Winning tip: As seen from a train window, Cote d’Azur
We spotted the beach at Èze on the train back to Nice after a hot, sweaty day trip to Monaco – we couldn’t resist jumping off the train and heading down to take a dip in the clear water we saw. A long, wide bay, surrounded by mountains, feels like a million miles from the crowded beaches of Nice – and as an added bonus to anyone who’s nearly broken their ankle on the rocks in Nice, this beach is a soft little pebble. A little slice of heaven in the busiest part of the Cote d’Azur.
Pining for Vendée
The island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of Vendée, is a paradise for cyclists and beach lovers. The Noirmoutier Bridge is free and stunning, with a dedicated bike lane. Time your flight correctly and you can also cross over the beautiful Passage du Gois. Once on the island, there are a variety of beaches to choose from. Our favorite is the seven kilometer long Barbȃtre beach. Long stretches of fine golden sand, backed by pine forests, you can find solitude and relaxation, or take part in activities including sand yachting and windsurfing. The nearby Sébastopol Polder Nature Reserve offers great bird watching.
Activities Cell, New Aquitaine
With an unpretentious hipster and surfer presence but retaining the alluring qualities of the French coast, Countess-Plage, in the Landes department 110 kilometers south of Bordeaux, is simply a gorgeous beach. With a large but somewhat upscale camping, a relatively luxurious hotel and many rentals, Countess caters to everyone. In addition to surfing and two great beaches (the main beach and the slightly remote Countes Sud beach), it offers a lazy river for surfing and a pine forest to roam in..
Immerse yourself in Kalanque near Marseille
Tucked away in sheltered bays between Marseille and Cassis les Calanques (defined as steep, narrow bays) and my favorite beach: Calanque d’en Vau. An hour-long hike from Cassis along cliff tops on pine-scented trails offers a heavenly bonus—down steps cut in limestone cliffs to a heavenly bay of pebbles and sand and clear turquoise waters. It is like being tempted through the gates of heaven. Grab plenty of water and a good book and soak in the sand for the rest of the day, enjoying the views of jagged cliffs, lush vegetation, and air.
Untamed and radiant, Provence
East of Toulon is Ile de Porquerolles, the largest of the Ile de Heerre region. A distant stretch of sand separates the untamed trees from the sparkling sea – Plage Notre Dame. Getting off the €24 ferry from Hyeres, the only way to get to the beach is on foot or by bike; No cars are allowed on the island. This makes for a peaceful trek through a pine forest, easily traversable in sneakers or slippers. As you approach the beach from the cliffs above, there is a breathtaking view of pristine sand. It is also a very safe beach – the shallow waters of the sandy bank mean that you can go out into the sea for about 300 metres.
Fauvism and sand, Côte Vermeille
Imagine St Ives but in the stunning Côte de Vermeille, on the Mediterranean near the border with Spain. Galleries, cafés and restaurants line the shady, car-free alleys. Collioure wraps around the perfect arc of the bay and the brightly colored houses hang on the hillsides. You can walk in the footsteps of Matisse and Derin, who invented the fuvism here. Grab a coffee at one of the port’s cafés, then feel the warm sand between your toes and paddle on one of the four beaches. But if the bustle is too much, my secret tip is to hike the 30-minute northeast up the slopes to the sand-and-gravel Plage de l’Ouille. There are no roads to reach this enchanted spot.
Oysters and cider, Carantique, West Brittany
There are countless gorgeous semi-deserted beaches all over Brittany, but our family favorite is the beautiful Plage du Kelenn in Carantec. It has everything little ones could need. Golden sand but with a scattering of rocky pools, a few waves but not too rough and a cracked diving board. For adults, I can heartily recommend the oysters and cider at the friendly Paradiso Plage.
The Beach of My Dreams, Dinar, East Brittany
I found the perfect beach of my dreams in Prieuré, just south of Dinard on the Côte d’Émeraude. Easy to get to: just take the ferry to St Malo from Portsmouth and then cross the Rance Estuary by ferry in 20 minutes, or drive (also 20 minutes). Plage du Prieuré is a very sandy crescent with a gently sloping beach, flowery promenade, rock pools to the west, delicacies to the east, and even beach treasures.
Hulot sanctuary, south of Brittany
When the great French director Jacques Tate was looking for the perfect beach spot for the adventures of his lovable clown, Mr. Hulot, he was happy to find Saint-Marc-sur-Mer. On Brittany’s Atlantic coast and within easy reach of Nantes, the beach itself is the star. Not much has changed since 1951. We stayed in the hotel that served as the backdrop for the movie, walked along accessible cliffs to nearby beaches suitable for solo travelers, families and even nudists, pausing for selfies with a life-size Hulot, still shedding Peek at this magical spot.
A family affair, Normandy
A family favorite beach in Normandy is Plage de Carolles, in the bay of Mont Saint-Michel near Granville (which provides excellent support in wet weather). With excellent sandy stretches, rocky pools overlooking cliffs and the occasional hang glider, we spent many happy days holidaying here scavenging for cockles, mussels and other oysters before eating meat pies in cafes or strolling with fresh bread and salad before heading back to the hut In the beautiful Normandy countryside, sunny and sandy.