Five Southern European Destinations for a 2023 Summer Holiday

Start planning your 2023 summer holiday with our pick of five uncrowded southern European destinations, from a secluded Greek island to a French town having a restaurant renaissance

January blues, be gone: we're warding off the sub-zero temperatures this week with dreams of sun-bleached Mediterranean beaches, candy cane-striped parasols and plates piled with seafood on crisp, white taverna tablecloths. Summer can't come quick enough - but while we wait, you bet we're plotting our warm-weather escapes to southern Europe's less-frequented fringes, dreaming of elegant Italian architecture, Greek cuisine and a slow-paced Spanish lifestyle.

Pick up your notepad and start planning your holidays with these five recommended summer destinations to have on radar for 2023 - all within walking distance of a beach.

Five sun-soaked destinations in southern Europe for a summer holiday

Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

Vila Nova de Milfontes


Bohemian Comporta lost its cool credentials when Jeff Bezos was papped in town last year; this summer, we're skipping the star-studded spot and making tracks to sea-gazing Vila Nova de Milfontes instead - a relaxed Alentejo town an hour-and-a-half's drive down the coast. Other than in August, when in-the-know Portuguese urbanites descend on the town for a holiday, swelling the population to around 50,000, Vila Nova de Milfontes is dramatically quiet compared to its regional neighbours, and has all the trappings of a typical fishing town, with a little-changed historic centre of jumbled whitewashed homes and narrow cobblestone streets, plus a distinctive (and dinky) ivy-clad castle. Powder-soft beaches are within walking distance - the dramatic dunes of Praia do Carreiro das Fazendas make it our top pick - while in the town centre, you'll find typically Portuguese restaurants and bars. Head to Choupana, an Atlantic-facing beach shack restaurant near the Farol de Milfontes viewpoint, for grilled fish, steamed clams and ruby-red carabineros.

Where to stay: Selina Milfontes

Symi, Greece
Photo credit: Debbie Galbraith /



Overshadowed by the neighbouring Dodecanese Islands of Kos and Rhodes, the Greek island of Symi has managed to slip under the radar of most island-hopping summer visitors. Closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland, this diminutive isle offers guaranteed warm weather from spring onwards. Hotels are rustic; tavernas, low-key. Start your explorations with a wander through the elegant architecture of the main harbour town, skirting colourful neoclassical mansions, ornate Orthodox churches and fragrant fig trees as you descend marble street staircases towards the harbourfront. From there, rent a boat to visit the white-pebbled Nanou Beach, an isolated cove surrounded by cypress woods and crumbling cliffs that is only accessible via the sea, or by an hour-long hike across difficult terrain. The beach is one of the island's most peaceful, and with nearby taverna Spitiko on hand to serve straight-from-the-waves seafood, it's a dreamy day-trip option. Just don't leave snacks in your beach bag - the curious local mountain goats are famed for their appetite-induced criminality.

Where to stay: 1900 Hotel

Nardó, Italy
Photo credit: Milosk50 /



Nardò is like any of Italy's picture-perfect coastal villages - minus the crowds. Tucked into the heel of Italy, in the southern extremes of the less-visited Italian region of Salento, this sun-baked borgo has existed in some shape or form since Mesopotamian times, but its current iteration was styled in the 17th century, when dramatic baroque architecture spread across the region from Lecce. The dazzling designs and historically important buildings are crumbling away, with historic edifices like the Palazzo dell'Università and the Palazzo de Pandi in need of urgent restoration, but if you're seeking that typically Italian ambience of romantic ruin, you'll enjoy the weather-worn patina of the town. Take in the history, explore the rolling olive groves, protected pine forests and surrounding wild beaches, make a day trip to the ceramic workshops of Grottaglie, then book into wine bar Schola Sarmenti for an introduction to Salento cuisine come evening.

Where to stay: Nardòsalento Boutique Apartments

Embalses Guadalhorce-Guadalteba, Spain

Embalses Guadalhorce-Guadalteba


Sidestep Malaga's parasol-spiked beaches for the glinting emerald waters of these three vast reservoirs in rural Andalucia. Unlike the crowd-thronged province's coastal enclaves, these serpentine manmade bodies of water are a well-kept Spanish secret, offering rare seclusion in an otherwise frenetic holiday region. Feeling adventurous? Fragrant with pine trees, the rocky surrounds are dotted with low-key finca stays and criss-crossed by hiking routes, including the spectacular Caminito del Rey gorge trail, which runs across the northeastern tip of one of the lakes, El Chorro, via a suspended walkway. There are also over 1,000 climbing routes to satisfy climbers of all skill levels. Visit in early summer and rent a mountain bike for a leisurely circumnavigation of one of the lakes, seeking out quiet swim spots and shady pine-fringed beaches from which to watch the sleepy water traffic (paddleboards, pedalos, and kayaks) slip by.

Where to stay: Finca Gran Cerros

Nimes, France



Whispers on the grapevine suggest that a new Gallic gastronomic star is rising. The southern French city of Nîmes is turning up the heat. Located between the Mediterranean and the Cévennes hills, it previously relied on the history crowd to keep its coffers healthy, being dubbed the most Roman city outside of Italy in a nod to its well-preserved ancient amphitheatre, but recent Michelin attention and a trickle of modern bistro openings are enticing hungry travellers. Weave between the picholine barrels, a local green olive, at covered food market Les Halles de Nîmes to join the noon scrums fighting for seats at two counter restaurants sitting cheek-by-jowl to the stalls: La Pie qui Couette and Halles Auberge work on a first-come, first-served basis. Elsewhere, Benin-born Georgiana Viou is stirring up a buzz at Rouge. Book a table to try stylised plates of Afro-Provençal cuisine.

Where to stay: Margaret - Hôtel Chouleur

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