by Telegraph Travel's France experts, The Telegraph, January 23, 2018
France summer booking guide
How to book the best French beach holiday, with recommended family resorts, hotels, and campsites, our experts' favourite seaside towns and villages, and the best tour operators. By Telegraph Travel's France experts.
France has around 1,200 miles of sandy beaches, some 35 per cent of the country's coastline. They run from the milky-sky sand-yacht stretches of the north to the champagne-spraying excesses of St. Tropez. So you're going to have to choose.
There's little doubt that the Côte-d'Azur and Provençal coasts are the most seductive: the dying sighs of the Alps dropping to the sea, unambiguous light, beautiful people. Here are both creeks - notably, along the Esterel and Maures corniches - and longer stretches with space enough for all of Europe's towels. Note, though, that Nice's beaches are all pebbles - you don't go to the capital of the Côte-d'Azur to build sand-castles - and St Tropez's ultra-famous, three-mile Pampelonne beach is studded with private beach clubs. There's an epidemic of these along the Côte-d'Azur. Should you wish to spend hundreds - thousands - dousing Russian models with Cristal Roederer, they are a boon. For the rest of us ... well, why rent a lounger and parasol for £20 per person or more (per day) when, inches away, the sands are free?
Water activities are available at almost all resorts, with Cavalaire particularly notable for diving and similar. The same is true of Porquerolles island, off Hyères. With little development, and no cars, Porquerolles is as the Riviera was before it started playing to the crowds. In the plage Notre-Dame - 25 minutes walk from the village - it has what may be the loveliest, commerce-free beach in France.
Across the River Rhône in Languedoc-Roussillon, the coast goes flat, providing endless possibilities for family holidays. Beyond the popular resorts, not all of them quaint, it also grows wild, unkempt and elemental. The 11-mile long Espiguette beach, near Le Grau du Roi, is as untamed as a Med beach can be. Walk far enough and yours may be the only footprints in the sand.
To the west, on the more bracing Basque and Aquitaine coasts, Atlantic rollers pound even longer beaches, providing all that surfers need. Euro-surfing started round here and it remains an obsession. Biarritz youngsters can take a surfing option for the baccalauréat. Behind the beaches are dunes and behind them, forest - and activity may, if you wish, be constant. Resorts tend to be strong-minded and Basque (St Jean-de-Luz) or final frontier-ish (Biscarosse-Plage).
There's no doubting the grandeur here. Stand on the Pointe St Mathieu above muscular seas at the far end of Finistère and you may agree that this is where land ends and legends begin. Slotted in between headlands and cliffs are beaches perfect for young Britons, with sand and ample rock-pools for the fishing net. And, as Britons, they will know to take with them both swimwear and anoraks.
In Normandy, the Cotentin peninsula - the thumb sticking up towards England - is the continuation of Brittany by other means, with some terrific beaches from Granville to Barneville-Carteret and round to St Vaast-la-Hougue, as Greg Ward points out below, and in Telegraph Travel's dedicated Normandy guide, here. They've a retro, parasol and boater, air about them. Memories clinging to the D-Day beaches are in no way demeaned by the family fun which breaks out thereupon in summer. The freedom to have family fun was one of the reasons for the fight.
Scroll down for a list of tour operators offering French beach and camping holidays
And so, via the Paris-on-Sea chic of Deauville - with its famous boardwalk and beach huts which (don't mention this) look like public conveniences - to the great cliffs and rock formations of Fécamp, and onto the sand-yachting expanses of the Somme coast. Try Quend, Fort Mahon or Berck-Plage. Finally, to the Côte Opale, the most underrated littoral in France. With heath-land rolling behind, it rises magnificently to the Caps Gris-Nez and Blanc-Nez, before dipping down to alluringly modest resorts like Wiméreux and Ambleteuse. Granted, sun-stroke is unlikely. But we are British. We swim in the Irish Sea. And here are beaches with a suggestion of infinity. When we're done, there isn't a bar, hotel or restaurant which isn't pleased to see us. We're on the same wavelength as these northerners. This isn't invariably the case in Cannes. Anthony Peregrine
Tour operators offering French beach holidays
For club-style beach holidays with sporty activities and childcare:
For apartments in coastal holiday villages with various family-oriented facilities, and residences (smaller apartment complexes):
For villas and cottages near a beach:
Brittany Travel (0345 230 1330; brittany.co.uk) and Alternative Aquitaine (01395 576655; alternative-aquitaine.co.uk ). Both companies' websites have quick searches for properties within one kilometre of a beach.
For stylish hotels near a beach:
Corsican Places (0845 330 2059; corsica.co.uk) is the leading operator: quality villas, apartments and hotels (some beachfront), and its own charter flights. Simpson Travel (0845 527 0759; simpsontravel.com) Coastline (0844 557 1020; coastline.co.uk) for upmarket villas.
Many French campsites have direct access, or are near to, beaches, particularly in Brittany and along the west coast.
Eurocamp (0844 334 8423; eurocamp.co.uk), the leading camping operator, offers breaks to dozens of campsites across France, with its own kids' clubs at many. Accommodation ranges from top-end mobile homes with covered decking and various mod-cons, to tree houses and tents – superior "safari tents" are on offer at an increasing number of sites.
Canvas Holidays (0345 268 0827; canvasholidays.co.uk), the other main operator, has a similar choice of campsites, and also offers safari tents at some sites.
Other operators offering camping holidays using mobile homes:
Alfresco Holidays (0843 636 2519; alfresco-holidays.com).
Carisma Holidays (01923 287339; carisma.co.uk) Uses campsites with direct access to west-coast beaches.
Matthews Holidays (01483 285213; matthewsfrance.co.uk) Long-established operator – sites in Brittany, the Vendée, south-west France.
Siblu (0871 911 2288; siblu.com) Holidays at its 17 French destinations.
Venue Holidays (01233 629950; venueholidays.co.uk)
Tents also available at most sites.
If you travel with your own campervan/caravan/tent, you can save a great deal, and stay on sites less likely to be dominated by British holidaymakers. For recommended campsites, turn to: Alan Rogers (01580 214000; alanrogers.com), which is also a booking service; coolcamping.co.uk; frenchcampsites.co
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