With all the intensity in our domestic and political worlds lately, it's a fine time for an escape — sunset glinting through the drink in your hand. Let's fantasize about the 10 best seaside bars in Europe.
In Korčula, Croatia: Buffet "Massimo," a youthful-feeling cocktail bar, fills a city-wall tower at the very tip of Korčula's Old Town peninsula. While drinks are also served indoors in the downstairs bar and the main-floor lounge, to enjoy your cocktail in the salty Adriatic air you've got to climb a ladder — right up through the ceiling — to reach the tower-top terrace.
In Istanbul, Turkey: The double-decker Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn, a historic inlet that separates the old and new towns of Istanbul. And all along both the horn and the bridge, you'll find dozens of inviting, no-name bars. Find a place to nurse some Turkish specialties: Drink an unfiltered, highly caffeinated "Turkish coffee" (which leaves a thick coating of "mud" in the bottom) or a cup of tea, and suck on a water pipe filled with flavorful dried fruit.
In Salema, Portugal: Amid the concrete high-rise resorts on Portugal's southern coast, one bit of old Algarve magic still glitters quietly in the sun — Salema. This simple fishing village has three beachside streets, many restaurants, a few hotels, a couple of bars, a classic beach with a paved promenade, and endless sun. The Atlantico — right on the beach — is known for its fun drinks, friendly service, and a wonderful beachside terrace.
In Nerja, Spain: Ayo's is famous for its character of an owner and its beachside all-you-can-eat paella feast at lunchtime at Burriana Beach. For several decades now, Ayo — a lovable ponytailed bohemian who promises to be here until he dies — has been feeding locals. The paella fires get stoked up at about noon. Grab one of a hundred tables under the canopy next to the rustic, open-fire cooking zone, and enjoy the beach setting with a jug of sangria.
In Villefranche-sur-Mer, France: In the glitzy world of the French Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer offers travelers an easygoing slice of small-town Mediterranean life. Luxury sailing yachts glisten in the bay — an inspiration to those lazing along the harborfront to start saving their money when their trips are over. Le Cosmo Bistrot takes center-stage on Place Amelie Pollonnais with a great setting — snag a table with views of the harbor.
In Vernazza, Italy: Ristorante Belforte's tiny, four-table balcony lets you sip your vino della Cinque Terre overlooking the Mediterranean from the edge of a stony castle. You can feel the mist from the surf crashing below on the Vernazza breakwater. And the views of the ancient vineyard terracing all around you makes the experience a highlight.
In Conwy, Wales: This Welsh town, watched over by its protective castle, has a particularly charming harbor. On summer evenings, the action on the quay is mellow, multigenerational, and perfectly Welsh. Everyone is here enjoying the local cuisine — "chips," ice cream, and beer — and savoring that great British pastime: chasing little crabs. Facing the harbor, The Liverpool Arms pub was built by a captain in the 19th century. Today it remains a salty and characteristic hangout.
In Staithes, England: A ragamuffin village where the boy who became Captain James Cook got his first taste of the sea, Staithes is a salty jumble of cottages bunny-hopping down a ravine into a tiny harbor on the North Sea. There’s nothing to do but stroll the beach and nurse a harborside beer or ice cream. The Cod and Lobster, overlooking the harbor, has scenic outdoor benches and a cozy living room warmed by a coal fire.
In Solvorn, Norway: Walaker Hotel, a former inn and coach station, has been run by the Walaker family since 1690 (that's a lot of pressure on eighth-generation owner Ole Henrik). The hotel, set right on the Lustrafjord, has a garden perfect for relaxing and, if necessary, even convalescing. I love to savor my coffee and dessert on the balcony with a fjordside setting — mesmerized by Norwegian mountains.
In Barcelona, Spain: Before the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona's waterfront was an industrial wasteland nicknamed the "Catalan Manchester." Not anymore. The industrial zone was demolished and sand was dredged out of the seabed to make pristine beaches. It’s like a resort island — complete with lounge chairs, volleyball, showers, bars, WCs, and bike paths. Every 100 yards or so is a chiringuito — a shack selling drinks and light snacks, keeping locals and tourists well-lubricated.
Cheers! Europe is full of romantic places to swizzle stick your vacation cocktail. Feel the breeze, smell the sea, and enjoy the cry of the gulls — it could turn out to be your ultimate European moment.