After the lights of Paris are finished dazzling, the ancient ruins of Rome are finished intriguing and the museums of England are finished educating, it's time to explore another side of Europe - the beaches. Some of the world's most gleaming sands, sparkling waters and glamorous coastal getaways line the edges of Europe. For centuries, its monuments, cities and history have charmed people - but now it's time to embrace the beaches! Dozens border the coasts of Europe, and many stand out as true seaside gems. Whether seeking a remote retreat, one of the nighttime party capitals of the world, or luxury pampering by the sea, you'll find it all on these European beaches.
Every July during the Biarritz Surf Festival, the village of Biarritz, France, plays host to the greatest surfers in the world. Here, long-boarders, short-boarders and everyone in between gather to prove their skills during a week of intense competition. This French seaside town lies close to the Spanish border, and retains a charming mix of both countries' cultures. During the festival, however, homage is paid to the Hawaiian origins of the sport and the town's atmosphere is transformed. A Hawaiian unity ceremony opens the festival, in which all competing surfers mix seawater from their countries together and throw the mixture into the Atlantic Ocean. Though centuries have passed since Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenie, first shed light on Biarritz, erecting the grand Hotel du Palais, the town is still a chic destination for trendy beach-goers and a mainstay for surfers.
What's Cool: Music legends, The Beach Boys, have been the main attraction at the Biarritz Surf Festival for 40 years.
If your idea of the perfect vacation includes gorgeous beaches mixed with a healthy dose of hedonism, the island of Ibiza might just be your heaven on Earth. The island's 10 miles of coast are home to 56 beaches colored by lush vegetation and aquamarine waters. Visitors will discover a variety of beach settings, from tranquil coves to tourist-filled hot spots Salinas, one of the most popular beaches, hosts an all-day beach party every single day, which is a perfect warm-up for Ibiza's wild evenings. Seaside adventures can be found at Benirras beach, where nightly sunset parties and monthly full-moon parties lure hippie bongo players and fire-eaters alike. Watersports reign supreme at many of the beaches, and often the opportunity to take lessons in windsurfing, scuba or snorkeling is available. Should the beaches grow old, check out Ibiza Town's museums, churches and many restaurants.
What's Cool: Ibiza discos, including Cream and Pacha, are considered some of the sexiest in the world.
Tarifa has made the most of its legendary status as one of the windiest beaches in the world - it has earned the reputation of the kite-surfing capital of Europe. A combination of surfing and power-kite flying, kite surfing has the power to send riders sky-high as they jump and flip over the waves. As this watersport gains popularity, more and more lessons are offered for novices. With few resorts, and fewer tourists, Tarifa serves up unspoiled beaches and clear views straight to Morocco. The surrounding countryside is mountainous, perfect for horseback riding, hang gliding and rock climbing. Winding, cobbled streets and remnants of Arab architecture fill the Andalucian town of Tarifa. A perfect afternoon can be spent exploring the town's nooks, strolling through the gardens of the Alameda and the fishing port, or simply relaxing over tapas in one of the many local bars.
What's Cool: Local myth claims Tarifa's winds are the cause of madness!
The Carlton Inter-Continental Cannes is steeped in a history of wealth and celebrities, which has made it one of the foremost sites to "see and be seen." As the hotel's popularity with the jet set grew, its beach became a favorite getaway for the very rich and very famous. Notoriously discreet, this expensive playground offers the ultimate in comforts - private cabanas, beach mattresses, even imported sand! Most visitors to the Carlton Beach are unaware that every summer, in a valiant effort to ascertain that guests' toes touch only the finest sands, the hotel imports fine white sand from neighboring Frejus. Visitors beware: Only guests of the hotel are privy to the beach.
What's Cool: Every summer, as many as 10 million bikinis are sold in shops along the Côte d'Azur.
St. Tropez, France
Nestled into the Côte d'Azur, St. Tropez is not only one of the world's most beautiful beaches, it has also gained the reputation as being one of the world's most decadent. St. Tropez is graced with the beautiful weather of the French Riviera, luxurious hotels and restaurants, and has proven itself irresistible to scores of wealthy celebrities. There is a definite pulse in this tropical town, and it's a fast one - endless yachts fill the harbor, while at night helicopters drop off rich partygoers at various discos. This town has attracted the likes of Picasso and Francoise Sagan, but it was officially Brigitte Bardot and her famous entourage that helped tag "St. Trop" as the place to be seen. In this town of hedonistic parties, there is one not-to-be-missed spot: La Voile Rouge. At this beachfront restaurant, the party lasts until the wee hours of the morning. After much carousing, and many bottles of bubbly, a makeshift catwalk is set up for patrons to flaunt their sexy looks and chic style. No night at La Voile Rouge is complete without dancing on tables, spraying champagne and practicing your slinkiest dance moves.
What's Cool: The infamous G-string bikini was invented here.