Relaxing places in Europe
The Mývatn Nature Baths are sometimes called the Blue Lagoon of the north, but this is hardly a fair comparison. Mývatn has less to offer in terms of extras (beauty treatments and the like), but on the other hand you will not need to cue up for an hour just to get inside. Much of its appeal is about location: a backdrop of steaming vents, black lava formations, Lake Mývatn and surrounding mountains make for a very dramatic setting. There are steam rooms, ample space in the pools as well as a restaurant, and these baths make for a perfect end to a day of running around belching mud pools and gushing steam vents – the baths are open late every day of the year. Whatever you do, don’t forget to wash vigorously and fastidiously before entering the water.
Seljavallalaug is one of the older pools in Iceland, and has maintained its popularity even after a newer pool was built closer to the main road. Part of its appeal is no doubt its breathtaking location, surrounded by mountains and with a glacial river running past its base. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption filled the pool with ash, but volunteers have cleaned it up. It’s a 15 minute walk to get here from the car park, but it is a nice way to break up the drive between Reykjavik and Vik. Beware that the water in the glacial river is full of gravel, so although refreshing you’ll want to give yourself a good clean in the pool. If you're touring around Iceland in search of the best geothermal pools, don't miss out on Seljavallalaug!
Latvia's beach resort number one is Jūrmala hands down. The white sand beach stretches for more than 20 km along the Baltic Sea (well, actually the Gulf of Riga). In the past it was the summer playground for the Soviet elite, but now the sunbathing is done by the region's rich, famous and those who want to be seen, including new-rich Russians who add the flavour of kitsch which suits Jūrmala so well. A restored Soviet-era five stars hotel lies straight down to the waterfront, side by side with old wooden mansions and low-rise family homes. The town still has a lot of the traditional colourful wooden houses, but they are slowly getting bought up and replaced by more contemporary apartamentos for the holidaymakers. Though not Ibiza, Jūrmala can still be a lot of fun - but try to be here in summer!
Palanga Beach is Lithuania’s version of Costa del Sol. The long wide beach attracts both families, old couples and young partygoers. In high season during summer, it’s probably the most expensive town in Lithuania and it’s wisely to make reservation in advance for accommodation. The main strip, which runs perpendicular to the beach, is lined with restaurants, bars with tacky live music, and kitschy amusements. But outside the holiday zone, Palanga is surprisingly appealing with endless tracks only for bicycles and pedestrians through parks and forests. And then there is the beach, which is so wide and long that you can always pick a spot that suits you.
Ramla Beach is not only the largest sandy beach on Gozo, it's also the most popular. The wide beach is set in rather unspoilt bay with golden-reddish sand and is flanked by rocks and boulders on either side. There are a few beach cafes, a ice cream van, and a strange white statue of Virgin Mary erected in 1881 in commemoration of a local shipwreck.
A beautiful small beach with almost orange coloured sand set at San Blas Bay. The location is fairly secluded with a steep path as the only way down to the beach. Maybe that is the reason why San Blas Beach isn't as crowded as Ramla Beach. Snorkeling is also good at either side at the rocks.
In a Mediterranean country where most of the coastline is taken up by marinas for luxury yachts, even the smallest beach is highly appreciated. Not only is Larvotto Beach very popular in summer, it's the only beach in Monaco, as Monte Carlo Beach actually lies inside France. Larvotto Beach is long and narrow with pebblestone instead of sand, but the water is as aqua marine as elsewhere on the Riviera. However, the most spectacular about Larvotto Beach is be the backdrop of Monte Carlo's stacked luxury apartments.
The coastal town of Budva is famous for two very different things. Its historic walled town, and the beaches surrounding it. The closes ones are Mogren beach and Slovenska beach. Mogren, west of the walled old town, is actually two connecting beaches. Slovenska on the other hand is a 1500m long stretch of sand and pebbles thats curves along the bay. The narrow beach is lined cafes, bars and open air discotheques that are base for huge parties that attract partygoers from all over Balkan. Budva is Montenegro's equivalent to Cancun in Mexico.
One of the real cool things about Barcelona is you can mix city sightseeing with beach vacation. The once dilapidated harbour area Barceloneta was transformed into a vibrant beachfront for the Olympics in 1992. A long beach followed by an equal long promenade for walking, bicycling, and roller-skating. Many of the side streets in the old working class neighbourhood have bars or small restaurants. At the far end at Vila Olimpica there are upscale clubs and more restaurants.
Most of Sweden's coastline consists of boulders of granite, but there are a few sandy stretches. Beautiful Tylösand Beach, outside Halmstad, is considered one of the best in Sweden. The wide beach has soft white sand and shielded by big dunes covered in lyme grass. Tylösand is very organized with boardwalks and paths, and the very attractive real estate behind the dunes are filled with holiday cottages and a few hotels - there is even a golf course.