France is blessed with two great bodies of water: the Mediterranean and the French Atlantic coast. But don’t dismiss the beaches where the English Channel meets the Atlantic. Normandy and the north coast of France may be bracing but the long sandy beaches offer great family holidays. If you want to strip off entirely, the Atlantic coast and the French riviera beaches along the Mediterranean offer some of the best naturist resorts in France.
North FranceNord-Pas de Calais, English Channel
Most vacationers arrive in Calais or Dunkirk on the English Channel and head south, ignoring the sandy treasures nearby on. The Opal Coast that runs for 120 km (74.5 miles) down from the Belgian border to the Somme estuary is a long headland, perfect for walks along the cliff tops past places like Cap Blanc Nez/Cap Blanc Gris (White Nose/Grey Nose) with its concrete reminders of World War II. Along the shoreline, resorts like Wimereux and the huge sweep of Berck-Plage and Mers-les-Bains offer swimming for the hardy and plenty of sand sports and shrimping for the little ones.
Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is a chic resort with casinos and horse riding. The ‘Pearl of the Opal Coast’ also has a great sand beach stretching to the mouth of the River Authie.
More information on the north coast
Getting to the north coast
- Ferry Travel to the north coast
Normandy’s long and varied coastline, along with its history, makes it a great destination for holidays. To the east, the rocky Cotentin Peninsula, with the port of Cherbourg at its tip, sticks out into the English Channel. The Normandy beaches, famous for the World War II D-Day Landings, stretch from Utah Beach at St Vaast-la-Hougue along to Ouistreham just north of Caen. Now the long sandy stretches are perfect for sandcastle builders. The Cote Fleurie includes smart Deauville and more laid-back Trouville and then comes the long coastline stretching up westwards beyond Dieppe to Le Treport, two of the best known English Channel destinations.
Guide to Normandy's Best Beaches
More information on Normandy
Getting to Normandy
Ferry Travel to Normandy
The second-most popular beach destination for French holidays after the Mediterranean, Brittany has enough coastline (2,000 km, or 1,243 miles) to absorb everybody. From the Pink Granite coast on northern Brittany with its clifftops plunging down to the sea to the westernmost points of Finistere where pounding breakers of the Atlantic challenge surfers and round again to the southern shore and the Cote Sauvage (Wild Coast) with its mix of fierce seas and calm inlets, the region offers something for everybody, young and old.
Guide to Brittany's Best Beaches
More information on Brittany
Getting to Brittany
- Brittany Ferries to Normandy
- By air:The Dinard-Pleurtuit-Saint-Malo airport has daily flights from East Midlands, London Stansted and Guernsey
- By train: From Paris Montparnasse, the TGV goes to Rennes (2 hrs 15 minutes), St-Malo (3 hours) and Quimper (4hrs 25 mins)
The French Atlantic Coast
From St-Nazaire down to the Spanish frontier the long French Atlantic coast is one long expanse of gorgeous sandy beaches, long rolling breakers and plenty of sun.
The beaches in the Vendee bring the crowds in July and August to go sand-yachting and speed sailing. Surfers flock to the coastline, and some of the major surfing competitions like the AQS World Qualifying Series are held here. Over 100 beaches in the Charente-Maritime offer just about everything on this stretch of coast. The islands like Ile de Re offer a chic alternative; the beaches of the Cote Sauvage are the place for bodyboarders and sufers; the Gironde estuary has Michelin-rated sandy beaches that are sheltered from the Atlantic’s might.
The huge stretch of golden sand that takes you down to Biarritz is backed by wonderful wild dunes and pine forests in the Landes region. Much of the French Atlantic coast and shoreline is protected with bird sanctuaries and nature reserves making this a paradise for walker and nature lovers. All the beaches along here rival the French riviera beaches which are better known and so more crowded in the summer months.
Naturists flock here as well, attracted by resorts like Montalivet (where the international naturist movement started), and Euronat, two of the biggest naturist resorts in France.
Check out my Guide to Naturist Resorts on the Atlantic Coast
The rich city of Bordeaux provides another gateway into the region, and for the citizens of that great city, places around Arcachon and its sheltered lake provides a weekend retreat.
Then you’re in chic Biarritz which combines a sophisticated nightlife with some of the greatest surfing on the coast. Beyond lie the quieter but equally sought-after and elegant towns of St-Jean-de-Luz and then Hendaye.
More information on the French Atlantic Coast
Getting to Nantes
- Nantes airport has domestic, European and international flights. From North America, the airport only serves Montreal and Toronto U.S. citizens will have to fly to Paris or Nice then on from there.
- By train: Nantes is served by many train lines, including the TGV line from Paris Montparnasse (2 hrs)
Getting to La Rochelle
- By air: La Rochelle airport has domestic and European flights
- By train: La Rochellese is served by many train lines, including the TGV line from Paris Montparnasse, taking from 3 hrs, 16 mins with one change
Getting to Biarritz
- By air: Biarritz airport has domestic and European flights
- By train: Biarritz is served by many train lines, including the TGV line from Paris Montparnasse, taking from 6 hrs 20 mins with one change