Charming seaside villages are often the hidden gems of a trip abroad. Their small and picturesque harbors or bays offer a refreshing contrast to the modernity and size of more popular ports. Some of the very best are located on spellbinding and often untouched stretches of coastline. Here’s a list of the most stunning seaside villages.
More than just a high-scoring Scrabble word, Marsaxlokk is an easygoing fishing village located on the southern tip of Malta. Its earth-toned buildings wrap around the calm waters of Marsaxlokk Bay, and the traditional luzzu boats brightening the harbor are indicative of a continuing way of life pursued since antiquity.
Despite this must-see destination becoming a favorite with travelers to the country, the attention hasn’t dispelled the village’s authentic vibe. It’s at its most lively on Sundays when the fish market (Malta’s largest) pulls in the crowds looking for the fresh catch of the day for their supper.
Read: Best Beaches in Malta
It hardly needs to be said, but if you’re a seafood fan you’ll want to spend your whole time restaurant-hopping in Marsaxlokk. Try traditional dishes including mahi-mahi (or ‘Lampuka’ in Malta) traditionally served fried or in a pie (Torta tal-Lampuk) or a swordfish steak fried in olive oil and sharpened with lemon. Capol Mulini, a restaurant situated along the harbor’s light-licked edge, is rightly feted.
Beyond the ocean, the impressive Fort San Lucian—the second-largest watchtower in Malta—towers over the village. It’s a 17th-century structure well worth a closer look, although it is hard to escape the sea here—the watchtower has since become an Aquatic Research Centre Facility.
The crown jewel of Italy’s timeless Amalfi Coast, Positano is an example of how—with a splash of Italian verve and a beautiful natural setting—a seaside village can encapsulate the concept of glamour for nearly a decade.
While Positano’s fishing dynasties have long ago downed their nets and entered the tourism industry, the village’s authenticity remains indelibly inscribed upon the village’s baroque architecture.
The narrow lanes that erratically lead down to a gray-shingle beach cluttered with chicly-dressed couples are, in the warmer months, a wisteria and bougainvillea-decked labyrinth with overflowing window boxes and ancient (and extremely durable-looking) oak doors at the end of uneven flights of stone steps.
The restaurants strive to orient themselves so you can dine al fresco with a view of the sapphire Tyrrhenian Sea. And while it’s understandably tempting to eat as near to the water’s edge as you can, a table higher up will include the sunset’s illumination of the pastel walls in your view.
Mahahual Village, Costa Maya
Mexico’s Mahahual Village marries Caribbean chill with the spectacular coastline of Costa Maya.
Quiet beaches with sand as soft and white as fresh powder sink away into shallow warm waters. Mexico’s largest coral atoll, the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, is located only a twenty-minute boat ride offshore and tempts divers with its impressive biodiversity that includes manatees, crocodiles, and turtles.
Meanwhile, back on the sun-baked shore, the wide Malecon boardwalk supplies over a mile of relaxed strolling with shade offered by palms or neon-bright umbrellas at margarita beach bars. Cycle the route, feeling the breeze beneath your flips flops, or gorge on lobster before whiling away the afternoon in hammocked suspension on one of Costa Maya’s beaches.
Molunat, Dubrovnik, Croatia
About 25 miles south of Dubrovnik, Molunat is a seaside village so ensconced in nature that its pink-tiled rooftops seem to rest against extensive cushions of green. Lapping translucent waters do little to unsettle the serene atmosphere, while stands of erect cypress trees seem to have been planted just to remind bathers to check that night hasn’t swept in while they were relaxing.
Here you can arrange to buy fresh fish in the bluish-orange light of morning from the few boats bobbing in the harbor. Either cook it yourself or try it prepared in Croatian tastes at one of the two restaurants in the village.
While Dubrovnik is a must-see, heading to Molunat as the sky pinkens over the sun-warmed sea feels like escaping to an intimate retreat in one of the most beautiful places in Croatia.
Peggy’s Cove, Canada
On Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast is Peggy’s Cove, a charming seaside village perhaps best known for its iconic red-capped lighthouse.
While the lighthouse and the smooth boulders it is perched upon are well worth the hike, don’t forget about the town’s famous lobster fleet, too. Try several iterations of this seafood staple in one of its cozy restaurants, which comes with a harbor view at Shaw’s Landing.
While the lobsters, lighthouse, and gorgeous sea views would easily qualify Peggy’s Cove on a list of the top seaside villages, the town, just under an hour’s drive west from Halifax, also has an intriguing artistic and historic hinterland to explore.
Its name—ascribed by some to the sole survivor of a shipwreck in the 1800s—is examined in the local museum, which is visually unmissable by the mural of the lighthouse illuminating its clapboard frontage.
The mural is only one of the striking open-air artworks found in the village. The William E. deGarthe Memorial Monument is on another level entirely. A 100-foot granite carving of the founding of the village, this local treasure is preserved in the former resident artist’s backyard. It’s one of those seaside villages that feels like there’s something to be discovered around every corner.
Cane Garden Bay, British Virgin Islands
Located on the north shore of the island of Tortola (the largest of the British Virgin Islands), Cane Garden Bay is the point where the archipelago’s natural beauty peaks.
A gentle bow of sugared sand contained within a circular sweep of lush tropical hills, this calm bay protected by barrier reefs offers peerless snorkeling and swimming opportunities. Catamarans bob above the crystalline waters, while fish teem over the wavy sand seabed.
Mali Ston, Croatia
Perhaps the most fortified of the seaside villages on this list, attractive Mali Ston is part of a medieval defensive network that comes only second to China’s Great Wall in length.
These walkable defensive walls connect to its neighbor, Ston, and the 15th-century fortress of Koruna (its construction has echoes of Dubrovnik), which overlooks the tiny port and makes for interesting excursions during a stay in Croatia.
However, you may be too busy slurping oysters to care. Arguably the world’s tastiest are harvested from Mali Ston Bay, where a confluence of salt and freshwater encourages bivalves to flourish deliciously.
Eat them among the timeworn stone houses of Mali Ston or take a tour of the nearby Elafiti Islands, a sparkling Adriatic archipelago of serene natural beauty and memorable beachside fish restaurants.
Meanwhile just north is the Peljesac Peninsula, the wellspring of some of the finest Croatian wines, and the perfect accompaniment to your seafood odyssey in and around Mali Ston. Once you visit, you’ll understand why the medieval people living here were so keen to fortify this stretch of coast.
Georgioupolis, Crete, Greece
Georgioupolis is one of those seaside villages that always seem to have something going on. While the inhabitants of this gem in Crete focus more on tourism today than casting nets into the shimmering depths of the Sea of Crete, it remains a great place for fresh-off-the-boat fish dishes served at waterside tavernas with table legs practically in the sea.
Backed by rolling hills and the distant peaks of the White Mountains, the entrance into Georgioupolis is lined with towering eucalyptus. Their scent fills the town and shades the tavernas and handsome small squares.
The trees are significant as they helped suck up the water around the village—Kournas, Crete’s only freshwater lake, is backing onto Georgioupolis and set amid the inland olive groves. A significant wetland, don your birding hat and snap some of the endangered species that call this slice of Grecian heaven home.
Meanwhile back on the beaches, you might catch baby loggerheads turtles making a break for the waves like fresh-off-the-boat tourists. If you’ve come at the wrong time of year, console yourself with a stroll out to the striking Church of Agios Nikolaos. This shrine to the patron saint of sailors is a simple structure of gleaming white marooned in the bay—just don’t go when the waves are high as you will get soaked.
Anse la Raye, St. Lucia
Hidden a little way south of popular Marigot Bay in St. Lucia, Anse la Raye is one of St. Lucia’s most authentic fishing villages located at the end of a road that winds through extensive banana plantations.
Sheltered by high forested headlands, brightly colored boats bob in a bay named for the numerous rays found beneath the waves. Concealed in the surrounding countryside, roughly marked pathways lead to waterfalls that cascade into inviting green pools.
By day, the village’s architecture offers colonial-era charm best enjoyed with a freshly baked coconut turnover in hand.
Agioi Apostoloi, Crete, Greece
While just over a mile from Chania’s city center, the seaside village of Agioi Apostoloi feels light years away from the hustle and bustle of this small and attractive city.
Situated at the conjunction of two gorgeous, sun-filled bays, Agioi Apostoloi is a Grecian retreat with little to hamper a sun-filled vacation. Surrounded by scented pine forest brightened with oleander, the succession of coves offer slightly different styles of beach, allowing you to find the right balance of sea cliffs, silken sands, and sea daffodils that appeals the most.
Arrive in early September and you’ll coincide with the village’s sardine feast. It’s hard to beat grilled fish, glasses of raki, and traditional Cretan music while the sun melts into the Mediterranean.
A pastel amphitheater of Italian architecture on the best beach in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare is the largest of these five famous seaside villages. With the others are more bijou, Monterosso offers an experience most akin to a traditional Italian seaside resort—except with the added magic provided by this hallowed stretch of the Ligurian coastline.
Be sure to take time to poke your head into the Church of San Giovanni Battista and its beautiful green and cream marble facade composed of locally mined stone. Or have a stroll beneath the shady pines of the promenade.
The best view is, of course, from the sea. Hire a boat, take a bottle of local pinot grigio, and toast your luck as the sunset ignites the colors of the town.
La Jolla, California
An upscale enclave with an offshore ecological reserve, this coastal community just north of downtown is a hive of health and wealth.
To the north of San Diego, La Jolla is known for the rugged gorgeousness of the cove from which it takes its name. Join the limber locals and rent a kayak to explore the sea caves, or dive into the astonishing kelp forests.
Golfers will want to tee off at the clifftop Torrey Pines golf course, site of the 2021 US Open, and play a game at its panoramic perch to the north end of La Jolla. (Fair warning: parasailers diving off of the cliffs can occasionally cause you to pull a shot.)
In La Jolla Village, you’ll find indie boutiques to browse, while the Hollywood Golden Age hotel bars are perfect for sunset cocktails and epic brunch spots—Duke’s Egg Benedict is hard to beat.
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