As magnets for superyacht owners and the glitterati, you might be fooled into thinking that jet-setting hubs like St Tropez and Portofino have little more to offer than high-end shopping and star-studded night clubs. Au contraire, travel seeker!
Here’s our list of five of Europe’s glitziest and most stunning seaside towns, complete with tips on what to do, which bars to hit for swanky drinks, and, of course, where to people watch.
Although boho paradise and celebrity haunt Ibiza is renowned for its nightlife, the island also prides itself on a dreamy coastline with dozens of tiny coves to explore.
You can spend your days soaking up the languor of a siesta on Ses Salines’ and/or Es Cavallet’s stunning sweeps of white sand, marvel over spaceship-like super yachts as they compete for attention in the city’s marina, or saunter along the stalls of one of the city’s many hippy markets. The island’s best-known market, Las Dalias, boasts no less than 200 stalls selling everything from feathered bikinis to bongo drums. Alternatively, have a bite to eat while listening to the Balearic Beat or have your fortune told by one of the hippy clairvoyants.
Evenings in the clubbing capital are of course reserved for hitting the super clubs and feasting your senses on big-name DJs, others’ envy-inducing dance moves, and a delicious mix of unfazed residents and debauched visitors. No tips for all-night ravers on where to go are needed here: dance-floor awesomeness is everywhere. Seek and ye shall find.
The town of Portofino, flanked by pastel-coloured houses, retains its original fishing village charm despite its jet-set rep. Of course, you can while away the afternoons by checking out the fantastic window displays of Emilio Pucci and Dior or witnessing the extraordinary spectacle of tanned yacht crew parking the world’s largest luxury yachts. You can also jump into sun-warmed Paraggi Bay and explore Portofino Natural Park. The latter is as impressive as Cinque Terre’s national park, but without the hordes of fellow walkers. This means you can enjoy its 70 km of hiking trails connecting the scenic villages of Camogli, Santa Margherita, and San Rocco, which includes the medieval abbey of San Fruttuoso in sublime peace and quiet.
Yet, to be honest, you haven’t really been to Portofino if you haven’t indulged in the town’s most famous and orgasmic cocktail: the Bellini. Bar Morena Di Ugo not only overlooks the harbour, but the famous white peach puree and prosecco concoction is their house special. Next, saunter over to La Gritta: a floating bar on a pontoon. Both pride themselves on spectacular views of the harbour, the super yachts, glittering waters, and tree-covered mountains.
If it weren’t for blonde sex-bomb Brigitte Bardot filming And God Created Women in 1956 in St Tropez, the once sleepy fishing village may have very well remained that way. But as much as it’s known for its sizzling glamour, celebrity residents, and oversized yachts, the elegant old town boasts down-to-earth restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and chocolate shops, many of which have been in the same family for eons.
And it’s especially pleasant sitting at one of the little cafes in Place Des Lices where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in local culture. In fact, the French invented ‘café culture’, literally. ‘Café Society’ goes back centuries and referred to the act of thinkers, poets, philosophers, and artists convening in local cafés to debate, share, and plot. St. Tropez’s favourites include Le Café and Cafe des Arts; both are perfect for hiding behind huge sunglasses and ogling effortlessly stylish Tropéziens and endless games of pétanque.
As the most dramatic town of what is arguably Europe’s most beautiful stretch of coast, Positano has lured visitors, the rich and über fashionable in particular, since antiquity. In fact, as you might have guessed, moda Positano originated right here in the ’60s and the town’s fashion-savvy retailers were the first to sell that risqué two piece, the French-made first bikinis.
But aperol spritz swilling fashionistas and chic boutiques aside, it’s the sight of pastel-hued vertiginous houses cascading into azul waters, cinematic squares, and steep streets flanked by wisteria that are Positano’s real draw.
It’s also home to a whole array of fine restaurants with spectacular terraces, which offer breathtaking coastal views. But as stunning as these vistas may be, believe you me, the regions’ real speciality, scialatielli pasta with fresh clams devoured with a glass of chilled white wine in hand, is reason alone to head to Positano.
If the above hasn’t convinced you to add Positano to your bucket list, then maybe the promise of well-marked walking trails or the Amalfi coast’s pièce de résistance, the ‘Road of a 1,000 Bends’, will. This route passes some of the most dramatic and stunning stretches of sea scapes on earth.
Biarritz became a bolthole for the 19th century elite after Napoleon III and his wife decided to spend their summers in this seaside gem. The following century saw icons such as Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, and Ernest Hemingway follow suit, cementing Biarritz’s ritzy rep.
While the town impresses with its elegant villas, heritage buildings, and art deco detail, the Grande Plage lures with its exposed beach break, beckoning surfers in search of big waves. ‘Flip flop’ to this famous beach to show off your tan and surfing talent or hide in one of its iconic, striped, 1920s-style beach tents and spy on bronzed surfers, international urbanites, and holidaying Parisians. Alternatively, you can chill on any of the town’s other five, equally magnificent, beaches.
Evenings should be spent sampling contemporary versions of Basque favourites. But before you revel in the town’s revamped dining scene, you simply must have sundowners at Les Baigneuses rooftop bar or Café de la Grande Plage. Unless you can think of a better way to start the evening than by combining cocktails while watching white breakers crash on the beach and the sun set into the Atlantic.