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‘Enticed through the gates of heaven’: readers’ best French beaches

Winning tip: As seen from a train window, Côte d’Azur

We spotted the beach at Èze-sur-Mer on the train back to Nice after a hot sweaty day trip to Monaco – we couldn’t resist jumping off the train and heading down for a dip in the clear water we saw. A long wide bay, framed by mountains felt a million miles away from the crowded beaches in Nice – and as an added bonus for anyone who has almost broken their ankles on the rocks at Nice, this beach is of small smooth pebbles. A small slice of paradise on the busiest section of the Côte d’Azur.
Jake A

Pining for the Vendée

Noirmoutier has several great beaches such as Dames (pictured) and Barbȃtre. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

The island of Noirmoutier, off the Vendée coast, is a cyclist’s and beach-lover’s paradise. The Noirmoutier Bridge is toll-free, spectacular and has a bike lane. Time your journey right and you can also cross via the beautiful Passage du Gois causeway. Once on the island there is a variety of beaches to choose from. Our favourite is the seven-kilometre-long Barbȃtre beach. It has a long stretch of fine golden sand, backed by pine forests, and you can find solitude and relaxation, or take part in activities including sand-yachting and windsurfing. The nearby nature reserve, Sébastopol Polder, offers great birdwatching.
ile-noirmoutier.com
Kevin

Hive of activities, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Contis-Plage
Contis-Plage. Photograph: Alamy

With a modest hipster, surfer presence but retaining the quaint qualities of the French coast, Contis-Plage, in the Landes department about 110km south of Bordeaux, is simply a great beach. With a large but rather upmarket camping, a relatively swanky hotel and lots of rentals, Contis caters to all. As well as surf and two superb beaches (the main one and the slightly more remote Contis Sud) it offers a calm river for paddleboarding and a pine forest to cycle in..
cotelandesnaturetourisme.co.uk
Victoria

Plonk yourself in a calanque, near Marseille

Calanque d’En Vau.
Calanque d’En Vau. Photograph: Janos Gaspar/Alamy

Tucked away in the sheltered bays between Marseille and Cassis are Les Calanques (defined as narrow steep sided coves) and my favourite beach: Calanque d’en Vau. The hour hike from Cassis along cliff tops on pine-perfumed paths offers a heavenly reward – a descent down steps cut into limestone cliffs to a celestial cove of pebbles and sand and clear turquoise waters. It’s like being enticed through the gates of heaven. Take plenty of water and a good book and sink into the sand for the rest of the day, enjoying the views of the jagged cliffs, the lush vegetation and the air.
Yasmin

Untamed and glittering, Provence

Plage Notre-Dame
Plage Notre-Dame, Île de Porquerolles. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

East of Toulon is Île de Porquerolles, largest of the Îles d’Hyères. A remote stretch of sand separates the untamed trees from the glittering sea – Plage Notre-Dame. Stepping off the €24 ferry from Hyères the only way to reach the beach is on foot or by bicycle; there are no cars allowed on the island. This makes for a peaceful journey through a pine forest, easily traversed in trainers or flip-flops. As you approach the beach from the cliffs above there is a breathtaking view of the unspoiled sand. It’s also a very safe beach – shallow water caused by a sandbank means you can walk out to sea for about 300 metres.
hyeres-tourism.co.uk
Alexandra Richards

Fauvism and sand, Côte de Vermeille

Collioure.
Collioure has a lovely bay but our tipster recommends a beach a short walk away. Photograph: Stefano Politi Markovina/Alamy

Imagine St Ives but on the stunning Côte de Vermeille, on the Med near the border with Spain. Galleries, cafes and restaurants line car-free shady alleys. Collioure wraps itself around the perfect arc of the bay and brightly coloured houses hang on hillsides. You can wander in the footsteps of Matisse and Derain, who invented fauvism here. Take a coffee in one of the portside cafes and then feel the warm sand between your toes and paddle on one of the four beaches. But if the bustle is too much, my secret tip is a 30-minute hike north-east over the cliffs to sand-and-pebble Plage de l’Ouille. No roads come to this enchanted spot.
Simon

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Oysters and cider, Carantec, west Brittany

Plage du Kelenn, Carantec
Plage du Kelenn. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

There are countless fabulous near-deserted beaches all over Brittany but our family’s favourite is the beautiful Plage du Kelenn in Carantec. It has everything youngsters could possibly need. Golden sand but with a scattering of rock pools, a bit of surf but not too rough and a cracking diving board. For the grownups I can heartily recommend the oysters and Breton cider at the friendly Paradiso Plage restaurant.
Matt Croxall

Beach of my dreams, Dinard, east Brittany

Plage du Prieuré
Plage du Prieuré. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

I found the idyllic beach of my dreams at Prieuré, just south of Dinard on the Côte d’Émeraude. It’s easy to get to: just catch a ferry to Saint-Malo from Portsmouth then cross the Rance estuary by ferry in 20 minutes, or drive round (also 20 minutes). Plage du Prieuré is a super sandy crescent with a gently sloping shore, a flowery promenade, rock pools to the west, foodie delights to the east, and even beachcombing treasures.
Kate Harris

Hulot’s haven, south Brittany

Saint-Marc-sur-Mer and Plage de Monsieur Hulot
Saint-Marc-sur-Mer and Plage de Monsieur Hulot. Photograph: Andia/Getty Images

When the great French film director Jacques Tati was looking for the perfect beach setting for the adventures of his endearing clown, Monsieur Hulot, he was thrilled to find Saint-Marc-sur-Mer. On Brittany’s Atlantic Coast and easy to get to from Nantes, the beach itself is the star. Not a lot has changed since 1951. We stayed in the hotel that served as the film’s backdrop, walked along the accessible clifftops to adjoining beaches suitable for solo travellers, families and even nudists, and paused for selfies with the lifesize statue of Hulot, still casting a quizzical eye over this magical spot.
Robert Massey

Family affair, Normandy

Plage de Carolles
Plage de Carolles. Photograph: Herve Lenain/Alamy

A family favourite beach in Normandy is Plage de Carolles, in the bay of Mont Saint-Michel near Granville (which provides an excellent back-up in wet weather). With excellent sandy stretches and rock pools overlooked by cliffs and the occasional hang glider, we’ve spent many happy days on holiday here searching for cockles, mussels and other shellfish before eating moules-frites at its cafes or picnicking with fresh baguettes and salad before driving back to a cottage in the beautiful Normandy countryside, sun-baked and sandy.
Alice


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