1. La Grande Plage, Biarritz
It’s no wonder that Biarritz rhymes with glitz. Souvenirs of its illustrious history remain in the Art Deco and Belle Époque architecture which lines La Grande Plage, its largest, chicest beach. Stylish holidaymakers come to luxuriate and be admired; surf bunnies catch waves and rays, and the luxurious Hôtel du Palais, on the northernmost point of the long and golden beach, graciously greets guests as it once did Napoleon III’s wife Eugénie, who was responsible for its construction. Biarritz is glamorous, yes, but that’s countered by a chilled-out surf culture which makes this beach one of France’s most fun to visit.
2. Notre Dame beach, Porquerolles
Flanked by shimmering turquoise waters and fragrant eucalyptus and pine trees, this slender crescent of white sand could easily be mistaken for a beach on a far-flung tropical island. However, Porquerolles is just a 20-minute boat ride from the picturesque Provençal port of Hyères.
The small and virtually unspoilt island is mostly a protected natural park, consisting of forests and sandy paths to secluded bays, of which Notre Dame is the largest and one of the quietest. Construction here is strictly regulated so there are no seaside shops to detract from the beach’s exquisite natural beauty.
3. Palombaggia, Corsica
Known as ‘the St-Tropez of Corsica’, this pine tree-lined, white sand bay is one of the island’s most heavenly beaches. A backdrop of mountain scenery and a border of pink granite boulders provide an exquisite view as you paddle in the shallow, clear waters, which are known for being especially safe for children. In any case, lifeguards will keep an eye on the little ones as you set up for the day, with your picnic and sunscreen.
Be warned, though – this beach is very popular and can be crowded in peak season. Arrive early and walk to its southernmost point for a quieter spot.
4. Calanque d’En-Vau, Provence
Between Marseille and Cassis lies a 10-mile stretch of coastline indented by a series of calanques – narrow inlets walled by limestone cliffs. The spectacular Calanque d’En-Vau is a narrow bay of fine white sand met by warm cobalt shallows, surrounded by towering pale grey cliffs bearing sparse, precariously sited trees.
Despite its rugged location, the beach is surprisingly accessible – even with children in tow. However, to avoid peak season crowds and the strong Mistral wind that can batter this coastline in spring and winter, visit in June or September, when clear mornings and evenings straddle sun-drenched afternoons.
5. Perros-Guirec, Brittany
Brittany’s pink granite coast takes on a beautifully otherworldly feel, thanks to the smooth rock formations, which are curved into rose-coloured sculptures by the ocean and decorate this section of the Côte d’Armor’s splendid beaches.
Perros-Guirec is a popular seaside resort among families with children who are eager to keep active, not just lie on the sands – there are numerous coastal paths between nearby coves just waiting to be explored. It makes a great base from which to visit other beaches in the area, such as the long, sandy bay at Trégastel. You can also take a boat tour around the islands just off the coast, which are the site of France’s largest bird sanctuary.
6. Plage de Canet, Languedoc-Roussillon
The coast neighbouring Perpignan is so southerly that it’s almost Catalonian, and the beach at nearby Canet en Roussillon is the Mediterranean ideal. Its nine kilometre-long strip of golden sand is lined with modern seafront apartments, with the Pyrénées creating a stunning deep-green backdrop to carefree days on the beach.
Holidaying is everyone’s priority here – it’s a mecca for jet skiing, sailing, volleyball and kite surfing, as lifeguards keep watch over the swimming areas and sun seekers lounge under the blazing sun which beats onto this beach for an amazing 320 days per year.
7. Les Sables d’Olonne, Vendée
This seaside town is famed for the Vendée Globe yacht race, which starts and finishes here every four years – the next event kicks off on November 6, 2016 – but a wide range of water sports attract holidaymakers to its Grande Plage year-round.
With the long, curved bay right on the town’s doorstep and cafés and restaurants in sight of the water, Les Sables d’Olonne is a classic beach holiday destination. When you’re not paddling in the surf or trying your hand at sailing or surfing, simply stretch out on a sun lounger or wile away the hours making sandcastles.
8. Plage de Lespecier, Mimizan
Nicknamed ‘the pearl of the Côte d’Argent’, this windswept beach of sand dunes, grass tufts and wildflowers in the Aquitaine is a real hidden treasure. Enclosed by the dense Mimizan pine forest, it’s wilder and more deserted than Mimizan-Plage, the holiday resort just a few kilometres to the north, yet still eminently reachable by cycle path or road.
This is the kind of beach where endlessly stretching sand undulates into rough dunes and hillocks, horseback riders canter through the surf and barbeques extend late into the evening, to feed hungry youngsters who have spent the whole day frolicking blissfully on the sand and amid the waves.
9. Étretat, Normandy
Perhaps Normandy’s most iconic coastal landscape, Étretat is famous for the two huge natural archways which jut out from the towering cliffs and plunge into the sea below. The beach between them is too pebbled for a bucket and spade, and the English Channel is often a bit chilly for bathing, so the way to really enjoy this section of the Alabaster Coast is from on high. Trek along the trails which follow the grassy cliff edge to enjoy dramatic views and the sun bouncing off the white limestone and glinting on the water below.
10. Plage Mala, Côte d’Azur
It’s difficult to find an unspoilt corner of the French Riviera, which is as famous for its crowds of sun worshippers as its fine coastline, but the tiny and exquisite Plage Mala is only reachable by foot, a ten-minute walk down a winding path from Cap-d’Ail.
Though it’s hardly a secret – Monaco’s affluent holidaymakers are certainly hip to its charms – this beach is well worth a detour if you’re in the region. The illustrious Eden Residence overlooks the pebbly cove and is a fine example of Belle Époque architecture, to be admired over an aperitif, after a day’s snorkelling, swimming and pedal boating.
What’s your favourite beach in France? Let us know in the comments below!