A recent issue of the French Elle magazine asks on its cover, “Is it the end of topless at the beach?” While the nude and topless are the minority at the beach, the tradition lives on, and no one blinks an eye. The French beach attitude is basically anything goes, so choose your spot wisely if you’re a non-smoker and melt into the sand on one of France’s many coastline beaches.
France’s Most Popular Beaches
In a country that is three-quarters surrounded by water it is no wonder that for most French natives les vacances, means the beach. Each region has a different vibe, so here are five of the most beloved beach destinations that the hexagon has to offer.
The beaches on the mediteranian coast all have certain, “see and be seen” vibe. With the passing yaghts and cruise ships dropping off clients to the Côte d’Azure paradise you practically smell the money being burned. The plus side is the incredible color of the water and the bright, beautiful mediteranian sun. The downside is the crowded, sweaty beaches. For a great alternative check out the Îles de Lérins off the coast of Cannes. The Île Saint-Honorat is a personal favorite spot with numerous tiny beaches that feel very secluded on an island inhabited only by monks.
2) The Arcachon Basin
One of the wonderful things about the beaches in this region of Southwest France is that you have the choice of the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. The bay is great for floating around and relaxing and scouting out wildlife like crabs and mussels. The ocean has sandy beaches and stronger waves and hosts more water activities like surfing and bodyboarding.
Many Norman towns, such as Deauville, are historically linked to beach tourism – the beaches not far from Paris became the preferred resort region for the wealthy after the creation of the French railway network. The beaches along the north Atlantic coast don’t receive the same golden light of the Mediterranean sun but they have a charm and tradition all their own.
The beaches of Brittany have a rustic, sauvage feel. The rocky shores are exceptionally picturesque. The fortress city of Saint-Malo was once a notorious pirate haven and while the beaches are less ideal for swimming they are the place to be for boating.
5) Paris Plage
Ok, so this one’s cheating. No, Paris doesn’t have a real beach, but they sure make a doggone effort to reproduce one on the banks of the Seine. The sand and sun and outdoor activities are a best bet for a city beach experience. Grab a good novel from one of the numerous street vendors and snuggle into the reclining chairs set up under the shade of a parasol and enjoy the view of the river.
And finally for a bit of French vocabulary for la plage that you may also consider your beach checklist.
Beach towel – serviette de plage
Sunscreen – crème solaire
Sunglasses – lunettes de soleil
Swimsuit – maillot de bain
Surfboard – planche de surf
Snorkel – tuba