From Brittany in the north to the Spanish border in the south, there are miles of charming spots to discover on the Atlantic coast in France.
The sea may be rough, but there are plenty of sheltered coves and bays to avoid the swells.
We’ve trawled from top to bottom to find ten of the best holiday spots, with affordable places to stay and views that only the super-rich experience elsewhere.
Vive la difference: A beach in the resort of Morgat on the Crozon peninsula’s rugged coastline in Brittany
The Crozon peninsula, on western Brittany’s rugged coastline, wraps protectively around the resort of Morgat, keeping the Atlantic swell from its mile of soft-sand Blue Flag beach.
Originally a sardine port, the village has grown into a lively seaside haven with great swimming and watersports, all reached by a short coastal path. Join one of the small boat cruises and explore the sea caves dotted underneath the cliffs, or hire a kayak and paddle there yourself.
Good to know: The GR34 coastal path passes through Morgat, so it’s easy to walk a manageable section. Try the six-mile route to Cap de la Chevre via Fort Kador.
Where to stay: Hotel de la Baie is right on the beach. Upgrade for a sea view, or book one of the apartments. Doubles cost from £59 (previthal.com).
Veillon beach, pictured, is in the Vendee region and is a favourite with both families and watersports fans
In the Vendee region just north of La Rochelle, the swirling Payre estuary is stopped in its tracks by a long, curving sand dune backed by pine woods.
Choose between the lagoon and the open sea at Veillon beach. Families with small children can stick to the inlet and rock pools, while watersports fans will enjoy the long, rolling waves, surfing, bodyboarding and kayaking.
Good to know: It’s a 20-minute drive to Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, famed for its medieval castle, Chateau de Talmont, a former home of Richard the Lionheart.
Where to stay: Follow the path through the pines to find Les Jardins de l’Atlantique, a modern three-star resort with indoor and outdoor pools and a spa. B&B doubles cost from £74 (jardins-atlantique.com).
Benodet, pictured, is on Brittany’s southern coast and has a classic seaside charm
There’s a pleasant buzz about Benodet, on Brittany’s southern coast, which has a classic seaside charm as well as being one of the region’s more energetic resorts.
At the point where the River Odet reaches the sea, you’ll find a wide, sandy beach backed by a pine-shaded promenade, cafe terraces and even a casino. When you’re not taking boat trips along the river, venture out to the tiny Glenan islands, just ten miles off the coast.
Good to know: Just across the Odet at Sainte-Marine, Michelin-starred Villa Tri Men serves seafood dishes from an enviable location on the clifftop.
Where to stay: Opposite the beach, Relais Thalasso has a spa with a seawater pool, hot tub and saunas. Doubles from £104 (relaisthalasso.com).
One of the beaches on Ile de Noirmoutier in the Bay of Biscay. It has around 25 miles of sandy stretches squeezed into its quirky shape
Linked to the mainland by a bridge, Ile de Noirmoutier, in the Bay of Biscay, has around 25 miles of beaches squeezed into its quirky shape.
One of the most delightful is Plage des Dames, on its north-eastern side. It’s bookended by rocks, with a row of white beach huts and a boardwalk that juts out into the sea.
Good to know: Take a day trip aboard a 1916 galleon to nearby Pilier Island (from £51, oabandonado.com).
Where to stay: A five-minute walk from the beach is Hotel Restaurant Les Prateaux, a cottage set in large gardens. Doubles from £84 (lesprateaux.com).
Chic Ile de Re
The island of Ile de Re is accessible via a toll bridge from La Rochelle. Pictured is a shop in Le Bois-Plage-en-Re on the island
Few French islands do scruffy-chic as effortlessly as Ile de Re, accessible via a toll bridge from La Rochelle.
When you’re not exploring its network of cycle paths or stopping at small oyster shacks for snacks, you’re stretching out on the southern coast beaches. A firm favourite is Le Bois-Plage. Collect picnic supplies at the covered market before watching the windsurfers in action.
Good to know: Not far from the beach is a wine co-operative that offers free tours and tastings all year round (vigneronsiledere.com)
Where to stay: On the edge of the island’s capital, St Martin, is dreamy Le Clos Saint-Martin, with two outdoor pools and a Clarins spa. Doubles from £179 (le-clos-saint-martin.com).
Truly regal resort
Biarritz, pictured, is an easygoing, elegant town, which has been a favourite with European royalty since the 19th century
Biarritz’s big surfing community adds an easygoing atmosphere to this elegant town, a favourite with European royalty since the 19th century.
If you want a change of scene from the busy Grande Plage, find a spot on its more tranquil neighbour, Plage du Miramar, which follows the sandy shore towards the lighthouse.
Good to know: It was Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III, who made the resort fashionable, holidaying there every summer for more than a decade and even building a villa.
Where to stay: Shaped like an ocean liner, five-star Hotel Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar has its own private entrance to Miramar beach. Doubles cost from £135 (sofitel.accorhotels.com).
Europe’s tallest dune
Grande Dune du Pilat, pictured, is Europe’s tallest sand dune, rising about 350ft above sea level. It can be found an hour west of Bordeaux
Grande Dune du Pilat, an hour west of Bordeaux in Arcachon Bay, is one of the Atlantic coast’s finest sights — Europe’s tallest sand dune, rising about 350 ft above sea level and surrounded by pine forests and the ocean. The views from the top are wonderful.
From the car park at the northern end of the dune, climb the white wooden stairs to the top before scrambling back to the beach.
Good to know: If you would prefer a bird’s-eye view, take a 15-minute tandem paraglide over the dunes with Sud-Ouest Parapente (from £51, sud-ouest-parapente.fr).
Where to stay: French designer Philippe Starck’s chichi La Co(o)rniche hotel is in an enviable spot facing the dune, while the pool overlooks the ocean. Doubles cost from £330 (lacoorniche-pyla.com).
Cote d’Argent Sands
Mimizan Plage, pictured, is within the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park. It is popular with jetskiers and kitesurfers
Mimizan Plage, within the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park, kicks off the Cote d’Argent, a seemingly endless stretch of sandy beaches that are never crowded.
Surfers, jetskiers and kitesurfers are in their element here. Follow the cycle paths inland to peaceful Lake Aureilhan, where you can try paddleboarding or have some fun in a Hawaiian-style canoe.
Good to know: A poet called Maurice Martin named the area ‘the Pearl of the Silver Coast’ after discovering it in 1905.
Where to stay: L’Emeraude des Bois is a family-run, two-star hotel next to the little Mimizan river. It offers bike hire and a treehouse that you can rent. Doubles cost from £50 (emeraudedesbois.com).
The Quiberon peninsula, which dangles from the Breton coast, has a wild western coastline
Dangling from the Breton coast, the peninsula Quiberon has a large, crescent-shaped beach, a buzzing promenade and a golf course — plus you can take day trips to the island of Belle-Ile.
For a relaxing swim, stick to the main beach, Grande Plage, but for something a little more bracing, explore the wilder western coastline. Referred to as the Cote Sauvage, it has deserted beaches, small coves and picturesque walks.
Good to know: Monet captured the beauty of Belle-Ile during a ten-week stay in the 19th century.
Where to stay: Hotel La Petite Sirene has two beaches within a few minutes’ walk. Doubles cost from £42, with sea-view rooms from £67 (hotel-lapetitesirene.fr).
The fishing village of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, pictured, is in the Basque country, just before the Spanish border
Just before the Spanish border is the fishing village of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, in the Basque country, with a broad sandy beach that sits snugly between the harbour arms.
It’s one of the prettiest spots on the coast, with typically Basque red-and-white, half-timbered houses lining the seafront and the Pyrenees looming close.
Good to know: Louis the Great married his first cousin, Maria Theresa, in the church of St John the Baptist in the 17th century.
Where to stay: Hotel de la Plage has balcony rooms with lovely sea views. Doubles cost from £84 (hoteldelaplage.com).
A map showing ten of the best holiday spots that can be found on the Atlantic coast of France