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8 refreshing European summer break ideas

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Beyond the hustle, bustle and heat of the go-to European summer hot spots, a different kind of holiday is waiting. Instead, tranquil beaches unfurl along wild coastlines, shady forest trails beckon you to Alpine heights, and cool rivers meander through sleepy summer landscapes. 

To help you step away from the crowds (and counter the summer heat), we’ve come up with eight European summer break ideas that are refreshingly different. You may not have heard of some of these places, but they should definitely be on your travel radar. Especially if you’d like to do things differently and experience some of Europe’s more serene summer escapes. 

South Tyrol, Italy – Best for mountain air and old-school charm

If you’re used to the sun-baked south, then the cooler climes of Northern Italy offer a whole new perspective on this hot-blooded country. Close to the Swiss and Austrian mountain borders, this region is one of Europe’s top winter sports destinations. 

Switch things up with a summer visit, and you’ll find fragrant flower meadows, forested hiking trails, Alpine lakes and gorgeous mountain views. The distinctive jagged peaks of the Dolomites set a dramatic scene and the countryside is dotted with historic medieval towns and abundant vineyards. 

Base your trip in the handsome provincial capital of Bolzano with its pastel-hued townhouses, traditional markets and a backdrop of gently rolling hills. The pretty spa town of Merano makes another charming base, or else, head for the hills to one of the region’s languorous mountain hamlets, such as Egna, Glorenza or St Peter in the scenic Villnöss Valley. 

South Tyrol Mountains in the distance behind rolling fields

Loudenvielle, the French Pyrenees – Best for outdoor wellness retreats and fresh air

The tranquil region of Loudenvielle in the French Pyrenees makes an ideal summer wellness destination. Set amidst pristine mountain landscapes, the air here feels fresh and rejuvenating. For water therapy, head to the Balnéa Thermal Spa and soak your bones amidst glorious mountain scenery. Then recharge with outdoor yoga classes, paddle-boarding on the lake, and mindful walks in nature. 

Lake beneath mountains in Loudenvielle, France

The Bulgarian Riviera – Best for untamed beaches and historic towns

The dazzling Bulgarian Riviera stretches for 400km on the Black Sea coast. Along its sandy shores, you’ll find all manner of beaches, from flashy party resorts to nudist hideaways. In the far north, the little sandy cove of Bolata is a local family favourite that is usually pleasantly quiet. If you’re craving a moment of solitude though, stride the coastal trails of the surrounding Kaliakra Cape cliffs high above. 

For wilder shores, visit the twin beaches of Irakli and Chaya, divided in two by a languid azure lagoon. For those seeking an all-over tan, Irakli is the aforementioned nudist beach. Then there’s Silistar in the remote Strandzha National Park, accessed via an unpaved track through a woodland reserve.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast is also decorated with well-preserved historic towns. UNESCO World Heritage-listed Nessebar is known as the Jewel of the Black Sea. This ancient city built on an island harks back to Roman times, with Byzantine-era ruins and winding medieval streets. 

Ancient building in Nessebar, Bulgaria

The Cyclades, Greece – Best for sail boats and azure seascapes

Sail away from it all aboard a private skippered boat and disappear into the wide blue yonder of Greece’s shimmering Aegean Sea. Visit remote island beaches only accessible by boat, dive and swim in hidden coves, catch your own fish supper and gaze at sunset skies over calm waters. Nothing beats the sheer bliss of island-hopping in Greece. This is truly the stuff of hazy, lazy summer vacation memories.

View of a hilltop Cyclades town with the Aegean Sea in the background

Svaneti, Georgia – Best for unplugging amidst wild natural splendour

At the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is rich in history and has a tantalising culinary culture to get stuck into. This includes the accolade of being the oldest wine-producing nation in the world. It is also the gateway to the South Caucasus, a wild, rugged and mysterious mountain region that spans Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

The Svaneti region is particularly special, and hiking here feels like stepping back in time. Long days of walking take you through incredible scenery to tiny mountain villages where you can rest your tired feet and eat with the locals. While vacationing here, it’s easy to rediscover a much simpler way of life, so change your pace, connect with nature and consider trying that full digital detox you’ve been thinking about.  

Mountains and hills in Svaneti, Georgia with ancient ruins

The Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK – Best for epic scenery and Gaelic magic

The ethereal Isle of Skye, or to give it its Norse translation, ‘Cloud Island’, is a magical land of wild moorland and mountains, sheer coastal cliffs and lonely lochs. This is one of Scotland’s largest islands, with a population of less than 15,000 souls residing in a handful of small towns and villages. 

Spending time here is a breath of fresh air with wide open spaces, incredible sunset views and an otherworldly calm. There are myths and legends to uncover, and it’s said that fairies frequent the island’s quiet glens. Head to the Fairy Pools to investigate and perhaps take an icy dip in their aqua waters. Come evening, a warm Scottish welcome awaits you in any one of Skye’s homely local pubs. 

Lighthouse looking out to sea in Glendale, Isle of Skye

Tenerife, Spain – Best for volcanic vistas and sky-high coastal trails

Off the coast of West Africa, Spain’s Canary Islands are known for their sunny disposition and package holiday party beaches. While southern Tenerife serves up a sun-drenched smorgasbord of all-inclusive resorts, there is a different side to the island. Tenerife’s northern peninsula reaches well away from the sprawling hotel complexes into a wild and mountainous region of dense forests and diverse wildlife. 

The Anaga Mountains are a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with deep wooded valleys, ancient laurel forests and soaring ridge walks. Follow winding trails from mellow mountain villages, along plunging ravines to the crashing Atlantic Coast. When you’re done, cool off at one of the natural lava pools or black-sand bays along the north’s striking volcanic coast. 

Tree-clad valley in Tenerife, Spain

The Douro Valley, Portugal – Best for lazy river boating and vineyards

A world away from the busy beaches of the Algarve and way up north, Portugal’s Douro River flows sleepily from the Spanish border to the charismatic coastal city of Porto. Along its languid way, it passes through hilly agricultural land, walled orange groves and stepped vineyards. 

The Douro River was significantly damned during the 20th century, making it slow-flowing and gentle, perfect for easeful kayaking trips that require minimal effort. There’s no raging white water here, just long stretches of calm waters to glide through and plenty of time to watch the scenery slip by and the ripples spread. 

Kayaking the Douro River in summer is a wonderfully relaxing way to explore this UNESCO-protected region. On land, you’ll find pretty white-washed villages, winding country roads, and homely regional restaurants. Then there are the vineyards, where the rich and velvety Douro wines and port can be sipped and savoured as you gaze out over summer landscapes.    

Vineyards lining the Douro Valley in Portugal

Make it happen

Ready for your summer of serenity? Chat with our local experts today and start planning a refreshingly different European escape.

  1. Italy
  2. France
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Greece
  5. Georgia
  6. Scotland, United Kingdom
  7. Spain
  8. Portugal

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