The 9 Most Beautiful Islands in France

Belle-Ile-en-Mer, France


Christophe Boisvieux/Getty Images

When pristine beaches, shockingly clear waters, green, craggy cliffs, painting-worthy ports, and rare wildlife are calling your name, France's many stunning islands can't be beaten. And while many are located off of mainland France—off the Mediterranean, Atlantic, or the English Channel—others are French overseas territories, including in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. So if you're yearning for a true tropical getaway, you've got several options. Keep reading for some of the most beautiful islands in France and our tips on what to see on each.

01 of 09

Corsica

Corsica, France, aerial view

Samuel Borges / EyeEm/Getty Images

The rugged, mountainous island of Corsica lies in the middle of the Mediterranean, some 145 miles southeast of Nice and north of Sardinia in Italy. It has a history as rich and varied as its natural landscapes: a semi-independent region of France, the island has historically belonged to Italy and was once (briefly) occupied by British troops. It has a distinctive local culture, language, and its own Parliament.

Long associated with powerful, clannish families at constant (sometimes violent) odds with one another, Corsica was the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Emperor of France. Today, it's often considered the crown jewel of the Mediterranean, prized for its soaring, craggy peaks, fine-sand beaches, elegant ports, historic cities, vast protected nature reserves, and forests.

What to Do: There's much to see in Corsica, but if you only have a couple of days, start in the port city of Bastia, the former Genoese capital; it still boasts fine Italian-style architecture. From there, explore attractions including the Calanques de Piana, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring sharp cliffsides in reddish-pink granite that plunge into bright-azure waters; the nearby capital of Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon; the picturesque seaside town of San Fiorenza; Saleccia and its wide, fine-sand beach; and the Agriates Desert, a rugged, barely-inhabited area of natural beauty offering spectacular vistas.

Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09

Belle-Île-en-Mer

Belle-Ile-en-Mer, France

clu/Getty Images

With its temperate microclimate, warm waters, and vegetation that seems more fitting of the Mediterranean, Belle-Île can fool you into thinking you've landed somewhere further south. But this Atlantic island off the coast of the Morbihan Gulf in Brittany—the largest in the region—has long attracted painters, nature enthusiasts, and watersports fans to its mild and picturesque shores.

What to Do: From beaches and watersports to hiking and an annual opera festival, there's a wealth of things to do on Belle-Île. The island boasts some 60 beaches, so you'll always have ample opportunities for swimming or snorkeling.

The main town, Le Palais, houses the Citadelle Vauban, whose powerful fortifications once protected the island from military assault; today, you'll find a luxury hotel and restaurants, a museum dedicated to the island's history, shops, and more within its walls. Meanwhile, the quaint fishing village of Sauzon promises lobster-tasting and photo opportunities, while the island's wild coastlines are ideal for rugged, windswept strolls on green cliffs, bird sightings, and views of romantic lighthouses.

Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09

Martinique

Martinique, France, Caribbean overseas territory

Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

If you're looking for France-in-the-Caribbean, the island (and French department) of Martinique is an excellent choice. Situated in the Eastern Caribbean sea in the Lesser Antilles, Martinique is a culturally and geographically rich former colony whose distinctive Creole and French cultural influences weave through the island's art, music, food, and spoken languages. Martinique also has a complex and painful history since slavery was only abolished on the island in 1848.

Today, Martinique appeals to travelers looking for white-sand beaches, surf-worthy waves, hikes through lush tropical forests, and cultural experiences from Créole cuisine to music and art. Both Creole and French are spoken fluently by most residents.

What to Do: Start by exploring the bustling capital city, Fort-de-France, with its lively squares, streets, spice market, restaurants, and iconic Schoelcher Library. Then explore the island's dizzying natural landscapes, from the infamous Mount Pelée volcano in the north and its rugged surrounding landscapes to the stunning white-sand beaches of the Southern coast and the gurgling waterfalls and quiet forest paths of the interiors. Also, make sure to visit the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial near Diamond Beach in the southwest: a solemn and stirring tribute to the victims of slavery in Martinique.

Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09

Porquerolles Islands

Porquerolles Island, France

Pascal Fraboul / EyeEm/Getty Images

Prized for its impeccable beaches and lagoon-like waters, Porquerolles is a Mediterranean gem off of the French Riviera, accessible via shuttle-boat or ferry from Hyères and Toulon.

One of three "golden" islands making up the Îles d'Hyères, Porquerolles draws travelers seeking stunning, virtually untouched landscapes. The island is a protected nature reserve that is only sparsely inhabited; if you do choose to stay in one of the few hotels there, you'll be rewarded with remarkable quiet after the last passenger ferry departs at day's end.

What to Do: For fine-sand white beaches and transparent waters perfect for snorkeling, diving, and swimming, head to the north side of the island. Notre-Dame beach is a favorite. If rugged hikes and encounters with local wildlife are more your speed, the southern coast is the place to head, with its steep green cliffs plunging upward from narrow, bright-blue sea creeks. The port area boasts shops, restaurants, galleries, and accommodations, while the island's interior is teeming with plant species and houses a conservatory.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Île de la Réunion

Île de la Réunion, a French overseas territory

ECHER Romain /Getty Images

One of France's most heart-stopping islands lies in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and Mauritius. The Île de la Réunion is so prized for its virtually unspoiled natural landscapes—from coral reefs to forests enriched by volcanic soil and rugged black and white-sand beaches with crystal-clear waters—that it recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes a superb destination for more intrepid travelers and offers a different perspective of France, with its distinctive local culture, history, and language (since many of the population speaks Réunion Créole). Like Martinique and other overseas French departments, Réunion has a dark history of forced labor and indentured servitude, with the former practice only abolished in 1848. This history deeply informs local culture and identity, with the abolition anniversary celebrated each year in late December.

What to Do: For beach and watersports enthusiasts, Réunion offers everything from swimming and snorkeling in shallow, warm waters abundant with marine life to diving, surfing, waterfalls, and enormous lagoons. The beaches at Plage de l'Heritage and Saint-Leu are especially stunning. Next, visit the capital city of Saint-Denis to roam its vibrant streets and taste the island's creative cuisine, blending Malagasy, Indian, Chinese, and French traditions.

Meanwhile, trekkers and climbers will find a wealth of exciting sites and trails to explore, from the tropical forests and Piton de la Fournaise, the island's most famous active volcano, in the east to the savannahs and sugarcane fields of the west.

Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09

Sainte-Marguerite Island

Sainte-Marguerite Island, France

maudanros/Getty Images

The largest of the Lerin islands off the coast of Cannes, Île Sainte-Marguerite can be easily and quickly accessed from the glamorous Riviera town by ferry. While Cannes, beloved for its star-studded film festival and boardwalk (Croisette), isn't especially well-known for rugged natural features, Sainte-Marguerite Island is a world apart.

What to Do: Cloaked in forests (mostly pine and eucalyptus) and endowed with intimate coves and beaches, the island affords plenty of opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and historical exploration.

After exploring the port and enjoying a dip in the azure waters of one of the island's beaches, visit the Fort and old prison, a 17th-century structure that once held a prisoner known as the "Man in the Iron Mask," made famous by an eponymous Alexandre Dumas novel and 1998 movie starring Leonardo di Caprio. Artifacts from Roman and Middle Eastern shipwrecks are also on display at the museum.

Wander the island's many lush walking trails, winding through the forested areas and making your way to mysterious little coves and rocky beaches.

Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09

Île de Bréhat

Bréhat Island, Brittany, France

Maremagnum/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Just minutes off the coast of Paimpol in northern Brittany, the Île de Bréhat is coveted for its pink-granite landscapes, constantly-changing tides, and microclimate: the Gulf Stream makes it unusually temperate, given its northerly location on the English Channel. The mild conditions and unusual flora and fauna attract thousands every year, with the island just a short ferry ride from Ploubazlanec. In reality, it's an archipelago with two main islands connected by a land bridge during low tide.

What to Do: After arriving by ferry at Port-Clos (on the south island), explore the village of Le Bourg with its picturesque square and port. From there, walk or cycle around the island, making sure you have a reliable tides schedule, so you're not caught in a high tide. Visit the old fort (now home to the Bréhat Glass factory), a 17th-century tidal mill, and sun or swim at some of the island's lovely beaches (the Grève de Guerzido beach is the most popular).

The northern part of the island is rugged, with rocky formations and moorlands, and offers some excellent coastal walks and hikes. It's also here that the island's iconic lighthouses, Paon and Rosédo, are located.

Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09

Frioul Archipelago

Saint-Esteve Beach, Pomègues Island, Marseille

Marseille Tourisme  

The Frioul Archipelago is a series of picturesque and historic islands off the coast of Marseille, on the western edge of the French Riviera. Just minutes away from the mainland via ferry or sightseeing boat, the islands are varied and breathtaking, featuring rugged beaches with dramatic sea creeks (calanques), numerous species of wild birds, trees and shrubs, quiet coves, and historical monuments. The archipelago, composed of four main islands, is part of the stunning Calanques National Park.

What to Do: Start by visiting the island of If and the dramatic fortified Chateau d'If, a former castle and (later) prison immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in "The Count of Monte Cristo." Pomègues, often considered the most beautiful of the four islands in the Frioul, is rugged and green, offering breathtaking coastal hikes, lush vegetation, and wild swimming in coves and sea creeks. It also houses historic military fortifications.

Meanwhile, Rattoneau is a good choice for families seeking safe, calm beaches and more gentle walks, with the popular Saint-Estève beach around 30 minutes by foot from the pier. Finally, the smaller "Tiboulen de Rattoneau" island is a coveted spot for snorkeling and diving.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Île d'Oléron

Marina, Île d'Oléron, Brittany, France

P. Eoche/Getty Images

The postcard-pretty island of Oléron is the largest French island in the Atlantic Ocean and is located due west of Rochefort. It's also the second-largest island in Metropolitan France after Corsica. Its attractions are numerous, from fine white-sand beaches to picturesque fishing villages, cliffside walking paths, superb oysters and seafood, and fortifications dating from the medieval period to Word War II. The island is joined to the mainland by a long road bridge, constructed in 1966.

What to Do: Whether you get around by foot, bike, boat, or car, there's plenty to see and do in the island's eight municipal areas. Visit the dramatic fortified citadel at the Château d'Oléron and the fine beaches surrounded by forests at Saint-Trojan-Les-Bains. The pretty villages of Saint-Piere d'Oléron and La Brée-les-Bains feature pedestrianized streets ideal for a stroll. At the same time, those with a weakness for romantic Brittany lighthouses will find one at the island's northern edge, at Saint-Denis d'Oléron. La Cotinière has a lovely fishing port, and Le Grand-Village-Plage boasts beaches and an interesting salt-farming port.

Was this page helpful?