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Readers reveal: The best beaches and coastal resorts in France

The Local asked readers for their top tips for places to visit along the French coast and we were overwhelmed with suggestions for beautiful beaches, off-the-beaten-track villages and lively resorts.

Readers reveal: The best beaches and coastal resorts in France
An aerial view shows the The Hollow Needle of Etretat and its deserted beach, Normandy, western France (Photo by Lou BENOIST / AFP)

The Local has been seeking out France’s best coastline in recent weeks, after a disagreement on an episode of our Talking France podcast where Editor Emma Pearson defended La Vendée as home to the best (and most underrated) coastline in the country, while journalist Genevieve Mansfield fought for Brittany. 

To settle the debate, The Local asked its readers to share their favourite place to go on France’s shores, and the results are in, along with exclusive recommendations:

Brittany wins

Almost half (48 percent) of those who responded to The Local’s survey about the best part of France’s coastline voted for Brittany. 

Where to go

Several people recommended the Morbihan département.

Angela Moore, said her favourite part of this area was the islet between Vannes and Lorient, which is home to romanesque chapel and the Etel river oyster, a delicacy in the area. 

Others chose the Morbihan for its “lovely little coves, wonderful beaches and seafood,” as well as for boat rides in the gulf. Meanwhile, some pointed out Carnac, as a spot to visit, as the town is known for its prehistoric standing stones.

Some preferred travelling further north in Brittany, and they recommended the Finistère départment.

Rebecca Brite, who lives in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, said she loves this part of France for the overall atmosphere. Her top recommendation was to “Go all the way to the Baie des Trépassés and stay at the old, traditional hotel-restaurant of the same name. Pretend you’re in the legendary kingdom of Ys, swallowed up by the sea on this very site.”

The other part of Brittany that came highly recommended was the Emerald Coast (Côtes d’Armor) – specifically the Côte de Granit Rose.

The Mediterranean coastline

The Mediterranean remained a very popular vacation spot for readers of The Local, with almost a third of respondents claiming it as their favourite part of the French coastline. From sailing to cliffs and architecture, the Mediterranean had a bit of everything according to The Local’s readers.

Cassis and the Calanques were among of the most popular responses for where to go and what to see in this part of France.

One respondent, Gini Kramer, said she loves this part of France because “There’s nothing like climbing pure white limestone cliffs rising right out of the sea. The hiking is spectacular too.”

Some counselled more lively parts of the riviera, like the old port in Marseille, while others suggested the quieter locations.

David Sheriton said he likes to go to the beaches of Narbonne: “It’s a gentle slope into the sea so great for the (grand)children.” He said that the area does have a “few bars and restaurants” but that it does not “attract the party crowds.” 

In terms of beautiful villages, Èze came recommended for being home to “the most breathtaking views of the French coastline,” according to reader Gregg Kasner.

Toward Montpellier, Dr Lindsay Burstall said that La Grande Motte was worth visiting, for its “coherent 60’s architecture.” Burstall proposed having “a chilled pression au bord de la mer while watching the world go by…”

Meanwhile, three readers listed locations near Perpignan, and all encouraged visiting the area’s “pre-historic sites.”

Sally Bostley responded that her favourite spots were “between Canet-Plage and Saint-Cyprien-Plage” and she advised visiting “Collioure, Banyuls with the aquarium, Perpignan, nearby prehistoric sites, Safari Park, Prehistory Park.”

Other parts of the coastline

Though these locations may have received less votes overall, they still stood out in the minds of The Local readers:

Normandy did not receive as many votes as its neighbour Brittany, but it is still home to unique attractions worth visiting. The WWII landing beaches “plages de débarquement” came highly recommended, along with cathedrals and abbeys in the region, like Coutances in the northern Manche département.

Reed Porter, who lives in Annecy, likes to go to Êtretat when he visits Normandy. He had several recommendations, starting with “les falaises!” These are the dramatic cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Porter also suggested visitors of Êtretat head to “the glass stone beach” and the “old town” for its architecture. If you get hungry, there are “oysters everywhere all the time.”

Basque country was also highlighted for its proximity to the Pyrenées mountains. Maggie Parkinson said this was the best part of France’s coastline for her because of “The long views to the Pyrénées, the pine forests, the soft, fresh quality of the air, the many moods and colours of the sea – gently lapping aquamarine waves to thunderous, crashing black rollers churning foam onto the shore.”

A huge fan of the area, Parkinson had several recommendations ranging from cuisine to “cycling the many paths through the tranquil pines, visiting Bayonne, the Basque Country and the Pyrénées or northern Spain (for wonderful pintxos).”

She said that she loves to “[chill] on the endless, wide sandy beaches or [rest] on a hammock in the park” or “[catch] a local choir sporting blue or red foulards singing their hearts out to traditional or rock tunes.”

Similar reasons were listed in favour of Corsica as France’s best coastline, as it is also home to tall mountains with beautiful views over the water.

If you are looking to visit Corsica, Paul Griffiths recommends “having a good road map” and then “just [driving] quietly along the coast and over the mountains.” He said that this is “all easily doable in a day” and along the way you can “find beautiful beaches, lovely towns with good restaurants – especially Maccinaggion and Centuri – to enjoy one day after another.”

Finally, the preferred coastline location for The Local’s France Editor, Emma Pearson, also got some support by readers, with one calling La Vendée an “unpretentious” and “accessible” place for a vacation.

Respondent Anthony Scott said that “Les Sables d’Olonne and Luçon both epitomise the spirit of Vendée.” He enjoys the “inland serenity and historic sites, beautiful beaches and inviting seashores” as well as “traditional appetising meals.” He also noted that the area is “not too expensive.”

READ ALSO Brittany v Vendée – which is the best French coastline?

Many thanks to everyone who answered our survey, we couldn’t include all your recommendations, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.

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TRAVEL NEWS

France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France has revealed its plans for new border checks of passengers arriving from the UK next year - including using iPads to take biometric data like fingerprints.

France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France plans to use tablet computer devices to register non-EU car passengers at land and sea borders – including its border with the UK – when the new EU border system EES becomes operational next year, a new document has revealed. 

In May 2023, countries of the Schengen area will introduce the new Entry & Exit System (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens at their external borders. The EES was created to tighten up border security and will ensure the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. 

You can read full details of how the system will work HERE.

The system will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. Data collected will include the person’s name, type of travel document, fingerprints and facial images, as well as the date and place of entry and exit. The information will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that will be re-set at each entry.

The system will come into effect around the EU, but there have been major concerns about the France-UK border due to both the high volume of traffic and the Le Touquet Treaty border arrangements that mean French officials work in British ports of Dover and Folkestone – both of which saw long queues this summer as travel resumed after the pandemic. 

A document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

In the responses to the EU questionnaire, French authorities vowed they would be ready, saying simply Oui, La France sera prête (yes, France will be ready).

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

Test runs of the new system will begin at French border posts at the end of this year, they added.

However despite the vow that the new system will be ready on time to deal with thousands  of passengers each day authorities admitted “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers.”

French authorities admitted they are concerned about queues and backlogs at border crossings.

“The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continue with each border post manager to make progress on this point,” they told the EU.

This same concern was expressed by the CEO of the Port of Dover, Doug Bannister earlier this month when he told The Local he was concerned the time it takes to check each vehicle under EES could jump for around one and half minutes currently to 10 minutes.

Tablets to be used at land and sea borders

The way checks would be carried out for passengers at France’s sea borders with the UK has been a major concern especially at the Dover-Calais crossing, the busiest car route between the UK and continental Europe, with 8.6 million passengers passing through in 2019. 

Bannister, told The Local that first-time registration at Dover was the most concerning part of the new process, as it would require taking four fingerprints and facial images “at the border in front of an immigration officer”. 

Bannister said the current process was “designed around an airport” but this would not suit “a busy ferry terminal”. He demanded a system be introduced whereby registrations are carried out without passengers needing to leave the car.

French authorities’ response to the EU questionnaire has revealed they plan to use tablets, such as iPads to register car passengers’ details under EES.

The responses by French authorities to the EU questionnaire seem to clarify that agents will use tablets to register passengers directly in their cars under the “close supervision” of border guards, who will validate the biometric data on the spot. 

France will set up “‘mobile’ registration solutions (tablets) to record the biographical and biometric data of travellers eligible for the EES directly on board vehicles,” the document revealed.

People getting off buses will instead be able to use self-service kiosks similar to those set up at airports.

Airports

For non-EU visitors arriving by plane, France will set up self-service kiosks “supervised remotely via video by a border guard”.

Here, third-country nationals will be able to pre-register their biometric data and personal information, and complete the entry questionnaire. They will then be directed to the booth for verification of the data with the border guard. 

According to the document, France plans to maintain the eligibility for certain third-country nationals to go through automated ‘Parafe’ checks for subsequent entries and exits. E-gates are currently available for the citizens of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand the United Kingdom and Singapore (as well as EU citizens).

Doubts on gradual introduction

To facilitate the process, the European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months. 

Dover had also favoured some kind of transition period to allow the port to get used to the new system. But the French appear to have rejected this idea. 

They described the option of “progressive” introduction as “not satisfactory”, because it would require other adaptations of the system. 

France has called for “flexibility” to mitigate the impact of EES in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, French authorities called for the possibility of not creating EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later. 

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” the document says.

Responding to the questions, French authorities also said they intend to seek the support of Frontex, the EU border agency, in a more general context than the the entry in operation of the EES, in view of the 2024 Olympics. 

Non-EU residents in France

EES applies only to people entering the EU as tourists or making short visits – it does not apply to non-EU nationals who live in an EU country with a residency card such as a carte de séjour or a visa.

You can read full details on the system for residents HERE.

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