The French mainland has water on more or less three sides – the Atlantic, the English Channel – or La Manche as the French prefer to call it – and the Mediterranean, so France has beaches to suit just about everyone, from families to super stars, world class surfers to naturists.
The Côte d’Azur (literally, the blue coast ) stretches the whole length of south-facing Mediterranean coast from Marseilles in the west to Menton in the east, while the French Riviera is the posh eastern section from about Cannes to Menton.
In a nutshell, travel to France’s Riviera [east Mediterranean coast] to get a tan in a busy social hot-spot, to Brittany [north Atlantic coast] for family oriented holidays with lots of attractions for kids, to the south Atlantic coast [e.g. bay of Biscay] for space or surfing and to Corsica [in the Mediterranean] for France’s best beaches, hiking and wilderness.
Most of France’s beaches are well-developed with plenty of amenities and few hazards, though north west beaches [Atlantic] tend to have colder, rougher, less clear water while the Mediterranean [south east] strands of sand – except Corsica – tend to be small, crowded and expensive with the best stretches taken by pay-parasol operators.
Below is a guide to some of the better of France’s beaches
**The French Riviera is the place for a terrific climate, a lively social life, good shopping, excellent eating and drinking facilities – and not necessarily costly – though beaches are often cramped, stony or pay-as-you-tan, while traffic and parking is a nightmare. Nice or Cannes are particularly good examples of the up/downsides. The cute little town of Menton, far east and next to Italy, is about as quiet as the Riviera gets.
***Arcachon, on the Côte d’Argent [near Bordeaux] is a small and delightful resort surrounded by France’s biggest pine forest, offering small and delightful beaches though if you need serious sand a couple of kilometres south sits the Dune du Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe – more than 100m [350ft] high and long. South of Arcachon and more or less all the way to Biarritz is 200kms of beach but with few facilities.
**Biarritz, SE France, is a large town with some fine buildings, excellent sea food, big sandy beaches and good surf, but of course chilly Atlantic water, a fairly constant breeze and frequent sea mist.
***St Jean de Luz, an incredibly lovely old Basque town just 20 minutes drive south of Biarritz, tranquil and pedestrian friendly, sports an absolutely stunning sea front of ancient basque houses and fine sand. Downsides, however, as Biarritz.
***Seignosse is a newish beach resort on the Atlantic coast 3 kms from old Seignosse village and stretches along 6 kms of surf-pounded, dune-embraced sand, offering all the necessary facilities for families and surfers alike, from surf schools, kid’s beach club, water park and forest cycle trails to a fine golf course of the same name. Seignosse is south of Bordeaux and north of Biarritz, accessed via TGV to Bayonne, then bus or taxi.
*Cap d’Agde near Montpellier is naturist-friendly, in other words get your kit off. Not just in terms of nudist beaches but the entire city – from restaurants to banks – goes for the natural look.
**La Rochelle, a charming port town on the Atlantic coast is one of the most handsome seaside resorts in France. The area has miles of safe sandy beaches especially on nearby islands, and with shallow water they are great for young families.
*La Baule, an 8 mile crescent beach on the Atlantic coast in Brittany is the longest sand stretch in Europe. Nowhere near as elegant as the French Riviera, but its good value facilities are ideal for families.
*La Sauzair, at Bretignolles-sur-Mer on the Vendée coast is the best for surf, while the resort of Bretignolles has wide sandy beaches and rocky coves.
* Belle-île-en-Mer, an island off the Atlantic coast near Brittany, has fine sandy bays and charming coves.
***Corsica Island has some stunning beaches along with panoramic walks.
Matthieu Cany is Managing Director of Sextant French Property