France Beaches Guide
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
**The French Riviera?
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.
Corsica Island in the middle of the Mediterranean has some of the most beautiful France beaches as well as spectacular walks.
Ostricone beach on Corsica’s east coast. Photo by lotangelini.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.