You’ve donned oversize sunglasses and slathered on sunscreen for a blissed-out day of sunbathing along the French Riviera—you and about a million other pasty tourists. Finding your own little slice of sand in Europe can be as challenging as finding a local boutique open in August.
“You have to be prepared to make that extra effort: a drive down a dirt track, a hike down and around a hill, or a boat ride around a headland,” Kirsty Hathaway, editor of Beach Tomato, says. “There’s a direct correlation between just how amazing a beach is and the difficulty in getting there.”
Your effort will be heartily rewarded at secret beaches like the Côte Sauvage near France’s jam-packed Île d’Oléron. Break a sweat with some dune hiking, and you’ll reach 18 miles of sugary sand ringed by fragrant pine forests and fronted by the rugged Atlantic, a favorite spot of in-the-know surfers.
At Cala Varques in Majorca, Spain—far from the foam-party masses in Magaluf—you can catch a boat ride or a hike down a rocky footpath to the crystalline waters of Cala Varques. There are underwater caves to explore and cliffs for diving.
Another way to beat the crowds: follow the lead of celebrities like designer Christian Louboutin and actress Kristin Scott Thomas. They’ve been spotted sunning themselves among the thatched beach shacks and pristine shores of Comporta, a boho enclave about an hour south of Lisbon. But let’s just keep that between us.
It’s also worth thinking beyond the obvious beach destinations. Scotland doesn’t immediately bring to mind suntans, but the northern isles have some of the most dramatic coasts in the world. “I spent my childhood summers on the Isle of Arran, dining on fresh lobsters, pooling for shrimp in the rock pools, skimming rocks into the sea,” recalls Hathaway.
Read on for more off-the-beaten-path beach escapes. And don’t worry—you can still rock those shades.