Our well-traveled correspondent Sylvia Sables reports from experience on the best beaches in France, what to do beyond swimming and sunning, where to stay and where to dine. There are precious few weeks left in summer, grab your towel and head to the beach!
Synonymous with luxurious chic, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is where the rich and famous come to play, with plenty of space left for mere mortals to get in the game. Yachts fill the tiny bay, Bono heads to The African Queen in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, while Brangelina and kids prefer the private discretion of Paloma Beach. The seven gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, the elegance of the Greek Villa Kérylos, a jazz festival, and an opera festival offer plenty of culture for a break from the sunshine. The Baie des Fourmis is a perfect place to learn sailing, jet-ski, water-ski or just dip one’s toes in the welcoming, warm waters. Athletes will relish the 12k run around the cape and can be well rewarded for their efforts by a sumptuous meal, among the stars and under the stars at La Table du Royal.
Where to Stay: Royal Riviera
Where to Dine: La Table du Royal at the hotel.
2. Île de Ré
A small island at the tip of a bridge that spans from La Rochelle, the Île de Ré claims as many days of sunshine as the Côte d’Azur and is famous in France for its panty-clad donkeys. Forever obsessed with lingerie, these garments were created centuries ago to protect the beasts of burden from insect bites as they harvested salt from the local salt farms. The insects are long gone, but salt farming remains an important industry and the panties have become a lasting tradition. While Île de Ré is a great destination for sailors and fishermen, the bicycle is king on this island with 100 kilometers of cycling paths that roll through marshes, leading past salt farms to idyllic beaches. And if all the exercise doesn’t take your breath away, riding into the two pastel-painted, hydrangea-studded villages that have been classified The Most Beautiful Villages in France most certainly will. (La Flotte en Ré and Ars en Ré)
Where to Stay: Le Clos St. Martin
Where to Dine: Ôde Mer Bistro
Photo courtesy of Cal Bailey from Mountain Leon
Built in the 1930s by intellects and dreamers, the harmonious 1920’s neo-Basque architecture and elegant Landes pine trees paint a dignified backdrop to this surfer’s paradise, transporting visitors back to the days before tripists’ demands for WiFi access and designer shops. This is where the country’s rich and famous come to see and not be seen as they enjoy a round of golf, play a set at the tennis club and do their shopping at the daily farmer’s market. Life in this small town revolves around its marine lake where oystermen harvest their crops, serving bi-valves with a crisp white wine from small, elegant shacks and families flock with children too small to face the waves just 500 meters away. At high tide teens cycle to the bridge that connects the town to the beach and jump into the canal below, evoking scenes of a 1950s film and at low tide everyone heads to the beach, surf boards in hand, eager to face the waves du jour. Watching the sunset from the Michelin-starred Jean des Sables is a dreamy way to enjoy the end of day.
Where to Stay: Hotel 202
Where to Dine: Jean des Sables
Image Via Wikipedia
Long reputed to be the 21st Arrondissement of Paris, Deauville is the nearest, most accessible beach, making it an easy day trip and a popular destination for anyone wanting a break from the routine of metro, go, go. Some take the train, carting picnics and beach equipment for a budget-conscious day. Others drive up for a chance to gamble at the popular casino or horse races, and then spend their winnings at the international luxury shops that crowd the quaint timber-framed buildings in this picture-perfect town. Every fall there is the American Film Festival which attracts a constellation of stars from across the Atlantic, their names commemorated along the famous boardwalk. For the active, there is an indoor Olympic-sized pool with sea water, horseback riding along the shore and the iconic Trouvillaise, and canopied bicycles. The fish market across the bridge in Trouville is an unforgettable place to order the perfect little rosé and enjoy some seafood that was caught in the waters below. An urban adventure at the shore.
Where to Stay: Lucien Barriere
Where to Dine: Les 3 Mages
True to its name, Belle-Île-en-Mer (beautiful island in the sea) is adorned with a wild, natural beauty that takes visitors’ breaths away. Locals boast that the unique micro-climate ensures temperate weather and has made it the ideal place for the unique, protected ecosystems that thrive across the island. Pirates once stalked the shores, taking advantage of its remote coves and rugged seascape while today’s visitors prefer playing on the shore, sailing lessons, cycling trips and visiting the historic Citadelle Vauban and the Lighthouse. The cuisine features all the wealth of the sea, with some excellent crêperies. Roz Avel is an exceptional restaurant serving elaborate dishes that feature the best from the sea. With an airport, daily ferry service from Quiberon, four towns and a rich history, this is the ideal spot for travelers craving a good dose of peace and quiet for a week, or even longer.
Where to Stay: Castel Clara
Where to Dine: Roz Avel
Sylvia Sabes writes for gg2p, as well as numerous other publications including her own blog Finding Noon.
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