The French mainland has water on more or less three sides – the Atlantic, the English Channel – or La Manche as the French prefer to call it – and the Mediterranean, so France has beaches to suit just about everyone, from families to super stars, world class surfers to naturists.
The Côte d’Azur (the blue coast) stretches the whole length of south-facing Mediterranean coast from Marseilles in the west to Menton in the east, while the French Riviera is the posh eastern section from Cannes to Menton.
Most French beaches are well-developed with plenty of amenities and few hazards, though northwest Atlantic beaches tend to have colder, rougher, less clear water while the Mediterranean (southeast) strands of sand tend to be quite small, crowded and expensive with the best stretches taken by pay-parasol operators.
From Brigitte Bardot to Jay Z and Beyoncé, St. Tropez has courted celebrities and the well-heeled for decades with its colorful Mediterranean waters and charming squares. Once a quaint fishing village, the coastal town now sees more luxury yachts than fishing boats. The most famous stretch of sand is Pampelonne Beach, but to indulge in seaside fare and drinks head to one of the restaurants along Plage de la Bouillabaisse.
If the French Riviera isn’t your style, consider a visit to Biarritz. Located about 30 miles northeast of San Sebastian, Spain, the resort town is part of the Basque region. While it has posh roots as a vacation spot for royalty in the 19th century, today it’s known for long beaches and prime surf conditions. When you’re not soaking up sun, venture to the Rocher de la Vierge to see the statue of the Virgin Mary and snap photos of the dramatic views.
If you’re seeking a quieter beach getaway, Antibes might be the right town for you. Nestled between Nice and Cannes, Antibes is more laid-back than its neighbors, but no less glamourous. Many resorts stake out private stretches of beach for their guests, but there are a few public beaches, such as Plage de la Gravette and Plage de la Salis, available to those staying away from the shoreline. What’s more, the town offers unique attractions such as Musée Picasso and the Absinthe Museum.
Known for its pebbly beaches and chic nightlife scene, Nice is the glamourous gem of the French Riviera. Stroll along Promenade des Anglais and people-watch or lounge along the shore. To up the luxury, lounge on one of the private beaches, such as Castel Plage or Ruhl Plage, that require an admission fee. Away from the shore, you can take in cultural sites, such as the Chagall Museum and the St-Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Each May, famous movie stars descend on this French town for its annual film festival. However, Cannes boasts plenty of sophistication and natural beauty year-round. You’ll find the La Croisette promenade backing the sandy shores and plenty of high-end designer boutiques along Rue d’Antibes. Plus, you can try your hand at Lady Luck at the Casino Croisette.