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The beaches in France you might want to avoid this summer

France is famed for its beautiful beaches but there are a few that you might be best avoiding this summer. We've handpicked a few far-from-perfect French plages around the country that for a variety of reasons you might want to stay away from.

The beaches in France you might want to avoid this summer
Cavaou beach in Fos-sur-Mer. Photos: AFP

France has 3,427 km (2,130 miles) of coastline and in summertime its beaches are mostly packed to the brim with holidaymakers. 

But downtime in the sun is far from idyllic for those who soon find out they’ve chosen the wrong beach.

Of course one’s personal preferences are the main deciding factor on whether a beach gets the thumbs up or not, but some aspects such as cleanliness, water quality, exorbitant costs, how crowded they are and ugly views are big non, nons for most beachgoers.

Here we’ve selected some of the beaches in France that have made the news in recent times for all the wrong reasons.

Exorbitant prices at Plage de Pampelonne

It may come as no surprise that this trendy spot near Saint Tropez is officially France’s most expensive beach and the eighth priciest in the world, according to a study by travel site Travel Bird

It's a lovely beach in France’s Var department but it’ll cost you on average €8.52 for sun cream, €1.50 for water, €2.43 for a beer, €2.55 for an ice cream, €18.44 for lunch and €30 for rental and other added costs. All in all, an eye-watering €63.45 for a casual day at the beach. Although there are of course ways to save money.


ThisisStTropez ! ?? #beautifulday #cotedazur #pampelonne #thisisStTropez

A post shared by Larissa de Oliveira (@issa_deoliveira) on Jul 31, 2018 at 5:46am PDT

However, this 5 km strip in the municipality of Ramatouelle still rates highly for most Tripadvisor users for its clear turquoise waters, white sand and overall glitz and glamour. 

Others argue Pampelonne has become overrated and is simply living off its image as a popular hangout spot among celebs rather than for its actual beauty and preservation.

Most notable of all these critics is French actress Brigitte Bardot, the femme fatale who is credited with making the bohemian beach bar spot popular among the rich and famous decades ago. 

Bardot recently said Pampelonne was “losing its soul” because her once-favourite beach was now only catering for jet-setters and Hollywood stars. 

Some TripAdvisor users agree Pampelonne has become a victim of its own success: “Was expecting to see a mythical beach, instead we were faced with a crowded place,” one user said.

Another one added: “Obviously the municipality prefers to pay car park staff and then pocket the €4.50 instead of cleaning the beach!.

“Pampelonne, a beach famous for its parties and celebrities, we hoped to find something better. The beach is disgusting, unkempt, the algae invade the sand and the access to the sea is horrible due to the accumulation of algae.”

Strong currents at Berck Beach, Pas-de-Calais

If you’re not a strong swimmer or have children with you, the beach at Berck in Pas-de-Calais in northern France is one that requires special attention.

This 7 km strip of sand only allows swimming within a 300 metre perimeter, mainly because coastguards already have their hands full in that area.

The beach is affected by a dangerous phenomenon called “baines” or “baches” in northern France.

Baïnes are small pools of water that run parallel to the beach and are directly connected to the sea's waves, tides and currents. When the tide goes out, it causes a very strong current heading out to sea.

They give the impression that they are pools of calm water but under the surface there are strong currents that can quickly cause trouble for any swimmers.

Every year some 4,300 bathers get into trouble after being caught in the current of a baine, which are prominent along France's long Atlantic coast.

According to French coastguard association CROSS, Berck beach has recorded some of the highest rates of drowning over the past 34 years.

So if you do find yourself at this busy and beautiful beach or at any other coastal spot along the Atlantic coast, make sure you take extra precautions when dealing with baines.

Other beaches dangerous for drownings:

All beaches in France naturally have their dangers and there are things you need to know before you go swimming there (CLICK HERE) but there are some parts of the country considered more dangerous than others.

As already mentioned, the Atlantic coast, particularly the stretch of sea in the Landes department has a reputation due to the strong currents which sweep people out to sea.

But beaches in the Herault department, which borders Mediterranean sea claim more lives. Indeed on one day in the summer of 2013 seven people drowned on six different beaches in the Herault in just one day. The strong winds and the sea swells they can provoke make swimming particularly hazardous.

The beaches at Palavas and Valras-Plage have seen their fair share of drownings each summer.

Always swim in areas under observation by lifeguards.

Worst water quality at Landsberg beach at Saint-Laurent-du-Var

This beach in Alpes Maritimes in southeastern France was found to the have the worst water quality of any beach along France's Mediterranean coast from 2013 to 2017. 

In 2018, Landsberg beach was still on the list of beaches in the southern PACA region that didn’t meet national and EU cleanliness standards.

It’s a shame for residents and holidaymakers in Saint-Laurent-du-Var as most beaches on the French Riviera do meet seawater health standards.

Unfortunately, the beach’s proximity to a Cap 3000 shopping centre, a waste water management plant and Nice airport (with the runway visible from the beach) makes it all too vulnerable to waste and pollution.

In 2012, authorities had to actually close the beach to swimmers after an abnormally high level of the E. coli bacteria was found in the water at Landsberg beach. 

Until the local municipality finds long-term solutions, you’d be better off finding a clean beach close by using the following search engine by the French Health Ministry.

The other beaches in the PACA region that failed to meet water quality standards in 2018 were Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Le grand Large in Cagnes-sur-Mer, La Gravette in Antibes, Passable in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Nouveau Palais in Cannes. 

Private beach takeover at Les Lecques beach in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer

If you can’t stand snootiness and exclusivity stay clear of this otherwise picture-perfect 2 km beach near Marseille and Cassis.

According to locals and regular beachgoers, Les Lecques beach is being overrun by private businesses that are taking over more and more of the sand with sundecks that remain empty.

France Bleu reported in July 2018 that public users were engaging in a “beach war” of sorts with the businesses as they were being given hardly any space to put down their towels.

A legal perimeter of 3 to 5 metres between public beachgoers and the private deckchair area is pretty much forcing them into the sea.

“We already pay for gas, parking, tolls, if we add a €14 for deckchair and a drink, we won’t have enough money left to get back,” one beachgoer said.

Eyesores and air pollution at Cavaou beach, Fos-sur-Mer in Bouches-du-Rhône

Scoring a lowly one star on French beach-rating site, Cavaou beach is surrounded by countless refineries and factories.

Unfortunately, its location in Fos-sur-Mer, a major trading port between North Africa and France, doesn’t just spoil the view.

According to experts air quality in this coastal town is worryingly low, with three to four more cases of cancer recorded among residents than the national average.

This may only result in an occasional unpleasant smell in the air for passing visitors but the beach’s proximity to so many ships and factories makes Cavaou beach constantly exposed to waste that authorities do their best to control.

Cavaou still rates highly among kite surfers and other beachgoers who aren’t bothered by a refinery being right next to the beach. 


#fossurmer #kitesurf

A post shared by Mesaventuresenphoto (@mesaventuresenphoto) on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:07am PST


Polluted waters at Cabourg beach in Normandy

Cabourg along the Normandy coast from the chic resort of Deauville is normally a popular spot in summer and for good reason because the beach is beautiful but on July 27 2018, beachgoers and authorities at this northern municipality off the coast of the English Channel noticed the “massive arrival of waste” in the seawater and on the shore.

“Other towns on the Fleurie coast have unfortunately confirmed they’re affected,” Cabourg mayor Tristan Duval told regional daily Ouest-France.

Cabourg's mayor sparked a local row by blaming the nearby port of Le Havre for being the origin on the waste but the folk in Le Havre say the origin of the waste is the Seine River which enters the sea at Le Havre.



“Same situation at the Merville Franceville beach, thousands of tonnes of visibly old waste have been collected by the cleaning services in the last few days,” one Twitter user commented. 

The Côte Fleurie (Flower coast) is a 40 km stretch running from Cabourg to Honfleur which offers sandy beaches, cliffs, and quaint seaside resorts.

If you are spending any time in this area during the summer of 2018, make sure you check if the waters are clean enough to swim in.

Jellyfish at Bray-Dunes in Normandy

Experts are warning that jellyfish populations are becoming more prevalent along both the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean.

But it’s the north of France that’s reporting the highest number of jellyfish stings in the summer of 2018, with a stretch running from Dunkirk to Calais being particularly affected.

Just outside that strip on the border with Belgium lies Bray-Dunes, a coastal commune where rescue services are currently recording 10 jellyfish stings a day at the beach. 

Flooding and pollution risks at Marseille beaches

A number of beaches in and around the Bouche-du-Rhone capital have been closed to the public this summer due to polluting rainfall that’s made its way to the sea during heavy flooding.

Severe rainfall is common in this part of France during the hot summer months, as stormy weather and rainfall often flood the Huveaune river and its tributaries. 

Pointe Rouge in Marseille is one of the beaches that’s most likely to receive this overflow of contaminated rainwater that drags with it waste and bacteria from the city to the sea.

However, the total area at risk is a 130 km stretch of coastline running from Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer (Var) to Martigues affecting a total of 39 municipalities.

If you want to avoid the possibility of your beach holidays being cut short by bad weather and pollution, it’s perhaps best to wait for Marseille and Aix-en-Provence authorities to implement their new €265 million plan to treat rainwater before it reaches the sea.  

Morgat, a Brittany beach that’s fallen victim to its own success

Ever since The Guardian ranked this once idyllic, quiet spot in Finistère as the 14th most beautiful beach in the world in 2016, the tourists have just kept rolling in by the thousands.

Morgat was once a literal hidden gem (for its remote location and turquoise waters), a beach that seemed more suited to the Med than the Atlantic. 

Now it’s “a disaster in summer” as one local told regional daily Ouest France, a beach “with so many tourists, it’s almost been ruined”.

 Photo: Chiara/Flickr

Price trap on the island of Ile de Ré

Ile de Ré is a picturesque island just off France's west coast near La Rochelle, and according to Europe 1, its westerly canton of Ars-en-Ré is France’s most expensive seaside resort, ahead of the likes of Monaco and Saint Tropez.

A three to four night stay in the village square at a three-star hotel at half-board for two adults and two children costs around €1,600, on a par with Parisian prices if not higher.

So if you’re hoping not to get through all your savings during the peak holiday season, choose somewhere with a beach that's not quite so extortionate. 

Photo: Giancarlo Foto4U/Flickr

A few more not-so-honourable mentions

Ambleteuse beach in Nord-Pas-de-Calais (dangerous): It’s a vast and uneven beach, meaning children and people who aren’t strong swimmers can easily lose their footing, run into trouble and not be noticed by coastguards.

La Grande-Motte in Hérault (overdeveloped): Huge dune-shaped hotels built in the seventies don’t exactly blend into the natural surroundings, but they do go well with the rest of the indiscreet architecture that adorns this overdeveloped and overcrowded tourism hotspot (see pic below).

La Salie beach in La Teste-de-Buch in Gironde (smelly): A paper mill not far from the beach often releases a foul odour that could very well put you off your seafood lunch.

Veules-Les-Roses beach in Seine-Maritime (polluted): With a wastewater treatment plant emptying waste into the sea, the water at Veules beach has failed to meet health standards on numerous occasions over the past decade.

Espiguette beach at Port Camargue (radioactive): It may sound far-fetched but studies carried out on the black sand of these beaches found natural radioactivity levels almost 300 times higher than average. Some scientists say it’s safe, others aren’t so convinced.

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