France Beaches Guide

Nice beach paragliding, Côte d'Azur, France beaches

Nice, on the Côte d’Azur in August as a couple of Italians leave France beaches for home, the elegant way.

Where are the best France 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.

Most French 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.

Plage Zamenhoff, public beach, Cannes, Cote d'Azur, France beaches

Pay and no-pay beaches,  Cannes, Côte d’Azur, France

Côte d’Azur/French Riviera/Mediterranean

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.

The eastern part of the Mediterranean coast from Menton (east, near Italy) to Cannes  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, may be stony (Nice) or pay-as-you-tan, while traffic and parking can be a nightmare.

This stretch is sometimes called the French Riviera; it’s also known as the Côte d’Azur, but  the latter name, while definitely including the Riviera may also cover the coast west along to Marseille; or to Ile Hyeres; or just along to St Tropez. We live in Nice (the capital of the Riviera) and see many uses and explanations but nothing definitive.
We plump for the Menton – Cannes  limits for both names as nobody uses ‘French Riviera’ around here, just Côte d’Azur (including English people) and we believe the French version (Côte d’Azur) is the modern usage whereas French Riviera (obviously English) dates from Victorian times and no longer a valid term. Côte d’Azur/Riviera  map

St Tropez Plage de Tahiti, Pampelonne Bay, France beaches

Pampelonne bay,  St Tropez’ best beaches,  Côte d’Azur.

**The French Riviera?

Menton's east side beach, France beaches

Menton’s east side Les Sablettes beach just a few minutes from Italy. Photo by Tobias Alt.

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.

**The Côte d’Azur

Outside the Côte d’Azur has a few more useful beaches, especially the sugar daddy 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.
If all that bling and fawning over fat cats fails to attract then head back to St Maxime or 15 kms south-west to Gigaro where the sand is narrow but the beachside restaurants and hotels are good value and welcoming, the water is crystal and a gorgeous coastal path starts at the corner of the bay.
This is a great (cheap) hotel base if you wish to spend time on the St Tropez peninsula without busting the bank.

Plage du Prophet, one of Marseille's smaller plages, France beaches

Plage des Catalans, Marseille’s nearest beach.

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.
Check here if you’re looking for Luxury Yacht Charter in the Mediterranean.

Corsica Island in the middle of the Mediterranean has some of the most beautiful France beaches as well as spectacular walks.

Note: If you want really warm water then Mediterranean Beaches from June- September are pleasant but not comparable to the Caribbean, Pacific or Indian Oceans.

Ostricone beach on Corsica island's east coast, France beaches

Ostricone beach on Corsica’s east coast. Photo by lotangelini.

Brittany’s large and lovely beaches on France’s central Atlantic coast face an annual problem with toxic seaweed. . . more

Arcachon Beach games on the Atlantic Ocean. France beaches.

Arcachon, western France beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Jordy Meow.

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.
South of Arcachon and more or less all the way to Biarritz is 200kms of sandy French beaches but with few facilities.

Biarritz, France beaches.

Grande Plage and the Casino in Biarritz, far southwest France beaches.

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, sandy, France beaches. However, as Biarritz, the Atlantic waters are always cold and frequently rough too. And then there’s the sea mist rolling in on sunny summer afternoons!


Seignosse beach on the Atlantic Coast, France beaches

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.
Seignosse is south of Bordeaux and north of Biarritz, accessed via TGV to Bayonne, then bus or taxi.

**La Rochelle

La Rochelle's Plage de la Concurrence beach, France beaches

This charming Atlantic port 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. Photo by Jpbazard.

*La Baules

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 it’s good value facilities are ideal for families.

*La Sauzair

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.