An old British song goes: “I do like to be beside the seaside.” Written in 1907, it sums up the delight of being by the coast, even if the beach might not be your priority. Lengthy walks in the fresh air, cute café terraces allowing coastal views, and bobbing boats all add to the general atmosphere.
And Europe does seaside villages so well. Just think of Italy and Greece, where pretty much every seaside village is charming. Instead, I share a personal favorite selection of villages and small towns that are not necessarily great for lengthy beach vacations, but absolutely spot on for a weekend away by the seaside.
1. Gorey Village, Jersey Island
The small village on the Bailiwick of Jersey in the English Channel seems to have it all. Gorey has a cutesy setting along a rounded bay full of colorful fishing boats, an assortment of old buildings complete with restaurants and cafés lining the little harbor, great views out to sea, and an absolutely enormous castle towering above it all. The 800-year-old Mont Orgueil Castle is large enough to spend a day exploring and the village is small enough to, after a couple of nights, become a local at the neighborhood pub.
2. Staithes, North Yorkshire
Getting into Staithes is easier than getting out, because it lies at the bottom of a steep cliff connected by one road with the visitors’ parking lot at the top. But the descent, and the later ascent, are eminently doable and so worth it. The little village — all white-washed tiny houses with doors painted in all colors and windowsills brimming with flowerpots — was once the home of famous explorer Captain James Cook. Staithes is set around a tiny port with one of the best gastropubs in the area right beside it. The Cod and Lobster serves seriously good and very fresh seafood and some great desserts, too.
3. Bamburgh, Northumberland
A little further north along the UK’s North Sea Coast, you’ll find Bamburgh, another village dominated by a magnificent castle. I have to admit that Northumberland is one of my favorite counties in England, filled with castles, villages, and superb, endless beaches. And Bamburgh is the star of the show. Bamburgh is a tiny village green complete with a red pillar box and telephone box, a cricket ground at the bottom of the castle, and perfect small pubs, cafés, and restaurants. And you might even bump into some celebrities, as the castle has starred in many movies. When I was there last, they were filming the latest Indiana Jones movie on the grounds.
4. Honfleur, France
Ask anybody who knows France and Honfleur in Normandy is bound to pop up in conversation before too long. The village is set around a small fishing harbor that has featured on many a jigsaw puzzle; it is truly picture perfect. Little sailboats clink their riggings as they bob in the water and the restaurants sell the freshest moules-frites and locally famous scallops. This being the Calvados region of France, a glass of said Calvados (a local type of cider) is always a good idea. Spend the weekend walking along the English Channel coastline, see the many historic buildings, and sit and watch the world go by alongside the Vieux Bassin — the Old Harbor.
5. Saint-Martin-De-Re, France
My absolute favorite weekend spot in France, when I lived in Paris, was the Ile de Re on the Atlantic Coast. Rain or shine — in fact better outside of the summer season because it gets too busy — the village of Saint-Martin-de-Re offers a scenic spot to rest, walk along the coast, eat superb seafood, and simply be in France on a lovely little island. That said, the shopping in Saint Martin is superb, all maritime-inspired fashion and home décor, so bring extra bags.
6. Marsaxlokk, Malta
From one island to another, the intriguingly spelled Marsaxlokk, on the Mediterranean Island of Malta, lies right at the southeastern end of the island and is set around rugged coves. The nearby St. Peter’s Pool is a popular swimming spot, accessed via a scenic coastal walk. The fishermen bring in fresh catches of the day cooked to perfection in the small restaurants lining the harbor. The buildings, overlooked by a chunky church, have the most photogenic aqua-colored shutters and doors, perfect for photographers and Instagram enthusiasts.
7. Cudillero, Spain
Along the usually overlooked northern coast of Spain — in Asturias roughly halfway between Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela — lies this charming fishing village clinging to the hills surrounding a perfect natural harbor in a sheltered cove. Said to have been founded by the Vikings, the village brims with colorful houses alongside the cliffs — reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy and best viewed from a boat.
Europe has so many coastlines, from the rugged Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea to the relaxed Mediterranean Sea. Choices of charming coastal weekend destinations in Europe are practically endless. But I hope my choices allow you to discover and enjoy some previously unknown regions and villages.