Cassis, Provence, France
With its 300 days of sunshine a year, Nice has traditionally been the go-to destination for northern Europeans looking to eke out summer. But at the western end of the Cote d’Azur, Marseille and its surrounding beaches enjoy a similarly appealing climate, minus the sky-high price tags.
You could easily spend a couple of days wandering around Marseille’s atmospheric old town, the Vieux-Port and the city’s world-class museums, but if the beach is calling you won’t have to travel far. Cassis, a gorgeous little fishing port with pastel-coloured houses and pebble beaches, is a 45 minute drive or 20 minute train ride from the city. It’s an ideal base for exploring the Calanques, a series of narrow coastal inlets framed by steep limestone cliffs. Hop on a boat trip from the marina or hire a kayak to explore nearby coves, or tackle the Calanques de Cassis hike from the village, which takes in the Calanque de Port-Miou, Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’en Vau in one day.
Where to stay The eco-friendly Hôtel les Volets Rouges offers 20 bright, contemporary rooms in a peaceful location in the heart of the Calanques national park. It’s a 10-min drive from Cassis town centre but the perfect spot if you want to access walking trails to the Calanques.
Double rooms in September/October from £113 a night
Getting there TGV trains connect Marseille to Paris in three-and-a-half hours. From Marseille it’s a 20-minute train ride to Cassis.
Šibenik, Dalmatia, Croatia
Summer lingers longer in the Adriatic, where the water retains its heat until well into October (and often November). If you want to combine beach with culture – and some spectacular nature on its doorstep – Šibenik is the place for a final fling of summer.
Curiously overlooked by many tourists, this beautiful Dalmatian city halfway between Zadar and Split has so much going for it, and it doesn’t go into full winter hibernation like much of coastal Croatia. There’s the magnificent Unesco-listed Cathedral of St James, an attractive pebbly beach with views of the city, a delightful Venetian old town full of winding marble lanes and restaurants squeezed into tiny squares. Get a blast of sea air along the Riva waterfront lined with cafe terraces and boats (but no cruise ships – they can’t get through the narrow channel that leads to the city).
Head uphill to the three restored 16th-century Venetian fortresses – St John, St Michael and Barone – or hike the three-mile trail along St Anthony’s Channel to the Unesco-listed ruins of St Nicholas fortress.
Šibenik is also the jumping-off point for two of Croatia’s national parks – the waterfalls of Krka and Kornati’s compellingly barren islands.
Where to stay Armerun Heritage Hotel & Residence has 21 stylish rooms and apartments in a former Dominican monastery by the waterfront.
Doubles from €177 B&B in September/€112 in October
Getting there Overland journeys from the UK take at least 26 hours and include the Eurostar to Brussels and trains to Munich, then Flixbuses to Šibenik.
Arcachon, Atlantic coast, France
Oyster aficionados know that autumn is usually the best season to experience this delicacy. It also happens to be one of the best times to travel to Arcachon, one of the major centres for oyster cultivation on France’s Atlantic coast.
The Bassin d’Arcachon is a large sheltered bay which often enjoys balmy temperatures into October. In high summer the small fishing villages on the bay are delightful with their cabanes à huîtres (oyster huts) where you can dine on the freshest seafood with your toes in the sand. But in autumn the town of Arcachon is a better option, staying lively year-round.
As well as sandy beaches, delicious seafood and beautiful Belle Epoque architecture, Arcachon is the perfect jumping off point for bike rides into the Landes forest or along the bay to see the 110m high Dune du Pilat. In July and August, Europe’s tallest sand dune is crawling with tourists, but in September and October you can soak up the stunning views and sunsets without the crowds.
Where to stay Hotel de la Plage has attractive pine-clad rooms, and is close to the train station and beach.
Doubles from £130 a night in September/£94 a night in October
Getting there TGV trains make the journey from Paris to Bordeaux in just over two hours. From Bordeaux it’s a 50-minute train ride to Arcachon.
Sestri Levante, Liguria, Italy
Genoa’s eastern Riviera is dotted with lovely small towns – once fishing ports – whose old houses sport intricate trompe l’oeil painting. The super-rich flock to Portofino, which is pretty, but no more so than dozens of other spots along that coast. Popular with Italians in summer, Sestri Levante, to the south-east, has two sandy beaches separated by a headland. The smaller, Baia del Silenzio, is a perfect crescent of sand backed by colourful houses, but gets rammed in August; autumn is a good time to enjoy it at its best.
Beach weather lasts into October, but some days may also be cool enough to enjoy a panoramic walk from the old town around the Punta Manara peninsula. The honeypot towns of the Cinque Terre are half an hour away by train. A few minutes’ walk inland, Ca’ di Ferae does innovative cooking with traditional ingredients in an untouristy setting, and some of the best vegetarian food in the area.
Where to stay Walking distance from the beaches, old town and station is La Casa dei Paggi, a gorgeous B&B run by Angelo and Giovanna in a 19th-century house surrounded by gardens, with just two guest rooms, a balcony with sea views and frothy bougainvillea, and homemade breakfasts on the porch.
Doubles from €110
Getting there The journey from London to Genoa by train takes from 12½ hours, with changes in Paris and either Milan or Turin. From Genoa it’s a 36-minute train ride to Sestri Levante.
Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain
By September, the heat and crowds which descend on the Costa Brava each summer have dissipated, but the sea is still warm enough for swimming in the sheltered coves and cooler days lend themselves to hikes or bike rides in the rugged hills of the Baix Empordà.
The two main entry points for travellers are Girona and Barcelona. Public transport to some parts of the coast can be sketchy so choose your destination wisely, unless you plan to hire a car. Although slightly inland, the towns of Palafrugell and Begur are both served by regular buses from Girona (approx 1hr 20min) and are great jumping off points for exploring the local beaches. If you’re feeling energetic you can tackle the coastal walk from Begur to Sant Feliu de Guixols, following the old Camí de Ronda, a route once used by the Guardia Civil to patrol the Spanish border.
Baix Empordà is a gastronomic hotspot and autumn is a great time to sample local specialities such as suquet (fish stew), goose with turnips, and the chestnuts which start to appear on local menus from October onwards.
Where to stay Hotel Galena Mas Comangau is in a converted 18th-century farmhouse with stone walls and mountain views a short walk from Begur town centre.
Doubles from £104 in September/£75 in October
Getting there High-speed trains from Paris make the journey to Girona in just under six hours.