When school’s out for the summer, French families head straight for the seashore. The country’s abundance of coastlines can make for extraordinary holidays, provided you know where to go. From pebble beaches to sugar-sands, the following places are just right for a little R&R.
Most travellers associate the Côte d’Azur with luxury yachts and the jet-setting glitteri often found on board them. For a glimpse of this stunningly beautiful coastline without all the pretension, visit this lovely, low-key, three-mile beach by a former fishing village where Allied troops clamoured ashore in 1944.
Local sailboats dot the waters of this sleepy harbour ringed by pine trees. In the warmer months, travellers can ride a ferry to the equally charming town of Bénodet. Sainte-Marine itself is the perfect place to while away a summer afternoon drinking rosé and eating locally caught oysters at a sidewalk café.
Plage de Gatseau, Île d’Oléron
Corsica may be France’s most famous isle, but the Île d’Oléron in the Atlantic is every bit as scenic. Of the more than two dozen beaches wrapped around its coast, Plage de Gatseau near the southern tip is one of the best for families with small children. The shallow waters are free from dangerous currents and ideal for splashing.
Although you won’t find any powdery sands here, this pebble beach more than makes up for it with an impossibly Instagram-friendly backdrop. The sheer cliffs of Étretat rise dramatically from the waves. Walk along their top or snap a selfie in front of striking rock formations like L’Aiguille, a stone obelisk, and the Porte d’Aval, an arch created by years of erosion.
Plage de la Côte des Basques, Biarritz
Surfers have been flocking to this stretch of the Basque coast since the 1950s, where the sport first took off on the European continent. Even if you have no intention of riding the waves, the people-watching on this dazzling strip of sand, which has long been a favoured haunt of France’s well-heeled sun-worshippers, is worth the trip.
Antibes, Côte d’Azur
Sandwiched between fashionable Cannes and oh-so-chic Nice, this resort town on the French Riviera is every bit as breathtaking as its posh neighbours. Unsurprisingly, it’s also equally geared towards the upper-crust. Come to gape at the yachts parked in the Port Vauban marina or marvel at Fort Carré, a well-preserved 16th-century structure with a sweeping view of the harbour.
Les Calanques de Cassis, Provence
Despite its somewhat snooty reputation, the Côte d’Azur still has a few hidden gems free from celebrity-stalking tourists. Take for example the secluded bays of Calanques. The fact that these nooks are impossible to reach by paved roads has saved them from the masses. Pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a picnic lunch and prepare to have this remarkable hideaway practically to yourself.
Plage de Notre Dame, Île de Porquerolles
With a population of no more than a couple hundred, the island of Porquerolles is a far cry from the over-touristed seaside of Saint-Tropez. Thanks to the French government’s decision to buy up almost all of the land and spare it from development in the 1970s, the place still exudes a wild vibe. Hop a boat ride to Plage de Notre Dame, an achingly picturesque beach on the northeastern side of the island.
Le Bois Plage, Île de Ré
Visitors to this sun-drenched island will find no shortage of things to see and do. The sandy Le Bois Plage on the southern coast is arguably the finest beach around, but it’s well worth taking a few hours to cycle around the area and explore.
Palombaggia Beach, Porto Vecchio, Corsica
Steeped in history and lore, Corsica has an almost mythical air to it. Palombaggia ranks high among the region’s most popular beaches and the crowds in the summer months are correspondingly fierce. It’s not hard to see why, though, with these sapphire seas and pine-fringed sands.