The 10 best beach holidays in France for discerning British sun lovers

The stunning coast of Étretat - Getty

The stunning coast of Étretat – Getty

From the Riviera of the Thinkers to a forgotten Atlantic island, there are plenty of unnoticed options in France for the discerning British sun-seeker. Here are 10 of the best, chosen by our experts.

1. Menton, Provence

Menton is the Côte-d’Azur of the person who thinks. As needed, it has lazy sunshine, two vast sandy and shingle beaches, unmistakable light and Alps dropping straight into the sea – but without the guesswork of more ring-a-ding points further west. Wintering British nobles set the tone long ago, establishing Belle-Epoque gardens, manners and elegance. These bloom on Mediterranean roots. The labyrinthine old Latin town rises around steep baroque churches on its hill. Italy at the end of the ball. So we have the best of all worlds – and art at the Jean Cocteau Museum, if the sand, sun and sea don’t provide an aesthetic challenge.

The Hôtel Napoléon is an English-owned boutique hotel on the beachfront in Menton that dazzles guests with excellent service and crisp white and blue rooms. Fly to Nice.

Menton was a magnet for wintering British nobles - Getty

Menton was a magnet for wintering British nobles – Getty

2. Gruissan, Languedoc

South of Narbonne, the flat and unkempt coast of Languedoc suddenly sprouts the rocks of the Massif de Clape. This is a very welcome development. Hidden beneath the massif is the small town of Gruissan, which has a proper old town, spiraling out of its castle. Further on, the most modern facilities on the seafront (bars, boats, inflatable dolphins) give way to a tangle of lagoons, swamps and incredible beaches. Nearby are other more remote sands at Serignan and Portiragnes, as well as great walks and wine among the smoky ridges and pines of the Clape hills.

The best wine of all comes from Château Le Bouis. Here, behind Gruissan, is a 300-year-old winery overlooking the vineyards and the sea, where – isn’t life well planned? – you can also stay in what used to be the winemaker’s manor house. The ancient stones also house a restaurant. Fly to Perpignan.

3. Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Provence

Cavalaire-sur-Mer is as close to St Tropez as anyone needs to be, but terribly different. The place has the same sea, sun and carefree, but no A-list exclusivity or billionaire-defying prices. Here families are in the foreground, with a safe main beach that never ends, and every maritime activity known to man, buccaneer bar. Diving is particularly rewarding. A little further on are creeks, more inconspicuous beaches and a dramatic coastal walk to Cap Lardier, which underlines that the Riviera can still be wild and elemental. Directly behind, the Maures Mountains take you away from the coast to harder times in the twist of a hairpin.

The Hotel du Parc is out of the center but close to the beach (go to the second or third floor for better sea views), while Le Clos des Sept Palmiers is a colonial-looking chambres-d’hôtes inches from the beach on the creek. Bonporteau. The best bet for the family might be a campsite, and the best is Camping de la Baie. Run by the same family for 60 years, it’s, unusually, a downtown banger (although you’d never guess when you’re there). Fly to Toulon.

Cape Taillat, near Cavalaire-sur-Mer - Getty

Cape Taillat, near Cavalaire-sur-Mer – Getty

4. Conche des Baleines, Île de Ré

This chic little island off the west coast of France is a popular hideaway for affluent French families who avoid the glitz of St Tropez for the vast pine-tree beaches of Re, bathed in the bright light of the Atlantic. It’s a great place for teenage kids looking for a little independence as they can safely ride their bikes on the miles of car-free bike lanes. For the most memorable beaches, head to the far west – to Conche des Baleines, a vast crescent of golden sand, and the lesser-known but more protected Trousse-Chemise. Both are surrounded by pine forests which are ideal spots for picnics. Kilometers of dune beaches offering good boogie boarding runs along the south coast – Le Bois-Plage en Re is particularly popular.

Stay at Hotel de Toiras, a meticulously renovated 17th-century shipowner’s residence in St Martin de Re, the island’s attractive and bustling main town. Guests can use the pool at sister hotel Villa Clarisse down the road, which is more family friendly. Otherwise, Hotel L’Ocean is in a great location, close to Le Bois Plage’s main square with its spectacular beach and excellent market. A path leads through the small garden of olive, fig and palm trees to the swimming pool, around which the larger and newer rooms are situated. Fly to La Rochelle.

Isle of Re - Getty

Isle of Re – Getty

5. Urville-Nacqueville, Normandy

A short drive or bike ride from Cherbourg quickly takes you to the idyllic coastal countryside and vast expanses of fine sand.

West of Urville-Nacqueville, 10 km west of the ferry port and a popular bathing station for a century, the veteran Hôtel Landemer offers bright, modern rooms with polished oak floors overlooking the Canal and you can dine out. on a decorated terrace. There is surfing, windsurfing, sailing and diving nearby, as well as horseback riding, and the long-distance GR223 trail passes by the hotel as it circles the Cotentin peninsula. Take the ferry to Cherbourg.

6. Sainte-Marine, Brittany

Best accessed by a five-minute ferry ride down the Odet River from the better-known Bénodet, the small port of Sainte-Marine cradles a beautiful crescent of fine sand.

Perched amid clean lawns above the pier, the century-old Villa Tri Men surveys what has been called France’s most beautiful river. It is now a sumptuous hotel, with large, bright rooms, many with balconies, plus a superb restaurant; there are also private cottages on the grounds. A ten-minute walk south, through sheltered coves on the riverbank, takes you to the mouth of the Odet, where an extremely unspoiled beach, Plage du Teven, stretches to the west for four long kilometers. Take the ferry to St Malo or fly to Nantes.

Sainte-Marine Lighthouse - Getty

Sainte-Marine Lighthouse – Getty

7. Étretat, Normandy

Small and quirky Étretat, the most picturesque spot on Normandy’s limestone north coast, is squeezed between spectacularly eroded cliffs. With its gingerbread architecture and majestic promenade, it exudes Belle-Époque charm; you’d kind of expect to find horse-drawn bathing huts on its shingle beach, though it actually offers 21st-century activities like paddleboarding.

Choose from two contrasting hotels: at Domaine Saint-Clair, an opulent Anglo-Norman castle, rooms with names like Marcel Proust and Sarah Bernhardt are draped in rich curtains, while those at the city’s cheaper, eco-friendly Détective Hotel pay homage to -humored to a variety of fictional investigators, from Hercule Poirot to Inspector Clouseau and even Charlie’s Angels. Take the ferry to Dieppe.

8. Trégastel, Brittany

Côte de Granit Rose is an irresistible playground for a family holiday. Dotted with golden sandy beaches, interspersed with headlands of tangled woods and heather, it’s adorned with shimmering boulders of pink granite, eroded into odd shapes and piled in a gravity-defying jumble. Tiny Trégastel sits on one of its largest and most beautiful beaches, beautifully lit every night by the setting sun.

The beachfront Hôtel Beau Séjour offers budget rooms with beachfront decor, including an excellent family suite with a large rooftop deck, as well as a good restaurant and creperie. Best of all, the owners also run a bakery; the breakfast buffet with fresh breads and pastries has to be seen to be believed. Take the ferry to St Malo or Roscoff.

The coast near Trégastel - Getty

The coast near Trégastel – Getty

9. Plage de Gatseau, Île d’Oléron

The Île d’Oléron is off the radar of most British tourists, despite the fact that much of the coast of France’s second-largest island has undeveloped beaches surrounded by dunes and pine forests. Miles of beach stretch along the southwest coast, with acres of space for ball games at low tide and often good surf for boogie boarding. But the most beautiful side of Oléron is the more intimate Plage de Gatseau, near St-Trojan-les-Bains: overlooking the channel between the island and the mainland, its soft sand is dotted with shells.

Camping Huttopia Oléron Les Pins is a charming, back-to-nature spot nestled in a pine forest, 10 minutes by bike (rental available) from Plage de Gatseau. Fly to La Rochelle.

Ile d'Oléron - Getty

Ile d’Oléron – Getty

10. Argeles-sur-Mer, Languedoc

With around 50 campsites and a tenfold increase in the population of 9,000 in the summer months, Argelès is a lively place for a seaside break. The beach is eight kilometers long and wide enough to accommodate all the towels in Europe. Beauty is built in; we are at the exact point where the flat coast of the Languedoc rises to the dying sighs of the Pyrenees. So if your teens can’t find happiness with the beach, the ocean, and beach clubs, you can send them to the mountains for hikes, bike rides, or horseback riding.

The village is as cheerful and brazen as a summer resort should be, and surrounded by dozens of campgrounds. These include the five-star La Sirène minus a traditional campground, leafier suburb filled with chalets, facilities, the biggest and most interesting water park I’ve ever seen, bars, restaurants, surprisingly good nightly entertainment and a happy sense of holiday fun. well organized. Fly to Perpignan.

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