Fresh ideas for a family summer beach holiday

If you’re looking for some fresh ideas for your family summer beach holiday, I’ve put together a few suggestions for you to mull over during the winter months. I spent many years as a travel agent researching interesting and off the beaten track beach holiday locations for families, so I hope some of the following ideas might prove helpful.

Italy: tried Puglia? Try Calabria
Best for: young families or explorers

You can’t go too wrong taking a family holiday in Italy but some regions work better for beach holidays than others. You’d have to head over to Sardinia to rival Puglia’s fantastic coastline of sandy beaches but if you’re keen to explore a less visited and good value region of Italy, I’d recommend the toe of Italy’s boot, Calabria.

Capo Vaticano Calabria
The Calabrian coast, southern Italy

I have great memories, as a student, of spending hours snorkelling off the beaches in Calabria. The coastline is rockier than Puglia’s (but still with plenty of sand) so there’s more going on beneath the waves. You can take day trips to the Aeolian Islands and if your family are active and you’re looking to combine beach with hiking, the Pollino National Park is impressive (just don’t go there in the height of summer, it’s hot).

Papasidero, Pollino National Park
Papasidero, Pollino National Park, Calabria

Calabria is still quite an impoverished, predominantly agricultural region and you won’t find the same number of charming towns that draws tourists to Puglia. However, stay close to the pretty seaside towns of Tropea or Scilla and the beaches of Capo Vaticano and you’ll be glad that there’s no need to stray too far, you’ll have everything you need right there.

Tropea, Calabria

I’m intrigued by the accommodation reviewed by the Guardian recently, at Eco Belmonte Albergo Diffuso. It looks like an interesting project. Alternatively, if you’re keen to be closer to a beach (and you’re happy to pay a bit more), the Costa Azzura or La Conchiglia should both offer an authentic Italian holiday experience.

Calabria is tricky to get to from the UK (just Ryanair at the moment from Stansted) but think of that as part of the appeal. Fly indirectly with Alitalia via Rome or Milan and you won’t add on too much time to your journey.

Portugal: tried the Algarve? Try the Alentejo and Costa Vicentina national park
Best for: kids who don’t mind getting knocked down by waves
The Alentejo coastline is seriously beautiful. Beaches backed cliffs, forests, wildflowers; pick your preferred natural backdrop and you’ll find it on Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast. We visited the region for a wedding when our older son was a year old. I can’t remember the name of all the beaches we visited or the wonderful restaurants we ate in (my first year of motherhood has left some sizeable gaps in my memory), I just know that I want to return.

Alentejo beach
Our favourite  Alentejo beach, Portugal

As this is the Atlantic coast, the beaches are perfect for surfers and body boarders, but there are a number of more sheltered beaches too. We had a lovely meal overlooking Odeceixe beach which has a river running down to the sea, perfect for toddlers.

Alentejo coast
Typical Alentejo scenery, Portugal

There are strict building restrictions in the national park so you won’t find beachfront properties here, however, there are some fantastic places to stay within a short drive of the coast which offer great character and hospitality. The Casas Brancas website is pretty comprehensive and includes Monte da Vilarinha which I briefly visited, it looked heavenly.

The Alentejo coast can be reached from either Faro or Lisbon airports. The former is closer (1 hour 45 minutes) but you’ll have a more rewarding drive from the latter (2 hours 45 minutes).

Greece: tried the Ionian Islands? Try the Small Cyclades
Best for: island hopping adventurers
If you’re lamenting the over-development of your favourite Greek island, you’ll be reassured to know that Greece has enough islands to ensure holidaymakers don’t run out of “undiscovered destinations” any time soon.

Azure waters surrounding Amorgos, Greece

I wrote about the Cyclades group of islands in a previous post on holidaying with teens but the Small Cyclades in particular will appeal to families with children of any age looking for a relaxing beach holiday. Just bear in mind that there’s a 4 hour flight followed by one or more ferries to contend with.

To get to the Small Cyclades you can fly to either Athens, Santorini or Mykonos and then take a ferry. Some of the islands, such as Koufonissi, have little more than a harbour and a scattering of houses but if you’re after that quintessential Greek Island holiday, the Cyclades are hard to beat. The main mode of transport is your feet or perhaps a donkey. And most roads (or rather tracks) lead to a beach. I’ve earmarked Amorgos for a future trip.

Levrossos beach Amorgos
Levrossos beach, Amorgos

The proximity of the big-name Cycladic isles means that families with differing ideas of what constitutes a holiday should find something to keep everyone happy. Selfie-stickers and Instagrammers will love Santorini, party animals can go wild in Mykonos and beach lovers who like a few more people to mingle with should find Naxos to their liking.

Schinoussa taverna
Beachside taverna in Schinoussa

There are tour operators who have always specialised in the lesser known Greek islands who can recommend suitable accommodation in the Cyclades, Sunvil and Greek Sun have a good range and can help with ferry bookings.

Spain: tried the Costa Brava? Try Galicia in Spain’s north west
Best for: lovers of seafood and dramatic coastlines (and pilgrims)
I love the Costa Brava, but it’s heaving with visitors in August. By contrast, Spain’s remote north west coast sees far fewer tourists and yet it has just as many (if not more) stunning beaches. Cooler and greener than much of Spain, Galicia boasts an impressively rugged coastline including the archway-studded Playa de los Catedrales.

Cathdral beach, Galicia
Playa de los Catedrales, Galicia

There are beaches for all tastes in Galicia: from protected stretches of sand for toddlers to the exposed Atlantic coast for surfers. Most countries have a place which they like to refer to as their “Caribbean” and in Galicia it’s the tiny islands of Cies and Ons. Just writing this makes me want to go there.

Cies Galicia
Islas Cies, Galicia

It’s worth taking a few day trips away from Galicia’s beaches; as the third largest pilgramage site, Santiago de Compostela needs no introduction but further south you’ll also find delights such as the medieval harbour town of Baiona and the estuary town of Pontevedra. They’re great for wandering and even better for feasting on the excellent and good value seafood for which the region is renowned.

Coastal Galicia
Galician coastline

Self catering in Galicia is noticeably cheaper than eastern and southern Spain. Casas Cantabricas covers the whole of the north west and features some very reasonably priced places to stay. Vintage Travel specialises in Galicia and offers quality villas with pools, some within walking distance of a beach.

Galicia is accessible from various London airports with Ryanair and Vueling while across the border in Portugal, Porto can be reached from a number of regional UK airports.

The UK: tried mainland Cornwall? Try the Isles of Scilly
Best for: a good old fashioned seaside holiday
Hardly a secret this one, but it still surprises me that so few Brits have visited the Isles of Scilly. No doubt the pricey flights (relative to the distance) or the journey along the traffic-packed roads of south west England come summertime play a part in discouraging visitors. However, those who make the journey to the Scilles discover an unspoilt archipelago of peaceful harbours and stunning beaches and a more relaxed way of life.

St Mary Scilly Isles
St Mary’s Harbour, Isles of Scilly

We’ve decided to visit the Isles of Scilly this summer, combined with a stay in Cornwall. The ferry is reasonably priced and it won’t feel like such a trek if we’re already in Cornwall. There’s a good range of accommodation from basic camping to contemporary hotels with everything in between. The islands’ tourist board is a good place to start. Just make sure you book early, a lot of the properties are reserved for regular visitors so what’s left over gets snapped up pretty quickly.

Isles of Scilly landscape
Isles of Scilly

I’m looking forward to having no distractions from my main task of beach-going. Unlike Cornwall, there’s little to do on the Isles of Scilly except enjoy the scenery: boat trips to uninhabited islands, endless beaches, clear blue seas. And I’m sure the weather will be perfect…

Scilly beach
Isles of Scilly beach

Have you visited any of these destinations? Let me know in the comments below.

Most of the images in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.

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59 thoughts on “Fresh ideas for a family summer beach holiday

  1. What amazing photographs and a much inspirational get away lists. The blue skies and blue waters are making me want to book the next holiday. I have had Isles of Scilly on my list for a while. I am definitely going to go this year. I had a great time in St Heliers. Jersey. Your post reminds me of quote “ World is your Oyster”. Happy travelling !!!!! #MondayEscapes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We visited the Algarve for a family holiday last year and it was absolutely fantastic – the beaches were beautiful! I am a huge fan of the Amalfi Coast, Southern Italy is just breathtaking, never visited Calabria but it is now on my list 🙂 Sim x

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    1. Yes, the Algarve is lovely. Portugal has such a great range of beaches. Calabria is rather different to Amalfi, not as pretty but does have some lovely parts and fewer tourists so definitely give it a try!


  3. Oh I’m so excited to read about Koufonissi here! I spent a night there, before heading over to Kato Koufonissi for the rest of our holiday. I was with Greek friends, and it was such an amazing adventure – I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t been with locals. The rest of your recommendations sound heavenly, too. #MondayEscapes

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  4. What a great list especially for families! We live in Southern California surrounded by beaches so I love how each of these are so different from home. This has me dreaming of beach vacations in Europe now which we haven’t really considered. We usually stay in the city centers and countryside. We loved Santorini last summer but was too crowded so we’d love to explore the other Greek islands.

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  5. This is an absolutely brilliant post, Annabel! We much prefer the more laidback, lesser known destinations and I love your list. A friend has been raving about Calabria recently – she says there are virtually no tourists and I’m desperate to go to the Isles of Scilly. Great post for #FarawayFiles, you’ve certainly inspired me.

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  6. What a great post! Love the suggestions, especially Calabria! Right off the top, you had us sold with that photo – the great beach, impressive cliffs, and charming old buildings up top…looks great! We’d seen some posts on the Small Cyclades before, but you’ve shown us even more spots to look at. We’ve got some planning to do! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  7. Love this! All of these places look so gorgeous and relaxed, and without the crazy crowds. I would love to go to Calabria and Portugal…Galicia too. I’m saving this for future travels, what an inspiring list for less-travelled places! Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

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  8. Absolutely have sold me on every one of these alternate stops for some sun AND stunning landscapes. I love finding a bit of the beaten path gems – saving for some wanderlusting later! Especially from grey and a bit gloomy winter Copenhagen. Cheers! #MondayEscapes


  9. oh wow these photos are amazing!!!! literally making me miss the sun and i’m desperate for a summer holiday but being pregnant with twins means it’ll easily be next summer at the earliest! I love the idea of the place in Italy, we also want to go there to trace Hubby’s family tree so maybe eventually take a long break there!!
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great post – and as if my travel bucketlist isn’t long enough already lol. My kids certainly do love getting knocked down by waves so think we will put Portugal up near the top of our places to go list.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love posts like this, such great ideas. I always wanted to go to NW Spain, and got very close to booking a number of times but it never quite happened. Now we’re exploring Australian beaches – but I’ve still got those Spanish beaches on my list, one day!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We took a sneaky trip there over Christmas, and it’s fast becoming one of my favourite places ever. I think I need to go back and see some more beaches though!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Ahh I’m so jealous that you’re off to the Isles of Scilly, that’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. The Small Cyclades sound fabulous too, always a good sign that I’ve never heard of them! So many lovely ideas! Thanks for linking up with #familytraveltips.

    Liked by 1 person

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