Lately, I’ve been helping a lot of friends with their itinerary planning for trips to Europe this summer. It’s fun, and I enjoy doing it. There’s one recommendation, though, that never really seems to take off: Include time at the beach.
Admittedly, it’s a hard sell for those of us who don’t have a year to spend traveling around the world. A friend I talked to today had an itinerary that involved one day in Paris, two days in London, and two days in Scotland. There’s not a lot of breathing room in that plan for an afternoon spent in a swimsuit.
But here’s why it’s a good idea, and not just if you’re the kind of person who enjoys Hawaii. A trip to the beach in Europe is just as valid a sightseeing day as one spent at a museum. And if you need more rationale, here are five solid reasons:
1. Because if you ever went to the beach as a kid, this beach trip will be nothing like that.
Whenever I’ve visited a European beach, my novelty-meter is completely full by the time I leave. As a kid, I spent time in Ocean City, New Jersey, where boardwalks and hoagies were the big deal of the day.
It’s a little different to spend time on La Grand Plage of Biarritz, France, where elegant striped cabanas line the sidewalk:
When I first saw them, I thought: These people know how to live. It just seemed so…James Bond-y, circa 1966.
2. Because every vacation needs a break in the action.
Personally, I don’t have any interest in taking a cruise. I’m snobby about all-inclusive vacations. I like to strike out on my own, figuring out bus and train schedules, and booking my own hotels.
But let’s be honest: That’s a lot of variables, and a lot of work. Experienced travelers enjoy building in some slack into their itineraries, and I agree with them. Even if it’s an overcast day at the beach, there’s still something interesting to see.
In a few short days, I’ll be on the beachy island of Texel (pronounced “tessel”), part of the same trip that includes a week-long Dutch language immersion at Dutch Princess School. A juxtaposition of intense cultural experience and laid-back beachtime seems like a nice balance. Plus, the cultural exchange doesn’t stop just because it’s a beach town: The hotel website offered to reserve bikes for me during my stay. How very, very Dutch.
3. Because the natural world is worth the time as much as the human-made world.
Appreciating natural beauty doesn’t come easy to me. I’m a city girl. But a windswept coastline with a rickety bridge is a charming, memorable site. I didn’t need the explanation to enjoy it, or to know the connection to the Eiffel Tower.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve had to adjust my idea of what a beach day is. Oftentimes, it doesn’t involve baking in the sun, but appreciating grey skies like the kind you see above, or in this photo I took in Mull, Scotland, as incredible to me as any cathedral or medieval castle I’ve ever been to.
4. Because you might be there for Bastille Day or another happenstance celebration–the kind where everyone else is on vacation, too.
I love museums, and have done the art slog, trying to scrape 10 hours out of quality art absorption out of a timed all-day pass. On my last visit to Versailles–number three, mind you, which might have taught me a lesson about the sheer size of the estate–a sightseeing stroll turned into a full-on death march in 90 degree heat.
In Biarritz, I was lucky enough to be there for Bastille Day. Everyone around me was enjoying the fireworks and the time off work. It was cheerful in the way that national holidays, summer festivals, and other relaxed, warm-weather nights can be. No one was carrying a map, a guidebook, or an agenda. Instead, an entire town of people settled in to watch the fireworks:
That travel memory means more to me than rooms full of Dutch Masters I saw at the Louvre.
5. Because wherever they are in the world, beaches are some of the most beautiful, fun places on earth.
The hotel might smell of smoke or be too loud for your liking. The lines at the museum might keep you standing in the hot sun for an hour longer than you liked. The other museum you meant to see might be on the far side of town, and closed on Tuesdays. The restaurant might put too much salt on your food, overcharge you, or never bring you that drink you ordered.
But it’s hard to imagine a day like this one (on the Côte des Basques in Biarritz) disappointing anyone.