The Mediterranean evokes many idyllic images, whether it’s white homes cascading down the hills to the sea or a charming promenade surrounding a sailboat filled harbor. However, you don’t have to follow the crowds and head to or to find such a destination on your Mediterranean trip. The Mediterranean Sea is 965,300 square miles, which is more than enough for a lifetime of exploration. We’ve assembled a list of worthwhile seaside destinations that have something for any style of travel, whether you’re looking to lie out on the beach, explore ruins, conquer mountains, or gorge yourself on delicious cuisine.
1. Zadar, Croatia
The ancient city of Zadar lies along Croatia’s stunning Dalmatian coast. The charming Old Town sits on a peninsula within the historic city walls, housing 34 churches and plenty of Venetian and Roman architecture that can be easily taken in on a stroll through the streets. It’ll be hard to miss St. Donat’s church, which stands out among the others, as it is one of the world’s best preserved pre-Romanesque buildings. Another hard-to-miss attraction is the Sea Organ, which utilizes the power of the waves to produce music from its 35 pipes. Zadar’s main draw is its relaxed atmosphere filled with cafes, seafood, and clear water. There are plenty of swimming locations within the city, so take a well-deserved dip in the enticing waters after exploring Old Town. Follow that with a night sampling local wine and rakija, a regional fruit brandy, at a restaurant surrounded by buildings dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Zadar also makes for an ideal location to explore other destinations within . The cascading waterfalls and lakes at Plitvice National Park and Krka National Park are less than a two-hour and one-hour drive respectively (in opposite directions). The 150 islands encompassing Kornati Islands National Park are a mere boat ride away. Beach lovers should head to Saharun Beach on the island of Dugi Otok, which is located within the park.
A Boutique Hotel Pick in Zadar
2. Trieste, Italy
Located on the northeast edge of , doesn’t fully embody its modern Italian identity. The city was formerly a bustling port for the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Walking through the city center, the architecture on display resembles more than other parts of coastal Italy. Its proximity to neighboring nations, such as and Croatia has left some Slavic influence. That being said, there’s still plenty of Italian charm, with Roman arches, superb pizzerias, and flowing grappa and terrano wine. Trieste’s cosmopolitan atmosphere has attracted artists for years, most notably, the author James Joyce. Head to Caffè Pasticceria Pirona, one of Joyce’s old haunts, for delicious Viennese cakes and coffee. Beyond its unique multicultural air, Trieste is an ideal base for exploring region. Heading east and south into Slovenia, and the coastal town of Piran are within day-trip distance. A day-trip to Venice is doable, too, via two-hour train ride. Just outside of town is the Grotta Gigante, an enormous cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors can explore the main cave hall, which is 351 feet high, 430 feet long, and 213 feet high.
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3. Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
This peculiarly shaped bay in is an extremely beautiful sight to behold. The Dinaric Alps, which rise swiftly from the water’s edge, offer spectacular views of the bay and villages below. The Bay of Kotor is often confused as a fjord, but in fact it’s a submerged river canyon. All corners of the bay have something to offer travelers. The main town is Kotor, same as the bay itself. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built as a heavily fortified town. Only foot traffic can enter the three gates carved out of the thick stone walls. After exploring the old town squares and alleyways, climb the 1,350 steps up the town walls. The fortress above offers amazing views. Those feeling more adventurous should continue to Krstac on a 3.5-hour hike. Hikers will be rewarded with superb views, mountain goat spotting, and a restaurant to refuel on some hearty Montenegrin deliciousness. Other highlights in the bay include Our Lady of the Rocks, an islet in the bay off the town of Persat. It was created by sinking old ships filled with rocks. The church upon the islet, Church of Our Lady of the Rocks can be visited. The town of Herceg Novi offers another picturesque old town and insight into the traditional Montenegrin lifestyle. Just outside the bay, has many hotels, beaches on the Adriatic, and a vibrant nightlife.
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4. Vis, Croatia
The Croatian language’s consonant packed names can be quite a mouthful. Take Crikvenica or Sveti Juraj, for example. Vis, however, offers a pace of life as relaxed as its name comes off the tongue. The small island lies off the central Dalmatian coast, and can be accessed via a 1.5-hour speed ferry ride from , or a Tuesday connection from . There are only two towns on the island: Komiza and Vis. Vis has more restaurant and shopping access, due to the fact it’s where the ferry arrives at and departs from. Public buses connect the two towns, but the island is best explored by scooter. Rentals are available in both towns and make exploring the island’s hidden coves and inlets much easier. Small signs along the road indicate trailheads leading down to beaches and coves. After exploring Vis’s impressive landscape, sit down to a meal of fresh seafood and local wine. If you wake up early enough, you’ll see groups of ruggedly weathered fishermen bring in fresh lobsters, octopus, and fish each morning in Komiza. From the same dock, boats depart to the small island of Biševo off Vis’s shore. The main attraction here is the blue cave, a small sea cave that, during midday, becomes illuminated in a stunning light blue glow. A leisurely visit to Vis compliments exploring some of Croatia’s busier destinations, such as party and yacht hot-spots: Hvar and .
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5. Corsica, France
This French island maintains a strong self identity. The phrase “often conquered, never subdued” accurately conveys independent streak. It’s been part of France since 1768, but the Italian influence is apparent in the cuisine and abundant gelato shops. However, many aspects of the island’s culture are uniquely Corsican -- the epitome of this being the small island’s production of its own Coke beverage. More tantalizing culinary delights are on offer here, such as cured meats from quasi-domesticated pigs and many, many chestnut dishes. There’s plenty of opportunity for both leisure and adventure. Corsica is gifted with snorkeling and diving sites easily accessible from the shore. Heading inland, the elevation increases dramatically, as Corsica has the highest mountains of any Mediterranean island. Mountain villages are accessible by train and connected via hiking trails, the most famous of which is dubbed the GR 20. This approximately 15-day hike traverses the highest ridges running from the northwest to the southeast of the island. Huts along the way offer hikers food and accommodation. Completing segments of the trail in day hikes is very doable. The town of Vizzavona, which lies half-way along the trail, has train connection to the main towns of Bastia and Ajaccio, making day-hikes possible for those based on the coast.
A Romantic Hotel Pick in Corsica
6. Gozo, Malta
Gozo is one of three inhabited islands in the Maltese Archipelago. , the main island, is home to most of the Maltese population and receives significantly more tourists. Gozo’s appeal as an alternative to Malta lies in its preservation of the traditional Maltese way of life, beautiful coastline, and ancient temples. The Gozitan and Maltese culture is best experienced by visiting small fishing and farming villages, such as Qala or Nadur. Gozo’s rocky west coast has claim to some of Europe’s best diving, not to mention beautiful rock formations. Unfortunately, due to weather and erosion. This former arch was used in numerous productions, such as “Game of Thrones” and “Clash of Titans,” and was also popular with cliff divers. Despite losing its iconic landmark, the coast is still gorgeous and other sites, such as the Inland Sea (a lake that is connected out to the Mediterranean by an underground tunnel), make a visit worthwhile. This inland body of water makes for an excellent alternative swimming location for those growing weary of the beach. Off the rocky shores of Gozo is a diving spot referred to as the Blue Hole. But note that it is not a blue hole in true geological terms, like the renowned diving hub off the coast of . Nevertheless, there are some first-rate diving locations among reefs and shipwrecks.
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7. Corfu, Greece
Corfu lies in the clear, blue waters of the Adriatic off Greece’s northwest coast. This island is packed with history, mythology, and incredible natural beauty. The main entry point on the island is the old town of Corfu. Located near the center of the island, it serves as an excellent base for exploring the pebble beaches in the north and the quieter sand beaches to the south. The old town boasts some excellent architectural sites, including the Old Fortress and Palace of St. Michael and St. George. The former has amazing views of mainland and the latter is home to an exquisite art museum. Head out of town to explore the scenic waterfalls in Nymphes. Legend has it that nymphs bathed in these waters -- so keep your wits about you. Excellent beaches abound on Corfu, not to mention an abundance of fishing villages and resort towns to cater to any style of traveler. Unsurprisingly, seafood is plentiful and fresh. Greek food is fantastic, so reward yourself with plenty of grilled lamb, tzatziki, and calamari. Don’t expect the inferior fried ring variety, as you’ll be served sizable tentacles with suction cups and all. When planning your trip, keep in mind that the summer months are incredibly popular with local and regional tourists.
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