7 Gems Along the French Coast: Best Coastal Towns For a Summer Getaway

France’s coastline, stretching from the rugged shores of Normandy to the sun-drenched beaches of the Côte d’Azur, offers some of Europe’s most breathtaking landscapes and culturally rich towns. Each coastal town, with its own unique charm and history, invites visitors to explore its picturesque harbors, vibrant markets, and stunning natural scenery.

Let’s explore some of the best coastal towns in France, each promising a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and modern charm.

1. Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nestled in the heart of the French Basque Country, Saint-Jean-de-Luz offers a captivating mix of rich history and vibrant culture, making it a top pick for a summer getaway. This town is not only picturesque but also steeped in historical significance, providing a perfect blend of leisure and learning.

Key Highlights:

Historical Significance: Saint-Jean-de-Luz is celebrated for its royal connections, famously hosting the wedding of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660 at its renowned Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.

Cultural Hub: Immerse yourself in local traditions and enjoy the Basque music and dance that frequently animate the town squares.

Activities to Engage In:

Beach Leisure: The town’s expansive sandy beaches offer a serene escape from daily bustle. Sunbathe, swim, or relax with a good book by the sea.

Culinary Delights: Dive into Basque culinary specialties in local eateries, where seafood takes center stage, offering a taste that’s as rich as the ocean is deep.

Visit and Discover:

Maison de l’Infanta: This historic house, where Maria Theresa stayed before her royal wedding, is a masterpiece of traditional Basque architecture.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church: Not just a monument, but a piece of history, open for tours that reveal its baroque interior and its significant past.

Ideal for:

History Enthusiasts: The town’s well-preserved historical sites make it a treasure trove for those keen to explore the past.

Cultural Aficionados: With its rich Basque traditions, Saint-Jean-de-Luz offers a deep cultural immersion.

2. Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Perched on the Atlantic coast, Biarritz strikes a unique balance between the laid-back surf culture and the elegance of a historic seaside resort. Known for its beautiful beaches and as a hotbed for European surfing, Biarritz offers both adventure and aristocratic charm.

Key Highlights:

Historic Resort Town: Once the summer haven for royalty, including Napoleon III and his Spanish Empress Eugenie, Biarritz continues to charm visitors with its regal architecture and historic landmarks.

Surfing Capital: With its reputation as one of Europe’s best surf spots, Biarritz attracts surfers from around the globe eager to tackle its renowned waves.

Activities to Engage In:

Surfing and Water Sports: Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a beginner, the waves of Biarritz offer a thrilling experience with numerous surf schools providing lessons and gear rental.

Cultural Exploration: Visit the iconic Biarritz Lighthouse, climb its steps for panoramic views, or explore the Sea Museum to delve into the marine life of the Bay of Biscay.

Visit and Discover:

Hotel du Palais: Originally built as a palace for Empress Eugenie, this luxurious hotel epitomizes the glamour of Biarritz. A tour of this historic hotel provides a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of its past guests.

Rocher de la Vierge: A must-visit natural attraction, accessible via a footbridge that offers stunning views of the coastline and city.

Ideal for:

Adventure Seekers: From jet-skiing to diving, Biarritz’s variety of water sports makes it an ideal spot for thrill-seekers.

History Buffs and Architecture Lovers: The rich history and beautiful architecture of Biarritz provide a fascinating backdrop for exploration.

3. Honfleur, Normandy

Honfleur, with its timeless charm and historical significance, stands as a beacon of inspiration on the Normandy coast. Known for its picturesque old port painted by famous artists like Claude Monet, Honfleur is a blend of maritime tradition and artistic heritage.

Key Highlights:

Historic Port: The Vieux Bassin, Honfleur’s old harbor, is lined with beautifully preserved 16th to 18th-century townhouses that reflect in the tranquil waters, creating a scene straight out of an Impressionist painting.

Artistic Legacy: Honfleur is a celebrated city in the art world, having been a central subject for iconic artists due to its stunning natural light and vibrant harbor scenes.

Activities to Engage In:

Art Galleries and Museums: Stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets dotted with art galleries or visit the Eugène Boudin Museum, named after the local artist who mentored Monet.

Architectural Wonders: Explore the wooden Church of Sainte-Catherine, the largest wooden church with a separate bell tower in France, showcasing the town’s architectural ingenuity without using any nails.

Visit and Discover:

Le Vieux Bassin: Wander around the old port, where artists set up their easels, capturing the changing lights on the water.

Gardens of Personalities: Visit the lush gardens that honor the many artists, musicians, and celebrities connected to Honfleur.

Ideal for:

Cultural Enthusiasts: Dive into the artistic and maritime history that defines Honfleur.

Photography Aficionados: With its idyllic landscapes and historical architecture, Honfleur offers endless photographic opportunities.

4. Arcachon, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Arcachon, nestled on the Atlantic coast, is famed for its oyster farming and the breathtaking Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe. This resort town is a haven for those seeking both relaxation and adventure in a scenic seaside setting.

Key Highlights:

Oyster Capital: Arcachon is synonymous with oyster cultivation. Visit the oyster farms or indulge in freshly harvested oysters at a local cabane d’ostréiculteur (oyster shack).

Dune du Pilat: Standing over 110 meters high, this sand dune offers spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and is a must-visit for any traveler.

Activities to Engage In:

Climb the Dune du Pilat: Challenge yourself with a climb up this sandy giant for unforgettable panoramic views.

Oyster Tasting Tours: Learn about the local oyster industry and enjoy tastings that offer a true taste of the sea.

Visit and Discover:

Winter Town (Ville d’Hiver): Explore this charming district with its ornate 19th-century villas and learn about Arcachon’s history as a winter wellness retreat.

Thiers Jetty (Jetée Thiers): This iconic pier is perfect for a leisurely stroll with views of the bay, especially at sunset.

Ideal for:

Gastronomy Enthusiasts: Seafood lovers will relish the fresh oysters, a staple of local cuisine, enhanced by the region’s crisp white wines.

Nature and Outdoor Lovers: Whether it’s hiking, bird-watching, or simply enjoying the beaches, Arcachon offers a plethora of outdoor activities.

5. Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Located on the Île de Ré, Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a gem of the Atlantic coast, renowned for its fortified walls and rich history. This picturesque town, with its cobbled streets and quaint harbors, is enveloped by Vauban fortifications, which are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Key Highlights:

UNESCO Heritage Site: The town’s fortifications, designed by the famed engineer Vauban, encircle the village, offering a fascinating glimpse into 17th-century military architecture.

Harbor Town: The bustling port is lined with cafes and shops, perfect for leisurely exploration and enjoying the maritime atmosphere.

Activities to Engage In:

Cultural Tours: Walk through the historic ramparts for a tour that explains the strategic importance of the island’s fortifications throughout history.

Cycling and Beaches: Rent a bike and explore the scenic routes around the island, or relax on the sandy beaches that stretch along the coastline.

Visit and Discover:

La Flotte Market: Nearby La Flotte is home to one of France’s most beautiful markets, offering local crafts, foods, and wines.

Saint-Martin-de-Ré Marina: Enjoy the lively atmosphere of the marina, a central hub for dining and people-watching.

Ideal for:

History Buffs: The town’s historical layers from its medieval origins to its role as a trading post and naval base make it a historian’s delight.

Leisure Seekers: Those looking for a relaxed pace will find solace in the town’s serene beaches and leisurely harbor walks.

6. Marseille, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Marseille, France’s oldest city, offers a dynamic blend of culture, history, and modernity, making it a unique destination on the Mediterranean coast. Known for its bustling port and diverse cultural tapestry, Marseille is a city where tradition and innovation coexist beautifully.

Key Highlights:

Cultural Melting Pot: As a crossroads of Mediterranean cultures, Marseille boasts a rich diversity reflected in its food, architecture, and festivals.

Maritime Heritage: The Old Port (Vieux-Port), flanked by forts Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicolas, remains the beating heart of the city, teeming with boats and surrounded by waterfront cafés.

Activities to Engage In:

Explore Le Panier: Visit Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, known for its narrow streets, vibrant markets, and artisan shops.

Museum Visits: Don’t miss the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) for its exhibitions on Mediterranean history.

Visit and Discover:

Notre-Dame de la Garde: This iconic basilica, perched on a limestone outcrop, offers panoramic views of the city and sea.

Calanques National Park: A short trip from the city center, this park features dramatic limestone cliffs and azure waters, perfect for hiking, kayaking, or simply soaking in the natural beauty.

Ideal for:

Adventure Seekers: The rugged landscapes of the Calanques offer thrilling hiking and water sports opportunities.

Culinary Enthusiasts: Indulge in Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew that originated in Marseille, and explore the city’s diverse culinary scene.

7. Ault, Hauts-de-France

Ault, perched on the chalk cliffs of the Hauts-de-France, offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling tourist tracks. This lesser-known coastal town is celebrated for its dramatic landscapes, quaint architecture, and the unique charm of a seaside village relatively untouched by mass tourism.

Key Highlights:

Cliffside Views: Ault is renowned for its stunning cliffs that offer expansive views over the English Channel, providing a perfect backdrop for sunset watchers and nature lovers.

Secluded Beaches: The town’s beaches are a serene alternative to France’s more crowded seaside destinations, ideal for long, reflective walks or quiet family picnics.

Activities to Engage In:

Nature Walks: Explore the scenic trails along the cliffs and the surrounding countryside, where the natural beauty of the area can be fully appreciated.

Local Gastronomy: Sample the local cuisine, particularly seafood dishes that are a staple in this region. The town’s restaurants often feature catch-of-the-day menus that reflect the freshness of their seaside location.

Visit and Discover:

The Wooden Church of Saint-Pierre: Visit this unique wooden church that stands as a testament to the town’s historical and architectural heritage.

Bois de Cise: Just a short drive from Ault, this picturesque area offers lush woodland paths leading to hidden coves, making it a perfect spot for an afternoon escape.

Ideal for:

Peace Seekers: Those looking to escape the typical tourist routes will find Ault’s quiet charm and natural beauty a refreshing change.

Photography Enthusiasts: The dramatic cliffside vistas and rustic village scenery provide ample opportunities for capturing stunning photographs.

Conclusion: Discovering France’s Captivating Coastal Towns

France’s coastal towns each tell a unique story through their landscapes, cultures, and historical depth. These destinations, each with its distinctive charm, are perfect for those seeking a summer getaway that combines relaxation with rich cultural experiences. They cater to a range of interests, ensuring that every traveler finds something to treasure.

As you plan your visit, consider venturing beyond the usual tourist paths to discover these gems. Each town, with its unique offerings, promises not just a trip, but an enriching experience that will linger in your memories long after you return home.

Ready to Explore France’s Enchanting Coastal Towns?

Use the links below to book your stay, find the best local tours, and discover hidden gems recommended by local experts. From luxurious beach resorts to cozy bed and breakfasts, there is something for every taste and budget.

The information provided in this article was accurate at the time of publication. However, it's important to note that dates, times, fees, and other related details are subject to change without prior notice. We will always make every effort to update the information whenever possible.

Leave a comment
- Advertisement -

Newsletter Signup

Start a journey of discovery with our exclusive travel newsletter. Sign up to receive the latest on breathtaking destinations, unbeatable deals, innovative travel products, and inspiring stories that will fuel your wanderlust.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the globe — subscribe now and let the adventure begin!