Is there anything worse than gearing up for a week at the beach, only to find it so packed there’s not a free beach chair in sight and the wait for ice cream is an hour long? Among the sandy paradises throughout the Balkans, it’s seemingly normal. Croatia’s inundated with island-hoppers almost year-round. So where exactly are the untouched, largely missed beaches in the region? Here are some favorites:
Borshi Beach, Albania: Few beaches along Albania’s Riviera remain undeveloped and untouched by tourist hotels and over-priced gelato stands, but Borshi Beach seems to be one of them. The 7 km stretch of sand, the largest along the Ionian sea, sits surrounded by olive groves, grazing goats, and mountain peaks. It’s certainly a sight to behold and — luckily — few actually do.
Dhermi, Albania: It’s probably cheating to not use a specific beach, but Dhermi’s recognized as Albania’s best beach destination. While most tourists sunbathe on the crowded shores of Durres, the city’s surrounded with isolated beaches the locals love. Wander the area and you’ll surely find a private beach to call your own.
Irakli Beach, Bulgaria: Like Silistar Beach, Irakli sits on protected land to preserve the increasingly rare coastal habitats along the Black Sea. If you’re willing to sacrifice the all-inclusive resorts for a bit of untamed, untouched wild beaches, Irakli’s the place to go, especially considering that camping on beaches like Irakli is free, making it a perfect alternative to high-rise resorts.
Krapets Beach, Bulgaria: A mere 4 km lie between Krapets and one of Bulgaria’s most traveled international roads; yet, somehow, this locality remains ignored. Considered “the last quiet place on Bulgarian seaside,” Krapets’ undeveloped shores maintains an authenticity unseen in Varna or Golden Sands. Plus, what’s prettier than sand dunes leading to an amiable sea?
Silistar Beach, Bulgaria: The drive to Silistar resembles more of a safari ride than a coastal jaunt. Because of the complicated drive — and the fact that the beach is located amidst protected Bulgarian land — few tend to the cliff-lined shores of Silistar. Though small (1 km long), the seafloor is excellent for swimming and perfect for diving.
Makarska, Croatia: Most tourists flock to the Dalmatian resorts and islands, so Makarska, located on Croatia’s mainland, maintains a much more relaxed atmosphere than what you’d find on Hvar. Beaches backed by pinewood forests and turquoise waters keep away the numerous sun-soakers along the Makarska’s Riviera. These beaches seem reserved for restful hikers than bikini-clad partiers.
Labino Beach, Macedonia: Who needs seas when there are lakes? Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes. In fact, it’s so significant that UNESCO claimed it. While most tourists head to the crowded beaches like Gradiste or Ljubaništa, you should take an early morning dip at the tiny, rocky Labino Beach near Kaneo in Ohrid.
Ada Bojana, Montenegro: Okay, okay. Ada Bojana is Montenegro’s largest nudist beach. Everybody in the region knows this, but what many don’t know is that sectioned off from the nudist portion is an unfrequented beach for clothed beach-goers.
Vadu Beach, Romania: Reaching Vadu is like traveling back in time, going from today, to passing communist ruins, to leaving paved roads, and finally, ending the journey with a sandy amble to the waterfront. Here, the sea is extremely clean — especially considering it’s so undeveloped there are no formal facilities — and the sand stretches smoothly into the water. Like any beach in eastern Europe, you may find a few nudists, so it’ll help to be a tad open-minded.