The sweeping sandy baysof Normandy are ideal for family
holidays. But if you want to strip off entirely, then moving a little further
south may be warmer. The Med coastline, by contrast, offers near year-round
sunshine, and destinations to suit all tastes and purposes.
© Atout France/Aquashot
Most visitors from the UK arrive via Calais and race southwards, overlooking the sandy pleasures of the Opal Coast, a great headland that runs for 120km (75 miles) from the Belgian border to the Somme estuary. This region is perfect for walks, too, wandering along the cliff tops dotted with concrete reminders of World War II. Along the shore region, the littoral, as the French call it, resorts like Wimereux, Berck-Plage and Mers-les-Bains offer swimming and sand sports. Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is a chic resort with casinos and horse riding, and has a great sand beach stretching to the Authie estuary.
© Atout France/Laurent Marois
Normandy’s long coastline, coupled with its wartime history, makes it a great place to visit. To the east, the rocky Cotentin Peninsula, with the port of Cherbourg at its tip, sticks out into the English Channel. The Normandy coastline, sites of the D-Day landings during the historic Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of western Europe during World War II, stretch from Utah Beach, at St Vaast-la-Hougue, to beyond the ferry port of Ouistreham, north of Caen. Today, the long sandy stretches are ideal for families. Farther east, the Cote Fleurie includes Deauville and Honfleur.
Brittany, in spite of its northern location, is arguably the second-most popular beach destination in France after the Mediterranean, and has enough coastline to accommodate everyone. From the coast of northern Brittany with its cliffs plunging to the sea to the westernmost points of Finistère and the delights of the Crozon Peninsula, where pounding breakers of the Atlantic challenge surfers and sheltered beaches like that at Morgat, offer something for everyone. Farther east, the beach at La Baule has long been popular with French people on holiday.
With 2,000km (1,250 miles) of coastline Brittany's golden sand is difficult to miss. For a quiet place, go for the Baie d'Audierne, west of Quimper in Finistère. Facing out into the Bay of Biscay, this really does feel like the end of the world: 30km (19 miles) in length, the Baie offers calm relaxation on family-friendly beaches.
© Atout France/Catherine Bibollet
The Atlantic Coast
From St-Nazaire down to the Spanish frontier the long French Atlantic coast is a long expanse of sand, long, rolling breakers and sun.
Those in Vendée, especially Les Sables d'Olonne, attract the crowds in summer to go surfing, sand-yachting and speed sailing. More than 100 beaches in Charente-Maritime offer everything you could wish for, from gastronomy to relaxation. Islands like Ile de Ré are a chic alternative; the Cote Sauvage is the place for surfers; the Gironde estuary is sheltered from the Atlantic.
The huge stretch of golden sand that runs down to Biarritz is backed by dunes and pine forests, and much of the coast and shoreline is protected, with bird sanctuaries and nature reserves making this a great place for walkers and nature lovers. Naturists come here, too, to resorts like Montalivet (where the international naturist movement started), and Euronat.
© Atout France/Laurent Marois
The most popular beach destinations, lie along the blue Mediterranean coast. This huge coastline stretches from Banyuls-sur-Mer at the eastern end of the Pyrenees to the Italian border.
The western part of the Mediterranean coast forms a great arc that begins south of Perpignan. From the wonderful Cote Vermeille, the region takes in Hérault, with its famed naturist beach at Le Cap d'Agde and a glorious, long sandy beach along the Étang de Thau south-west of Sète, the Camargue and Bouches-du-Rhône, before continuing to Marseille.
The Côte d'Azur, also known as the Riviera, is the Mediterranean coastline of the south-east corner of France, and includes the sovereign state of Monaco. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from the Italian border in the east to Saint-Tropez, in the west. The main city is Nice, and the coastline, popular with those who have huge amounts of cash to spend, benefits from a Mediterranean climate, with sunny, hot, dry summers and mild winters.