May 26, 2024

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Dirty beaches in Europe: new ranking

It's a shame: if the water quality leaves anything to be desired, sunbathe and chat instead of swimming.

It's a shame: if the water quality leaves anything to be desired, sunbathe and chat instead of swimming.

Good pictures


Excrement and excretaWhen it comes to dirty beaches in Europe, looks can be deceiving

A bath blockage due to high levels of bacteria or toxic sulfur gases can hinder your vacation enjoyment. It is worth looking at the latest information on the quality of bathing water.

Louis Fabel

When researching beach vacations in Europe, you need to analyze the quality of bathing water European Environment Agency (EUA). Some of their results are shocking.

Swimming is prohibited by the authorities

The area around Cap d'Antibes, particularly the popular Plage de la Gravette at the lower end of the old town of Antibes, did not fare well in EUA's ratings. The water here is surrounded by rock walls and cannot circulate enough. Result: high rate of enterococci bacteria.

This led to an official ban on bathing in June 2023. Antibes municipality is working hard to clean up pollution and wants to ensure good bathing water by 2024. However, this still cannot be guaranteed, especially after storm surges.

You can swim here: According to the European Environment Agency, most beaches on the Côte d'Azur have “excellent” water quality.

Fecal contamination

In the summer of 2023, a Portuguese environmental NGO warned of worsening water quality in Portugal: bathing was banned on 28 beaches along the coast due to poor sewage disposal.

Especially near the city of Lagos, the water is often contaminated with faecal coliform bacteria, which also affects the nearby Praia do Camilo beach.

You can swim here: Water quality in Mea Brea, east of Lagos, is rated as “excellent”.

Landfill and foul wastewater

Swimming is prohibited on the twelve kilometer long beach of the southern Italian port city of Reggio Calabria every summer. In 2019, people who bathed here contracted infections due to faecal contamination and had to be hospitalized. Since then, wastewater treatment has been a top priority for the region's president, Roberto Ochiuto.

You can swim here: In the north and south of Reggio Calabria there are several beaches with “excellent” water quality.

The water quality in popular Palermo has also dropped dramatically – with many beaches now only classified as “adequate” by the EUA. Ratings for Messina Marine and Lido Olimpo beaches are “poor”. Here too, faecal bacteria cause bathing blockages. Also, ground water and improper sewage causes ground water pollution.

You can swim here: To the north and south of Palermo there are beaches with excellent water quality, including Fontacello.

Toxic sulfur gas from algae

Looks really unattractive: Saint-Michel-en-Grève beach in Brittany.

Looks really unattractive: Saint-Michel-en-Grève beach in Brittany.


Many beaches in Brittany, France are affected by green algae infestation. Nitrates in the water cause the algae to release hydrogen sulfide as they begin to break down. The toxic gas can cause headaches, nausea and eye irritation and has been associated with deaths of people and animals in the region.

The French government and local authorities spend a million euros a year on algae removal, but Saint-Michel-en-Grève's sandy beach continues to be rated “poor” from 2021.

You can swim here: In Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast, water quality is rated “excellent” by the EEA.

Municipal Sewage Treatment Plant

Playa del Forum, on the outskirts of Barcelona, ​​is a popular seaside resort – despite the backdrop of a thermal power plant, a municipal waste incinerator and a sewage treatment plant. Defying the EEA's request for four years to close the beach due to poor water quality. According to Travel News, the Catalan Water Authority says its own water analysis is good and therefore defends itself against the bathing ban.

You can swim here: Playa de Sant Sebasti, Playa del Pocadel and Playa de la Mar Bella have received an “excellent” rating from the EUA.

Where did the beach and water quality disappoint you?

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