With wildfires continuing to rage in Europe, some holidaymakers are questioning their summer choices. Some British travellers are even opting for the milder, off-season Caribbean this summer rather than tolerate the scorching temperatures on the continent. Couple the extreme heat with busy crowds and rising costs across the board, and the prospect of a holiday on the Med’s sweltering shores might not look quite so appealing.
Travelling out of the now-gruelling peak season might be the way forward for Mediterranean beach breaks, when temperatures and prices drop in tandem. Otherwise, consider broadening your search – to the breezy mid-Atlantic, perhaps, where island beaches are just as beautiful but cooler and quieter, or the vast, open sands of Scandinavia for some classic bucket-and-spade charm.
You may well be waiting for the heat to subside before you decide on a last-minute summer escape, in which case, we have picked seven beach destinations for a short-notice holiday, each of them with good availability in late August and/or September.
And if you can indeed travel out of the school holidays, September generally ensures fewer people, more pleasant weather and greater value for money – the difference in price for some holidays can be as much as £800pp.
This fertile Macaronesian archipelago of nine volcanic islands lies far out in the Atlantic, around 1,000 miles west of Portugal (of which it is an autonomous region). The landscape of this “Hawaii of Europe” is emerald-green and dramatic, all calderas, crater lakes and jagged volcanic peaks, and while the beaches are mostly rocky or black sand, Santa Maria island has golden strands at Praia Formosa and Praia São Lourenço.
The Azores receive a fraction of the tourists of Madeira, or indeed the mainland beach resorts of Portugal, so you won’t be jostling for space on the coast. However, while still under the radar, travel agents and tour operators such as Thomas Cook are noticing steady customer growth for the Azores in the past couple of years.
August temperatures are likely to hover in the high 20°Cs (though, located on the Gulf Stream, it rarely gets cold here), making both beach days and activities such as hiking to geysers and waterfalls, and whale- and dolphin-spotting viable.
Sunvil has week-long holidays on São Miguel from £692pp including flights from Stansted and B&B at the Vila Nova hotel in Ponta Delgada.
Facing Mont Blanc, this Haute-Savoie Alpine commune sits around 1,200 metres above sea level – but that doesn’t rule out taking a cooling dip on hot days.
The village has an “ecological” lake open to swimmers that’s filled from the drinking water system, warmed to an agreeable 26°C by the sun – roughly the same temperature of the air in August.
The clear, aquamarine water shelves gently down to a depth of 1.8 metres, making it beach-like for little paddlers, and there are parasols and sunloungers spread around its grassy surroundings.
There are plenty of self-catering chalets nearby, which cost around €606 (£520) per week for two in early September, combloux.com.
With soaring summer temperatures looking set to become the norm in the south of the continent, the pristine settings, long summer days and cooler climes of the Danish Riviera (average August temperatures of around 20°C) make it an attractive alternative.
The stretch of coast arching along the top of the island of Zealand has plenty of gentle seaside charm: pale-golden dunes, colourful shoreside cabins and pretty, pint-sized harbours such as Lynæs, Gilleleje and Hundested. Days might be spent pedalling along sweeping promenades, stopping for homemade ice cream or a coffee and cake, or enjoying the soft sand and North Sea breeze.
Most Danish schools return in the second half of August, meaning prices fall and crowds thin out. What’s more, the Riviera is just an hour north of Copenhagen, making it the perfect half of a twin-destination break.
You could pair it with Tisvilde where you’ll find badehoteller – elegant beach hotels that have been a fixture of the coastline since the 19th century. Helenekilde has sea-view rooms and a restaurant serving fresh seafood and organic local produce, with summer doubles from Dkr2,296 (£267). Alternatively, Vrbo offers a classic thatched cottage (sleeping up to five) near the seaside village from £422 for a week in mid-September. Bookings require a minimum of three people.
The Algarve will always be a magnet for sun-seekers, but the quieter shores of Portugal’s northern Costa Verde make a worthwhile alternative this summer – and a cooler one, too, with late-summer averages in low 20°Cs and high teens.
Squeezed between the rivers Douro and Minho beneath the border with Spain, it is a landscape of lush, wooded valleys, vineyards (this is the home of vinho verde, after all) and villages dotted along vast, open beaches.
Head further inland to explore the rest of the Minho, a region that is less known than the neighbouring Douro Valley but no less spectacular: go hiking among the granite cliffs and winding waterways, or explore Braga and Guimarães, two of the country’s oldest and most atmospheric cities.
Vintage Travel has a week’s rental of Casa Carvoeiro available in August, and three in September, from £690. At the edge of a gently rolling woodland, this smart family home, sleeping six, is within easy reach of both the waterfront and amenities of Moledo do Minho.
Just over the border from Minho, the northwestern-most region of Spain can feel like a world away from the rest of the country: lush, misty mountains; a proud local culture with Celtic roots, and even its own language, Galego. Its Atlantic coastline is the longest of all Spanish regions, notched with craggy coves and broad, sandy beaches that are some of the most scenic in Spain.
It’s that coastline that helps keep the region relatively cool in summer, with average August temperatures around 22°C. Pair a beach break with a visit to one of its cities, including historic Lugo and the magnificent Santiago de Compostela, resting place of the country’s patron saint, St James.
A short drive west of Pontevedra is Quinta de San Amaro, a boutique hotel with sweeping valley views. Sawdays offers doubles from €104 (£89).
Just 10 minutes from the spa town of Mondariz-Balneario, Vintage Travel has three weeks in September and one in August from £780 at Eido Vello, a two-bedroomed cottage with flower-filled gardens.
Côte Fleurie, France
Sandwiched between two ferry routes from Portsmouth (Le Havre and Caen) are two of Normandy’s most popular and historic beach towns, Deauville and Trouville. Often referred to as the “Riviera of northern France” or the “Parisian Riviera”, they are emblematic of French 19th-century high society – all luxury boutiques, casinos and yachts.
Amid the expensive beach houses, there is still good value for holidaymakers on this stretch of the Calvados coastline, with plenty to explore between Honfleur and Cabourg – not least the seemingly endless sandy beaches. In July and August, seasonal ferries shuttle visitors across the Seine estuary from Deauville-Trouville to discover Le Havre’s modern art and Brutalist architecture, including Oscar Niemeyer’s Le Volcan theatre and library, with discounts for tours and exhibitions (calvados-tourisme.co.uk).
Accommodation is reasonable in the coming weeks, too. A stay at the Residence Port Guillaume, 300 metres from Cabourg’s vast sandy beach, costs €1,111 (£952) for a week’s self-catering of a one-bed studio from 15 August, while a week in a self-catering studio for four at Residence Les Tamaris on the outskirts of Trouville, overlooking the beach, costs €647 (£555) from 26 August, both through pierreetvacances.com.
Summer in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, sees highs of around 22°C and long, bright days. After enjoying the city’s cobbled lanes and onion-domed churches, head for one of its sandy suburban beaches – most of them easily are accessible by public transport.
Pirita is the longest: a golden slick of sand across the bay from the Old Town, backed by pine trees. To the west of the city is Kakumäe, which has clear shallows for paddling and epic sunsets.
Afterwards, why not embrace the Estonian tradition of sauna? Back in the city, Iglupark is a cluster of chic wooden saunas that overlook the Baltic Sea. Stay at Pirita Beach Apartments & Spa, which has a family studio from £978 for a seven-night stay from 28 August.