It isn’t easy to sum up hundreds of kilometres of coastline in one blog, but we’ve put together a selection of what we believe are the best beaches in the South of France, both on the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
There should be something for everyone in the list, whether you want epic natural spectacles and the solitude that goes with them, or are seduced by the glamour of the French Riviera and its cute inlets and party beaches.
We’ve got a soft spot for beaches with calm seas that you can swim in safely, but as you’ll see, sometimes you need a roaming spirit to find a quiet one.
Lets have a look at the best beaches in the south of France:
1. Porquerolles, Var
Off the Giens Peninsula, south of Hyères, this island is one of the last undeveloped places on the French Riviera.
There are no buildings beyond the cosy 19th-century harbour on the north coast.
Arrive first thing in the morning and pass a fulfilling day rambling through pine forest with the scent of eucalyptus and wild herbs like lavender and thyme.
There are paradisiacal beaches and coves on the south and east shore.
You’ll have to be prepared to share them with other spellbound visitors, but it’s small price to pay once you’re floating in shimmering rock pools.
2. Plage de l’Espiguette, Gard
Here’s an unspoiled paradise of a wilder variety.
L’Espiguette is south of Aiges-Mortes and Le Grau-du-Roi, separated from the land by a sweeping expanse of salt marshes and lagoons.
The beach is a huge sandbank with a dune system, pushing out to the east until it becomes just a narrow spit between lagoons and the open sea.
On the west side there’s a beach bar and campsite, and further east there’s privacy for naturists and gay bathers.
There are no other facilities around, but that’s part of the untamed attraction of l’Espiguette.
3. Plage de l’Almanarre, Var
The west side of the Giens Peninsula is trimmed with a five kilometre beach of perfect white sand.
This bay transforms depending on what the wind is doing: When the Mistral blows it’s time for windsurfers and kite-boarders to test their mettle, catching the swirling gusts that make the waters a bit rough for bathers.
The rest of the time the waters are almost sheet-like, and you won’t be able to resist going for a swim.
The sunset at Plage de l’Almanarre is something very special, as it descends behind the stony peaks of the Cap-Sicié Massif opposite.
4. La Paloma, Alpes-Maritimes
For many the allure of Cap-Ferrat is simply “being there”. There’s a timelessness about the place, connected of course to old money and the exploits of the Riviera’s early-20th-century bonnes vivantes.
La Paloma lets you buy in to this vision, if only for a day.
It’s a cute inlet on the eastern side of the peninsula.
You can hire a sun-lounger and parasol from the restaurant, or just lie on the pebbles that are shaded on the east side by tall pines.
The sea is smooth and shallow, and in the distance you can make out the perched village of Èze high in the mountains across the water.
5. Grande Plage de Saint-Jean-de-Luz , Pyrénées-Atlantiques
The first sheltered bay as you travel south from Arcahon a couple of hours up the coast, Grande Plage draws comparisons with La Concha in San Sebastián: It’s a bowl of golden sand undisturbed by Atlantic swells thanks to its natural curve and three dams.
It’s a very family-oriented beach too, with the safest swimming on this part of the Atlantic coast, as well as playgrounds, volleyball courts and ice cream shops in summer.
To the rear there’s a 19th-century embankment capped with a scenic boardwalk, while the resort has been a spa destination since way back in the 1800s.
6. Plage d’Hendaye, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
In Hendaye, minutes down the road, there’s no mistaking that you’re in the Basque Country.
The oceanfront is a blend of stately 19th-century mansions and big Basque houses with timbering and gabled roofs.
The beach is big enough and beautiful enough to accommodate everyone, from families with young children, to surfers out for the consistent waves.
When the tide’s out it can be a marathon just to get to the water though! The adjacent promenade is a dream for strolling, and commands far-reaching views to the rocks at Pointe-Sainte-Anne and the northern edge of the bay.
7. Argelès-sur-Mer, Pyrénées-Orientales
One of the many things to love about the main beach at this resort on the Languedoc coast is its versatility: In the northern parts it’s almost deserted, even in mid-summer.
There’s nothing around save for the odd holiday home folded in deep pine woodland.
You can stretch out on the fine white sand and unwind in perfect solitude.
Then, as you make your way down the long foreshore things get busier and you have all the activities and fun of a bustling resort.
There’s jet-skiing, windsurfing and sea-kayaking, as well as playgrounds for littler beach dwellers.
8. Calanque d’En Vau, Bouches-du-Rhône
By far the most remote cove on this list, Calanque d’En Vau is in the Calanques National Park not too far west of Cassis.
It’s a little pebble beach at the end of a long ravine of white limestone with massive barricades of gnarled rock on both sides.
There are a few options for getting there, all of them thrilling adventures in their own way.
Tour boats often linger in the calanque for a while, but if you’re more independent you can hire a kayak or small motorboat from Port Miou.
Fearless explorers can even trek through the rough terrain of the national park, arriving after an hour or so.
9. Plage du Camp-Long, Var
A closely guarded secret for those fortunate enough to bathe here, Plage du Camp-Long is east of Saint-Raphaël on Cap Estérel.
The beach is a 150-metre opening within a funnel of rock on a craggy and heavily indented bit of coastline.
The result is glimmering turquoise water, no waves and an evocative seascape of red rocks and tufts of pine.
You’ll also feel a long way from the party beaches for the posers of Saint-Tropez; Plage du Camp-Long is one for families and couples to idle in the sun.
10. Plages du Rayol-Canadel, Var
Down the winding road from the village of La Môle near Saint-Tropez is a sequence of small, out-of-the-way beaches between rugged headlands.
Going from west to east you have Pramousquier, Canadel and Rayol, which is the most developed.
These are peaceful coves with sand and some of the most transparent waters you could hope to find on the Riviera.
The clarity makes them a hit with snorkellers and swimmers.
You can relax on land too, as the Domaine du Rayol is right here.
It’s a botanical garden you can enter for free, with plants gathered from around the Mediterranean, America and Oceania.
11. Plage des Marinières, Alpes-Maritimes
The harbour at Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of the French Riviera’s loveliest sights, and this is what you’ll see as you lie back on Plage des Marinières.
It a small beach, never more than a few paces-wide, but you couldn’t hope for more serene waters on settled days.
That’s because the beach is at the innermost point of a natural harbour between Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Nice’s Mont Boron.
You can swim quite a long way out and still see right the way to the bottom , while if you want to escape the sun there’s a line of plane trees on the promenade just behind the beach.
12. Plage du Château, Alpes Maritimes
Opposite Cannes on the Golfe de la Napoule the beaches at Théoule-sur-Mer are an understated, family friendly option, 20 minutes from the Festival City.
Each has a restaurant, which also provide most of the beaches’ services, such as sun lounger and parasol rental.
At Plage du Château that is Le Magellan, set in the “ramparts” of a former soap factory designed like a castle.
On the beach the breakers help form a pool-like expanse of shallow transparent waters for exceptional bathing.
There are four other choices in this resort, while you can’t forget a trip on the Corniche d’Or roa, credited one of the essential introductions to the French Riviera’s idolised landscapes.
13. Tahiti Plage, Var
Just the name “Saint-Tropez” evokes ideas of luxury, glamour and the Jet Set.
For the mortals it’s a place where you can bask in the reflected glory of movie stars and stare awe-struck at the wealth on display.
Even in this near-mythic place, the private Tahiti Plage has a special meaning.
Its star was born in the 50s after the film And Got Created Woman with Brigitte Bardot.
It draws an upmarket crowd who are probably old enough to know better, but still happy to party the day away.
The difficult part is getting access!
14. Montalivet and Soulac, Gironde
It wouldn’t be right not to include at least one naturist destination.
And this one is the greatest in Europe and possibly the world.
The beaches at Soulac and Montalivet have a wild, widescreen beauty, with rolling Atlantic waves, expansive golden sands, dunes and cliffs.
It’s an isolated location with plenty of privacy.
Apart from the campsites and resort buildings, the only evidence of civilisation are the German Second World War bunkers of the Atlantikwall, at Gurp Plage.
In more remote locations seals occasionally shuffle up to rest on the beach.
15. Valras Plage, Hérault
The first beach on the coast from Béziers, Valras is all about the simple joys of being at the seaside.
There’s a ribbon of golden sand that draws out for several kilometres.
At the top end you have all the comforts of the resort, with ice cream shops, restaurants and a water sports centre hiring out jet skis.
These amenities earn Valras its yearly Blue Flag.
The waters are placid because of the two breakwaters, turning the beach into one big playground for younger children and toddlers.
Then, as you turn south the foreshore becomes more residential, until apartments and holiday villas give way to campsites in forest.