15 Top-Rated Beach Destinations in France
Sunny days spent on lounge chairs, swimming in the sea, and dining at stylish waterfront restaurants—this description could define the typical French beach vacation. France offers so many different possibilities for a seaside holiday, from glitzy resorts to idyllic islands.
On the French Riviera known as the "Coast of Blue" ("Côte d'Azur), sun lovers can soak up the dreamy scene of azure waters at private beach clubs. This glamorous strip of the Mediterranean coastline incudes world-famous resorts such as Saint-Tropez, along with more casual towns like Menton.
The elegance of the Belle Epoque era is found at the stylish beach resorts of Biarritz in the Basque Country, Deauville in Normandy, and Dinard in Brittany. To really get away from it all, take a ferry to Corsica or to the tiny island of Porquerolles, where the beaches are prized for their powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters.
Find the best places to visit on your next summer vacation with our list of the top beach destinations in France.
1. Biarritz and the Basque Coast
Biarritz is an elegant beach resort that has drawn high-society holidaymakers since the Belle Epoque. With its fine sandy shores, crashing waves, and refreshing ocean breezes, Biarritz surpasses the French Riviera in its variety of beaches.
One of its largest, the Grande Plage is a beautiful, wide beach in the shadow of the famous Hôtel du Palais, a luxury lodging that was once the summer home of Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugénie. During high season, this beach is packed with sunbathers and striped cabanas.
The Quai de la Plage promenade alongside the Grand Plage invites visitors to take a leisurely walk while admiring the majestic beauty of the Atlantic Ocean or to stop at one of the seafront restaurants or cafés. Right next to the Grand Place, the Plage du Miramar is a place of gorgeous natural scenery that overlooks the Biarritz Lighthouse; this beach also has those old-fashioned, striped beach tents.
Biarritz is famous for its powerful waves, and favorite surfing beaches are Côte des Basques, where surf competitions are held, and the Plage de Marbella, a wild and rugged beach with crashing waves.
The best beaches for families with children are Le Port Vieux, with relatively calm waters, and Plage de la Milady, with a playground.
Because Biarritz is on the Atlantic Ocean, attention to water safety is more important than on the French Riviera where the Mediterranean Sea is gentle. During certain periods, bathing, swimming, and surfing are prohibited because of strong currents and dangerous waves. It is only advised to swim and bathe at Biarritz beaches when lifeguards are on duty.
Biarritz is a good center for day trips to some other sandy beaches that line the Atlantic coast between Biarritz and Arcachon, where you can climb to the top of Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe, for sweeping views. About 20 kilometers south of Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a charming French village filled with historic buildings that overlook a long, sandy beach.
2. Saint-Tropez: Plage de Pampelonne
This sun-soaked French Riviera resort is synonymous with seaside glamour and gorgeous Mediterranean scenery. Celebrities are drawn to the town's exclusivity, but anyone willing to pay the price can enjoy the fashionable beachside lifestyle.
Although it's now known as an upscale destination, Saint-Tropez was once just an unpretentious fishing village. This delightful historic town still has traditional Provençal markets, outdoor cafés, and shaded squares frequented by locals.
Nestled in a serene bay, the Plage de Pampelonne delivers the luxury that people expect at a Côte d'Azur resort. There are public areas, as well as private beach clubs that provide amenities like lounge chairs, parasols, cabanas, and well-maintained restrooms.
Several private beach clubs stand out: Eden Beach offers a restaurant, entertainment, and yacht shuttle services; Nikki Beach is known to attract a celebrity clientele; and Tahiti Beach has a gourmet restaurant overlooking the seafront. Club 55 is the Plage de Pampelonne's most understated private beach club, with a relaxed atmosphere.
For an even more laid-back ambience, the nearby Cavalaire-sur-Mer is a casual beach with the same sun and seashore but without the high prices and exclusive attitude. The long beach here is popular with families and those who enjoy water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and deep-sea fishing.
3. Cap d'Antibes
Unlike much of the French Riviera, the Cap d'Antibes is renowned for its sandy beaches. The Plage de la Garoupe, tucked away in a small cove, is especially picturesque. This small beach has a fine white-sand shoreline that is mostly taken up by private beach clubs (but the entire stretch is open to the public in the off season). The Plage Keller, La Petit Plage, and Plage Joseph are the most exclusive of the private beach clubs; they offer lounge chairs, sun umbrellas, and stylish seafront restaurants.
At the southernmost tip of the Cap d'Antibes, the Sentier de Tirepoil footpath is a five-kilometer seaside trail that follows the coastline along cliff sides and through a typical Mediterranean landscape. Hikers will admire the magnificent sea views and 19th-century villas along the way.
For those who don't own a villa but would like to stay overnight on the Cap d'Antibes, luxury accommodations are available at the Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel. This five-star boutique hotel's private beach overlooks the Iles de Lérins, and its one-star Michelin-rated Les Pêcheurs restaurant specializes in Mediterranean seafood.
Near the historic town of Antibes, Juan-les-Pins draws many visitors to its public beaches, which extend from near the town center. This area is also one of the best places to visit to enjoy seaside activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, and parasailing, along with shopping, dining, and people-watching at outdoor cafés.
Just a few kilometers from Italy, this balmy beach town prides itself on its perfect weather, averaging 316 days of sunshine a year. Menton's shoreline offers a variety of sandy beaches, as well as pebbly beaches, both private and public, all of which have serene waters that are safe for swimming.
Another draw of Menton is the charm of the historic village, with its narrow cobblestone streets, atmospheric staircases, and sea views. Since the Belle Epoque, when the well-heeled British residents built extravagant villas here, Menton has been filled with luxuriant gardens.
The peak holiday season begins in mid-June and lasts until mid-September. In early June, the beaches are reshaped, and the benches of the promenade are repainted in preparation for the soon-to-arrive vacationers. The Menton beaches are cleaned every day during the summer, and most of the beaches have lifeguards on duty in July and August.
5. Corsica's Plage de Palombaggia
One of the most popular beaches on the Island of Corsica, the Plage de Palombaggia is prized for its wide swath of soft, fine white sand and crystal-clear waters. The scenic drive that leads to this picture-perfect stretch of beach is noteworthy in itself, with enormous red granite rocks and maritime pine trees adding to the coastal scenery.
Because Palombaggia Beach is one of Corsica's finest, it can be crowded. Tourists could avoid the crowds by visiting off-season and still enjoy the wonderful sunny weather and stunning scenery.
Palombaggia Beach is 10 kilometers from Porto Vecchio, an ancient fortified town with pleasant town squares, outdoor cafés, and a scenic marina.
Corsica has other beaches, too. Nearby is the Plage de Tamaricciu, which is accessible from the Plage de Palombaggia by a walking path. The longest is at Calvi, where the sand stretches for several kilometers, and to its north, the little resort towns of Algajola and l'Ile-Rousse have long beaches, both connected to Calvi by a tourist train.
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6. Île de Porquerolles
Beach lovers can escape to a small piece of paradise by taking a 30-minute ferry ride from Hyères, an easy day trip from Marseilles, to the Île de Porquerolles (the Island of Porquerolles). Appreciated for its dreamy island scenery and peaceful secluded beaches, Porquerolles has a Mediterranean seaside charm reminiscent of the Greek Islands. Similar to Greece, many ancient civilizations have left their mark here, and interesting archaeological sites can be found on the island.
The Plage d'Argent is the most popular beach on the island, blessed with a beautiful setting, fine sandy shoreline, and crystal-clear waters ideal for wading and swimming. Bordered by a pine forest and near a yacht marina, the Plage Notre-Dame is a sheltered sandy beach with calm, turquoise waters. Nearby are scenic walking trails.
The largest beach on the Island of Porquerolles, the Plage de la Courtade is a wonderful stretch of white-sand beach. This beach has tranquil, shallow waters that are appreciated by families with children.
7. Deauville and Trouville
Along Normandy's Côte Fleurie, Deauville basks in an air of gentility, thanks to its Belle Epoque villas, luxurious facilities, and elegant ambience. The two-kilometer Plage de Deauville is an upscale beach, where sunbathers lounge under vintage-style umbrellas and make use of old-fashioned striped beach tents.
The beach has a legendary boardwalk with lovely Art Deco changing cabins. As a refined beach resort, Deauville is equally renowned for its cultural agenda, which includes music concerts, theater shows, film festivals, equestrian events, and regattas.
Across the Touques river, Trouville is a more low-key family-friendly beach resort. The shops sell more T-shirts than diamond necklaces, and the beach is a lively scene of kids playing in the sand while families kick back in the sun. There's a good-time feeling in the air, a relaxed lack of pretense extending from the shoreline to the lively fish market that's surrounded by excellent seafood restaurants. Fishing boats line the port, instead of yachts, another reminder of Trouville's down-to-earth character.
8. Plage de l'Espiguette
Calm blue seas and rolling white sand dunes characterize the shoreline of Espiguette, a protected nature site about 40 kilometers from Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and 30 kilometers from the Camargue Nature Park (a day-trip from Arles). Completely wild and unspoiled, the expansive sandy beach is around 700 meters in width and extends for 18 kilometers in length.
Striking sand dunes adds to the dreaminess of this special place. Espiguette Beach has gentle waters that have been awarded the Blue Flag label for environmental cleanliness and safety. The coast of Languedoc-Roussillon has more than 40 beaches that carry the Blue Flag.
9. Dinard on the Brittany Coast
Dinard is one of the most-visited seaside resorts on Brittany's Emerald Coast and is especially popular with families. This old-fashioned resort has sandy beaches dotted with colorful, striped beach tents and Belle Epoque villas. Most of the beaches have public restroom and shower facilities, as well as lounge chair and beach tent rentals.
The Plage de l'Ecluse offers the widest range of amenities, including an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with saltwater. It is well sheltered, and its waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream, which also brings mild weather well into fall.
Bordered by majestic 19th-century villas, the Plage de Saint-Enogat is a favorite spot for families with young children because of the Kids' Club activities during July and August. The Plage du Prieure is a relaxing beach at the end of a bay, which makes the waters safe for swimming.
In the neighboring community of La Houle on the breathtaking Bay of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, the Plage de la Grande Salinette is a family-friendly beach with protected waters. During summertime, lifeguards survey this beach, which has a Blue Flag rating for safety.
10. Île de Ré
A long bridge connects the island of Île de Ré to the mainland city of La Rochelle on France's Atlantic coast. But this idyllic island seems a world away, with its quaint villages and miles of bike lanes winding through fields and along white-sand beaches backed by pine woods. The best-known beach is Le Bois Plage en Ré, near the UNESCO-listed capital town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. The shoreline's sands seem endless, so there's no problem finding a spot with plenty of elbow room.
Farther away, on the western end of the island, there's an even more secluded feeling at the Conche des Baleines, a long half-moon beach with golden sands fringed by pine trees. Miles more of Île de Ré's shore are outlined in fine pillowy sand, and the best way to find the hidden beaches is on an electric bike, which can be rented in Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
11. Plage de la Paloma at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
One of the prettiest hidden spots on the Côte d'Azur, the sun-kissed Plage de la Paloma is found on a small inlet of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, a little paradise in the verdant Cove of Scaletta, sheltered from the winds. The beach was named after Paloma Picasso since the painter used to spend time here with his family.
The draw of this beach is its secluded setting, as well as the French Riviera glamour and chance for celebrity spotting. Sunbathers will also enjoy views of the picturesque Bay of Beaulieu and the dramatic cliffs of Eze.
The beach has a gourmet restaurant that specializes in fresh fish and local cuisine. The restaurant's outdoor seating invites leisurely meals while soaking up the gorgeous Mediterranean scenery. Besides dining and lounging in the sunshine, other things to do include water sports such as paddle boarding, waterskiing, jet skiing, and sailing. Paloma Beach is a 12-kilometer drive from Nice and would be an easy day trip.
Address: 1 Route de Sainte-Hospice, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Official site: www.paloma-beach.com
12. Family-Friendly Beaches of Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is close to Biarritz (about 20 kilometers) but further away in character and ambience. While Biarritz is upscale and glamorous, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a typical old Basque fishing village. The charming town is filled with historic buildings, enticing shops, and traditional restaurants. Locals and visitors alike enjoy strolling the atmospheric cobblestone streets and lingering over coffee or a good meal.
A popular summer resort destination, Saint-Jean-de-Luz boasts a long sandy beach (the Grande Plage) right in the center of town. Families with young children appreciate this beach because of its gentle waters, which are safe for swimming thanks to sea walls that protect against ocean waves.
The Grande Plage has several beach clubs, as well as places to rent beach lounge chairs, sun parasols, and beach tents. On the outskirts of the town are more wild beaches with untouched natural scenery.
13. Étretat in Normandy
With dramatic cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, the majestic coastal landscape of Étretat inspired Claude Monet and other Impressionist artists. Monet captured Étretat's iconic Porte d'Aval arch and other cliff formations in a series of paintings. Although the Plage d'Étretat is a pebble beach, it is appreciated for its spectacular location. Enclosed by cliffs, the beach offers views onto the 80-meter-high l'Aiguille ("Needle") formation.
Note of caution: Visitors should pay attention to the tides, which can rise quickly and obstruct access to the shore from certain points.
14. Dune du Pilat and Pristine Beaches of Pyla-sur-Mer
Along the Atlantic Coast, about an hour's-drive from Bordeaux, the highest sand dune in Europe is found at Arcachon Bay. The approximately 100-meter-high Dune du Pilat is surrounded by an expansive pine forest. Stretching out over more than 6,800 hectares, this amazing environment is constantly changing in shape and size based on influence from the winds and the tides. The main attractions of the Dune du Pilat are hiking and paragliding to take in the sensational ocean views.
The nearby seaside resort of Pyla-sur-Mer is adored for its pristine sandy beaches. The Plage du Petit Nice is a sheltered beach with public restroom facilities and a picnic area. This beach is less developed than most beaches in France and does not have any restaurants or cafes. Lifeguards survey the beach from July through September.
At the foot of the Dune du Pilat, the Plage de la Corniche affords marvelous views of the deep-blue ocean waters and the vast horizon. The beach has lifeguards on duty during the high season.
15. Royan's Sunny Beaches and Spa Treatments
The unspoiled, secluded beaches of Poitou-Charente on France's Atlantic Coast provide a welcome contrast to the crowds of the French Riviera. Along the "Côte de Beauté" (Coast of Beauty) is the sunny beach resort of Royan, which has been a favorite seaside destination since the Belle Epoque.
Royan has several golden-sand beaches, ranging from protected coves to wide sandy shores. Stretching for two kilometers along a wide cove, La Grande Corniche is the main beach, with excellent facilities and lifeguards on duty.
The bays of Royan also attract cyclists, golfers, and water sports enthusiasts. For those seeking pampering after a day at the beach, Royan's spas offer European spa treatments, massages, and wellness therapies.