The archetypal sun, sea and sand holiday is, for some, the ideal; for others it’s dramatic, blustery seascapes and clattering pebble beaches; yet others prefer secluded little coves and enticing rocky inlets. And let’s not forget the special magic of a shimmering lake beach.
So whether you’re planning an out-of-season, invigorating seaside break complete with bracing cliffs walks, or the full, sandy, bucket and spade extravaganza this summer, read on.
Cadaques, a small town on the Costa Brava
Many campsites around Europe enjoy enviable positions beside or close to fantastic beaches. There are campsites with majestic sweeping views and campsites with their very own private stretch of beach. The closer the proximity to a beach, the more convenient of course, and that can be an important consideration when transporting a mountain of beach kit and toys from a parked car.
Some campsites offer a shuttle service to the beach and this can be a godsend (often high season only – so best to check this). You may want to weigh up the appeal of a beach offering cafés, ice cream vendors and water sports, versus a quieter, less frenetic alternative. All you need do then is look forward to the sand between your toes.
What's a visit to the beach without an ice cream?!
Why do we love the beach?
The lure of the coast, and the beach in particular, is a strong holiday motivation. But it was not always this way. In the UK it was not until the advent of the train in the late 19th century that the masses began to enjoy the benefits of a seaside holiday, fuelling the growth of long piers at places like Brighton, Clacton, Blackpool, Bournemouth and Cromer.
Later, from the 1920s, glamour became part of the mix, with the south of France attracting the likes of Hemingway and Picasso, and later Bardot and other starlets, earning itself a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous.
Elsewhere venerable fashionable resorts are still going strong (Biarritz and La Baule are both grandes dames of the French seaside holiday); sandy expanses in the West Country are perennial favourites; the blustery Scandinavian beaches are atmospheric and unspoilt; and the vast sandy beaches of the Spanish Costas offer a special magic.
Biarritz on the west coast of France
Finding the right beach campsite
Sun, sea and sand…. It sounds simple but finding the right balance can be difficult with a campsite beach holiday. Some campers want to be right there in the action, right on the beach, perhaps never leaving the campsite all holiday. Others prefer to be set back from the hurly burly, even if it means a short drive. Some simply want miles of sand, with or without the crowds; others search for secluded coves, perhaps seeking out the perfect spot beneath a shady pine.
Countless campsites across Europe can be classed as ‘seaside’ campsites, but there are things to consider. As a rule of thumb, the closer to the actual beach, the smaller the pitches. Indeed you may often find a difference north-south, with pitches in the south of France and parts of Italy being smaller than their northern counterparts. Of course beach-side campsites often will charge a premium and perhaps this is worth paying if you like the idea of not having to drive (and find parking) every trip to the beach.
Our top pick: Camping Las Palmeras sits just 200m from a great beach, noted for watersports.
Camping Las Palmeras - just 200m from the beach
Beaches and children
Family memories are made of long, sunny days at the beach: splashing in the shallows, sandcastles, sandy sandwiches, buckets of crabs. A good family beach, especially for young children, will have clean sand (ideally of the kind that makes good sandcastles), gently sloping down to the sea. Hopefully the sea at low tide is not miles away, allowing toddlers to paddle while remaining close by (although a big wide beach does mean plenty of room for games and flying a kite).
Some large beaches operate activities in high summer. These can range from playgrounds or boating lakes to paid-for clubs with organised activities, perhaps involving floating pontoons and pedalos.
Younger children enjoy simple games like beach mini golf, Frisbee or making channels in the sand, then seeing who can be the first to blow a ping pong ball to the finish line. And of course there’s always the old stand by of burying Dad in sand while he’s ‘asleep’, with just his head visible… Always a stalwart of the family photo album!
Blue Flag beaches
When it comes to the definition of a good beach, it’s a case of each to their own. Cleanliness is a common factor though and one benchmark is the Blue Flag scheme, offering some degree of guarantee. Awarded annually to over 3,450 beaches and marinas in over 40 countries, a beach has to comply with 32 criteria covering environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, safety and services.
Find out more about Blue Flag beaches.