Not the Best Beaches in Europe

What is the best beach on Tenerife? The answer to that depends on who you ask.

Years ago I got into a discussion with someone on a forum who felt, when it came to looks, the best beach on Tenerife was Playa de las Vistas at Los Cristianos, whereas I argued it was Playa de las Teresitas near Santa Cruz.

Playa las Vistas, Arona, Tenerife
Playa las Vistas in the south of Tenerife.

One is backed by a purpose-built tourist resort, the other is backed by a fishing village and the foothills of the Anaga region. One is a beach created for tourists, the other is a beach created for locals. It was no contest as far as I was concerned, especially as what makes a beach a good beach for me has a lot to do with the scenery which surrounds it. Resorts with unimaginative architecture are never going to make the grade. Rows and rows of neat sunbeds are another no-no.

Playa de las Teresitas, Tenerife
And Playa de las Teresitas near the capital, Santa Cruz. Make up your own mind.

I like beaches to have a walk on the wild side swagger to them. But that’s me.

This week Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice of Europe’s best 25 beaches 2021 popped into my in-box. Number 1 was Spiaggia dei Conigli in Sicily. Number 2 was Playa de Cofete on Fuerteventura. Number 3 was Praia da Falesia in the Algarve, Portugal.

Number 2 and number 3 particularly interested me.

Comporta Beach, Portugal
Comporta Beach, Portugal. There are kilometres and kilometres of this.

After spending time in Portugal, we have completely re-evaluated our opinion of what constitutes a great beach in Europe. I read travel articles about the likes of Tenerife having some of the best beaches in Europe and think to myself ‘that’s been written by someone who hasn’t seen a Portuguese beach.’

Fuerteventura does have exceptional beaches to be fair, but do they wow me as much as some Portuguese beaches? The answer is no. And yet Praia da Falesia is the only Portuguese beach to make the list.

Corralejo Dunes, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Corralejo Dunes on Fuerteventura, a Sahara Desert of a beach.

The image for Falesia showed rows and rows of sunbeds on golden sand. In fact, the images for about 10 of the 25 beaches showed either crammed coves or rows of sunbeds. The background in more than half revealed either an arid landscape or an urban one. The sand was mostly golden, the sea invitingly turquoise, but many of the ‘top’ beaches on the list didn’t really do it for me.

The best beaches I’ve wiggled my toes on have generally been in the Far East – Sri Lanka, Goa, Krabi, and Langkawi. Those were stunners of beaches – endless miles of golden/white sand; no rows of sunbeds; not jam-packed with people; aquamarine seas; and a glistening, jade, tropical backdrop. Railay Beach on Krabi is probably my favourite beach of all – but that’s from more than twenty years ago. By all accounts, now its special setting has been blighted by hordes of daytrippers.

Elafonisi Beach, Greece
Elafonisi Beach in Crete. Beautiful and on the Tripadvisor top 25 list. But everyone knows about it.

And therein lies one of the problems with Tripadvisor’s list. By its very nature, it features beaches that are popular with foreign tourists (the use of ‘foreign’ is an important distinction). Everybody already knows all the beaches on the list.

Which takes me back to Praia da Falesia. It’s number 3 on the Traveler’s Choice list, but it’s not even close to being the best beach in Portugal. I’ve only seen some of Portugal’s beaches and it’s not the nicest one I’ve seen, not by a long, sandy kilometre. But don’t take my word for it. Each year Portugal holds a ‘7 best of’ competition. In 2012 the ‘best of’ focussed on beaches. Praia da Falesia wasn’t chosen as one of the 7 best beaches in Portugal. It wasn’t even one of the 21 finalists.

Bordeira Beach, Portugal
Bordeira Beach on Portugal’s south west coast. It’s not that far from the Algarve resorts geographically, but feels wildly different.

Praia da Falesia is located in the Algarve, the place most foreign tourists head to for sun and sea holidays; one of the reasons it features highly in polls such as Traveler’s Choice, unlike the beaches Portuguese sunseekers flock to. Like many things, lists like these are all about numbers. The ‘best beaches’ tag is a misnomer. A more accurate title would be ‘travellers’ favourite beaches.’

Travel articles often point travellers to the same limited selection, which is partly why there are so many people out there who believe there’s nowhere left that hasn’t fallen prey to, if not mass tourism exactly, a definite imbalance on the tourist v local scale. And yet there are plenty of spots around Europe that simmer away happily below the radar. Beautiful, special places locals know about; foreign visitors less so. Our work takes us to these sort of destinations year after year.

Beach, Arrabida, Portugal
A beach in Arrábida Natural Park, Setúbal. One of my favourite Portuguese beaches.

I’m pleased to the point of feeling smug to see lists like this. When they pop up I think ‘ah, they haven’t locked on to (such a place) yet’. And if they don’t know about the scenic splendours we’ve visited, they also don’t know about many, many wonderful places we don’t yet know about.

Finally, returning to why Fuerteventura’s impressive sands don’t wow me as much as some Portuguese beaches, beaches like the one above are why. And it’s all to do with backdrop. This one is just outside Setúbal, yet it reminds me more of the Far East. Fuerteventura’s bare curves simply can’t match such lush loveliness.

In the end, it’s all about personal preferences.

About Jack 798 Articles
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a Slow Travel consultant and a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Facebook for more travel photos and snippets.

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