A short guide to the French coast
is the French seaside like? What are the seashores and beaches like?
Where are the best beaches in France? These are questions that tourists
often ask; but with over 2000 miles of coastline,
France (i.e., excluding Corsica) has plenty of coastline and beaches of
different sorts to satisfy the millions of tourists and holidaymakers
who flock to them each summer. But for the foreign visitor, a holiday
on the French coast can sometimes be a disappointment if the resort or
region chosen has the wrong kind of seaside or seashore.
The map above divides the French coast very schematically into two
pink, coasts that are predominantly rocky, often with cliffs; in
yellow, the flatter areas of coastline, where there are plenty of long
Here, in greater detail, is a description of
the French coastline, taken in an anti-clockwise direction, and
starting at the top, on the Belgian border.
The extreme north coast of France, from Belgium
borders on the North Sea, and is characterised by broad sandy beaches
and sand dunes.
- reflecting the English coast opposite - the Channel coast round and
south of Cap Gris Nez has chalk cliffs, with small harbours and beaches
of shingle or sand. The cliffs give way to a flat coastline with
beaches and estuarine shores in Picardy,
round the mouth of the River Somme. The resort of Le Touquet
for its sand dunes.
In the north of Normandy,
the chalk cliffs return, culminating in the famous cliffs of Etretat
, the highest
in France. The small seaside resorts, tucked into creeks, were once
very popular with Parisians.
Beyond the mouth of the
, the Normandy
is generally a mix of broad sandy beaches with, here and there, low
cliffs and pebbly beaches. This mixed shoreline, the site of the Second
World War Normandy landings, carries round and up the Cotentin
The northern end of Cotentin
is marked by another rocky area, with granite cliffs and sandy beaches,
rather like the Channel Islands which are close by.
At the western base of the Cotentin peninsula, Normandy becomes Brittany
and after the flat shores surrounding the Bay of Mont Saint Michel, the
coastline is then very rugged and rocky right round the Breton coast,
as far as the department of Morbihan, in the south.
the rocky north Breton coast is reflected in the names of sections of
the Jade Coast, the Emerald Coast, the Pink Granite coast (sounds
better in French!), and the Wild Coast. But along with the rocks and
cliffs, this coastline, like that of North Cornwall, offers a wealth of
sandy coves and beaches. Click here a carefully selected choice of hotels on the
coast of Brittany
coast is warmer and less rugged than the north, and in the department
of Morbihan, the coast is characterised by fine sandy beaches. (photo
The Atlantic coast
Southwards from the mouth of the Loire, from Vendée
and as far as the Gironde, the Atlantic
is largely made up of long sandy beaches; coastal towns and villages,
such as La Rochelle
Les Sables d'Olonne and Rochefort, have tended to
spread along behind the shoreline, but in many parts, the beaches are
backed by a band of pine forests, and can be remarkably uncrowded even
of the Gironde
, the Aquitaine
coast is famous for its long sandy beaches, but also for its forests
that come right up to the coastline, or at least up to the band of sand
dunes behind the beaches. At the entrance to the Bay of Arcachon, the
Dune du Pilat (photo left) is the highest sand dune in Europe - over
300 ft high, and almost two miles long.
Known as the "Côte d'Argent" or Silver
Coast, the shoreline between the estuary of the Gironde and Capbreton,
the coast offers mile upon mile of unbroken sandy beaches, often
accessible only on small tracks through the forest.. This all changes
as one reaches the Basque country, where the seaside is quite built up
from Capbreton via Bayonne and Biarritz to the Spanish
south coast of France is conveniently divided into two sections, west
of the Rhone (Languedoc), and east of the Rhone (Provence - Riviera). Languedoc
offers mile upon mile of sandy seashores - though the Mediterranean
being non-tidal, these sandy beaches are not generally as broad as
those of the Atlantic coast. On the other hand, the water is
warmer. The Languedoc coast is a popular tourist destination. Around
the Rhone delta, between the Camargue
the coast is not particularly touristy; with the proximity of shipping
ports - Fos and Marseilles, and the water coming from the River Rhone,
this is not the best part of the French coast, though there are some
attractive small beaches. The Camargue
long beaches, not always very accessible as this is a protected wetland
area. The main tourist beaches, with their long expanses of sand, lie
between the western end of the Rhone delta and the start of the
Pyrenees, south of Perpignan. At actual resorts, beaches can be busy in
summer time; but between the resorts, there is plenty of room for
everyone, even at the peak of the holiday season.
it is a different story. this is the start
of the Provence
the French Riviera,
a rocky jagged coast characterised by its small inlets, shingly or
sandy beaches, and beautiful landscapes. It should be noted that a lot
of the beaches here are of shingle or fine pebbles, including the
famous beach beside the seafront at Nice. This is the region with the
most famous of French seaside resorts - Saint Tropez, Juan les Pins,
Saint Raphael, Cannes, Nice
(photo right) and many others. It is an
area that is extremely popular in summer, and holidaymakers thinking of
going here in July or August should make sure that they have booked up
their hotel - or campsite - well in advance.
As for the "best
beaches in France", that's really a matter for individual choice.
Hopefully the guide above will help point you in the right direction,
if that is what you are after.
East coast of
spite of a surprisingly high number of searches on
for "East coast of France", France does not have an east coast ! The
only stretches of water on the eastern borders of France are the river
Rhine and some waterfront on the shores of Lake Geneva.
The Riviera from Saint Tropez to the Italian border is
known as the southeast coast of France - but not the east coast.
The only length of east-facing coast in Metropolitan France
the east side of the Cotentin peninsula, in Normandy, and the eastern
shores of some islands, including the east coast of Corsica.
Click here for a detailed
map of France
, which you can scroll and zoom on any area.