From Ireland to Albania, Cathy Packe offers a guide to six of the best sandy stretches
Rosslare, Ireland

The good thing about the beaches at port towns is that they are blissfully easy to reach. Once you descend to this one, your only reminder that you are not on the Irish Caribbean is the occasional catamaran. Getting there: Stena Sealink (01233 647047) from Fishguard, pounds 18 day return (pounds 24 on Saturdays).

La Rochelle, France

Don't waste time on the shingly patch in the town centre. Beyond the 14th-century harbour are miles of clean white sand, screened from the road by pine trees. Beat a path through them to the sea. Getting there: Eurostar (0345 881881) via Paris, seven hours, pounds 160 if you book 15 days in advance.

Ostend, Belgium

The best thing about this Channel port is that for most people it has lost its appeal as a destination in its own right. Because everybody else is passing through, the only people you'll see at the beach are the stylish locals.

Getting there: Jetfoil from Ramsgate to Dunkirk with Sally Line (01843 595522) pounds 40 return.

Usedom, Germany

Think of islands in the sun, and you are more likely to imagine the Balearics than the Baltic. But summer heatwaves can hit the north-east coast of Germany even though the tourist hordes do not. Abounds in faded elegance. Getting there: Heathrow-Berlin (pounds 143 return on BA, 0345 222111), then a four-hour drive along the worst motorway in the EU.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

This Alpine paradise declared itself independent from the Yugoslav republic four years ago. But in the minds of western holidaymakers it has become inextricably linked with war in the Balkans. You'll find it almost deserted - but with good creature comforts. Getting there: Heathrow-Ljubljana via Zurich (pounds 274, Trailfinders 0171-938 3232).

Durres, Albania

The Italians are catching on fast to the clean, cheap and very cheerful east side of the Adriatic. So visit this soft, empty beach soon. Any putative attempt at forming a crowd can be evaded by heading a mile south of the ancient Roman port. Getting there: Heathrow-Tirana (pounds 358, STA Travel 0171-937 9921) then an hour on Europe's slowest train.