Even before the Romans laid claim to Mare Nostrum ('our sea'), the eyes of the world have looked greedily at the Mediterranean in summer and swooned. This bluest of blue seas, a beautiful picture in a perfect frame, is irresistible once the sun comes out.
However, it can also seem like half of Europe has decided to join you on a summer tour of the Med making travel sweaty hard work, albeit with sensational rewards on offer for those who perservere. Fancy a crack at it this summer? Here's how to uncover some more unusual parts of the European coast:
Marseille - the urban Mediterranean
If your image of the Med is golden sand lapping at deep blue waters then Marseille’s bustling port is likely to be a surprise. This, along with Piraeus in Greece, is the great shipping terminal of the Mediterranean, with ferries and containers chugging in and out. Marseille, however, is much more than this. France’s second city has an international air that produces great eating from around the world – usually best washed down with a glass of local pastis – as well as wonderful city views from the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. Make sure you stroll around the Panier quarter, the city’s greatest shopping quarter where there’s more than a sniff of the Middle East.
Ibiza’s little brother
Ok, there’s not much to do on Formentera, a short ferry ride from Ibiza City, apart from swim in the super-clear sea and toot around on a scooter, but this is a great place to find your own stretch of Balearic beach with a little space, plus have an adventure in the process. Take a few days to tour the best beaches: Platja de Llevant and Platja de ses Illetes on the northern spit of land, and Platja de Migjorn on the south coast. The bright lights of Ibiza are never more than a short boat ride away.
The other Greek Islands
Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu may be synonymous with sizzling summer party nights but there’s another side to Greece’s archipelago that you shouldn’t miss. There are still islands with a quiet pace of life revolving around fishing, the local taverna and not doing very much in the sun because it’s too blinking hot. How to find them? First, aim for an island which doesn’t receive charter flights from elsewhere in Europe – this keeps the crowds at bay. Then head away from the main ferry terminal. In the vast majority of cases this will take you far from the beaten path and closer to the Greece you’re looking for. Where to start? Paxos, Folegandros, Meganisi and Skopelos. There are thousands of alternatives though – just hop on a ferry and go looking.
It’s got a slab of marvellous Adriatic coastline but it’s not Croatia, and is home to towering fjord scenery but you’re not in Norway: welcome to Montenegro. This tiny country – only independent since 2006 – also has Venetian history in the town of Perast, Dubrovnik-esque alleyways in Kotor’s Stari Grad (Old Town) and the Aman Resort on Sveti Stefan, one of the most beautiful spots on the entire Adriatic. If you can’t run to a night here, there are plenty of land-side options which give you the chance to gawp at Sveti Stefan, if not stay the night in resplendent luxury.
The Grand Tour
While the current status of both Syria and Libya prevents a full circumnavigation of the Med – not that it was possible beforehand – a super-ambitious grand tour of the European Med would take a whole summer but be unforgettable. Start early to dodge the crowds along Spain’s coast, then nudge along the French Riviera before zig-zagging across Italy (don’t miss Venice) crossing to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece, finishing in Istanbul. An Inter Rail or Eurail pass will be your friend on this route.
Further reading: Europe by train: how to get more bang for your buck