France is home to some of the best beaches in the world; from the moody stretches of the northern coast to the sparkling idylls of the Riviera. French beaches have something for every type of traveler and there is no shortage of shores to explore and areas to uncover. Here are ten of the greatest beaches to get you dreaming about your next sun holiday.
Plage de Palombaggia, Porto-Vecchio
When it comes to longing for the archetypal "idyllic beach", it's impossible to think past the immense Plage de Palombaggia, southeast of Porto-Vecchio. This is the Corsican paradise you've been daydreaming about: sparkling turquoise waters, long stretches of sand edged with pine trees and splendiferous views over the Îles Cerbicale. Nearby, the fashionably alluring Porto-Vecchio has been dubbed the Corsican St-Tropez.
Plage de Porticcio, Ajaccio
Commanding a lovely sweep of bay, there’s more than a whiff of the Côte d’Azur to the handsome city of Ajaccio and its trendy waterfront promenade, but dedicated beach bums generally prefer the sands of Porticcio to the busy city beaches. It’s 9 miles (15km) by road around the bay from Ajaccio, or 4 miles (6km) straight across the water, a route served by a 20-minute ferry six to nine times daily. There are also cocktail bars with great views.
Plage Paloma, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
A dreamy spot for swimming, sunbathing and water sports of all kinds, this secluded crescent of sand 1km east of St-Jean has an iconic bar–restaurant, unbeatable coastal views and a full lineup of rental equipment on offer (water skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding etc). Over the years it's been a favourite of many celebrities, including Pablo Picasso who regularly brought his youngest daughter Paloma here, which is what gave the beach its name.
Plage de Corz, Île d'Ouessant
Popular with day-trippers, if you come on a sunny day, Île d'Ouessant can seem like a little paradise, with turquoise waters, abundant wildflowers and not much to do but walk and picnic. Plage de Corz is a west-facing beach and the best on the island. You can also hike or cycle its 28-mile-long (45km) craggy coastal path.
Grande Plage, Biarritz
Grand by name, grand by nature, Biarritz’ vast main beach has been the place to be seen since the days of Napoléon II and Eugénie. It's wall to wall with bodies on summer days and famous for its striped, 1920s-style beach tents and beach chairs. It’s also good for surfers from mid-low tide on a moderate swell and there are loads of surf schools around town to pick up some skills.
Plage de l'Espiguette, Montpellier
Strolling the old quarter, it’s easy to forget that Montpellier is a coastal city. Past the concrete resorts lies this lovely beach, a couple of miles southeast of La Grande-Motte. On the west side of a headland, there’s a nature reserve, with dune systems providing a habitat for endangered birds and insects (as well as naturists). There's little shade, though, and it’s often windy: ideal for kitesurfers and kite-buggiers.
Trouville Plage, Normandy
Unpretentious Trouville-sur-Mer – usually known simply as Trouville – is both a veteran beach resort, graced with impressive mansions from the late 1800s, and a working fishing port. The long and broad beach is its greatest asset, packed with sun-seekers and children in summer, and punctuated with tennis courts, various seafront activity centers and a swimming pool; it's bordered with a promenade, along which vacationers stroll.
Plage d’Arcachon, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Arcachon's deep sandy beach is flanked by two piers; lively Jetée Thiers is at the western end, from where boats yo-yo across the water to Cap Ferret. The eastern pier, Jetée d'Eyrac has an old-fashioned carousel, a vintage Big Wheel and the town's turreted casino. The sheltered basin in which Arcachon sits means the water is always absolutely flat and calm, which is ideal for families – a far cry from most Atlantic beaches.
Plage de Bon Secours, St-Malo
You can splash in the protected tidal swimming pool west of St-Malo's walls at Plage de Bon Secours, wander along the sand or climb the diving board to jump off into the water. This is a great spot for catching Instagram-worthy sunsets. It even makes a great sight on stormy days; with one of the world's greatest tidal ranges, seeing waves lash the top of the ramparts is an unforgettable sight.
Plage des Grands Sables, Belle Île
This rather epic mile-long (2km) stretch of sand spans the calm waters of the island's eastern flank. Belle Île (in full, Belle-Île-en-Mer, "beautiful island in the sea") does indeed live up to its name: rugged cliffs and rock stacks line the island's west coast while picturesque pastel ports nestle along the eastern side.