12 Top-Rated Beach Destinations in France, 2018
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. However, 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. This glamorous strip of the Mediterranean coastline includes world-famous resorts such as Saint-Tropez, with its private beach clubs, along with more casual towns like Menton. To experience a classic Belle Epoque beach resort, head to elegant Biarritz in the Basque Country, to Deauville in Normandy, or lovely Dinard in Brittany. Breathe in the refreshing ocean air of the Atlantic, with its dramatic waves that crash against sandy shores. To really get away from it all, take a ferry to Corsica or to the tiny island of Porquerolles, where the beaches have powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Most of the beach destinations on this list also offer cultural attractions nearby, such as historic towns and charming villages.
1 Biarritz and the Basque Coast
Biarritz is an elegant beach resort that has drawn high-society holiday goers since the Belle Epoque. With its fine sandy shores, crashing waves, and refreshing ocean breezes, Biarritz surpasses the French Riviera in its classic vacation appeal as well as 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. The charming historic town still has traditional Provençal markets, outdoor cafés, and shaded squares frequented by locals.
The Plage de Pampelonne is the famous beach area in Saint Tropez. With 15 private beach clubs that all have excellent waterfront restaurants, Pampelonne offers the luxury that people expect at a Côte d'Azur resort. Paying to use the private beaches comes with the benefit of amenities like lounge chairs, parasols, cabanas, and well-maintained restrooms. Eden Beach is one of Pampelonne's chic, private beaches, with a restaurant that serves authentic Mediterranean cuisine and entertains diners with a DJ.
Pampelonne's Nikki Beach offers a private beach and restaurant and is used as a venue for weddings. Tahiti Beach on the Plage de Pampelonne has a gourmet restaurant overlooking a lovely area of the seafront. This beach can be reached by foot, car, or boat, although some incognito guests prefer to arrive by helicopter. The Bar d'Ô is the only beach club on the Plage de Pampelonne that has a private pool on the beach; it also has a traditional Italian restaurant. Club 55 is Pampelonne's most understated private beach club with a relaxed atmosphere.
For a more laid-back and casual beach with the same sun and sea, but not the same prices, head to nearby Cavalaire-sur-Mer. The long beach here is popular with families and those who enjoy its diving opportunities.
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 along the Garoupe Bay is especially picturesque. This small public beach has a fine shoreline and features restrooms and shower facilities. For a spectacular seaside nature walk, take the Sentier du Tirepoil footpath that follows the coastline. Luxury accommodations are available right on the beach at the luxury Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel. The hotel's private beach overlooks the Iles de Lérins, and its one-star Michelin-rated Les Pêcheurs restaurant specializes in Mediterranean seafood.
Juan-les-Pins is a popular beach in Antibes and offers several other seaside activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, and parasailing, along with shopping and plenty of cafés for people watching.
Just a few kilometers from the border with 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 and pebbly beaches, both private and public, all of which have pristine, calm waters that are safe for swimming. Another draw of Menton is the charm of the historic village, with its narrow cobblestone streets, atmospheric staircases, sea views, and comfortable old-world feeling. Since the Belle Epoch, when the well-heeled British built villas here, Menton has been filled with beautiful 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
The most popular beach on the Island of Corsica is the Plage de Palombaggia, prized for its wide swath of soft, fine white sand and crystal-clear waters. The drive that leads to this idyllic 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 lies 10 kilometers from Porto Vecchio, a historic fortified town with pleasant town squares, outdoor cafés, and a scenic marina.
Corsica has other beaches, too. Also north of Porto-Vecchio and not far from Palombaggia are the beaches of Tamaricciu and Santa-Giulia. 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.
6 The Island of 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. Appreciated for its idyllic island scenery and pristine 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, renowned for its beautiful setting and crystal-clear turquoise waters ideal for wading and swimming. The Argent Beach is within a five-minute bike ride or a 20-minute walk from the village. The Plage Notre-Dame lies in a spectacular nature site near a yacht marina and is bordered by a pine forest. This sheltered beach has a soft, sandy shore and calm, shallow waters. Nearby trails are wonderful for taking scenic walks. The Plage de la Courtade is the largest beach on the Island of Porquerolles. Visitors are delighted by the pristine white-sand beach and the mesmerizing turquoise waters. The scent of eucalyptus trees around the beach adds to the sensual pleasure.
7 Deauville and Trouville
The Odd Couple of Normandy's Côte Fleurie beach resorts, side-by-side Deauville and Trouville - it's seldom called by its full name of Trouville-sur-Mer - are separated by far more than the tidal stream between them. With its tidy rows of old-fashioned bathhouses and rainbow-colored umbrellas (complete with equally colorful tent walls) stretching from the boardwalk to the sea, Deauville basks in an air of discreet early-20th-century gentility mixed with haute-brand shopping. Behind the boardwalk and bathhouses, whose rails are inscribed with the names of movie stars who've come for the posh early-September film festival, are well-kept half-timbered buildings, chic shops, and not a few extravagant Belle Epoque villas. The beach (free if you don't rent an umbrella) is lovely, and gives the impression of having been swept each night. Of an evening, the boardwalk, Promenade des Planches, is the place to be - dressed for the occasion, of course. To get the flavor of life here in the 1920s, visit flamboyant Villa Strassburger, its rooms still furnished as they were when it was the seasonal home of a millionaire racehorse breeder. Before that it was the home of Baron Henri de Rothschild.
For a rollicking good time and a reality check on how the rest of the world has fun at the beach, cross the River Touques to Trouville. Here, you'll find more over-the-top fancy villas, but the shops sell more T-shirts than diamond necklaces, and the beach is a lively scene of kids playing in the sand, while working-class families kick back in the sun. Beachside restaurants are famed for their plateau de fruits de mer - a huge tray arranged with a variety of cooked and chilled local shellfish to savor with mayonnaise. There's a good-time feeling in the air, a relaxed lack of pretense that extends from the beach and kiddy rides into the streets of shops and to the lively fish market. Fishing boats line this side of the river, instead of yachts, another reminder that Trouville is for real.
8 The Spectacular Sand Dunes of Espiguette
Calm blue seas and rolling white sand dunes characterize the Plage de l'Espiguette, about 39 kilometers from the bustling town of Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon and 30 kilometers from the Camargue Nature Park (a day-trip from Arles). Considered one of the most interesting nature sites in the Mediterranean Basin, Espiguette is a valuable natural environment with striking dunes that reach up to 12 meters in height and resemble desert topography. The expansive shoreline, around 700 meters in width and 10 kilometers in length, adds to the dreaminess of this special place. Espiguette Beach has gentle waters that have been awarded the E.U. Blue Flag label for cleanliness and safe swimming. The coast of Languedoc-Roussillon has more than 40 beaches that carry the Blue Flag.
Location: Route de l'Espiguette, Le Grau du Roi
9 Dinard on the Brittany Coast
Dinard, along with La Baule, is one of the most-visited Breton seaside resorts and is especially popular with families. On the Emerald Coast of Brittany, near the English Channel, Dinard has a distinctively British feel. This old-fashioned seaside resort has sandy beaches dotted with colorful, striped beach tents and Belle Epoque vacation houses. During summertime, lifeguards survey the beaches daily, and 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 when the crowds have thinned.
The Plage de Saint-Enogat enjoys a gorgeous setting, with views of the surrounding cliffs and islands, and is bordered by majestic 19th-century villas. The Plage du Prieure is a protected beach at the end of a bay, which makes the waters safe for swimming. The Prieure Beach also has a scenic coastal trail.
10 Île de Ré
A long bridge connects the island of Île de Ré to the small mainland city of La Rochelle, on France's Atlantic coast north of Bordeaux. But the island seems a world away, with its miles of bike lanes winding through fields and vineyards and along white-sand beaches backed by pine woods. The best-known beach is Le Bois Plage en Ré, near the walled capital town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Its 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, you'll have even more privacy on the golden sands of Conche des Baleines, a long half-moon beach fringed in pines. Miles more of Île de Ré's shore are outlined in sand, and the best way to find the hidden beaches is on an electric bike, which you can rent in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. This beautiful walled town - be sure to explore its well-preserved 17th-century citadel - is only one of the picture-perfect island towns, two of which are listed among the most beautiful villages in France.
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 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. On a small inlet of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the Paloma Beach is tucked away in the verdant Cove of Scaletta and sheltered from the winds. Sunbathers enjoy views of the picturesque Bay of Beaulieu and the dramatic cliffs of Eze. The public section of the beach has shower and toilet facilities. The private section, open from Easter until September, charges a fee to enter for the use of loungers and umbrellas, changing rooms, showers, and beach towels. The restaurant specializes in fresh fish and traditional local cuisine. This beach is also a great place for water sports including waterskiing, bodyboarding, tubing, jet-skiing, and sailing. Paloma Beach is a 12-kilometer drive from Nice and would be an easy day trip.
10 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 five golden-sand beaches, ranging from protected coves to wide sandy shores. 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 traditional European treatments, massages, and jacuzzi options.