Spend Memorial Day on a Beautiful Coastline

The calendar still claims it’s spring, but many people consider Memorial Day the first true day of summer. Here are five gorgeous coastlines—including two on lakes—where you can spend the holiday by the water in Europe or Asia.

Photo: Chmee2 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Chmee2 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Giant’s Causeway: Explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site, climb among rocks, walk along the edge of a cliff, and taste single malts in Northern Ireland.

Photo: AnastassiyaL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: AnastassiyaL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Aktau: Check out a new hotel, see dramatic cliffs, and find undiscovered beaches along the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan.

Photo: Email4mobile [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Email4mobile [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Socotra: Visit an unexplored island, see plants and animals not found anywhere else on Earth, and camp under the stars in Yemen.

Photo: Narada

Photo: Narada

Xiangshui Bay: Recover from jet lag, nap beside a plunge pool, and pamper yourself in China.

Photo: McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Dal Lake: Get a good night’s sleep, ride canopied boats, and relax on a sun deck at a houseboat in India.

Ad Dakhla, Western Sahara

Photo: YoTuT from United States (Dakhla, Western Sahara  Uploaded by ecemaml) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: YoTuT from United States (Dakhla, Western Sahara Uploaded by ecemaml) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Moroccans have a secret. They want everyone to think that Western Sahara, the disputed territory they occupy south of their border, is a vast, empty desert. In large part, that may be true. The arid, inhospitable land is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. Except on the coast. Just north of the Tropic of Cancer, there’s a little hideaway that attracts artists, wind-sport enthusiasts, and beach lovers.

Ad Dakhla is almost 600 miles south of El Aaiún, the territory’s capital. It would take forever to drive down the coast to this narrow peninsula that sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a tranquil lagoon. But Moroccans don’t drive here. They fly from Casablanca to one of only three paved runways in Western Sahara. Flights depart daily.

Like the rest of the territory, Ad Dakhla was colonized by the Spanish. They built a military fortress, a Catholic church, and, during the Spanish Civil War, a prison camp in this waterfront city. Much of it was demolished by the Moroccans. Ad Dakhla now has arcaded streets, whitewashed buildings, and mosques. Fishing boats line the docks. Windswept sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. Graceful greater flamingos wade through the lagoon. While the street shops, the cafés, and the seafood restaurants in the pedestrian-only area come alive at night.

Photo: Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort

Photo: Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort

After exploring the city—and eating more than your fair share of oysters—head north to the Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort. You may see lounging monk seals or playful bottlenose dolphins in the sheltered bay’s calm water along the way. The new resort is remote—yes, even more so—and strikingly modern. Its riads have slanted roofs and huge picture windows. Wetsuits are drying in the sun outside. While the spare interiors have platform beds, modern bathrooms, and outdoor tubs surrounded by stone walls.

You arrive just as the kitesurfers are returning from an exhausting day on the water. After stashing their gear, they excitedly fill you in on the wind, the waves, and the neat tricks they attempted and, in some cases, accomplished. You listen attentively over a Moroccan feast featuring some of the best seafood you’ve ever tasted. You watch the stars light up the sky and look for constellations you’ve never been able to see before. And you listen to the waves crash against the sand that has finally cooled off. Tomorrow it will be your turn to tackle those waves. If they’re what you expect, it’s going to be very hard to keep the Moroccans’ secret for them.

Mons, Belgium

Photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All eyes are on Mons right now. That’s right, Belgium. This little city, famous for being the place where the first and last shots of World War I were fired, is in the midst of a revival. Not another battle, thank goodness. It’s actually one of the two 2015 European Capitals of Culture.

Mons is an easy day trip from Brussels. It sits in western Belgium, near the French border and among rolling hills. The historic center is full of red brick houses. Grand Place, the central square, is surrounded by City Hall and restaurants with outdoor tables. The nearby Collegiate Church of St. Waudru has sculptures and stained glass from the 1450s. While the 17th-century Belfry, the only Baroque-style belfry in the country, has panoramic views of the city from the top landing.

The city is also full of art. Both old and new museums are currently staging interesting exhibits. BAM (Beaux-Arts Museum) is hosting a Van Gogh show. The Dutch artist lived outside of town as a church missionary for more than a year beginning in 1879. He lived in what is now the Van Gogh House. Artothèque, set in an old chapel, is a new interactive museum, where touch screens teach you about everything from paintings and sculptures to china and swords. The Mons Memorial Museum explores the city’s military history, including its involvement in the two world wars, in a new modern building. Plus Silex’s, outside of the city, lets visitors go underground to one of the oldest flint mines in the world. Claustrophobics probably want to avoid this one.

After spending much of the day exploring the museums and their new exhibits, return to the city’s historic center. Follow the cobbled streets to La Vie Est Belle, a family-style restaurant away from the craziness. The cozy space has puppets on the wall and large portions. Order mussels, meatballs, and rabbit to share. It’s impossible to leave hungry. Then walk back to Grand Place. L’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is a flashy Gothic building with a pretty garden beyond its gates. An iron monkey statue out front is said to bring good luck if you pat his head with your left hand. You pass on the monkey and grab an outdoor table at La Cervoise instead. Don’t worry, you aren’t here to eat. It’s the beer that caught your attention. With more than 170 brews, the restaurant surely has a Belgian beer you haven’t tried yet. Yet another art form, right?

Tangier Island, Virginia

Photo: ChesapeakeLiving.com

Photo: ChesapeakeLiving.com

The ferry is starting to board. Luggage, supplies, mail, and even a kayak are being thrown aboard the Steven Thomas. Seagulls circle overhead. The sun is already heating the dock and your forehead, despite the cool May breeze. You grab your cap out of your bag, find a seat on the sundeck, and stare across Tangier Sound. Let’s head to Tangier Island.

Tangier Island sits in the Chesapeake Bay off the east coast of Virginia. The remote island was once the summer retreat of the Pocomoke people. Colonists from South West England eventually settled here, and the island became a British staging area during the War of 1812. The islanders still speak a unique dialect, which sounds more British than American.

Time looks like it stands still on the quaint island. Fisherman’s shanties dot the bay. Crab traps line the waterfront. Wooden bridges leap over the marshland. And birds—great blue herons, egrets, and pelicans—greatly outnumber people. After deboarding the ferry, switch to a golf cart or a bike to explore. You don’t have to worry about traffic lights, or even traffic, here. There are a few shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts in the center of town. Old homes have graves in their front yards. The doors of Swain Memorial Church, built in 1835, are always open to visitors. While someone is already starting to cook crabs in what is considered the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

You’ll be back for those crabs, but first you want to see the rest of the island. The Tangier History Museum, which displays donated and borrowed artifacts, loans kayaks so you can explore the water trails. See salty rivers, tidal streams, and oyster farms. Pass the marina and the little airport. Head down to the wild, windswept beach. Then return once your stomach starts growling. Four Brothers Crab House serves crab cakes, freshly shucked oysters, and steamed clams. But you opt for the flatbread crab melt, a Tangier Island speciality that’s almost as unique as the island itself.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Photo: Justin Vidamo (Flickr: San Miguel de Allende at Sunset) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Justin Vidamo (Flickr: San Miguel de Allende at Sunset) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

San Miguel de Allende has enchanted you for years. Despite having visited numerous beach towns beforehand, this is where you received your first dose of real Mexican culture. The first city to be declared independent from Spain during the Mexican War of Independence is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pink neo-Gothic façade of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel towers over the city. Plaza Allende, filled with wrought-iron benches and laurel trees, sits in front of it. Baroque buildings and cobblestone streets spread out in a grid pattern from there. Colorful homes have massive front doors, hidden courtyards, and tangled vines of bougainvillea; artists now live in many of them. You’ve returned frequently to explore the colonial city. This time, you just want to watch it.

Luckily, there are plenty of rooftops with gorgeous views. After visiting the churches in the morning, make your way to La Posadita for lunch. One flight of narrow stairs brings you to the bar, and a second leads to the rooftop. A stone wall is on one side of your tile-covered table; you can practically touch La Parroquia from your seat. Order a frozen tamarind margarita, since the overhead umbrella is shielding you from the sun but not the heat. Then the Mexican feast begins. Chunky guacamole, chile rellenos de queso, mole enchiladas, slow-roasted pork, and, eventually, homemade flan cover the table. Another margarita, por favor.

Photo: Hotel Nena

Photo: Hotel Nena

You could sit on La Posadita’s rooftop the rest of the day, but you should really walk off that lunch. Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering through galleries and talking to artists. The city seems even more colorful after you do so. Then find La Azotea before the sun starts to set. This chic rooftop bar has comfortable couches and a view of the Guanajuato Mountains, which are just starting to turn pink. With two-for-one drinks during happy hour, you don’t have to decide between a mojito and a martini—you can have both. While the tapas menu, which includes jicama tacos and shrimp aguachile, is tempting, despite your large lunch a little while ago. The rapidly lowering sun distracts you just in time, though.

While walking back to your hotel later in the evening, you decide to stop one more time for a nightcap. From Sky Lounge at Hotel Nena, you can watch the city light up now that it’s dark. A small pool, flickering candles, and heaters for when it gets cool are spread out across the terrace. You sway to the music, watch the twinkling lights, and make friends with the bartender as you sip a glass of añejo tequila. Eventually, you’ll make your way to your bedroom downstairs, since you’re staying right at the boutique hotel. But right now, you’re still too enchanted to move.

Bezau, Austria

Photo: Hotel Post Bezau

Photo: Hotel Post Bezau

What happened to spring? It seems like we’ve jumped right from the cold winter to the hot summer without pausing for the mild temperatures in between. You’ve already had to start using your air conditioner at night and wearing shorts on the weekends, and it isn’t even the end of May. You’re ready for some time in the mountains.

The Bregenz Forest should be refreshing enough right now. This western corner of Austria is part of the Alps. Snow still caps the tops of the mountains. The forests are dense and untouched. Wildflowers are starting to grow around ice-cold lakes. Alpine meadows are filled with dairy cows. Plus little villages dot the hillsides.

You’re heading to Bezau, one of those villages. It’s in the Hinterwald (the Upper Bregenz Forest), which has higher mountains and feels not only remote, but almost cut off from the outside world. Bezau is picturesque with wooden buildings clustered close together, a church that was built in 1906, and a cable car station that connects it to other mountain villages.

Photo: Hotel Post Bezau

Photo: Hotel Post Bezau

It’s also home to Hotel Post. The chalet-style hotel, covered with wooden shingles, first opened in the 19th century. Five generations later, it’s still in the family and has expanded into a design hotel. The light-filled rooms have blonde furniture, balconies with mountain views, and organic treats. The relaxing Bathhouse has an indoor pool and a roof deck for sunbathing. While the 14-seat restaurant, whose menu changes nightly, features very local produce.

After your green arrival—train and bus transportation for which the hotel rewards you with a spa treatment—you spend as much time outside over the next few days as possible. Ride the cable cars above the low-hanging clouds early in the morning for a panoramic view from Baumgarten. Mountain bike between Egg and Schoppernau without any cars interrupting you. Hike the easy Bizauer Moos path along bogs, moss, and wet meadows or challenge yourself on the longer and harder Schönebach trail. Ride a rowboat on Lake Körbersee or swim in chilly Lake Seewaldsee. Then return to Bezau later in the afternoon.

You’re greeted back at the hotel with homemade cake. Relax in the Bathhouse’s outdoor brine pool before your Breuss massage that will stretch your spinal cord. Fresh fruit and juice are waiting in the relaxation room when you finish. Then go to Gourmet Restaurant Irma for dinner. The braised lamb shoulder and the early vegetables from around Lake Constance pair perfectly with a dry red wine from Burgenland. It finally feels like spring.

Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Photo: Bellevue, Hotel Krumlov

Photo: Bellevue, Hotel Krumlov

You keep returning to Prague. It’s one of your favorite cities in Europe, if not the world. But what about the rest of the Czech Republic? If you love its capital so much, shouldn’t you give the rest of the country a shot, as well?

Český Krumlov is an easy place to start. It’s only two hours from Prague, and it sits near the Austrian and German borders. The Český Krumlov Castle and its surrounding village were built in the late-13th century along Bohemia’s trade route. Both came under disrepair when the town became part of Nazi Germany and then Czechoslovakia. Restoration only began after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Today, many consider it the prettiest town in the Czech Republic. The center of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is filled with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings from the 14th-17th centuries. They now house cafés, bars, shops, and galleries. The castle is the country’s second-largest castle after one with which you’re already quite familiar: Hradčany in Prague. While the Vltava, the longest river in the country, meanders through town and continues into nearby forests and national parks.

Photo: Bellevue, Hotel Krumlov

Photo: Bellevue, Hotel Krumlov

Begin your tour at the Český Krumlov Castle. Enter through the red iron gates. Cross the Bear Moat, where real bears have been kept since 1707. See the Cloak Bridge, the extensive gardens, and the frescoes in the Church of St. Vitus. Wander through the Baroque Castle Theatre, which has its original stage machinery from the 1680s. Productions are now held three times a year by candlelight. And, as you’re leaving, stop for chocolate ice cream at Bon Bon—you can’t miss the green building.

There’s a lot more to explore in Český Krumlov—the museums and the brewery are at the top of your list—but first, you want to go relax at your hotel. Hotel Bellevue is located right in the historic center’s car-free zone. The 16th-century building once housed a bakery. It still has wooden beams and a view of the castle. Make a beeline for Le Jardin. The summer terrace has hanging plants, shady umbrellas, and Czech wine. Order a glass of crisp Grüner Veltliner. It’s so peaceful and quiet away from the crowds that one drink turns into dinner—salmon marinated in brandy, poached dark codfish, and lemon cheesecake—and more wine. Your Czech adventure is off to a great start.