The gorgeous western Mediterranean coast begins at the resorts around Perpignan. Its many highlights include the the ancient town of Collioure with its 12th-century fortress, and the long beach of Argelès-sur-Mer on the Cote Vermeille. The coastline around the Leucate peninsula is one of France's windiest stretches, making the area the windsports capital of France. Towns and cities like Beziers and Montpellier add to the attractions of the Herault before you come to the Bouches-du-Rhone and Marseille.
Surrounding Marseilles is the mysterious Camargues area, while to the east you find the naval port of Toulon and the Iles d’Hyeres. Go a little beyond this and you reach glitzy Saint-Tropez. The western part of the Mediterranean looks out onto the Golfe du Lion.
Argeles Plage, Near Perpignan
Just a short drive north from Spain and the rugged landscape of the Cote Vermeille (so-named because of its intense colors), you come to Argelès Plage. It’s near the well known resort of Perpignan, and offers a relaxing alternative to the city that ranks second after Barcelona in the area of Catalonia.
8 kilometers (6 miles) of golden sand and blue waters provide peaceful days in the northern part and plenty of entertainment to the south. There’s a 3.2 km (2 mile) long promenade along the north end backed by pine woodlands, pwhich is articularly popular for camping. You have the best of both worlds -– the chance to get away from everybody, and the attractions of a funfair, cafes and restaurants to keep the family happy.
Serignan Plage near Beziers
Just near Béziers, the wild, 3.2 km (2-mile) long Serignan beach is backed by sand dunes with large salt meadows lying to the west. All parties who come here, naturists, families and teenagers, happily co-exist. Easy to reach during the summer on a shuttle from the center of the town, it’s a glorious place to be busy doing nothing.
Serignan itself, originally a Roman-Gallo city, is a popular and lively resort with a stunning equestrian festival in the arena and in the town, flamenco dancing, concerts and music, all free, towards the end of July each year.
The Delightful Resort of Sete
Sète is a delightful seaside resort town, with a network of canals that have inevitably given it the name of the ‘Venice of Languedoc.’ Barge cruises on the Canal du Midi start from here, and it’s also a working fishing port so there's plenty to keep you interested.
Sète sits between the sea and the Etang de Thau, one of Languedoc-Roussillon's largest lagoons (if you're an oyster fan this is the place to come for a satisfying meal or elegant snack in one of the many restaurants in town.) And if you're after a quiet life, Sete has some 12.6 km (8 miles) of wonderful beaches stretching along the tongue of land that goes south west to Cap d’Agde, which must be France's most famous naturist beach.
L'Espiguette Beach, Le Grau du Roi
Get away from it all on this long windswept beach, stretching some 9.6 km (6 miles) into the sandy horizon. Dunes, lagoons and scrub lie at your back; before you the sparkling Mediterranean. It’s large enough to keep the naturists and the families at respectable distances from each other.
L'Espiguette beach is ideally placed. To the east lies mysterious Aigues-Mortes with its extraordinary medieval ramparts and the fortress, the Tour de Constance, which has during its long history, acted as citadel, prison and lighthouse. Beyond that you'll come to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and the glorious Camargue with its cowboys, bulls and splendid white horses.
Just 15 miles from Marseille, Cassis, dating back to the ancient Greeks, is a pretty port town. It’s quite delightful with narrow lanes and beautiful views and manages not to feel too overcrowded despite its immense popularity. It's the perfect place for people-watching down by the harbor, once one of the busiest industrial ports in the area, but now elegant and chic. The little town itself is dominated by the ruins of the town's medieval castle of 1381.
Cassis is a welcome antidote to the busier resorts along the Mediterranean with both sandy and rocky beaches just a few minutes walk from the town. It’s also very near the calanques — the spectacular series of white cliffs cut through with deep sheltered inlets that stretch almost 20 km (12.4 miles) between Marseille and Cassis.
Almanarre lies just west of the Giens peninsula, a salt marsh between two long sand bars leading to the small town of Giens. Almanarre beach is a long stretch of pale sand, the water starting shallow but shelving sharply further along so if you've got small children, check the depth before settling down to a day's sandcastle building and swimming.
It’s the place for wind and kitesurf schools with an average of 250 days of wind a year. In summer there are a few places selling food and drink but the main facilities are to the southern end. Otherwise sit and gaze at the gorgeous pink flamingos strutting their stuff in the salt marshes.
If you want to go out to the Ile de Porquerolles, go to La Tour-Fondue at the tip of the Peninsula for the ferry across to the island.
The Islands off Hyeres
There are three islands off Hyeres.
Ile de Porquerolles
Catch the boat from La Tour Fondue at the tip of the Giens peninsula for the 20-minute trip. 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) long and just 2.5 (1.5 miles) kilometers wide, the island has seen conquest and civilization from the Celts, the Greeks and Romans. There’s plenty for the active, with cycle and walking tracks running all around the island. Make your way to the south of the island for white sandy beaches backed by pine and eucalyptus trees.
Ile de Port-Cros
You can get to the Ile de Port-Cros from Port d’Hyeres. A one-hour journey takes you to a mountainous island which in 1963 became the first protected land maritime park in Europe. The mountains plunge straight down into the sea and there are few beaches. Instead it’s a magnet for divers (though no scuba diving allowed) with an underwater trail on Paluda beach.
Ile de Levant
It takes one-and-a-half hours to get to the third island, the Ile du Levant, from the Port of Hyeres. It has a stunning collection of strawberry trees and a series of sports and nature trails. You can get from nearby Le Lavandou to the island, which is famous for its naturist emphasis.