France is home to some of the best beaches in Europe. From the moody stretches of the northern coast to the wonders of Corsica and the sparkling idylls of the French Riviera there is no shortage of shores to explore and areas to uncover. Here are 12 of the greatest beaches to get you dreaming about your next vacation in the sun.
1. Plage de Palombaggia, Porto-Vecchio
When it comes to longing for the archetypal “idyllic beach”, it’s impossible to think past the immense Plage de Palombaggia, southeast of Porto-Vecchio. This is the Corsican paradise you’ve been daydreaming about: sparkling turquoise waters, long stretches of sand edged with pine trees and splendiferous views over the Îles Cerbicale. Nearby, the fashionably alluring Porto-Vecchio has been dubbed the Corsican St-Tropez.
2. Plage de l’Espiguette, Montpellier
Strolling the old quarter, you could forget that Montpellier is a coastal city. Past the concrete resorts lies this lovely beach, a couple of miles southeast of La Grande-Motte. On the west side of a headland, there’s a nature reserve, with dune systems providing a habitat for endangered birds and insects (as well as naturists). There’s little shade, though, and it’s often windy: ideal for kitesurfers and kite-buggiers.
3. Plage Paloma, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
A dreamy spot for swimming, sunbathing and water sports of all kinds, this secluded crescent of sand east of St-Jean has an iconic bar–restaurant, unbeatable coastal views and a full lineup of rental equipment on offer (waterskiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding etc). Over the years it’s been a favourite of many celebrities, including Pablo Picasso who regularly brought his youngest daughter Paloma here, which is what gave the beach its name.
4. Plage de Corz, Île d’Ouessant
Popular with day-trippers, if you come on a sunny day, Île d’Ouessant can seem like a little paradise, with turquoise waters, abundant wildflowers and not much to do but walk and picnic. Plage de Corz is a west-facing beach and the best on the island. You can also hike or cycle its 28-mile-long (45km) craggy coastal path.
5. Grande Plage, Biarritz
Grand by name, grand by nature, Biarritz’ vast main beach has been the place to be seen since the days of Napoléon II and Eugénie. It’s wall to wall with bodies on summer days and famous for its striped, 1920s-style beach tents and beach chairs. It’s also good for surfers from mid-low tide on a moderate swell and there are loads of surf schools around town to pick up some skills.
6. Plage de Porticcio, Ajaccio
Commanding a lovely sweep of bay, there’s more than a whiff of the Côte d’Azur to the handsome city of Ajaccio and its trendy waterfront promenade, but dedicated beach bums generally prefer the sands of Porticcio to the busy city beaches. It’s 9 miles (15km) by road around the bay from Ajaccio, or 4 miles (6km) straight across the water, a route served by a 20-minute ferry six to nine times daily. There are also cocktail bars with great views.
The 3 mile-long Plage de Pampelonne, a few miles from glamorous St-Tropez, is a celeb hot spot lined with exclusive beach restaurants and clubs. Nudists will want to head to the magnificent stretch of sand at Plage de Tahiti to the north.
8. Île de Porquerolles, Hyères
Two-thirds of the sandy white beaches, pine woods, maquis and eucalyptus on Île de Porquerolles are protected by the Parc National de Port-Cros. The island is a short ferry ride from Hyères, and incredibly popular with day-trippers, particularly in the summer months. Despite this, it has remained a superb unspoilt beach destination.
9. Trouville Plage, Normandy
Unpretentious Trouville-sur-Mer – usually known simply as Trouville – is both a veteran beach resort, graced with impressive mansions from the late 1800s, and a working fishing port. The long and broad beach is its greatest asset, packed with sun-seekers and children in summer, and punctuated with tennis courts, various seafront activity centers and a swimming pool; it’s bordered with a promenade, along which vacationers stroll.
10. Plage d’Arcachon, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Arcachon’s deep sandy beach is flanked by two piers; lively Jetée Thiers is at the western end, from where boats yo-yo across the water to Cap Ferret. The eastern pier, Jetée d’Eyrac has an old-fashioned carousel, a vintage Big Wheel and the town’s turreted casino. The sheltered basin in which Arcachon sits means the water is always absolutely flat and calm, which is ideal for families – a far cry from most Atlantic beaches.