France has endless sun-and-sand potential. In the far north, there are white cliffs and the old-fashioned seaside resorts of the English Channel (Manche in French), and over on the Mediterranean coast, the conditions are perfect for snorkeling, with warm waters and rocky coves.
Powerful North Atlantic storms rip apart the rugged coast of Brittany, while surfers pull into heaving tubes in the southwest. With so many places to lay down your towel, it can be hard to know where to begin but don't worry – here's our pick of the best beaches in France.
1. Palombaggia, Corsica
Best beach in Corsica for families, paradise seekers, and honeymooners
There’s nowhere in the Mediterranean quite like Corsica. Thanks to fierce local resistance, strong environmental protection and tight building rules, the coastline of this rugged, mountainous island has been spared the rampant tourism overdevelopment that has scarred so many Mediterranean beaches. The result is an island where ancient coastal forests still dominate, and dusty footpaths lead to serene white sands.
The island has a beach for every mood, but none can be more classically beautiful than Palombaggia, in the sun trap southeast. Rose-tinged granite boulders, electric-blue waters, stumpy olive trees and sugar-white sands make it look like the French stole this beach from the Seychelles.
Planning tip: Although it’s generally undeveloped, Palombaggia is far from undiscovered, and in July and August, it can be a struggle to find anywhere to put your towel down. Come in June or September and early October for some peace.
2. Côte de Granit Rose, Brittany
Best beach in northwest France for families, sailors, and seals
Thanks to a succession of secluded bays and milky blue waters, linked together by orange-pink granite boulders piled one upon the other like squashed strawberries, the Côte de Granit Rose is one of the most enticing seascapes in France.
It’s also a coastline seemingly custom-made with beachside fun in mind. You can paddle a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard toward rocky outcrops, build sand castles with the kids on low-tide sand bars, hike a family-friendly coastal path and eat shellfish in the pretty harbor village of Ploumanac'h.
3. Les Calanques, Cassis
Best beach in Provence & the Côte d'Azur for families, hikers, and dreamers
Calling Les Calanques “beaches” is perhaps overstepping the mark. Not really beaches at all; they’re more a gathering of pebbles and sand set deep into a series of knife slits in the Mediterranean cliffs, massaged by clear, turquoise waters.
Starting from the western edge of the beach town of Cassis, these idyllic coves can only be reached in the simplest of manners – by boat or on foot, following trails through herb-scented pine woodlands and down steep cliff paths.
There are several coves, and most people are happy to spend hours trying to decide which is their favorite. But one thing unites them all: a delightful lack of development that makes you think of how the Mediterranean must have looked a century ago.
4. Porquerolles Island, Hyères
Best beach in Provence & the Côte d'Azur for snorkelers, castaways, and families
Now this is why you came to the Mediterranean. The car-free, stress-free isle of Porquerolles floats in limpid seas just a short way offshore of Hyères.
Part of a protected marine conservation area, the island is covered in Mediterranean woodlands and vineyards and is ideal for walking and cycling. A string of beaches – one of which was voted the best beach in Europe in 2015 – gives a refreshing goal to your explorations.
Planning tip: While the entire island is gorgeous (though very busy in July and August), we suggest heading to the remoter south coast if you want to find a bit of quiet.
5. Étretat, Normandy
Best beach in Normandy for families, walkers
You’ve heard of the white cliffs of Dover, but on the opposite side of the English Channel is Dover’s French twin, the white cliffs of Étretat – and they’re every bit as impressive.
The small town of Étretat is a pleasant, old-fashioned seaside resort with a wide seafront promenade and a pebbly beach. White chalk cliffs with hats of green fields bookend either side of the town and beach, and over the centuries, the waves have carved some unusual shapes into these cliffs, including an impressive white arch and a dramatic needle of rock.
Although the weather might not always cooperate, this is a great kids' beach holiday destination and a place for long clifftop walks followed by an ice cream on the seafront.
6. Île d’Ouessant, Brittany
Best beach on France's west coast for cyclists, walkers and inspiration seekers
Disembarking from the ferry boat after docking at Brittany’s Île d’Ouessant, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve reached the end of the Earth. And indeed, in days past, people did believe that this wild, storm-tossed island was the last stop on Earth.
Covered in heathland and bounded by a magnificent coastline, this wind-lashed island can be an inviting picture of white-sand beaches, touched by the bluest of waters. But a moment later, a weather system thunders in, the island turns dark and sinister, and you quickly understand why its reefs and shoals have claimed so many ships over the centuries.
Despite its forbidding nature, Île d’Ouessant is an ideal place to rent a bicycle and peddle down country lanes, past fields full of sheep to hidden coves. Although Plage de Corz is a safe, sandy and stunning beach, you might not want to actually swim in the often icy, rip-strewn waters, but just sit quietly and meditate – on the waves crashing and smashing ashore, and seals playing in the swells.
7. Bassin d’Arcachon
Best beach in the south of France for sailors, fishers, families, and gourmands
Standing on the summit of Europe’s tallest sand dune, the 102m-high (335ft) Dune du Pilat, you get a sense of what an unusual place the Bassin d’Arcachon is.
Much of the Atlantic coast of southwest France is an endless stretch of golden sand battered by violent waves. But the Bassin d’Arcachon is a huge circular inlet of calm, intensely blue waters (often deceptively so – in some places, there are deadly hidden currents) filled with small islands, shifting white-sand bank beaches that can only be reached by boat and a fringed string of hazy yellow beaches backed by pine trees.
While there’s no doubting nature's creative talents, humankind hasn’t done too badly, either. There are little wooden fishing cabins on stilts far out into the waters of the bassin, and an ensemble of art-deco houses in Arcachon town itself, while nearby Cap Ferret is considered one of the most desirable beach towns in the southwest. Throw in oysters across the region, and you have a place fit for the most discerning sailor, fisher, surfer, or sand castle builder.
Planning tip: If you're traveling with small kids and fancy a dip in the sea, you can't go wrong with the beautiful Plage d'Arcachon. It sits in a sheltered basin that ensures flat, calm waters at all times.
8. Plage de l’Amour, St-Tropez
Best beach on the French Riviera for millionaires and socialites
The coastline of choice for Hollywood A-listers, pop stars, royalty and anyone who owns a super yacht – can there be a more glamorous stretch of coast on Earth than the Côte d'Azur's Gulf of St-Tropez?
You’ll never find a quiet patch of sand in the glitzy heart of the French Riviera, but that’s not why you're really here. Instead, slide on your sunglasses, slip into your best swimsuit and sign into one of the oh-so-exclusive private beach clubs along the 5km-long (3-mile) Plage de Pampelonne for the full French Rivera experience.
The unexpected thing about this most famous of beaches is that many parts actually remain remarkably unspoiled and as beautiful as the day Brigitte Bardot first brought international fame to the town – and herself – in the 1956 film Et Dieu Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman).
9. Grande Plage, Biarritz
Best beach in southwest France for surfers, 19th-century royals, families, and foodies
Before the French Riveria stole its limelight, Grande Plage – deep in the far southwest of France, in the stunning seaside city of Biarritz – was the beach of choice for the elite and fashionable of Europe.
Today one of the most exclusive hotels in France, the Hôtel du Palais was originally built as a summer palace for Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, who used to spend her summers taking the waters in Biarritz. Other members of European royalty soon followed; even an unamused Queen Victoria was a regular visitor.
After WWII, the focus moved to the Mediterranean, but since the start of the 21st century, Biarritz has rediscovered its glam, with a new audience taking to the waters. Today though, they do so on surfboards, and Biarritz and its environs have gained a well-earned reputation as one of Europe’s finest surf destinations.
But you don’t have to be a surfer or a queen to enjoy these golden sands. The idyllic summer climate, contorted coastline, strong Basque culture and soulful Atlantic views make Grande Plage, and Biarritz, a place everyone falls for.