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14 Top-Rated Beaches in the South of France

Written by Lisa Alexander
Jun 18, 2020

The South of France has a reputation for glamorous private beaches frequented by celebrities and beautiful people. Justifying this image of prestige, many beaches in the South of France feature exclusive beach clubs with pampering cabana service and sophisticated gourmet restaurants overlooking the waves.

However, the South of France includes a wide variety of beaches, including many excellent public beaches. The natural scenery is spectacular, both along the Mediterranean Sea (on the Côte d'Azur and the Languedoc-Roussillon coastline) and on the Atlantic Coast of France's Basque Country.

The fashionable seaside resort of Biarritz is the most upscale of the Atlantic Coast beaches. Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Nice are famous French Riviera beaches known for glitzy beach clubs and a see-and-be-seen ambience.

The beaches of Antibes are prized for their expansive sandy shorelines, while the Île de Porquerolles and the Plage de l'Espiguette delight visitors with sublime landscapes and their wild, unspoiled coastline.

Discover more places to relax by the sea with our list of the best beaches in the South of France.

1. Beaches of Biarritz

Striped umbrellas on the beach in Biarritz

In France's lush Basque country, the pristine white-sand beaches of Biarritz frame the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Coast. This magnificent unspoiled coastline is famous for its powerful waves that draw many surfers. It's also well known as a fashionable beach resort.

What sets Biarritz apart from other beaches in France is the combination of stunning natural beauty and elegant ambience. Biarritz has been a celebrated seaside destination since the 19th century, when Empress Eugénie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a summertime residence here. Other royals and aristocrats soon began to visit as well, confirming the refinement of this legendary resort.

The beaches of Biarritz are outfitted with superb facilities and amenities, such as lounge chair and cabana rentals. Fancy restaurants and tea salons (such as the Miremont and Dodin) are found throughout the city.

One of the most impressive landmarks of Biarritz is the majestic Hôtel du Palais, the lavish Second Empire palace of Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie. In 1893, the palace was converted into a luxury hotel (now a five-star Hyatt). Guests experience the ultimate in pampering at this sumptuous beachfront accommodation. Tourists may dine at the hotel's restaurants without staying overnight.

With the Hôtel du Palais in the background, the Grande Plage is the central beach of Biarritz. This wide stretch of sandy shoreline is packed with sunbathers during summertime. In the high season, lounge chairs and traditional striped beach tents are available for rent.

Lifeguards survey the Grand Plage from May through October. However, it is not always safe to swim here; water safety is posted on a daily basis. Visitors should keep in mind that most beaches in Biarritz have heavy surf and strong currents (which can be unsafe for swimming), unlike beaches on the French Riviera, where the Mediterranean Sea is gentler.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Biarritz

2. Beaches of Saint-Tropez

Plage de Pampelonne, Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez is synonymous with chic French Riviera beach holidays. However, the town of St. Tropez was just a typical Provençal fishing port until the 1950s when a Bridgette Bardot film made the place famous.

Among the top attractions of Saint-Tropez, the picturesque harbor and tree-shaded Old Town burst with village charm. However, nowadays yachts mingle with fishing boats at the harbor, and designer boutiques are found throughout the Old Town's cobblestone streets.

The most popular beach in Saint-Tropez is the Plage de Pampelonne, a long stretch of shoreline (five kilometers). Nestled in a beautiful bay, this sheltered beach is prized for its fine white sand and gentle turquoise waters. The Plage de Pampelonne is lined with posh private beach clubs that offer trendy restaurants and rentals of sun beds and parasols.

Another wonderful sandy beach (that's less glitzy than Pampelonne) is the Bouillabaisse Plage. This laid-back beach has a gourmet restaurant that serves contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. Beachside amenities include rentals of lounge chairs and sun umbrellas.

The family beaches of the Plage des Salins and the Plage des Canoubiers feature free public showers and toilet facilities. The Plage des Canoubiers is a good place for playing volleyball and sailing. The Plage des Salins has a traditional French restaurant.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez

3. Beaches of Antibes

Beach in Antibes

Among the main tourist draws of Antibes are its wide selection of beaches. There are three areas of beaches: those around the historic town of Antibes; the beaches of the Cap d'Antibes peninsula; and the beaches of Juan-les-Pins.

Considered a highlight of the French Riviera, the Cap d'Antibes peninsula is renowned for its expansive sandy beaches. The Plage de la Garoupe is one of the best Cap d'Antibes beaches, but most of the shoreline is taken up by private beach clubs during summertime. These beach clubs treat patrons to pampering beachside service and sophisticated gourmet dining.

The nearby community of Juan-les-Pins boasts a coastline of sandy beaches, some of which are backed by fragrant pine groves. There are public beaches with facilities such as showers and toilets, as well as private beach clubs that offer chic restaurants and use of sun beds or cabanas. The main beach of Juan-les-Pins, the Grande Plages, is a large public beach with a wide sandy shoreline.

Both the Cap d'Antibes and Juan-les-Pins are popular resort areas, with many restaurants and hotels in a variety of categories. The legendary Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is the most luxurious accommodation in the area. Decorated in romantic 18th-century style, this five-star hotel has a spa, private bay, country club facilities, and two gourmet restaurants.

The sleek contemporary-style Cap d'Antibes Hotel delivers five-star amenities, including a Michelin-starred restaurant, a casual yet chic beachfront restaurant, swimming pool, wellness center, and its own private sandy beach. This seaside hotel overlooks the Iles de Lérins and the Estérel Mountains.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Antibes

4. Cannes Beaches

Aerial view of Cannes and the beach

Cannes epitomizes the glamour of the French Riviera, with its exclusive beach clubs, luxury hotels, and gourmet restaurants. Belle Epoque landmarks, splendid villas, and fancy boutiques line the Boulevard de la Croisette, which is fringed with a gorgeous stretch of private beaches.

However, you do not have to stay at an expensive hotel or patronize a private club to enjoy the beaches of Cannes. On the Boulevard de la Croisette are a couple of excellent public beaches: the Plage Macé and the Plage Zamenhof, which have public showers, toilets, changing rooms, lounge chair rentals, and snack bars.

In a quieter area of Cannes, the Plage de la Bocca features a golden-sand shoreline. The crystal-clear waters of this beach are ideal for snorkeling. Unfortunately, this beach does not have facilities.

In the center of Cannes, the palm-fringed Plages du Midi is a narrow sandy beach with a children's recreational area and lifeguards during summertime. The Plages du Midi has calm waters that are perfect for swimming.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cannes

5. Plage de la Paloma

Paloma Beach

This delightfully secluded beach feels like a secret slice of paradise, because it is hidden in a quiet cove on the French Riviera's Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula (an easy day trip from Nice). Lush vegetation covers the surrounding hillsides, adding to the beauty of the unspoiled natural setting.

Known as a place where the glitterati comes to unwind and enjoy life, Paloma Beach is an exclusive spot with a stylish seaside restaurant. The restaurant specializes in local cuisine and fresh seafood, serving guests at outdoor tables overlooking the gentle waves.

While sunbathing at the Plage de la Paloma, visitors can admire the fabulous views of the the Bay of Beaulieu and the hilltop town of Eze in the distance. The Plage de la Paloma also draws visitors for water sports such as sailing, paddleboarding, and waterskiing.

6. Île de Porquerolles

Beach on the island of Île de Porquerolles

For those who want to escape the summertime crowds of the French Riviera, the Île de Porquerolles offers an idyllic getaway. This dreamy island is just a 30-minute ferry ride away from Hyères, a typical Provençal town near Marseilles.

The island owes its tranquility to the preservation efforts of the Parc National de Port-Cros (national park). From its pristine coastline to lush woodlands and orchards, every place on the Île de Porquerolles offers a sense of peace and quiet.

On the northern side of the island are sublime beaches with fine golden sands and crystalline turquoise waters that resemble the Caribbean. The family-friendly Plage de la Courtade is the largest beach on the island. Backed by fragrant pine forests, the Plage de Notre-Dame has a secluded feel that promotes relaxation.

Travelers should keep in mind other tourist destinations near Marseilles that are worth visiting. The port town of Toulon has an attractive waterfront and charming Old Town. From the harbor of Toulon, there is a ferry service (which takes about one hour) to the Île de Porquerolles.

7. Plage de l'Espiguette

Sand dunes and deserted beach at Plage de l'Espiguette

In the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the Plage de l'Espiguette is one of France's most unspoiled beaches. Undulating sand dunes cover most of this sprawling 18-kilometer-long and 700-meter-wide beach.

What makes this beach so special is its serene scenery. The fine white-sand shoreline is lapped up by gentle turquoise waters, which have been awarded the Blue Flag for safety and cleanliness.

Because the Plage de l'Espiguette is protected as a nature reserve, it does not have the typical amenities, such as snack bars and beachside restaurants. This beach is mainly a place to relax and admire the natural setting. Other things to do include horseback riding and kitesurfing.

8. Saint-Jean de Luz

Beach in the Bay of Saint-Jean de Luz

For families with young children, one of the best places to visit in France is Saint-Jean de Luz. The beaches of Saint-Jean de Luz are sheltered by sea walls in the Bay of Saint-Jean de Luz, which ensures calm waters that are safe for swimming.

Saint-Jean de Luz is a favorite destination for summer beach vacations near Biarritz. Besides its beaches with excellent facilities, Saint-Jean de Luz has a cobblestone historic town with typical Basque red-shuttered houses. The charming streets of Saint-Jean de Luz are brimming with traditional restaurants and old-fashioned boutiques.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Jean de Luz

9. Beaches of Nice

Beach in Nice on a beautiful sunny day

About six hours by train from Paris, the beaches of Nice exude an ambience of glitz and glamour that attracts a cosmopolitan crowd. These famous beaches are appreciated for their luxurious amenities and beautiful natural scenery, despite the pebble shorelines.

Several popular public beaches frame the Baie des Anges alongside the curve of the Promenade des Anglais. On sunny days under a deep blue sky, the gentle waters of the Bay of Angels take on a shimmering cerulean glow. Because the sheltered bay has placid waves, the beaches of Nice are safe for swimming.

Nice is also home to upscale private beaches such as the beautiful Castel Plage and Ruhl Plage that require you to rent sun beds or dine at a seafront restaurant. Castel Plage features a stylish beach club with a Provençal restaurant known for its nighttime atmosphere. Ruhl Plage has a Mediterranean restaurant and a snack bar.

For those who want to combine time spent at the beach and sightseeing, Nice is the perfect choice because of its many cultural attractions. The city has an atmospheric Old Town and fabulous art museums. There are also many wonderful day trips from Nice. Tourists can easily explore the countryside and the coastline outside of Nice.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Nice: Best Areas & Hotels

10. Argelès-sur-Mer

Argelés-sur-Mer

Argelès-sur-Mer is tucked away in a beautiful spot of France's Mediterranean coast, an area which shares a cultural heritage with the neighboring Catalonia region in Spain. Dating to the 14th century, Argelès-sur-Mer is a pleasant seaside town with remnants of medieval ramparts, a picturesque harbor, and quaint old fishermen's houses.

The town boasts an expansive sandy beach with the wooded Pyrenees foothills as a backdrop. Well designed for visitors, Argelès-sur-Mer has a resort area with many restaurants, cafés, snack bars, and shops.

Fringed by a refreshing pine forest, the sandy beach of Argelès-sur-Mer extends for approximately seven kilometers. The beach itself is well equipped with facilities, as well as a promenade for taking seaside strolls.

Because of its water safety, the Argelès-sur-Mer beach has earned a Blue Flag label. The clean, calm sea makes this beach a great place for swimming and water sports. Lifeguards survey the beach during summertime.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Argelès-sur-Mer

11. Narbonne Plage

Lifeguard tower on Narbonne Plage

Narbonne Plage is another gorgeous beach in the Lanquedoc region. This lively beach delights visitors with its mild, sunny weather and five-kilometer shoreline of fine sand, which is supervised by lifeguards during summertime. Sporty, outdoorsy types enjoy the beach volleyball courts, as well as opportunities for kitesurfing and paddleboarding.

The beach has a two-kilometer promenade for taking strolls, cycling, and roller-skating. The carefree fun-loving atmosphere feels similar to Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, the quintessential Southern California beach.

A worthwhile destination in itself, the town of Narbonne brims with historic monuments and cultural attractions. There are many medieval-era palaces and churches, such as the Archbishop's Palace; the Vieux Palais; and the Cathédrale Saint-Just, a glorious example of High Gothic architecture.

12. Beaches of Palavas-les-Flots

Palaves-les-Flots

The sandy beaches of Palavas-les-Flots are easily accessible by bus from Montpellier. Palavas-les-Flots is an attractive seaside town built on a barrier island surrounded on one side by lagoons and on the other with seven kilometers of unspoiled shoreline.

Luxurious accommodations are available near the beach at the Plage Palace. This five-star oceanfront hotel features sleek contemporary decor, a swimming pool, private beach, and gourmet restaurant.

13. Plage de la Mariniere in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Plage de la Mariniere, Villefranche-sur-Mer

The Plage de la Mariniere is nestled in the Bay of Villefranche sur Mer near Nice, but it's surprisingly laid-back and low profile for a French Riviera resort. The beach is within easy walking distance of Villefranche-sur-Mer, a quaint seaside village, which makes it a good choice for those who prefer the convenience of being near a town.

This family beach has a long shoreline of sand and pebbles, with calm, shallow waters. Tourists appreciate the lovely views of Villefranche-sur-Mer and the surrounding hillsides.

The Plage de la Mariniere is quite narrow and can get crowded during summertime. There are decent facilities, as well as several snack bars and ice-cream stands. Many visitors also bring their own picnic provisions.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer

14. Beaches of Menton

Beach in Menton, South of France

Near the border with Italy, the vibrant sun-drenched village of Menton is one of the top attractions of the Côte d'Azur. It's also one of the best places to visit in France for balmy weather and Southern French village charm.

The Old Town of Menton has a distinctive Italian architectural influence, while the hillsides around Menton are covered with citrus orchards and lush Mediterranean vegetation. Taking advantage of its luxuriant landscape, Menton has several exotic gardens.

Menton offers a variety of beaches, both public and private, and sandy or pebbly. All of the beaches are well maintained and well equipped with facilities. The calm, shallow waters are safe for swimming, and lifeguards survey the beaches in July and August.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Menton

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Other Beautiful Beach Destinations in France: Some of the best beaches of France are in northern France. The upscale beach resorts of Deauville and Trouville are found along the wide sandy shores of the Atlantic coastline in Normandy. The picturesque Brittany region also boasts sandy beaches in Cancale, Concarneau, and Trébeurden; at the popular resorts of Dinard and La Baule; as well as on Belle-Île-en-Mer, a ferry ride away from Quiberon.

Spectacular Beach Destinations in Spain: Gorgeous sun-soaked beaches abound in Spain. The top-rated beaches of Spain are found in the Catalonia region, which includes Barcelona; on the dreamy Balearic Islands of Formentera and Mallorca; along southern Spain's coast in Cádiz; and around Santander in the Cantabria region.

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