The Best Beaches and Coastline in France

  • 01 of 06

    The Best Beaches and Coastlines in France

    International Kite Festival at Berck-sur-Mer
    ••• International Kite Festival at Berck-sur-Mer. © Ville de Berck-sur-Mer

    Nord-Pas de Calais, English Channel

    Most vacationers arrive in Calais or Dunkirk on the English Channel and head south, ignoring the sandy treasures nearby. The Opal Coast that runs for 74.5 miles (120 kms) from the northern Belgian border down to the Somme estuary is gorgeous and includes a long headland, perfect for walks along the cliff tops past places like Cap Blanc Nez/Cap Blanc Gris (White Nose/Grey Nose) with its concrete reminders of World War II.

    Along the shore, resorts like Wimereux, the huge sweep of Berck-Plage which has a fabulous balloon festival each April, and Mers-les-Bains offer swimming for the hardy and plenty of sand sports and shrimping for the little ones.

    Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is a chic resort with casinos and horse riding. The ‘Pearl of the Opal Coast’ also has a great sandy beach stretching to the mouth of the River Authie.

     In Dunkirk, check out the beaches where...MORE the World War II shipwrecks of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of allied soldiers in May 1940, lie half buried in the sand. There are plenty more Operation Dynamo sites in this charming small port.

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  • 02 of 06

    Normandy Coast and Beaches

    Deauville Beach, Normandy
    ••• Deauville Beach, Normandy. © OT Deauville – Patrice le Bris

    Normandy’s long and varied coastline, along with its history, makes it a great destination for holidays.

    The Cote Fleurie as it's called, includes smart Deauville and more laid-back Trouville and then comes the long coastline stretching up westwards beyond Dieppe to Le Treport, two of the best known English Channel destinations.

    The more southerly Normandy beaches, famous for the World War II D-Day Landings, stretch from Utah Beach at St Vaast-la-Hougue along to Ouistreham just north of Caen. Once witness to the carnage of World War II, today the long sandy stretches are perfect for sandcastle builders.

    To the west, the rocky Cotentin Peninsula, with the port of Cherbourg at its tip, sticks out into the English Channel.

    Carry on round the coastline of the Cotentin and you come to Le Mont St-Michel, one of the greatest sacred sites in France and Europe. Travel a little further north to Avranches, which is a good place to stay to explore the beaches of the western Cotentin Peninsula.

    Guide to the Best Beaches in Normandy

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  • 03 of 06

    Brittany Coast and Beaches

    ••• Belle Ile, Brittany. © CRTB Brittany

    The second most popular beach destination for French holidays after the Mediterranean, Brittany has enough coastline (2,000 km, or 1,243 miles) to absorb everybody. From the Pink Granite coast on northern Brittany with its clifftops plunging down to the sea to the westernmost points of Finistere where pounding breakers of the Atlantic challenge surfers and round again to the southern shore and the Cote Sauvage (Wild Coast) with its mix of fierce seas and calm inlets, the region offers something for everybody, young and old.

    Guide to the Best Beaches in Brittany

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  • 04 of 06

    The French Atlantic Coast and Beaches

    The Dune du Pyla near Cap Ferret
    ••• The Dune du Pyla near Cap Ferret on the Atlantic Coast. © Atout France/Francois-Xavier PrØvot

    From St-Nazaire down to the Spanish frontier, the long French Atlantic coast is one long expanse of gorgeous sandy beaches, long rolling breakers and plenty of sun.

    The beaches in the Vendée bring the crowds in July and August to go sand-yachting and speed sailing. Surfers flock to the coastline, and some of e major surfing competitions like the AQS World Qualifying Series are held here. The major city of Nantes is the place to make for, with access to the beaches at places like Les Sables d'Olonne.

    Over 100 beaches in the Charente-Maritime offer just about everything on this stretch of coast. Islands like Noirmoutier and Ile de Re offer a chic alternative while Ile d'Aix is a gorgeous, traffic-free oasis; the beaches of the Cote Sauvage are the place for body boarders and surfers; the Gironde estuary has Michelin-rated sandy beaches that are sheltered from the Atlantic’s might.

    If you tire of the beaches, then La Rochelle and Rochefort offer welcome diversions.

    The huge stretch of...MORE golden sand that takes you down the coast is backed by wild dunes and pine forests in the Landes region. Much of the French Atlantic coast and shoreline is protected with bird sanctuaries and nature reserves making this a paradise for walker and nature lovers. All the beaches along here rival the French riviera beaches which are better known and so more crowded in the summer months.

    Naturists flock here as well, attracted by resorts like Montalivet (where the international naturist movement started), and Euronat, two of the biggest naturist resorts in France.

    Then you’re in chic Biarritz which combines a sophisticated nightlife with some of the greatest surfing on the coast. Beyond lie the quieter but equally sought-after and elegant towns of St-Jean-de-Luz and then Hendaye.

    Travel Information

    From the UK and Paris to Nantes

    From the UK and Paris to Biarrit

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  • 05 of 06

    Western Mediterranean Coast and Beaches

    ••• L'Almanarre Beach near Hyeres, west Mediterranean. © Office de Tourisme de Hyeres 2009

    The most popular beaches in France and for much of Europe lie along the gorgeous, azure blue Mediterranean coast. This is a huge long coastline running along the south of France, stretching from the Basque country and the Pyrenees next to Spain to the Italian border. Here you'll come across long stretches of sandy beaches, but also little inlets to scramble down to and make your own.

    The western part of the Mediterranean coast is shaped like an arc that starts in the Basque country in the Pyrenees, the mountain range that divides France from Spain just below Perpignan. From the Cote Vermeille, the region takes in the Herault and cities like Montpellier, Nimes, Arles and Avignon then continues around to Marseille.

    Surrounding Marseilles is the mysterious Camargues area where cities like Aigues-Mortes recall the past; to the east lies the naval port of Toulon and the wonderful Iles d’Hyeres which offer white sandy beaches, peace and tranquillity.

    Also here you'll find Cap d'Agde,...MORE the best known naturist resort in France.

    For other naturist beaches, check out my Guide to Best Nudist Beaches and Naturist Resorts in France.

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  • 06 of 06

    Eastern Mediterranean Coast and Beaches

    ••• The Headland on the Gulf of St. Tropez, France. © J-L CHAIX, Ville de Saint-Tropez

    The French Riviera, Cote d’Azur, PACA (Provence-Alpes-Maritimes-Cote-d'Azur), call it what you will, the stretch of the Mediterranean from St. Tropez via the elegant coast towns of Cannes, Antibes and Nice is one long playground. The pressure of high property and land prices has brought villas all along the coastline, gobbling up some of the shore. But even on this part of the French coast, which fills to bursting point in July and August, there are small beaches which you have to search out and can then make your own. Little villages like Villefranche-sur-Mer cling to the rocky landscape. Monaco beckons before the French Riviera finishes at conservative, delightful Menton.

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