Lonely Planet's top European seaside escapes
Côte d'Azur, France
With its glistening seas and charming, tangled old-town streets foreigners have admired the Côte d'Azur for centuries. Also known as the French Riviera due to a string of influential sojourners from Queen Victoria to F. Scott Fitzgerald this lustrous stretch of shoreline is still attractive to those seeking mild winters and hedonistic lifestyles. But away from the spotlight of Cannes and St-Tropez, the coastal roads between Nice and Monaco offer some of the most spectacular scenery. The terracotta-roofed fishing port of Villefranche-Sur-Mer was a favourite with Jean Cocteau, who painted the frescoes in the 17th-century Chapelle St-Pierre. Steps split the steep cobblestone streets that weave through the old town. Beyond the port is a sandy beach offering picture-perfect views of the town.
Menorca is the least overrun and most tranquil of the Balearics. The untouched beaches, coves and ravines around its coastline allow the more adventurous the occasional sense of discovery. The north coast is rugged and rocky, dotted with small and scenic coves. It is less developed than the south and, with your own transport and a bit of legwork you will discover some of the Balearics' best off-the-beaten-track beaches. Platja Cavalleria is a fabulous double-crescent, golden beach.
Curonian Spit, Lithuania
This 98km lick of sand is a wondrous mixture of dunes (some as high as 200m) and forest - the smell of pine will impart an otherworldly quality to your hammock time. Wilhelm von Humboldt believed that a trip to the Curonian Spit was essential nourishment for the soul, and Thomas Mann was also drawn to this timeless wonderland. It is said that around 14 villages are buried under the endless, shifting dunes, making the Spit a kind of Baltic Sahara. The towering 52m "Great Dune" is in Nida; to get there take the ferry from Klaipeda to Neringa (costs around 10 euros per car), then drive or cycle 50km.
England's Victorian seaside towns
While England's weather can not compete with the Mediterranean, there are two great seaside escapes just over an hour from London that can. An hour's train ride east of London is the Victorian seaside town of Broadstairs. Charles Dickens wrote a few of his books in the cliff-top house overlooking Viking Bay. Grab an ice-cream at Morelli's and wander down the broad stairs to the beach. An hour's train ride south of London is Brighton, the most vibrant seaside resort in England. Brighton has embraced the outlandish ever since the Prince Regent built his party palace here in the 19th Century.