‘Seduced by the gates of paradise’: readers’ best French beaches | Travel
Winning tip: View from a train window, the French Riviera
We spotted the beach at Èze-sur-Mer on the train back to Nice after a hot and muggy day trip to Monaco. We couldn’t resist jumping off the train and swimming in the clear water we saw. A long, wide bay, framed by mountains, felt a million miles from the crowded beaches of Nice – and as a bonus for anyone who nearly broke their ankles on the rocks in Nice, this beach is made of smooth little pebbles . A little corner of paradise on the busiest part of the Côte d’Azur.
Desire for Vendée
The island of Noirmoutier, off the Vendée coast, is a paradise for cyclists and beach lovers. The Noirmoutier bridge is free, spectacular and has a cycle path. Time your trip at the right time and you can also cross over the beautiful Passage du Gois causeway. Once on the island, you have the choice between several beaches. Our favorite is the seven kilometer long Barbȃtre beach. It has a long stretch of fine golden sand, backed by pine forests, and here you can find solitude and relaxation, or take part in activities such as sand yachting and windsurfing. The nearby nature reserve, Sevastopol Polder, offers excellent bird watching.
Hive of activities, New Aquitaine
With a modest hipster and surfer presence but retaining the quaint qualities of the French coast, Contis-Plage, in the Landes department about 110km south of Bordeaux, is simply a superb beach. With a large but rather high-end camping, a relatively posh hotel and plenty of rentals, Contis has something for everyone. In addition to surfing and two superb beaches (the main one and the one a little further away from Contis Sud), it offers a calm river for paddleboarding and a pine forest for cycling.
Dive into a calanque, near Marseille
Nestled in the sheltered bays between Marseille and Cassis are Les Calanques (defined as narrow, steep coves) and my favorite beach: Calanque d’en Vau. The hour-long hike from Cassis along the cliffs on pine-scented paths offers a heavenly reward – a descent on steps carved into limestone cliffs to a heavenly cove of pebbles and sand and rocks. clear turquoise waters. It’s like being drawn through the gates of heaven. Take plenty of water and a good book and soak in the sand for the rest of the day, enjoying the views of the jagged cliffs, lush vegetation and air.
Wild and sparkling, Provence
To the east of Toulon is the island of Porquerolles, the largest of the Hyères islands. A secluded stretch of sand separates the wild trees from the shimmering sea – Plage Notre-Dame. Getting off the €24 ferry from Hyères, the only way to get to the beach is on foot or by bike; there are no cars allowed on the island. This allows for a peaceful journey through a pine forest, easily traversable in sneakers or flip flops. As you approach the beach from the cliffs above, there are stunning views of the untouched sand. It is also a very safe beach – the shallow water caused by a sandbar means that you can walk to the sea for around 300 meters.
Fauvism and sand, Côte de Vermeille
Imagine St Ives but on the beautiful Côte de Vermeille, on the Mediterranean near the border with Spain. Galleries, cafes and restaurants line shaded, car-free lanes. Collioure wraps around the perfect arc of the bay and brightly colored houses cling to the hillsides. You can walk in the footsteps of Matisse and Derain, who invented Fauvism here. Grab a coffee at one of the harbor cafes, then feel the warm sand between your toes and paddle to one of four beaches. But if the hustle and bustle is too much, my secret tip is a 30-minute hike northeast over the cliffs to the sand and pebble beach of Ouille. No road comes to this enchanted place.
Oysters and cider, Carantec, West Brittany
There are countless fabulous, almost deserted beaches all over Brittany, but our family’s favorite is the stunning Plage du Kelenn in Carantec. It has everything the youngsters could need. Golden sand but with a scattering of rock pools, some surf but not too choppy and a crisp diving board. For older children, I warmly recommend the oysters and Breton cider from the friendly Paradiso Plage restaurant.
Beach of my dreams, Dinard, East Brittany
I found the idyllic beach of my dreams at Le Prieuré, just south of Dinard on the Emerald Coast. Getting there is easy: just take a ferry to Saint-Malo from Portsmouth and then cross the Rance estuary by ferry in 20 minutes, or drive around (also 20 minutes). Priory Beach is a super crescent of sand with a gently sloping shoreline, a flowery promenade, rock pools to the west, gastronomic delights to the east and even beach treasures.
Havre de Hulot, southern Brittany
When the great French director Jacques Tati was looking for the perfect beach setting for the adventures of his endearing clown, Monsieur Hulot, he was delighted to find Saint-Marc-sur-Mer. On Brittany’s Atlantic coast and easily accessible from Nantes, the beach itself is the star. Not much has changed since 1951. We stayed at the hotel that served as the film’s backdrop, walked along the accessible cliffs to adjacent beaches suitable for solo travellers, families and even nudists, and we stopped for selfies with the life-size statue of Hulot, still casting a questioning gaze over this magical place.
Family business, Normandy
A family-favorite beach in Normandy is Plage de Carolles, in the bay of Mont Saint-Michel near Granville (which offers excellent backup in wet weather). With excellent stretches of sand and rock pools overlooked by cliffs and the occasional hang glider, we spent many happy days vacationing here searching for cockles, mussels and other shellfish before eating mussels and chips in its coffees or picnic with fresh baguettes and salad before returning to a chalet in the beautiful, sunny and sandy Normandy countryside.