Nice, on France's Côte d'Azur in August as a couple of Italians head for home over the Baie des Anges.
Where are the best French beaches?
The French mainland has water on more or less three sides - the Atlantic, the English Channel - or La Manche as the French prefer to call it - and the Mediterranean so France has beaches to suit just about everyone everyone, from families to super stars, world class surfers to naturists.
The Côte d'Azur (the blue coast) stretches the whole length of south-facing Meditarranean coast from Marseilles in the west to Menton in the east, while the French Riviera is the posh eastern section from Cannes to Menton.
Basic advice is head for France's Riviera (Riviera map) to get a tan in a busy social hot-spot with warm waters, around Brittany (north Atlantic coast) for family oriented holidays with lots of kid's attractions, to the south Atlantic coast (e.g. bay of Biscay's Biarritz) for space or surfing in cool waters and to Corsica island (in the Mediterranean) for some excellent beaches along with wild hiking.
Most of France's beaches are well-developed with plenty of amenities and few hazards, though northwest Atlantic beaches tend to have colder, rougher, less clear water while the Mediterranean (southeast) strands of sand tend to be quite small, crowded and expensive with the best stretches taken by pay-parasol operators.
Zamenhoff beach, Cannes, Côte d'Azur.
Links to Côte d'Azur and/or Mediterranean Guides
Pampelonne beach in St Tropez in September.
Links to Atlantic Coast Guide
Ostricone beach on Corsica's east coast. Photo by lotangelini.
**The French Riviera
On the east part of the Mediterranean coast from Menton (east, near Italy) to Cannes (west) is the place for a terrific climate, a lively social life, good shopping, excellent eating and drinking facilities - and not necessarily costly - though beaches are often cramped, stony or pay-as-you-tan, while traffic and parking can be a nightmare.
We like Nice for lively, not-so-touristy life, the fantastic promenade but pebble beaches, Cannes for fine sand, amazing summer fireworks (get close and early!) and beach restaurants (best are west of the port).
Antibes is smaller, less sophisticated but has a terrific beach with good value café - Plage de la Garoupe - and lovely walk around Cap d'Antibes. Juan-les-Pins sands are narrow and ultra-busy, specialising in watersports
A newly smartened-up but good value Villeneuve-Loubet, between Antibes and Cagnes-sur-Mer offers great convenience, a well presented pebble beach, lots of family-friendly facilities and very little style.
The cute little town of Menton, far east and next to Italy, is about as quiet as the Riviera gets, though some would describe it as dull, if not dead.
Menton's north side beach just a few minutes from Italy. Photo by Tobias Alt.
**The Côte d'Azur
Confusingly this is the Mediterranean coast all the way from Italy to the the coastal bend and islands at Hyeres (map).
Outside the Riviera the rest of the Côte d'Azur has a few more useful beaches, especially the sugardaddy destination of them all, St Tropez, where Baie de Pampelonne beaches rule for big-money exhibitionism and Nikki beach is the home of uber-bling.
Plage du Prophet, one of Marseille's smaller beaches.
Finally, out of the Côte d'Azur completely is big bad Marseilles, surprisingly with a handful of worthwhile beaches, such as Plage du Prophete - a delightful city beach; Plage du Prado - an unpretentious, man-made strip that offers surfing and toned & tanned bodies; finally, 32 kms away at Cassis is the picture-postcard Plage de l'Arene, a turquoise bay of fine silver shale embraced by white cliffs and trees.
Corsica Island in the middle of the Mediterranean has some stunning beaches as well as spectacular walks.
Arcachon Beach, western France on the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.
Brittany's large and lovely beaches on France's central Atlantic coast face an annual problem with toxic seaweed...more
On the Atlantic shore's Côte d'Argent (near Bordeaux) is a small and delightful
resort surrounded by France's biggest pine forest, offering small
and delightful beaches though if you need serious sand a couple of
kilometres south sits the Dune du Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe
- more than 100m (350ft) high and long with it.
Grande Plage and the Casino in Biarritz, far southwest France.
Located in south west of France, Biarritz is a large town with some fine buildings, excellent sea food, big sandy beaches and good surf, but of course chilly Atlantic water, a fairly constant breeze and frequent sea mist.
An incredibly lovely old Basque town just 20 minutes drive south of Biarritz and about as far south as you can get on France's Atlantic coast, is tranquil and pedestrian friendly, sports an absolutely stunning sea front of ancient basque houses and fine sand. Downsides, however, as Biarritz.
Seignosse beach. Photo by Eldidi82.
A newish beach resort 3 kms from old Seignosse village and stretches along 6 kms of surf-pounded, dune-embraced sand, offering all the necessary facilities for families and surfers alike, from surf schools, kid's beach club, water park and forested cycle trails to a fine golf course of the same name.
A charming Atlantic port town is one of the most handsome seaside resorts in France. The area has miles of safe sandy beaches especially on nearby islands and with shallow water they are great for young families.
An 8 mile crescent beach in Brittany is the longest sand stretch in Europe. Nowhere near as elegant as the French Riviera and beware toxic seaweed, but its good value facilities are ideal for families.
At Bretignolles-sur-Mer on the Vendée coast is the best for surf, while the resort of Bretignolles has wide sandy beaches and rocky coves.
An island off the coast near Brittany has fine sandy bays and charming coves.
La Rochelle's Plage de la Concurrence. Photo by Jpbazard.
As usual a tourist's relationship with locals - not to mention ability to haggle politely over prices, read menus or discuss weather conditions - will improve dramatically with a few words and phrases of French. This is a delightful and romantic language that will help you enjoy life in France and its colonies or even ex-colonies such as Morocco, Madagascar and various Caribbean islands - so learn French!