BRUSSELS, Belgium — Some like it hot, but if the intermittent heatwaves that have descended on much of Europe this summer get you overheated, here's how to hit the beach within an easy ride of its steaming cities.
London to Southwold
A picture-perfect little seaside resort, Southwold overlooks the North Sea little more than a two-hour drive northeast from London. The soft sand shore is backed by rows of candy colored beach huts — that are reputed to sell for up to $150,000 — and there's an Edwardian pier jutting out to sea where you can eat fish and chips or let off steam in an eccentric amusement arcade with games called "Whack-a-Banker" or "Autofrisk." Southwold is home to the treasured Adnams Brewery, whose beers are served in cozy local pubs such as the Lord Nelson and the Harbour Inn, a riverside fisherman's haunt. Craft shops and art galleries abound and there are stylish boutique hotels (The Swan is 350 years old), as well as restaurants like The Crown, whose sea trout with crab mousse, gin-compressed cucumber and samphire will make you revise your prejudices about English food.
Portinho da Arrabida. F nando/Wikicommons
Lisbon to Arrabida
Lisbon is practically surrounded by beaches. But while most tourists escape the Portuguese capital’s heat by heading west to the seaside suburbs of Cascais or Estoril, canny locals turn south over the Golden Gate-lookalike bridge toward the verdant slopes of the Serra da Arrabida and the chain of crescent-moon beaches at the foot of the hills. The largest and easiest to get to is Praia do Portinho da Arrabida, where a south-facing strip of pale gold sand separates the dense Mediterranean scrubland from a still, blue Atlantic bay. As if the site weren't sufficiently heavenly, there are a couple of restaurants built over the water that serve locally caught seafood accompanied by the crisp white wines produced on the other side of those hills. For more spiritual sustenance, nestled among the vegetation is a perfectly restored 16th-century monastery where monks once contemplated solitude and the immense sea views.
La Feniglia. Paul Ames/GlobalPost
Rome to La Feniglia
On hot weekends, legions of sun-loving Romans invade the umbrella-covered beaches closest to the Eternal City, making it hard for the uninitiated to find space to throw down a towel. Instead, head north up the coast for about 90 minutes to La Feniglia, a 5-mile strip of sand backed by a forest of shady parasol pines. This spectacular dune is one of three fingers of land connecting the island of Monte Argentario to the Tuscan mainland. In the high summer, La Feniglia can get crowded at the ends accessible by car, but take a short walk or rental bike ride along the trails beneath the pines and you can come, see and conquer a patch of tranquil beach and balmy Mediterranean water just for yourself. Nearby on the rocky island is the chic little resort of Porto Ercole with its boutique and bar-lined quayside. For dinner, try the little town of Orbetello in the middle of the lagoon, where fishermen run a cooperative seafood restaurant I Pescatori and the cured roe known as bottarga takes pride of place.
Westkapelle. Paul Ames/GlobalPost
Brussels (or Amsterdam) to Westkapelle
The Dutch province of Zeeland is a watery wonderland where estuaries, lakes and North Sea inlets alternate with slivers of flat polder land linked by dykes and edged by strands of fine corn-colored sand. At the western tip of Walcheren island, the windmill, lighthouses and cluster of red-roofed cottages that make up the village of Westkapelle shelter in the lee of a seawall. Clamber over the grassy dunes south of the village and you’ll discover a broad beach of fine sand stretching off into the distance. The view looks even better over cocktails or a plate of local shrimp on the roof of the cool Zuiderduin beach club. There are 50 miles of beaches in the province, but it's also famed for historic towns such as Zierikzee, Middelburg and the lakeside jewel Veere. Westkapelle is a 90-minute drive from Brussels and two hours from Amsterdam. In the height of summer, however, the language you hear most on the beach may well be German — Zeeland is also the nearest seaside to Cologne, Dusseldorf and Essen.
Hotel Gellert. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
Budapest to Budapest
Budapest may be just about the farthest European Union capital from the sea, but its inhabitants have more options than most to take the waters. The beaches of Lake Balaton — Central Europe's largest — are just an hour away to the west. Within the city limits, the Hungarian capital boasts the continent's greatest selection of swimming pools. The city sits on dozens of thermal springs that supply watering holes ranging from atmospheric bathhouses dating to the time of the Turkish occupation — such as the Rudas baths built in the 1560s — to the splendid Art Nouveau spa and pools of Hotel Gellert and the vast Palatinus pool complex on Margit island in the middle of the Danube. A particular favorite is the Szechenyi baths constructed in 1913 with Hapsburg grandeur. It contains vast outdoor pools of varying temperatures, saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools. If swimming is too energetic, the chessboards set up in the thermal pools are popular in summer and winter. For the peckish, it's a short stroll through the park from the pool to the iconic Gundel restaurant, which has been serving up fine Hungarian cuisine since 1910.