French beaches stretch from the very north at the border with Belgium, all around the huge coastline, right around to the border with Spain, and then start again on the Mediterranean coastline, stretching right up to the border with Italy. No matter which is your favorite area of coastal France, there will be a stunning beach to tempt you. Choose from intimate little rocky coves or huge ribbons of flat sands, to be enjoyed from trendy chic resorts or cosy little gîtes on cliff tops. French beaches are glorious. Oh la la indeed!
Mention Normandy and the name will be forever linked with D-Day in 1944 when the now iconic and celebrated French beaches saw the mass landing of Allied troops to retake Europe from the Germans. Memorials and monuments rightly dominate the main beaches, but there are some absolute gems that had no part in the landings are simply superb. One example is Baie d’Elecgrain set in the rugged headlands of the Cap de la Hague in the northwest tip of Normandy. The dark golden sand rises to gently-rolling hills and there are stunning views across to the Channel islands.
No-one would deny that some of the most glorious French beaches are on the Riviera, but being so lauded, many are also popular and crowded. If you want to steer clear of glitzy resorts, the beaches around Cassis are a perfect choice. The tiny inlets (called calanques) overlooked by towering cliffs are spectacular and one of the very best is the Calanque d’En Vau. Passing as not a bad definition of paradise, this little cove of shimmering white sand and sparkling azure waters is almost hidden by the soaring granite cliffs.
Connected to the French mainland of Western Loire by a bridge and paved road, the Ile de Noirmoutier is a little gem in the Bay of Biscay. It is a historic and picturesque place and despite its size, it can boast of 40 kilometers of fine sandy beaches. They are unspoiled and crowd free. The best known and most-oft photographed is La Plage des Dames, named for the ladies from the big houses in the Bois de la Chaize who used to frequent the beach in Victorian times. Reminiscent of those times, the beach huts, lighthouse and jetty add to the charm of the sands which are shaded by pine trees.
Erquy is a typical, traditional Breton fishing village but is also home to one of the most lovely, yet unusual beaches in France. A lovely expanse of golden sand nestles along the shore of a huge curving bay and to all intents and purposes just looks like another gorgeous Brittany beach. However, Erquy is what you might call a part-time beach. When the tide is in, all the usual beach activities go ahead, sun bathing, swimming, paddling and kayaking, but when the tide goes out, the sea almost disappears. It leaves behind a sandy playground perfect for rock-pooling, shell hunting and sand yacht racing.
La Rochelle is one of the favored holiday locations on the west coast of France, and this part of the Atlantic seaboard is blessed with long golden sandy beaches. One fabulous example is La Plage de Chatelaillon. Perfect for sunbathing and swimming at high/mid tide but there’s a bit of trek to the shore when the sea recedes at low tide. The beach is safe, clean and with plenty of space to find your own sweet spot. There are also restaurants right on the sands, and if it’s still there, (it was in July 2012) the crêpes in Café de Fleur are to die for.
We all know that the Riviera and southern Mediterranean coast has some of the very best French beaches, that they are frequented by the beautiful people and the towns and resorts that front them are chic and fashionable. So, when it’s time for something a little different, it has to be La Plage de Bregancon. It can’t be too shabby, because this is where the French President has a summer home. It’s almost a step back in time to the 1950s before the tourist developers moved in and built all those fancy resorts and hotels. The beach is magical – no buildings, clean sand, bright turquoise water and views of the islands of the Porquerolles and Port-Cros.
Another of the stunning beaches of France with a bit of “vive la différence” is Dune de Pyla on the Atlantic coast near Bordeaux. On the seaward side on the Dune de Pyla (or Dune de Pilat) is a gorgeous stretch of sand. What is incredible though is the beach is the flat part of the tallest sand dune in Europe. The Dune is currently 100+ meters above sea level, it is 500 meters wide and stretches for 2,700 meters. Now that, is one big sand dune. And, you have to clamber up and over it to reach the beach. Best advice is to get to the top and roll down!
I think we can say that the beaches of France are definitely eclectic. I’ve been a Francophile for as long as I can remember so I’d be happy sitting on any of these French beaches. How about you?
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