Why We Love South France Beaches
When we think of France, our mind often goes to its busy, bustling capital of Paris. However, we must remember that France has another side— one that’s more slow and sandy, as well as ultra-Mediterranean.
Along its Southern shores, whether on the southeast or southwest, they bear truly hybrid characters. You’ll see this demonstrated by the cuisines, architecture, and even languages spoken within the areas.
When the sunny, warm seasons of Spring and Summer arrive, many will hit the golden-sand, turquoise-water beaches of Southern France. That means that you should expect crowds.
However, during the early Spring and late Summer, the crowds do subside some, and some of the beaches on this list have more remote areas. In addition, some are sites of old Basque natives and ancient Roman seaports with so much history and character.
Another thing we should mention— even at the very best beaches in France, don’t expect a lot of surfing. In general, the wind in the South of France isn’t high enough for surfing; however, there are some notable exceptions.
You definitely won’t want to miss out when you come to France in the warm seasons. If you’re coming to Paris but wanting a serene escape, we’re pretty sure our list of the Best Beaches in the South of France might just convince you.
- Sandy beach
- Mountains & nature
- Blue water
- Historical sites & charming town
Its name, Argelès-sur-Mer, translates to, “Argelès on Sea.” This Mediterranean beach town has Catalalonian roots, as well as a mix of charming and dark history.
Argelès is one of the best beaches in South of France, and it’s known for its high amounts of character, clear, blue waters, and bohemian, village atmosphere.
Coming here feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle in which most of us live. It’s 360 view of paradise makes it impossible to feel stressed, with its luscious trees, mystic waters, miles of sand, and the timeless Pyrenees surrounding you.
Because it’s near the Spanish border, you’ll find that it’s a hybrid of cultures. If you’re an architecture-lover, this just might be your paradise.
From the 13th century Castle of Pujols to the 10th century Chapel of Saint-Jérôme d’Argelès, this area is filled with sacred monuments.
If you visit this speech, you’ll visit the Pyrenees, too, after all. That means you’ll have access to not only the sparkling-clear waters, but also some fantastic nature reserves.
Also, this tree-lined getaway has a charming old town worth wandering through just for the colorful and historic buildings; however, it’s also filled with boutiques and markets of fresh, local produce.
You’ll be happy to know that this area is mostly clean and family-friendly, providing opportunities for enrichment, relaxation, cuisine, and exhilarating fun.
Things to Do & See Around Argelès-sur-Mer…
- Massane Tower (13th century)
- Abbey of Valbonne (13-14th centuries)
- Church of Notre-Dame-dels Prats
- Chapel of Saint-Jérôme d’Argelès (10th century), Parc de Valmy (and many, many more historic churches)
- Casa Albères Museum
- National nature reserves of Mas Larrieu, Massane Forest, and Bois des Pins
- Promenade du Front de Mer (Park / Walkway)
- Charming, bohemian buildings to wander through
- Water Fly (water park)
- Sentier du Littoral (natural park)
Top-rated Eats Near Argelès-sur-Mer…
Plage de la Paloma
- Semi sandy beach, with fine pebble
- Exclusive beach clubs
- Stylish seaside restaurant area
- Snorkeling and water activities
- Villas & historic sites
Set against the Cap Ferrat Peninsula, Plage de la Paloma has a more energetic, luxurious character.
They call this place the Peninsula of Billionaires. During the high season, you’ll see jet-setters in designer beach attire drinking champagne in their yachts or water skiing.
However, plenty of everyday people like to come out to this beach. You’ll see folks drifting on the blue waters on their sailboat rentals, as well as strolling down the sandways for a crisp view and seabreeze.
Plage de la Paloma sits on a historic peninsula known for its Mediterranean villas, marines, and cuisines. You’ll find villas dating back over a hundred years and ultra-fresh seafood cuisines.
Before you get to the boats and docks, you’ll tread on pebbly-textured sand; therefore, some sandals will come in handy for sure.
Like the last beach we mentioned, this one, too, has a gorgeous mountain range.
If you’re into swimming and, perhaps, snorkeling, for instance, this beach has clean and clear waters to make those activities enjoyable.
Luckily, Plage de la Paloma provides changing areas and public toilets and showers so that you can quickly change and hit the charming shops in the area.
Things to Do & See Around Paloma Beach…
- Musée des Coquillages (specialty museum)
- La Pointe de Saint Hospice (scenic drive and nature walking)
- Beach Club
- Snorkeling, jet skiing, and sailing rentals
- Wander around the peninsula’s opulent villas
Top-rated Eats Near Paloma Beach…
Saint-Jean de Luz
- Fishing port / historically a Roman seaport
- Colorful buildings & historic charm
- Nature walks & hiking areas
If you want a more laid back atmosphere and fishing sport, this sandy port and bay on the coast of Basque has some of the best seafood in all of France.
It’s located just west of Bordeaux, France, and right above the Spanish city Bilbao, near the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the occasional wave and storm, the cities have thrived throughout history. Many describe this place as having an err of optimism and simplicity. For many of us trudging along in our busy lives, this can be such a breath of fresh air (literally).
The word “luz” in its name is Spanish for light, which beautifully reflects the sense of literal and physical light bouncing off its crisp waters.
It’s Basquen history makes for a complex, yet inspirational site for visiting. Historians don’t know too much about the native Basque people, except the Roman accounts of their steel wills and determination to keep control over their land and fishing ports.
We know that they were rather seafaring people, with an identity strongly gripped around the land, mountains, and bay.
In this area, you’ll notice this sense of pride and optimism echoed in the architecture, with its blend of buildings as old as the 17th century and contemporary constructions.
Things to Do & See Around Saint-Jean de Luz…
- Fishing and observing the fishery
- Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptise (religious site)
- Sentier du Littoral (nature walk / hiking area)
- Promenade Jacques Thibaud (walkway)
Top-rated Eats Near Saint-Jean de Luz…
- Instincts (French, Michelin)
- Toki Goxoa (Basque / French, Michelin)
- L’Essentiel Restaurant (French, Michelin)
Plage de la Marinière in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Things to Do & See Around Plage de la Marinière…
- Rue Obscure (historic walkway)
- Old Harbor / La Darse (walk along harbor)
- Chapelle des Saint Pierre des Pecheures (religious site)
- Institut de Francais (educational site / museum )
Top-rated Eats Near Plage de la Marinière…
- La Belle Etoile (French / Mediterranean)
- L’Aparte (French / Northern Italian)
- La Cuisine (French / Mediterranean)
île de Porquerolles
- Fine sand & blue waters
- Nature & animals
- Island in the mediterranean sea
Just a brief boat ride out from Giens Peninsula Hyères, this island has a rather magical reputation. To get there, you’ll need to depart from the Tour Fondue off the Peninsula via a boat shuttle.
Upon a quick arrival, you’ll see a lighthouse and partially rock shore. The island welcoming you might seem more exotic to you than the rest of France.
It is, after all, the most visited of the Golden Isles and in the Southernmost province.
Nature lovers will especially love this area, with its National Botanical Conservatory, hikes, rocks to climb around, and abundance of interesting nature.
At the beach, you’ll definitely feel and see its island atmosphere. It’s full of pheasants and orchards of olive, mulberry, fig, and almond trees.
There’s also plenty of pastimes like its bars and restaurants, as well as bicycle and boat rentals if you want to steal more sights of the island.
Things to Do & See Around île de Porquerolles…
- Bicycle rentals
- Rock climbing
- National Botanical Conservatory
- Walks along the island orchards
- Gorge du Loup (rocky coastal area)
- Sailing and meeting the Dolphins
- Fondation Carmignac (art gallery)
Top-rated Eats Near île de Porquerolles…
- La Fringale (French; +33 6 86 84 40 73)
- L’Étal du Boucher (French & Asian Fusion)
- Restaurant Villa Sainte Anne (Mediterranean)
Gruissan Plage, Narbonne
- Near a historic town
- Rich heritage & history
- Higher winds for surfing
- Beach activities; volleyball, kites, water sports
- Lively area
First, make sure to not mix this place up with its namesake city, which happens to be on the other side of a mountain. The charming city, Narbonne, sits on the other side of the limestone mountain, Montagne de la Clape.
The beach area is just at the foot of the mountain. Regardless of whether you visit the beach or the city side, you’ll encounter a charming, quaint character and rich heritage.
Narbonne actually played an important role in Roman history, as a seaport of the Mediterranean. On the shore, this beach has golden fine sand and turquoise waters.
Within Narbonne city, you can glide on a boat down one of its canals running in the middle of the city, the most famous being Canal de la Robine.
Nearby, you’ll have the round village Gruissan and the Barberousse tower which was constructed during the middle ages.
If not for the watersports, sailing, or swimming, you can enjoy this beach’s ultra picturesque view while having access to a quaint, historic area. The wind often picks up high, which means many come out to surf.
If you come during May, you can enjoy brass music and a Gatsby atmosphere in its annual music festival.
Things to Do & See Around Gruissan Plage, Narbonne…
- Wine and gastronomie tours
- Playgrounds for kids
- Beach volleyball
- Kite flying
- Lively music and bar scene
Top-rated Eats Near Gruissan Plage, Narbonne…
- Chez Anna, Une Table Au Sud (French / Mediterranean)
- Restaurant de la Marine (French / Mediterranean; seafood)
- Restaurant de la Clape (French / Mediterranean)
Plage de l’Ouille, Collioure
- Local beach with few tourists
- Popular sites for camping
- Quiet, but not as many activities as other beaches
- No lifeguard on duty or tourist services
If you want something remote (even secret), you should come to Plage de l”ouille, Collioure. In fact, it’s so secret that there’s barely any tourist office coverage on this place (and we fear the possible repercussions for giving it away!).
However, the lack of crowds and the generally slower pace might appeal to you. You’ll find almost all locals here, and you’ll want to stay respectful to the beach etiquette for sure.
There is one drawback you should be made aware of— the lack of a lifeguard. That means that yours and your kids’ safety is 100% your responsibility here, which might give you a bit of stress.
Also, instead of ultra fine sand, it does have some fine pebbles. Still, the camping and the quiet might be decent tradeoffs.
In addition to the serene surroundings, you have camping grounds and rentals nearby, as well as some picturesque scenes and historic sites.
This beach is probably best for adults who want a more simple, relaxing experience at a quiet, local beach, or else for a family who values simple, nature experience over spectacle and waterparks.
We’ll note— it does have some notable attractions and sites:
Things to Do & See Around Plage de l’Ouille, Collioure…
- Tour Madelor
- Fort Saint-Elme
- Château Royal de Collioure
- Cote Vermeille Cliffs (View point and hike)
Top-rated Eats Near Plage de l’Ouille, Collioure…
- le 5eme peche (Japanese / European Fusion)
- La Bodeguita (International Fusion / Vegan-friendly)
- Le Vauban (French)
- La CasaLinga (French / Mediterranean)
Before You Beach, Consider These Tips
1. The “French Nude Beach” Stereotype
We couldn’t write a piece on French beaches without addressing this stereotype. The issue of French topless and nude beaches is a complex one.
For French women, some say going topless is a symbol of equality to men. Also, France is generally more nonchalant about nudity in general.
The NewYorkTimes has an interesting piece on the matter, here.
If you’re more on the modest side and concerned, the areas that allow nudity will generally be marked with a sign. Nowadays, the security typically enforce rules to cover up (man or woman) if you go naked in a non-nude area.
However, don’t be surprised if you do see a person or two uncovered.
If you fly into Paris, you’ll need to find a way to the South of France to get to whichever fabulous beach you decide on visiting.
The two most efficient ways to travel south are by train and car rental.
With train travel in France (see this site for more information), you’ll still need to find a way from the station to the hotel or condo you rented. It’s a good idea to go ahead and have a ride / transport booked in advance to avoid getting scammed for an overpriced taxi outside the train station.
If you have children or, honestly, plan to go out into the water at all, it’s a good idea to go somewhere with a lifeguard on duty.
For those of us not so accustomed to beaches and water, the tides and waves might pose a bit of danger despite how confident we might be.