Take in some autumn sun, colourful football and relaxing beach time
The kids are back at school, flights and hotels are cheaper, the beaches are empty and football’s back – what better excuse can there be than to hop on a plane and spend a couple of days around a random fixture in Europe, with sun, beaches and beer all thrown in?
Here we offer ten destination suggestions around the Med, Baltic and Black Sea.
The first thing that strikes you when strolling into the Perivolia Municipal Stadium on the southern outskirts of Chania, Crete, is the view. Upon paying your €7 admission in cash, and hearing the satisfying clink of the old-school turnstile, you’re as likely to be drawn to the panorama as the football on display. The rolling green slopes and snow-topped White Mountains towering behind the goal make for a particularly serene distraction.
Another €7 brings you here to the sleepy suburb of Mournies from the Old Town and Venetian harbour by taxi, meaning you can be sipping Mythos on a sandy beach and taking in a Super League 2 fixture within 15 minutes. Chania’s Gate 4 massive, of course, come here by roaring moped.
The solidly-built and functional Perivolia otherwise welcomes a mix of locals, expats and holidaymakers to its one main stand. Look out for the local derby with Irodotos from nearby Heraklion, surely the only football club named after the great historian, Herodotus. Barnaby Gard
A rare case of an easy and reliable train journey from Bucharest, Constanța overlooks the Black Sea. More port than beach resort, although that’s slowly changing with EU funding, Constanța basks in a subtropical climate with mild autumns and a hotel stock originally created for those who came to play the grandiose casino in the 1920s.
Most of all, though, it’s the birthplace of Gheorghe Hagi, who founded the football academy Viitorul Constanța which, incredibly, won the Romanian title in 2017. In 2021, he fused Viitorul with his first club, Farul, kept the former name but moved the whole thing to Hagi’s sports academy in Ovidiu.
Sadly, there’s no way to get there except by taxi, at a cost of some 60 lei/€12. And back, of course. The Transevren bus driver may – may – drop you off en route somewhere north but not on this slip road preferred by farm vehicles. A shame, because the Farul Stadium in town is a historic gem, steeped in the kudos of being the place where Hagi learned his football. Sadly, like the casino, it’s falling to bits.
The name ‘Polish Riviera’ may seem a contradiction in terms but this long seafront served by the cheap, fast and reliable SKM train from Gdańsk is where many Poles bring their buckets and spades in summer. Gdynia hasn’t the cachet of Sopot but it does have a popular football team, Arka the Polish Cup winners in 2017 and twice finalists in 2018 and 2021.
Sadly relegated from the Ekstraklasa in 2020, the Herrings have been battling to reclaim their rightful spot in the top tier. Right in town, by the Gdynia Redłowo stop on the SKM line, the Stadion Miejski co-hosted the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 2019 and is blessed with one of Poland’s finest stadium bars, the Olimpijska.
Close to winning the Slovenian title in 2022 only to blow it in the last week, seafront Koper is a very convivial place to spend a few days. Restaurant terraces look out over the Adriatic, Italianate architecture characterises the Old Town and, best of all, the football stadium is right in the centre.
Modern and compact, the Bonifika is set between the bus and train stations and the sea, a short walk from everywhere. Scotland fans may remember it from a friendly here with Slovenia in 2012. Built into the stadium, Pub 33 is a great bar whatever the occasion, with live music and TV sport.
The port, resort and airport hub of Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus is currently host to three teams in the 14-strong top-flight Cyta Championship.
Home of 2022 league runners-up AEK, Larnaca has also been a haven for two clubs from the nearby port of Famagusta since 1974, when its majority Greek population fled the Turkish invasion. Revered Anorthosis have won 13 Cypriot titles and never been relegated. Populist Nea Salamis, with their left-leaning fan base, have played in the top flight most seasons since 1949.
These three clubs play at stadiums away from Larnaca’s tourist-friendly, palm-fringed, beach-lined city centre. Anorthosis and Nea Salamis built their grounds some 15 years after their enforced exile. Both were used for the final stages of the 1992 European Under-16 Championships, hosting the likes of Francesco Totti and Iván de la Peña.
It was also at the Antonis Papadopoulos, home of Anorthosis, that Cyprus beat Spain 3-2 in a Euro 2000 qualifier. Nea Salamis named their ground Ammochostos – the Greek word for Famagusta. Formed in 1994, AEK Larnaca moved into the new-build AEK Arena in 2016. All are short taxi journeys from the seafront strip of Athenon and streets behind dotted with lively bars, most showing TV football.
Underrated Málaga, with its long seafront, buzzy bar life and Picasso Museum, has lost its mojo as far as football is concerned but still attracts the solid fan base of Brit expats from along the Costa del Sol. Marbella is just along the coast.
Don’t let this put you off. La Rosaleda is one of Spain’s most atmospheric stadiums, with a great pre-match drinking scene at impromptu outlets outside despite the Anchovies currently looking at a relegation battle to survive in the Segunda.
To see where MCF first played, head east of town to El Balneario, sadly recently gentrified, a seafront restaurant and former baths steeped in local history.
Economic powerhouse of the south, Montpellier owes its footballing success in modern times to a corpulent rubbish collector obsessed with the game. An avid collector of football shirts, Louis Nicollin took a local amateur club and made them league champions by bringing in the support of the local council. Making his money in waste collection, Nicollin even helped bring the World Cup to Montpellier in 1998.
MHSC remain a top-tier proposition based at the Stade de la Mosson, an easy tram ride from the main station. A university town with a historic centre, Montpellier lies close to the beach resort of Palavas, busy in summer, relaxing in autumn.
Currently top of Serie A and scoring for fun in the Champions League, Napoli have long been threatening to win their first major silverware since the Maradona era.
Everywhere you look in Naples, you see Diego, on the side of buildings, on T-shirts and shining out of shrines. The stadium over in Fuorigrotta now takes his name, of course, while the city reclines around a wide bay lapped by the Med. For quality beach time, take the short boat journey over to Capri and loll in luxury.
To one side is sandy beach, to the other, five minutes away, a compact ground where a loyal and lively fan base gather for top-flight matches in the Belgian First Division A. Walking from town is another option, right along the seafront, past the holiday hotels, Japanese gardens and Wellington golf club. Once you get to the ground, make sure to pay a visit to the Club 31, a fine stadium bar if there ever was one.
On the up after years of trailing far behind domestic rivals Dinamo Zagreb, Hajduk Split won the Croatian Cup in 2022, beating Rijeka in the Adriatic Derby. It was the kind of footballing occasion this football madhouse rises to so well, setting up a fan zone on the seafront Riva in town and organising a march up to the Poljud, Hajduk’s revered stadium overlooking the waterfront.
League runners-up, too, in a best finish for ten years, Hajduk have momentum behind them and the loyal Torcida, whose fan culture dates back to locals watching newsreel footage of the Brazil World Cup of 1950. The city has its own beach, a short walk from the bus and train stations, and main harbour.