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Palombaggia beach seen from the water
Photograph: Robert Brands / Flickr

The 10 best beaches in France

Ready for sun, sea and sand? The best beaches in France offer secret coves, sparkling shallows and seafront glamour

Written by
Heidi Fuller-Love

If you close your eyes tight enough, you might be able to imagine the lapping of the waves and the humming of your heart. The beaches in France are the stuff of dreams, after all. How did this magical country get so lucky? As if pioneering gastronomy and the best museums on the planet weren’t enough, France also gets itself sparkling seas, secret coves, sleepy fishing villages and some of the finest beaches in Europe. From top to bottom, France is breathtaking.

So what are the best beaches in France? This magical place has hundreds of beaches to choose from, so whittling it down to a choice few is no easy task. Still, the glitzy, boutique-lined bays of the French Riviera, the endless dunes that line the Atlantic and the thrilling history of Napoleon’s birthplace Corsica are nigh on impossible to overlook. We’ve drawn together off-the-beaten-path beauties to go along with those widely celebrated stunners, but rest assured, these beautiful French beaches will take your breath away in an instant. Don’t bother with closing those eyes tight and book yourself a French getaway already.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in France

Best beaches in France

En Vau
Photograph: Chabe01 / Wikimedia Commons

1. En Vau

Seeking the ultimate romantic getaway? Take your significant other to the wild and wonderful Massif des Calanques, a series of narrow limestone coves between towering cliffs spread along 20 kilometres of rugged coastline between Cassis and Marseille. The best of the bunch is the isolated calanque of En Vau and be warned: it’s a difficult hike down there, but your loved one – and your Instagram feed – will both thank you for making the effort.

Photograph: Viault / Wikimedia Commons

2. Cabourg

It really is like turning the clock back when you visit the favourite summer hideout of madeleine-loving Marcel Proust: Cabourg’s elegant seafront promenade overlooked by formal gardens and imposing villas is straight out of an old-time movie. You might not see bathing belles in stripy bloomers on this well-groomed Normandy beach, but some of that charm still hangs in the air.

Photograph: Cecile Petit / Wikimedia Commons

3. Porquerolles

Just a ferry away from chic Hyères, Porquerolles island feels like a living, breathing portrait of French seaside life back in the ’70s. A protected area for the past 45 years, this pretty island is car-free and even smoking is banned, so you’ll need to set out on foot to find the soft sands and balmy blue seas of Notre Dame, the island’s most scenic plage.

Photograph: Cobber17 / Wikimedia Commons

4. Gatseau

The bopping Île de Ré might be better known, but if you want to discover one of France’s best-known beach secrets, take the spectacular bridge over to Ré’s sister island Oléron. The second largest island in France really does feel like heaven, with its kilometres of sandy beaches backed by grassy dunes and sweet-smelling pine forests, but the lovely shell-strewn Plage de Gatseau near Saint-Trojan-les-Bains easily wins Oléron’s coveted ‘best beach’ title.

Photograph: angelic / Pixabay

5. Almanarre

Famed for its wind and kite-surfing, this family-friendly, five-kilometre-long stretch of pristine coastline near Marseille is also home to pretty pink flamingos and other rare birds. With its talc-fine sand, warm shallow waters and undulating grassy dunes – alongside the unique sandy isthmus known as a ‘double tombolo’ – this expansive beach is ideal for families with toddlers. 

Photograph: akunamatata / Flickr

6. Pampelonne

Beach clubs, beautiful white sand and a boho vibe are on offer at this world-famous strand in chic and sunny Saint-Tropez, a resort basically synonymous with one Brigitte Bardot. These days the A-listers you can expect to spot rubbing sun oil on their buff(ish) bodies include Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Campbell.

Photograph: Ulrich Giraud / Wikimedia Commons

7. Lacanau

In-the-know French beach-goers go west to the pine-clad Atlantic Coast if they fancy a super-chilled spot to surf or sunbathe. The pick of the crop is Lacanau-Océan near wine-loving Bordeaux: a dazzling 14-kilometre-long stretch of foreshore shaded by trees and framed by rolling grass-studded dunes. 

Photograph: Robert Brands / Flickr

8. Palombaggia

Picture a silky strand flanked by pink granite cliffs and framed by sweet-scented pine trees – up the beauty tenfold, then you’d get Corsica’s most famous beach. Often compared to something from the Caribbean, Palombaggia, a small slice of paradise just 10 kilometres from the ritzy town of Porto-Vecchio, also draws surfers who come to ride the waves on windy days.

Photograph: Kerschbaumer’s / Wikimedia Commons

9. Paloma

Grab your swankiest swimwear and get ready for some sleb-spotting at this sophisticated Côte d’Azur beach named for Picasso’s daughter Paloma. You’ll be mingling with the moneyed beach-goers as you strut your stuff on this hip strip of sand. But it’s easy to understand the appeal: backed by beautiful gardens and reached via a rocky staircase, this upmarket resort is mind-blowingly picturesque.

Île Vierge
Photograph: Jean-Jacques Alabain, Domaine Drogant Photography / Flickr

10. Île Vierge

The waters may be chilly, but where Brittany lacks the warmth of the south, its tranquil swimming spots and minuscule sea caves compensate with sheer, heart-stopping charm. There are plenty of pristine spots near the region’s former sardine fishing port at Morgat, but with its gleaming pebble beach and always-clear waters, the aptly named île Vierge (‘Virgin Island’) is our favourite. 

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