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Where to find the best beach resorts in France

The Local France
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Where to find the best beach resorts in France
Saint Tropez. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

If you’re someone whose life (to misquote Barbie's Ken) is beach, France is a great place to be – not including its overseas territories, it boasts nearly 3,500km of coastline, taking in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Channel.

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There are plenty of resorts to visit in France to satisfy your primal beach urges whether you're doing early planning for a summer break or want someone for a brisk stroll in the winter sunshine.

And the good news is that most of these resorts are accessible by train, although journeys from the far northeast may involve some planning and possibly a car.

Côte d’Azur

‘Côte d’Azur’ might as well be French for glamour. The Cote d’Azur is, basically, the Alpes-Maritimes coastline, including the Monaco break – with some stretching its fringes as far west as Marseille. 

Regardless of your boundary preferences, the region takes in long-standing playgrounds of the rich and famous such as Cap-d’Ail, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Saint-Tropez, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes, Cannes, Nice and Menton as well as some smaller and more relaxed resorts.

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What's sometimes overlooked among the 'glamour' is that the coastline is stunningly beautiful. We defy anyone to take the train from Marseille to Nice and not spend the whole journey gazing out of the window in wonderment.

Côte Bleue

The Côte Bleue, which takes up where the Côte d’Azur leaves off, west of Marseille, takes in a succession of small ports and fishing villages, beaches or coves lined with pine trees.

Less famous and therefore less pricey, but no less beautiful.

They’re not always easy to get to, admittedly, but that’s part of the undiscovered country charm of this tiny and beautiful part of the world. Evidence suggests it has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Frankly, you can see why…

Camargue

Technically, a river delta – Europe’s largest – the Camargue, where the mighty Rhône reaches the sea, is an astonishing region of natural beauty, a huge plain of large brine lagoons, cut off from the sea by sandbars and circled by reed-covered marshes. It’s not quite a wilderness, but it’s easy to imagine that you’re in one when you’re there.

The area is famous for its wild horses and also the salt that's produced in the marshes, but it's a great place to holiday.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is, perhaps, the best-known beach town in the region.

Côte d’Améthyste

Further west along the Mediterranean coast – and, for some, equally as pretty and without the price tag as its eastern neighbour, the Côte d'Améthyste is the nickname for the stretch of France’s coast along the Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard departments.

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We’re talking Port-Camargue, Sète, La Grande-Motte, Marseillan and – nudists’ favourite – Cap d’Agde. Heading further west, there’s Saint-Pierre-la-Mer, Argelès-sur-Mer, and Collioure – the Occitanie’s Village préféré des français entry for 2024.

Côte d'Argent

Another coastline, another sea, another nickname (it means 'silver coast', not 'money coast'). This one takes in the stretch of French land meeting the Atlantic Ocean between Royan, in the Charente-Maritime, and Hendaye, the last coastal resort before the Spanish border. 

It’s hugely popular with surfers, and is home to some of the largest sand dunes in Europe – including the continent’s tallest, the Dune du Pilat.

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Think resorts in the far south-west of France, think elegant Biarritz, the buzzing mediaeval-ness of Bayonne, and the old fishing village-charm of Saint Jean de Luz. 

They’re all here. And they’re all beautiful places. But don’t ignore the charming, and much smaller Vieux Boucau – or Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains, to give it its full name. 

Caught between the Atlantic Ocean to the west, forests to the east and a large artificial lake of its own making to the south, the little Landes town is, quite simply, heaven on Earth for lovers of the great outdoors.

Brittany

Brittany, the part of western France that juts out into the sea, boasts a whopping one-third of the country’s entire coastline, is a mythic, misty and mystical part of the world. Its rugged, jagged cliffs and spectacular seascapes are dotted with fine sandy beaches, cliffs and secluded islands. 

It takes in the Côte de Granit Rose, a 30km stretch of coastline in the Côtes d'Armor from Plestin-les-Grèves to Louannec.

Check out Saint-Malo, which boasts – if that’s the right word – some of the highest tides in Europe, or the remarkable beauty of the Bay of Saint-Brieux, go island hopping in the Gulf of Morbihan, and wonder if you could spend a night in the reputedly haunted Tévennec Lighthouse.

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Côte d'Albâtre

A Natura 2000 site, the Côte d'Albâtre is also sometimes known as the Cauchois littoral, that takes in the Seine-Maritime coastline, including the astonishing headland around Étretat, known for its white chalk cliffs and greyish pebble beaches.

The area takes its name from the milky colour of the sea at the foot of the cliffs when the chalk of which they are made dissolves.

It also includes the famous resorts of Deauville, Trouville and Honfleur, all of which are accessible by train. Less well know is Fécamp, home of the liquer Benedictine.

Côte d’Opale

The bit of France you can see from southeast England on a clear day is part of the Côte d’Opale.

That proximity perhaps accounts for a distinctly English flavour to some of the seaside resorts (Le Touquet plans to change the name of its airport to honour the late British Queen Elizabeth II), although the area is also known as Paris-Plage because of number of Parisians who descend every summer. Many of whom, like Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron, have holiday homes along the coast.

Le Touquet, with its wide beach and lively nightlife, is the best known of the coastal resorts here – though Boulogne (capitale de la Côte d'Opale) and Calais are equally well known, if only as ferry entry points to France.

Many tourists will only see the ferry ports and perhaps the wine warehouses but in fact both Boulogne and Calais are quite charming towns.

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