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A “friendcation” seems like a great idea until you’re 205 messages into a “Summer 2k18” WhatsApp group (which you muted over an hour ago) and you’ve got no further than being ridiculed about that time you asked a “Spanish waiter” for his number – only to discover he was actually from Birmingham and on his stag. From cosmopolitan city breaks to beachside boltholes we promise there won’t be a perma-tanned holiday rep wielding a bucket of Sex on the Beach in sight in these less obvious group holiday destinations. We can’t promise anything on the waiter front though.
Avoiding packed beaches is no mean feat. Half of Europe is instantly wiped out as they offer all-inclusive deals with complimentary kids club – no thanks. Instead, head to Himara aka the Albanian Riviera. The local wine costs as little as 3€ and the buzzy fishing town is bursting with fresh seafood shacks and boho beach bars. Walk off the irresistible buttery baklavas you are offered with each coffee in search of Gijiri I Akuarium beach. Just a handful of candy-striped sun loungers dot the almost always deserted blonde sands, so get down early. Nearby beachfront accommodation, Scala Bungalows, will allow you to easily slink from sea to siesta.
If beaches aren’t really your brigade’s thing then consider a city escape to on-trend Belgrade. An emerging creative hub that is recently being compared to Berlin, it’s filled with innovative youngsters striving to shake off its chequered past. Set yourself among the in-the-know jet-setting crowd at laid-back Café Leto or for thumping beats head to open-air Barutana. Shake off impending hangovers on one of the world’s most spectacular train journeys. With window seats easy to grab and tickets costing less than your daily commute, the Belgrade Bar Line drops you off in Montenegro’s biggest sea port, Bar, after a journey of sweeping hills and glassy lakes.
Your teen escapades probably resulted in visiting one of Greece’s party isles, but now it’s time to do Greece the grown-up way. Paros is the secret Adonis of the Cyclades with its whitewashed walls, bleached coves and blue-domed churches. Pitch up at Kolymbithres Beach with its obscure granite rock formations, then head to Taberna Vigla for a traditional serving of fava beans in tomato sauce. Post sunbathing , lead the way to Fouska and dance until dawn among a bronzed crowd who flock here every summer.
Île De Ré, France
Enjoyed by Hollywood A-listers and well-heeled Parisians every year, pack the squad off to the idyllic Île De Ré. Offering a certain “je ne sais quois” that the Riviera can’t rival, explore rural cycle paths, sip local wine (try the Soif d’evasion Sauvignon Blanc produced by the Les Vignerons vineyard) and gaze upon the green shuttered houses that line the narrow streets. The oysters are also said to be among the best in the world. Feel the sand between your toes as you walk through the dunes to Villa Victorie, a mid-century, design-centric home with heated outdoor pool that’ll fit nine of your closest friends. It’s a far cry from those childhood summers spent camping near a nondescript Frenchtown that was more faux pas than fantastique.
The once gritty Italian city has smartened up in recent years, but still packs a punch of underground cool. Discover a range of cultural interest points ranging from decadent palazzos boasting grand marble statues to the largest collection of Pompeiian artworks in the world. With historical appetites satiated, shuffle along to nearby open-air dance club Nabilah, located 20 minutes from the city centre, for a late-night soiree hosted by some of Ibiza’s most legendary resident DJs. Sore heads are cured with platefuls of Mama’s spaghetti at Trattoria Da Nennella and pilgrimages to Gay-Odin gelato shop, which specialises in handmade milky chocolate flavours. If you’re lusting after the Cinque Terre, hope on a boat to the nearby island of Procida.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Revelling in the luxury that’s accustom to the Middle East but without being flash, Tel Aviv switches gold for UNESCO heritage sites, Masada sunrises, palm-tree-lined beaches and Michelin-starred restaurants. The historic old town is dotted with brightly coloured bean bags, intricately decorated parasols and an array of shisha bars – Bar Ochel is a good starting point. In contrast, on the outskirts of the city where sand dunes previously dominated the skyline, art buffs will want to take in the striking architecture displayed at Design Museum Holon. Catch ups with the crew are taken under inky black skies at Sura Mare or taste-testing through the critically acclaimed Asian-Mediterranean fusion menu at Taizu.
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