It’s hardly surprising for the country that invented the bikini to find out that it is an incredible beach destination. Some of the best beaches in France could easily be described as some of the best beaches in the world. What elevates the French beach experience to such lofty heights is not only the clear waters, the sandy perfection of the beaches. It’s superiority is probably due to what happens when you step off the beach. Villages that look like they stepped out of a painting by Degas (who incidentally spent a lot of time in Trouville!).
There is an array of pretty towns, resorts and luxury French Villa rentals that capture the magic of the French coastline – running from the Northern part of the country all the way down along it’s western edge, bordering the English Channel, the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay and continuing from Perpignan overlooking the Mediterranean across the Riviera all the way to the Italian border.
The ultimate road trip, which would also be a gastronomical voyage par excellence, brings the spectacular farmlands of Normandy and Brittany, the vineyards of the Bordeaux region, the lavender fields of the South along with the mountains of the Alpes Maritimes together in one sweeping adventure.
The French are quite rightly proud of their amazing country. They have nurtured and preserved their heritage and have retained all that is valuable in creating a life of beauty and quality. This seems doubly so, when you ramble along the lovely quiet Northern coast on a picturesque French beaches. You can even the ranks of the beau monde on any of the South of France beaches. Let us embark on this wonderful road trip along the coastal roads of France …. Please don’t forget to pack your bikini ……!
The Northern Western Coast
It’s extraordinary how close the North-western French coast is to the coast of England. If it is said that England and the US are two countries divided by a common language then the small ribbon of water known as the Straits of Dover is the only common denominator between two utterly distinct countries. For all of the connections between these two great nations, think the Channel Tunnel / Eurostar and numerous ferry lines, two countries could not be more separate in their ideologies, temperament and climate.
If you are arriving into France on such a ferry or by car/tunnel, prepare yourself for not just driving on the opposite side of the roads but really thinking with the other side of your brain. The first port of call (literally) for a lot of tourists into France is through the towns of Calais or Le Harve.
Famous in the early 20th Century as a pop-over point from the UK by light aircraft, this resort with many hotels and casinos sits in the midst of some of the loveliest and largest stretches of sandy splendour. If you are looking for some of the best beaches near Paris then Le Touquet’s Central or Dunes Beaches are perfect. With an excellent train service from Paris and a well-established road network, it’s not impossible to make a day trip to Le Touquet to enjoy a day at the beach and a good lunch.
This jewel in the crown of France’s Normandy region, was established in the late 1800’s as a seaside destination for the wealthy and glamorous. WWII saw some of the grand hotels converted to hospitals to treat injured Allied troops but post-war this resort town saw it re-establish itself as a destination of choice for chic Parisiennes. The horseracing draws a large crowd each year as does the Deauville International Film Festival. In fact, on the subject of films there are so many wonderful films that have used this town as a backdrop. Coco Avant Chanel, Tournament and, of course, the multi-award winning movie A Man and A Woman (1966).
If you want to get a sneak preview of the gorgeous beach at Deauville just watch the fabulous Jean-Louis Trintignant woo the effortlessly chic Anouk Aimee along the windswept deserted beaches of a wintry Deauville. Please be assured though, that a visit to Deauville in the Summer and Fall is a warm experience and ideal for sunbathing and swimming. If you are looking for beaches near Paris you will have to visit Deauville.
Mont St Michel
This UNESCO protected island that is reached across a tidal land bridge overlooks the gorgeous Bay of Mont St Michel. Visit the heavenly French beach at St Jean Le Thomas where you can look over at the monastery of St Michel and even plan a nice hike across the bay at low tide. The area around the bay of Mont St Michel is awash with lovely villages, divine restaurants and views out over a limitless ocean. This is again another one of the beaches near Paris that makes a memorable destination.
General – The Best beaches in France
When considering any of the best beaches in Northern France you can be assured of so many interesting activities in addition to the beach experience. Golf, horse riding, sailing, surfing, dining out. As well, the famous historic landing beaches along the Normandy coastline like Omaha Beach and Utah Beach have brilliant tours that remind us about the great human sacrifice of WWII.
The South Western Coast
As we sweep south from Normandy we enter the Medoc-Ocean region that comprises the coastlines of the Bordeaux region. Again, the natural beauty of the countryside sweeps down to the dazzling blue of the Bay of Biscay. With over 100 miles of amazing cycle paths that weave around this coastal area, it’s the perfect destination for an active beach and land vacation. If you are a golf enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed either as there are many excellent golf courses established near some of the best beach destinations in France.
Lancanau, Carcans and Cap Ferret
These three beach town capture everything that is beautiful and thrilling about the beaches in this part of France. Powerful waves attract the surfing fraternity but the huge sweep of sandy beaches are the perfect destinations for families looking for space to run free.
Le Cap Ferret (not to be mistaken for Cap Ferrat on France’s Riviera) is a high-end resort town that attracts the stylish French Summer vacationers. Along this peninsula, there are over 20 miles of beach, pretty villages that offer delicious seafood pulled fresh from the ocean. It has a mini-Hamptons feel to it with the incredible advantage of being on the coast of one of the finest wine-producing regions in the world. The wine list in any quality restaurant long the Medoc-Ocean coast is a parade of some of the grand vins.
The last stop on our West Coast tour of France has to be Biarritz. This city, sitting a mere 22 miles from the border with Spain, is a vibrant beach destination for travellers who want a fun and lively vacation experience. The Hotel du Palais, built as a ‘cute holiday home’ by Napoleon III’s Empress Eugenie, sits in dominion over the other architecturally impressive buildings along the front. The surfing community has really established itself over the past few decades and consequently there is a vibrant nightlife that makes the City a little more hip and happening then some of the quieter towns further north along the coast.
Again, there is a profusion of fine dining to be enjoyed as the array of ingredients from both the sea and land combine to create menus both diverse and delicious.
The Southern Coast
So, we’re onto the South of France beaches. Collectively knows as the Riviera or Cote C’Azur, I think there’s very little left to write about this region. It’s been the focus of so much attention and scrutiny for decades. And why not? It has been the epitome of glamour and status for generations. Long before the incredible Grace Kelly arrived to marry her Prince, the rich and bored travellers of five continents swarmed to the temperate and luscious coastal regions of the Cote D’Azur to while away the gloomy winter months.
The Mediterranean coastline offered some of the best beaches in the South of France for playboys and playgirls to stave off the ennui of an over-privileged life. And lucky for us that they did because today some of the finest and most elegant hotels and villas still sit in all their majesty overlooking the South of France beaches has to offer.
Starting off near to Marseilles, let’s look at what is the less inhabited region of the South of France. For the ultimate in a day of adventure, head to Giens and hop on the Ferry that will take you out to Porquerolles a small island a mere 10 minutes from mainland France. The small village on the island offers pretty restaurants, bike hire and maps that will allow you to explore the five by two mile crescent-shaped island. The beaches to the north of the island are absolutely stunning. Clear turquoise waters lapping against pale gold sand. Unquestionably it’s one of the most memorable French beaches near Marseilles to visit.
St Jean Cap Ferrat
Home to some of the most opulent villas in the world as well as stunning luxury Hotels, this little peninsula located about 8 miles from Nice, is a paradise for the whose who! The divine Paloma Beach is where to visit sitting peacefully off the lovely pathway that curves around Cap Ferrat. The chic destination that is the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat is a landmark not to be missed. Sitting on its own stretch of private beach, it is the place to watch the tide of billionaires and celebrities float by.
In the heart of the old town of Antibes is the Plage de la Gravette a public sandy beach that captures the charm of this old-world Cote d’Azur resort town. The nearby coastal town of Juan Les Pins has the excellent Le Plage des Pirates beach. This beach is private (as are a number of beaches along the Riviera) which essentially means you pay a daily tariff to enjoy a luxury loungers, umbrella and service. A day lolling about having wait-staff bring you a reviving Citroen Presse along with some delicious food makes this day at the beach fabulous.
These privately-owned clubs are some of the best beaches in France for families as they are self-contained, expertly managed and the sea isn’t very rough.
A note on art: Picasso holidayed at Juan Les Pins. The colours of the sea and terrain, the exceptional quality of the light inspired his work. Take a look through any catalogue of some of the great French artists from Manet to Degas and you will see divine beach scenes painted all along the French coasts.
Monaco to Menton
On our journey we must pop in to Monaco. It’s an extraordinary little principality with houses and hotels stacked up along the hills and cliffs that surround the marina. It’s rather light on beaches though.
Plage Sablettes in the divine Menton is a lovely destination for sun seekers who are visiting this, the most South-easterly corner of the French coastline. If you are lucky enough to be on a yacht overlooking this sandy stretch of the Riviera, it is surely one of the prettiest beaches in France with the pastel town of Menton creating a gorgeous backdrop to the scene. The beaches around Menton do get rather busy in high season but they are lively, fun and relaxed places to enjoy a swim.
This introduction to the beaches of France is really just a drop in the ocean, if you forgive my pun! The coastline of France, without even mentioned the amazing Corsica, offers miles and miles of exquisite beaches. Whether you are enjoying the activities along the best beaches of Northern France or are splashing on some of the best beaches in France for families along the Mediterranean coast, there is just something magical about the experience.
I think it’s something to do with the fact that you can stroll off any beach, casually brush the sand from your happy feet and walk with ease into a gorgeous restaurant and dine on the very best cuisine in the world. I challenge you to find a better beach experience … anywhere!
About Mairead Moriarty
Born and raised in Co Kerry, lived in London, New York, San Francisco, Dublin. Owner of one very battered suitcase, a well-worn passport and a million memories.
It seems very fitting for a travel writer that my surname translates as ‘Skilled Navigator’. Apart from an occasion when, aged 3, I got lost in a Supermarket in Tralee, I have managed to live up to my name!
Curiosity is probably the driver that has sent me on magical mystery tours around the world. I want to ‘feel’ a place. I want all my senses to be engaged: from the history and geography that has influenced a country or city, the arts and achievements of its natives, anything and everything really.
Regardless of whether I am on a local train travelling through Morocco, or poking around in Marconi’s study in Bologna or on a canal boat weaving through the heart of the English countryside, the same rules apply - ask questions, talk to locals, eat what they eat, sit quietly with nature and simply be.
Assimilate as much as is possible so as to understand the soul of a place. That is my passion. That is the compass by which I navigate.