringed with beaches and lapped by transparent waters. Its mountains are the birthplace of the centaurs and the training ground of Jason and Achilles, and from up there, the views of the Aegean and the Pagasitic Gulf are gobsmacking. But British tourists barely come — especially not to Horto, a sleepy five-taverna fishing village on the eastern side of the peninsula, flanked by olive groves.
Colourful boats bob in the harbour and on the small river that cuts through town. Cats snooze in the shade, and you can’t move for terracotta pots of geraniums by the sides of the smooth stone streets. Spend your days on the half-pebble, half-sand beaches, cruise round nearby islands on a traditional caïque or hike cobblestone paths to neighbouring villages, including Trikeri, Milos, Platanias and Milina, home to Aktaion, a restaurant that does a mean banana milkshake. In July and August, you can take the antique narrow-gauge railway from Ano Lechonia, on the coast (45 minutes by car), to Milies, in the mountains, snaking around sheer cliffs and passing over bridges with deep gorges below.
Where to stay The tumbling terraces at the hillside Diplomats’ Holidays hotel, on the edge of town, are dotted with lemon trees and multicoloured flowerbeds. The apartments and rooms are spotless, with dark-wood shutters for lazy lie-ins. There’s also a small pool and a simple restaurant. At sunset, you’ll want to be on your balcony with a cold glass of retsina for the best view in the house (doubles from £50; diplomatsholidays.com).
Where to eat Hands down, the best of the five tavernas is Martha’s: the service is excellent, portions of the caught-that-day local grilled fish are huge and the terrace is so close to the sea, you could go for a dip between courses (mains from £7; facebook.com/marthascaferestaurant).
How to get there Seven nights in a one-bedroom self-catering apartment at Diplomats’ Holidays start at £715pp, including flights from Gatwick to Volos, an hour’s drive away, and car hire (realholidays.co.uk). Or fly to Thessaloniki (3½ hours’ drive) with British Airways.
Supetar, Croatia For the most part, tourists treat Supetar, on the island of Brac, as a waypoint between Split and the beaches at Bol, on Brac’s south coast, so they don’t stick around. Their loss: this former fishing village, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, is flush with Dalmatian charm. It has a horseshoe harbour studded with superb little restaurants, pebble beaches backed by tamarisk and pines, and medieval bleached-stone streets full of hidden piazzas, white wooden shutters and the odd solemn statue.
You can tick off the sights in an afternoon. Once you’ve taken in the alabaster curves of the Serbian sculptor Toma Rosandic’s neo-Byzantine mausoleum and looked inside the 18th-century Church of Mary Annunciation — where you’ll see the 6th-century floor mosaics from an earlier Christian basilica — you’ve pretty much done the lot. If you must, take the road 15 minutes inland to hilltop Skrip, a settlement dating from 1,400BC, with walls built by the Illyrians. Sarcophagi and Roman tombstones are on show in its cracking little museum.
Then it’s a case of lazy afternoons on the seafront, with a bottle of crisp posip from the local Stina winery, open-air concerts on Piazza Grande and beach time on the warm pebbles that trail down into the glimmering Adriatic. The Amber Dive Center could keep a whole family busy for a week (bay dives from £9; amber-divecenter.com). There’s further sun worshipping to be done in the secluded coves at Postira, 15 minutes down the coast. One of the island’s few sandy beaches is 10 minutes further east at Lovrecina.
Where to stay Sea air, lavender bushes, rosemary and sage in the garden, pine trees all around: you could book Bracka Perla for the smell alone. West of town, the hotel looks like a white-stone fortress and has 11 rooms and apartments, all painted in bold colours, with terraces looking seawards or over the pool. It’s surrounded by a jumble of patios, gardens, statues of famous Dalmatians — including the Renaissance playwright Marin Drzic — and fountains (doubles from £127, B&B; perlacroatia.com).
Where to eat Palute is the best of the seafront terrace restaurants, a family-run joint with a menu bursting with Brac specialities such as butalac, a lamb leg rubbed with wild herbs, splashed with sparkling wine and slow-roasted. Seafood platters are laden with grilled octopus, mackerel, prawns and whatever else has been pulled out of the sea that day (mains from £5; restaurant-palute.com).
How to get there Fly to Split with airlines including easyJet and Monarch. The ferry to Brac takes 50 minutes (from £6.40 return; jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia), and local buses run every 20 minutes from the airport to the ferry port (£3.50; www.ak-split.hr). From Supetar, it’s an eight-minute taxi ride to the hotel. A week at Bracka Perla starts at £819pp, including flights, the ferry and taxi transfers (prestigeholidays.co.uk).
Fuseta, Portugal This small town, 12 miles east of Faro, is proper undiscovered Algarve, perhaps because it’s not the region’s prettiest place to look at. The working port has a quay cluttered with fishing dinghies, backed by cuboid white houses that aren’t brochure-beautiful, despite decorative doors and roof terraces tumbling with plants. Instead of idyllic, this place does authentic: there’s a lively covered market, old boys play boules and other locals meet for coffee and pasteis de nata(custard tarts) in the white- and blue-tiled cafes around the main square. You’ll hear barely any English — residents know just enough to understand that you want to know where the loo is.
The lagoon beach at Fuseta
Fuseta has one draw in particular: beaches. The lagoon shore in town has safe, sheltered shallows that are perfect for toddlers, but the real finds are the wind-rippled sand spits on the other side of the swirling Ria Formosa, the Algarve’s tidal lagoon and natural park. Take the 10-minute ferry across the lagoon to Ilha da Armona (£1.70; you can also go by water taxi or kayak) to access incredible stretches of white sand that line the Atlantic for miles in each direction. Walking, swimming, kitesurfing, sunbathing and exploring the wild, untamed coast should keep you entertained, but mix things up with boat trips to snorkel with the world’s largest natural colony of seahorses (£34; passeios-ria-formosa.com) or go whale-, dolphin- and flamingo-spotting.
Six miles inland is Milreu, one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in the Algarve. In nearby Estoi, there’s an 18th-century palace that’s now a luxury hotel — a great stop-off for lunch with mountain views (mains from £14; pousadas.pt). The best octopus on this coast is a 25-minute drive east, in the village of Santa Luzia, but be sure to make your way back to town for a last drink at O Farol, on the harbour, where all the locals go, especially for live rock and blues on Wednesday nights (facebook.com/farol.fuseta).
Where to stay Just outside town at Moncarapacho, the Design Hotel Vila Monte Farm House is surrounded by citrus trees and has bright white, finca-style rooms, two pools and a restaurant serving rustic dishes. It lays on open-air film screenings and a free shuttle bus into Fuseta (doubles from £250, B&B; vilamonte.com).
Where to eat For dinner, it’s grilled fish landed a few hours earlier, a few feet from your table. Casa Corvo, a canteen with plastic tables and chairs on a patch of pavement by the river, cooks it best, on a huge open-air charcoal grill. The jugs of sangria are optional (mains from £8; facebook.com/CasaA.Corvo).
How to get there Fly to Faro with airlines including easyJet, Jet2, Monarch and Ryanair. A week at the Vila Monte starts at £1,227pp, B&B, including flights and car hire (sunvil.co.uk). It’s a 30-minute drive to Fuseta.
Send us your secret resort tips and tales — and win free flights What perfect little seaside towns have we overlooked? What’s your favourite secret resort — which you’re prepared to share? Send your tips and tales to firstname.lastname@example.org. The best letter published next week will win its sender a pair of return flights with Monarch, which flies from five UK airports to more than 40 destinations abroad (monarch. co.uk).