Bathing suits and sunglasses at the ready, we head off in search of the best beaches in France for some super seaside options this summer, and find there’s a coastal calling for beach lovers all around France.
Mainland France boasts four coastlines – the North Sea, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea – with a whopping combined coastline length of 3,427km (2,129 miles). Thus, the country is blessed with an eclectic, exceptional array of coastal offerings for holidaymakers.
From the rugged, rocky northern shores of Nord-Pas de Calais, Brittany and Normandy, with their charming fishing resorts and family-friendly seaside towns, all the way down the Atlantic to the west – taking in Charente-Maritime, Vendée, the Arcachon basin and Les Landes – to the southern reaches of Occitanie (described by some as the “unspolt Mediterranean”), and then eastbound to the calm calanques and glitzy resorts of the Riviera, each has a distinct topography and tourist appeal depending on what you want from a seaside escape.
Everyone has their favourite specific beach too, of course. Perhaps based on childhood or teenage memories, a lovely location, the need for child-friendliness with plenty of activities, or the exact opposite – a discreet and tranquil hideaway with nothing but the gentle lapping of the waves to distract you from a good book (or your latest copy of France Today!)
1. A MONUMENTAL VIEW
La plage de Dagrey-Ronthon, Manche (Normandy)
It’s hard to imagine a more expansive, impressive backdrop as you lay down your beach towel. Flanked by windswept dunes, and featuring Europe’s highest tide dominating the bay shared by Normandy and Brittany, plus a stunning light show at sundown, Dragey-Ronthon’s pièce de résistance is a distant spectacle rising from the sea almost 14km away: Mont Saint-Michel, the glorious abbey-topped rocky island listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A great beach for taking the salty air, strolling and horse riding.
2. FAMILY FORTUNE
Saint-Jean-de-Monts, Vendée (Pays-de-la-Loire)
Even during high tide, you are guaranteed to find plenty of space on one of the 22 huge beaches of the Pays de Saint-Jean-de-Monts, whose fine sandy plages are among the sunniest on the French Atlantic coast. They are perfect for little ones – gently sloping and rock-free. For added family peace of mind, bracelets with the parents’ number are given to children on request at the lifeguard stations on the supervised beaches and at the nearby tourist offices. All beach access car parks are free.
3. SURFER’S PARADISE
Grande Plage/Plage de Miramar in Biarritz, Pyréneés-Atlantique (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)
This Basque country beauty made its mark as the go-to seaside bolthole for the well-to-do after it gained the aristo approval of Princess Eugénie, Napoléon III’s wife. Her love for Biarritz is credited with transforming a small fishing village into a destination de rigueur. Besides today’s thalassotherapy spas and high-end hotels, the town is now a notable surfing hotspot, with bodyboarding for beginners in supervised areas due to strong currents. The Miramar beach is located in the extension of the Grande Plage, behind the iconic Hôtel du Palais, which was once Princess Eugénie’s summer house.
4. SPLENDID ISOLATION
Calanque d’En Vau, Bouches-du-Rhône ( Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur)
Viewed from above, this slither of sparkling turquoise sea cutting through high white limestone cliffs in the Calanques National Park, is little short of breathtaking. The Calanque d’En Vau is one of Bouches-du-Rhône’s celebrated coves (called calanques in French) that attracts visitors from all over France, not just beach-lovers from nearby Marseille. Kayaking, rock-climbing and hiking are popular (access by foot or by boat drop-off from Cassis) but the prize is a spot on the little pebbled beach below and a dip in the magnificent crystal-clear shallows. Sun-seekers beware though – there is no shade and nowhere to buy water, so make sure you come prepared.
5. A COLOURFUL PLAYGROUND
Berck-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (Hauts-de-France)
With sections in both the Pas-de-Calais and Nord departments, the Côte d’Opale includes some household names for Francophiles, including Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais and Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, as well as Gravelines, Malo-les-Bains and Montreuil-sur-Mer. In March this year, the stretch of coast stormed to first prize in a ‘favourite destination’ poll by the leading radio station RTL, claiming 31% of almost 40,000 votes. Its beachy gem is the 12km-long one at Berck-sur- Mer, site of the country’s leading kite festival, picture-perfect pastel-coloured cabins and a truly family feel. Got tiny tots in tow? There is even a baby changing area, microwave, refrigerator and beach games.
6. ISLAND PARADISE
La plage de Rondinara (Corsica)
The first of two beautiful Corsican beaches in our round-up – any number could have been picked, since the Mediterranean island is truly blessed in the perfect plage department. Rondinara is located between Porto-Vecchio (20 minutes by car) and Bonifacio in the south of the island, and an aerial view reveals a horseshoe-shaped loop of golden yellow framing inviting pale blue/green shallows, reddish rocks and pine trees. Up close, this is like paradise on earth. As such, it is wildly popular so a visit just off-season or out of school holidays is recommended – when it’s still warm but without the bustle. There’s an excellent fish restaurant, kayak hire and more.
7. PROPRE PLAGE
Gruissan, Aude (Occitanie)
This former fishing village showcases traditional Languedoc Mediterranean architecture, and is well loved as a superb seaside resort where all kinds of nautical activities abound: families will love the gorgeous sandy beaches (featuring iconic wooden chalets on stilts, built in the early 20th century by merchants and wine makers), while sporty visitors can enjoy jet-skiing, sailing, windsurfing and more. Film buffs will recognise the expansive beach and chalets from Betty Blue. The seawater scored 10/10 in a 2022 Le Figaro beach cleanliness report – time to take a dip!
More info: www.gruissan-mediterranee.com/en
8. FOR CHANNEL HOPPERS
Étretat, Seine-Maritime (Normandy)
Étretat’s picture-postcard, 90m chalk cliff shoreline boasts surely the most photographed and painted rock formation on the whole of the French coast. The likes of Boudin, Courbet, Monet and Turner twirled their paintbrushes here, while gentleman thief Arsène Lupin’s adventures featured in the 1909 novel The Hollow Needle (spot three natural arches and the pointed formation called L’Aiguille or The Needle). Meanwhile the recent Netflix smash hit Lupin (episode five) was filmed on location here. The GR 21 hiking route passes through the town high above, while any descent to stroll on the pebble beach below is rewarded with the easiest of dreamy selfies – though carefully check tide times first.
9. HIDDEN RIVIERA
Théoule-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes (PACA)
The Riviera has countless wondrous beaches a stone’s throw from glitzy bars and restaurants, from the world-famous (Nice’s emblematic Promenade des Anglais, which traces the main beach along the Baie des Anges, or La Plage de la Gravette in Antibes) to lesser known, hidden gems such as Cap-d’Ail (just wow!), or Plage Paloma at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Yes, the Côte d’Azur region’s beaches warrant a 50-page feature all of their own. However, here’s a single pick: for a more discreet taste of the wild and wondrous Riviera, head to the red rock creeks of the Estérel Massif around Saint-Raphaël. Théoule-sur-Mer, 13km from Cannes, is a charming resort with sandy main beaches and cute coves to explore nearby.
10. SCUBA DO
La Réserve Naturelle de Scandola (Corsica)
Calling all snorkellers! The Med is blessed with great shallows and underwater formations to explore – notables include the Parc national de Port-Cros and Porquerolles, Cap d’Agde, and the Réserve naturelle nationale de Cerbère-Banyuls. But Corsica is the place to make snorkelling and scuba the focus of your whole trip. La Réserve naturelle de Scandola, on the northwest coast between Calvi and Porto, is one of the island’s natural jewels, with magmatic peaks overhanging the clear blue waters, where marine biodiversity is passionately protected. Some 243 species of fish have been listed, while dolphins might come and say hello. No road access to the village of Girolata, so take a boat from Porto, Calvi or Cargèse or walk (1hr 20 mins each way) from Col de la Croix.
From France Today Magazine
Do let us know about your favourite French beach in the comment section below!
Lead photo credit : Rondinara beach in Corsica © Shutterstock
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