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The best (and worst) beaches in south-west France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
The best (and worst) beaches in south-west France
People ride motorboats past the beach at the Dune du Pilat facing the Atlantic ocean in La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France, on August 8, 2023. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

If you are planning to spend some time napping on the beach, body-surfing in the waves, or just soaking up the sun, here are some beaches in the south-west that you should check out.


With hundreds of kilometres of coastline, France has plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from, leaving holidaymakers spoiled for choice.

In the south-west Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, 55 beaches made the 2024 Blue Flag (Pavillon Bleu in French) ranking, which is the label that certifies that a beach has met environmental and clean water standards. 

READ MORE: Discover France's blue flag beaches

On top of that, the popular Dune du Pilat beach, located beside the tallest sand dune in Europe, made the top 10 in Condé Nast Traveller's best beaches in the world list for 2024.

You can find the full list here, but here is our selection of some of the best;

Best south-western beaches

La Rochelle Chef de Baie, Charente-Maritime

This small beach is in a protected natural area home to a diverse set of plants and wildlife. With nearby parking, showers, toilets and lifeguards, this beach is a family friendly spot. 

Be sure to check out some of the old German bunkers that remain on the sand, as well as nearby historic buildings (La Batterie and La Tour Carré) from the 18th century. 

READ MORE: Why does France still have so many WWII bunkers on its coast?

More information here.

Plage de la Chambrette (Estuaire), Gironde

The Gironde département, home to the city of Bordeaux, is also home to the Plage de la Chambrette, which offers a lovely view of the port of Le Verdon. 

This beach is also popular with families, as it offers a "Mickey Club" for children, and as it is located along the estuary, the waves tend to be smaller. There are plenty of water sporting activities to take part in or rent nearby. 

Pets are not allowed. More info here.

Plage de Saint-Nicholas, Gironde

Unfortunately, the beach does not have a Christmas theme, but it has plenty of other great qualities including being accessible by bicycle from the 'Vélodyssée', or the EuroVelo 1 also known as the Atlantic Coast route.

The area is popular for surfing and bodyboarding, and it's also a great spot for a picnic. If you go at sunset, you can enjoy a view of the Cordouan lighthouse.


Animals are not allowed on the beach during the summer. More info here.

Plage Milady, Pyréneés-Atlantiques

A popular spot for people from nearby Biarritz (or the Biarrots in French), this beach is easy to access and has several car parks nearby.

There is a children's play area, as well as a 'handiplage' that allows direct access to the water for people with disabilities and reduced mobility. 

There are dedicated surf zones, as well as an area with lifeguards. You can find hours and more information here.

Plage des sables d'or, Pyrénées-Atlantiques 

Aptly named for its 'golden sands', this is one of the largest beaches in the Anglet area, not far from the town centre, in Pyrénées-Atlantiques. 

Enjoy the volleyball courts, as well as several car parks and easily accessible restaurants, cafés and shops. During the summer months, it is a popular spot for concerts and festivals. 


There are lifeguards present from June to mid-September. More info on their website.


Are there beaches to avoid?

If you are curious, you can consult the interactive map made by the association Eau & Rivières de Bretagne (Water and Rivers of Brittany) which ranks the water quality at all French beaches. 

The organisation has compiled information from several French government sources to rank beaches. Based on their findings, one in five beaches in France is regularly polluted by bacteria (oftentimes from run-off from farms), and five percent of French beaches should be avoided (marked in red as à éviter) - according to the association.

Their ranking is only based on water samples (which were either 'good', 'fair' or 'poor') taken over the last four years, assessing the health risk and giving it a score out of 100. It does not take into account the general cleanliness of the beach.


Based on their criteria, if the beach received a 'good' ranking on their samples for the last four years, then their score would be 100/100. In contrast, if 10 percent of the samples from that beach were classified as 'fair' or 'poor', the score would drop to 90 out of 100.

In terms of whether it is safe to swim from these beaches, the organisation said that one of the largest risks is gastroenteritis (a stomach bug). For "adults aged between 20 and 60 (who are not immuno-compromised) the risk of gastroenteritis is very low". However, the organisation advises people to "avoid drinking seawater, even involuntarily".

As for the south-west, Eau & Rivières de Bretagne pinpointed five beaches that are considered highly polluted by their standards. 

Plage de Châtelaillon - This beach is located near La Rochelle. It is listed on the à éviter list and scored 68.29.

Plage Port-des-Barques - Also located near La Rochelle, this is a sand and pebble beach at the southern end of the Port des Barques peninsula. It scored 66 on the Eu & Rivières ranking for pollution, and was classified as à éviter.

Plage de la Hume - Located in the Gujan-Mestras commune near Arcachon, this beach is right next to the marina in the tourist district of La Hume, offering a beautiful view of teh Bay of Arcachon. Unfortunately, it was labelled as à éviter due to its score of 63.16.

Plage du courant - Located in the Landes département in the Mimizan commune, this beach is actually found along the river that divides the town and runs directly into the ocean. It scored 54.29 out of 100, and as a result was considered the 11th most polluted beach in France, according to Eau & Rivières de Bretagne.

Plage du Fort de Socoa - Found in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département in Basque country, this beach is in the small town of Ciboure, home to a little over 6,000 people. It scored 69.23 on the Eau & Rivières ranking.



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