Chill European seaside gems for a young family of 4?
March 28, 2022 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Looking to travel to Europe this summer for 2-3 weeks with my wife, 4-year old and 2-year old and we're hoping to rent somewhere laid back and off the beaten path but close to the water/beach for two weeks.

We're less interested in night-life and museums, and more-interested in a quieter village/town experience where we can settle in and just enjoy being in-country, eating local food, explore cafes, markets, beaches and hiking. Bonus points if it doesn't require a car rental! Would love to find somewhere a bit off the beaten path, but also not opposed to somewhere more touristy if the experience is magical. We were thinking Spain, Portugal, Italy, but are open to anywhere in continental Europe. Tried some Google fu and some travel forums, but it's more challenging than expected!
posted by ghostpony to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
When in the summer? I would think that if you want beaches, Portugal and Greece will have more options closer to what you want that Spain and Italy. A big difference to be aware of is the Atlantic vs. the Mediterranean. I've been in the same situation regarding Greece and can make some suggestions, but it helps to know when you are planning to go.
posted by melamakarona at 9:18 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Looking to travel in July and/or August. And yes, should have mentioned Greece or Croatia as something that I've heard more people talking about recently.
posted by ghostpony at 9:20 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

My sister had exactly the kind of time you’re talking about with a friend in Bulgaria several years ago. Great beaches, great food, very reasonably priced. I do not know anything else besides that, but look at Bulgaria.
posted by joycehealy at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just between me and you, we were thinking of Montenegro this year. There are some lovely places on the Bay of Kotor, including what we hope will be some quiet villages in which to stay. You would probably be looking at flying into Dubrovnik and driving over, but it's not too far.

One place we really liked in Portugal was Luso. Away from the sea and with an almost alpine feel. A spa town if that appeals. Some nice family restaurants. You are probably looking at needing a car. Not sure there would be enough to keep you going for two weeks.
posted by biffa at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Tarifa (in southern Spain) was the single chillest place I've ever been, although I was there in late April, so I don't know if it gets super busy during the summer. Gorgeous, though, and loads of beaches. We didn't have a car and didn't miss it.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:55 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you want to get away from the crowds, Croatia maybe? It's got a lovely Adriatic coast and is less of a "destination" than, say, Greece or Spain or Italy. Split and Dubrovnik are the big coastal cities, but it's dotted between them with smaller towns with beautiful beaches.
posted by jackbishop at 10:04 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

May or may not be relevant but a lot of beaches in Croatia are rocky as opposed large expanses of sand. That means aquatic shoes and the need for extra padding to sit on the ground with some comfort. Access to the water may also not be as easy for young children as a result.

Before you said Southern Europe I was actually going to put in a word for the Baltic Sea. The NE of Germany gets very warm at the height of summer, BS is also much warmer than the North Sea and much calmer, making it very suitable for young families. Very accessible and very flat for walks or bike rides as well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:26 AM on March 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Nthing Croatia. Our family went to Croatia last year and it was our very favorite place ever.

You could fly into the airport in Split and that's actually closer to Kaštela than to Split itself. Kaštela is a lovely conglomeration of 6 or 7 little villages on the coast organized around what were historically castles/large homes/fortifications on the water. Moving north/west and along the coast, you could also consider Trogir. Off the coast are terrific island options like Hvar, Vis, and Brač, which are all reachable by boat/ferry from Split.

If you want to avoid larger cities entirely, it is also possible to fly into Zadar, which only has about 75,000 people. The Sea Organ there would likely be a hit with younger kids.

Many/most of the beaches are indeed pebble beaches, but that only changes two things really: you need a pair of basic swim shoes; and the water is crystal clear.

Croatian people are extremely kind, overwhelmingly speak English (at least in tourist areas) and the food is the most delicious possible combination of Eastern European comfort food, fresh seafood, and Italian cuisine. It's almost impossible to have a bad meal in Croatia.

You'd have a near-endless selection of small and small-ish towns/villages along the coast to visit, each with their own lovely historic downtown/boardwalk and beaches. Uber/Lyft are omnipresent, cheap, and cheerful, so there's little need for a car. Great day trips abound.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:56 AM on March 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

I don't have a recommendation of a specific place, but I do have a recommendation of a specific approach. Do your best to find a rental that is steps away from the beach.

You might think that being a mile from the beach is plenty close enough. But that is a world away from having the beach 100 yards away.

A few years ago my family visited Naxos and my partner arranged the AirBNB. There were a lot of good options and we had trouble deciding, but ultimately we rented something that was about 100 steps away from the beach. It wasn't anything special besides that, but the interior details didn't end up mattering. The location was everything. It meant we could walk back and forth for any little thing we needed. Forget the diaper bag? Walk back and get it. One of the kids needs to use the bathroom? Walk back to the house while everyone else stays at the beach. Want to take a dip before you have your coffee in the morning? Do it. We didn't have to worry about packing up the kids. We didn't have to worry about packing up snacks. It made for the chillest, relaxedest vacation we've ever had.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2022 [10 favorites]

Somewhere on the Ligurian coast. I once spent a summer in Rapallo, Italy and loved it. If I were going back, I would stay in Rapallo or Santa Margherita Ligure (which is slightly bigger). You don't need a car. Genoa is just a short train ride away for big city shopping and museums. It's close to Portofino and Cinque Terre, and I recommend you take the local ferry to visit both of those. The ferry also goes to San Fruttuoso, a beautiful cove for swimming. Take the cable car up to Montallego, a church perched on the side of a mountain. Otherwise, just noodle around the town, go to the local shops and restaurants, walk the promenade along the water in the evenings, and people watch.
posted by Nickel at 11:48 AM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

July and especially August will be crowded. All of Greece is on vacation in early and mid-August. If you want to do Greece, I would suggest July, and going to a place that is less frequented by foreign tourists. You also need to make sure that the beach is sandy and very shallow with kids of that age. (I would be a bit suspicious of some of the places others have recommended in this regard). Also, with young kids I would not stray too far off the beaten path, in case of a medical emergency. And if you are not in a proper town, I'd think of having a car as a huge convenience and a matter of safety.

Naxos is great. It has some very long beaches on the west side. But check, some of them are sandier than others. The farther south you go, the more quiet it is. Naxos port / town has a very shallow beach but I've heard people say that water isn't very clean. Also, there is a proper hospital there. I would not want to be there without a car -- not for long anyway because there is a lot to explore.

Sifnos (in Kamares) is also easy, has a good beach, restaurants, and there is some bus service into the other towns. Nextdoor and quieter is Serifos.

More off the beaten path: I would check out Lesvos (which is less crowded but was never very crowded, because of the refugee campls). I don't know the beaches though.

Wind can be an issue on a lot of the islands that time of year, mostly August, and of course, islands are frequented by foreign tourists, but those two are nothing like party islands.

One thing about Greece is that most "villages" are not on the water, so there is usually a trade off between being right at the water and having some semblance of normal local life. I personally prefer the latter and am happy to drive a few minutes to the beach. Some exceptions (to some degree) are the port towns of islands (though they often don't have the best swimming). But still, the "traditional" places are not usually on the water.

On the mainland, there are more places that are not as frequented by tourists. For example, the Pelion peninsula (the west side -- east side too rough for young kids), places like Horto. And around the Peloponese: Koroni is a charming island like town with lots of restaurants, a town beach and a much bigger beach a short walk away (hotels are also available on the larger beach, called Zaga). Methoni has a very child friendly beach. Much smaller is Skoutari, but it looks idyllic. The northwest Peloponese, I think, has a lot of child friendly beaches and is relatively untouristed. Though I'm unsure if there are real towns right on the water. I don't remember the beach well enough, but Petalidi (near Kalamata) is a real working town right on the water.

Also, Greek people love kids and are generally accommodating.

Feel free to PM me if I can help with more details.
posted by melamakarona at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

I think a lot of the Greek islands would work well for this, especially the Cyclades, which typically have a port town as well as a few other villages that usually have an OK beach nearby and other beaches a bus ride away. The one I visited was Naxos, which seemed very family friendly. There's the port town, which is really nice, then a string of beaches south of there, which each has a little village or at least facilities, as well as a bus that goes frequently between the beaches and the town. You can also rent a car for just a day or two very easily if you want to venture inland to see some of the mountain villages. There's hiking in the mountains as well, and boat trips that would probably be fun with kids.

However, like I said, many of the Cyclades (would not recommend Santorini or Mykonos) are similar. Recommend reading the different island descriptions on Matt Barrett's Greece Travel site if you're interested in Greece. There are also tons of seaside towns in the Peloponessos and Evia which will have a lot less foreign tourists. I've been to the latter and the beaches are not as nice, but it's very relaxed and will have a much more "authentic" feel.
posted by lunasol at 4:24 PM on March 29, 2022

For Croatia and Italy, it's also best to avoid (early) August and go in July - way less crowds. Early July is best, end of July is already crazy. As a(n expatriate) Croatian, I'm seconding everything DirtyOldTown said.
posted by gakiko at 10:13 PM on March 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Timely... Guardian's "Hidden Croatia" guide.
posted by gakiko at 11:58 PM on April 4, 2022

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