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(CNN) — If you’re thinking that every American you know is in Europe this summer (or going there this fall), you might be right.
“For most American travelers, this is the first year they’ve traveled unencumbered by Covid restrictions,” Dolev Azaria, founder of New York City-based Azaria Travel, said in an email.
“And with such pent-up demand, the most popular destinations in Italy, France and Greece, such as the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Tuscany, the French Riviera, St Tropez and Mykonos, are seeing record demand.”
Azaria tells her most discerning European clients that her agency recommends that they “take full advantage of places like Indonesia and especially Bali in its opening season that is just beginning” to escape the current hordes of tourists in the continent’s most popular locations.
Within Europe, she directs clients to the French island of Corsica — a “more down-to-earth, laid-back version of its glitzy Italian neighbor Sardinia” — and Montenegro’s 295 kilometers (183 miles) of coastline via some of Croatia’s more trampled beaches and islands.
CNN Travel reached out to other travel agents, experts, and locals in Europe to find out where to go to escape the summer crowds in Italy, Spain, France, and Croatia — among other European countries popular with American travelers — when They seek to go where not all are.
The Camargue, France
International tourists are drawn to the long-established marinas of the Côte d’Azur and well-known cities such as St. Tropez, Nice and Cannes. But southern France is much more than the predictable places.
Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, co-founder of French organic wine line Souleil Vin de Bonté, points to the Camargue — a wild region of vast and empty beaches where white horses roam — for a quieter escape east of Montpellier. Accommodation ranges from a rustic stay on a traditional bull or horse ranch called Manade to the five-star boutique hotel version of Le Mas de Peint farm. “The Camargue is not crowded. There are very, very long beaches in this area, so if you want you can be alone on the beach even in the height of summer months,” says Fabre-Lanvin, naming La Plage de l’Espiguette a favorite. In the summer, even a sustainable beach club, L’Oyat Plage, pops up on the sand and dons the kitesurf set.
Portugal’s Alentejo region offers miles of uninterrupted beaches.
When Arlindo Serrão wants to spend time on the Portuguese coast, away from the tourist crowds of the cities and popular seaside resorts in the far south of the country, he leaves Lisbon for a special stretch of coast in the Alentejo region.
“People call Alentejo ‘Europe’s best kept secret’ but I don’t know how long it can stay that way,” said Serrão, founder of Portugal Dive.
Alentejo offers long, uninterrupted stretches of beach and incredible wine and seafood without the hordes that invade the more well-known Algarve beach destinations.
Here, south of the Tróia peninsula, the beach stretches for nearly 28 miles, and the outposts of Comporta and Melides are “the perfect spots to stay and unwind from everyday life,” says Serrão.
For a pristine stay, Sublime Comporta’s rooms, suites and villas are surrounded by pine and cork oaks and towering wild dunes.
As well as its spectacular beaches, the region is known for being Portugal’s largest wine producer and for having the country’s best-marked hiking trails.
“For me, it’s a place of peace in a rough part of Portugal,” says Serrão.
Costa de la Luz, Spain
Spain’s Costa de la Luz rewards intrepid travelers who know they’re looking beyond the Mediterranean Sea.
Spaniards flock out of their sweltering cities in summer to relax on the coast, where everyone (or their abuela) seems to own a humble second casa or apartment.
The Mediterranean beaches around Barcelona in north-west Spain and the sandy beaches along the Costa del Sol in the south of the country are packed with sunbathers like sardines, but you’ll have more breathing room if you head to the windier Atlantic coast instead, says Andalucia’s Manni Coe. Tour operator TOMA & COE.
The 121 kilometers (75 miles) of Atlantic-facing south coast between Tarifa and the Guadiana River near the border with Portugal has “slightly cooler temperatures, hasn’t been en masse developed and is quite a hidden gem,” says Coe.
Highlights include the beautiful fishing village of El Rompido, the great food scene in the city of Cadiz, and the wild beaches around Huelva (between Mazagón and Matalascañas). The area is also a magnet for kite surfing.
Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Italy
Lipari is one of the volcanic Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily.
Diego Fiore/Adobe Stock
Sicily’s laid-back Aeolian archipelago has an uncrowded appeal that the Amalfi Coast or Capri can’t match.
Made up of seven main volcanic islands strung together like a necklace in the deep turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea off Sicily’s north coast, the Aeolian Islands are rarely lonely during Italy’s muggy summer. But their relative remoteness means they don’t come close to the American crowds of a Positano or Capri.
“The Aeolian Islands are far from the idea of islands that Americans might have,” says Absolute Sicilia’s Dario Ferrante, adding that visitors don’t come here for the Caribbean-style white sandy beaches, but for an active holiday, including one Hike on the volcano Stromboli a guide.
Ferrante cites Salina Island as his personal favorite for vacations, but he says the islands of Filicudi and Alicudi offer the most remote and rustic experiences (the latter has no cars — just donkeys to haul your luggage).
He also points to the north face of Mount Etna as one of the most beautiful and undiscovered areas of Sicily. It is only 40 minutes from the popular beaches of Taormina.
“It’s perfect for total relaxation, trekking and wellness, and a paradise for wine lovers and foodies,” says Ferrante.
Zadar archipelago, Croatia
The coast and islands surrounding Zadar in Croatia offer an experience that is “world apart” from more crowded places in the south like Split, Dubrovnik and the island of Hvar, suggests Alan Mandic of Croatian travel agency Secret Dalmatia.
The car-free Adriatic islands of Silba and Olib in the Zadar archipelago have fabulous beaches that look almost like the Caribbean, he says. You can even stay in a lighthouse on the western cape of the larger island of Dugi Otok.
“These are the places we go when we want to avoid crowds in general,” says Mandic. “You won’t really see Americans there.”
Pelion Peninsula, Greece
With such spectacular coastlines and mountains to explore, Greeks tend to vacation in their own country during the summer, says Andria Mitsakos, founder of luxury lifestyle brand Anthologist.
And while summer’s international crowds might find it hard to gaze over the iconic white-and-blue postcard backdrops on crowded islands like Santorini and Mykonos, Mitsakos says she often heads to the mountainous Pelion Peninsula on mainland Greece’s eastern side of the Aegean Sea one more to stay under the radar.
With the Pagasetic Gulf flanking its west coast, the lush and verdant peninsula is dotted with coastal and hilltop villages, with fresh seafood around every corner.
There are beaches all around the peninsula but if you only hit two, Mylopotamos and Fakistra on the Aegean side are the places not to be missed. They are tucked away in natural coves where water laps the coastal cliffs like turquoise liquefied in the blinding sun.
The Albanian coast in Ksamil. Albania’s coast is far less inundated with tourists than nearby Greece or Italy.
Far less crowded with tourists than neighboring Greece to the south or Italy across the Adriatic, the Balkan Peninsula country of Albania is still something of a closely guarded secret among savvy travelers — but one that’s unlikely to remain at rock bottom for long becomes.
“Croats and Europeans in general are discovering the Albanian coast,” said Secret Dalmatia’s Mandic. “It’s fabulous, it’s unbelievably cheap. The food, the history, the hospitality, the nature, the beaches, it’s all here.”
Beaches to explore along the so-called Albanian Riviera include Ksamil near the Greek border, and Himare and Dhermi further north, where you can feast on reasonably priced platters of prawns, grilled squid and fresh fish from the Ionian Sea to gaze at its glittering expanse.