Too often, travelers heading to France overlook some of the best the country has to offer. Beachgoers don’t look beyond Cannes and St. Tropez, oenophiles don’t venture beyond Bordeaux, and too many tourists check Paris off their lists and think they’ve gotten a taste of the whole nation. But France has many distinct regions with a diverse array of microcultures; the energies and local flavors can vary enormously over the span of just a few miles. And while you may immediately think of the French Riviera, which has plenty of postcard-ready coastline, it’s not the only place to find beaches worthy of a spot on your travel to-do list.
Ahead, we’ve put a spotlight on the best places to visit on the French coast. From Brittany to Biarritz, the calanques of Marseille and Cassis to the cliffs of Normandy (ideas for a dream trip to these shores, this way), the country has landscapes and attractions to suit the preferences of even the pickiest tourist. Hoping to get back to nature with a heart-pumping day hike? Head to the Provençal seaside. More inclined toward buzzy beaches with plenty for the kids? Calvados will keep the whole family happy. Need to find a compromise between Burgundy and Bora Bora? The Riviera’s islands have the turquoise waters and pristine sands of the South Pacific, but with a better selection of French wine and cheeses.
The one problem with having so many coastal hotspots: Choosing which one to check out first. Ideally, you’d conquer the whole lot in one wonderful, leisurely road trip, traversing the coasts, crossing the French countryside, and soaking it all in over the course of a summer. Unfortunately wealthy benefactors and multiple months of vacation days are hard to come by these days, but there’s always a bright side, and in this case it’s looking forward to years of terrific beach trips as we check these spots off our bucket lists one by one.