House hunting is exhausting work. So why not stretch your legs or squeeze in a spot of sunbathing on the warm sand between viewings? Wherever your search takes you, a paradisical plage awaits
1 La Grande Plage, Biarritz
It’s no wonder that Biarritz rhymes with glitz. Souvenirs of its illustrious history remain in the Art Deco and Belle Époque architecture that lines La Grande Plage, its largest, chicest beach. Stylish holidaymakers come to luxuriate and be admired; surf bunnies catch waves and rays; and the luxurious Hôtel du Palais, on the northernmost point of the long and golden beach, graciously greets guests as it once did Napoleon III’s wife Eugénie, who was responsible for its construction. Biarritz is glamorous, yes, but that’s countered by a chilled-out surf culture that makes this beach one of France’s most fun to visit.
2 Calanque d’En-Vau, Provence
Between Marseille and Cassis lies a ten-mile stretch of coastline indented by a series of calanques – narrow inlets walled by limestone cliffs. The spectacular Calanque d’En-Vau is a tapered bay of fine white sand met by warm cobalt shallows, surrounded by towering pale-grey cliffs bearing sparse, precariously sited trees. Despite its rugged location, the beach is surprisingly accessible – even with children in tow. However, to avoid peakseason crowds and the strong Mistral wind that can batter this coastline in spring and winter, we recommend visiting this breathtaking nook in the summer or September; when clear mornings and evenings straddle sundrenched afternoons.
3 Perros-Guirec, Brittany
Brittany’s pink granite coast takes on a beautifully otherworldly feel, thanks to the smooth rock formations, which are carved into rose-coloured sculptures by the ocean and decorate this section of the Côtes-d’Armor’s splendid beaches. Perros-Guirec is a popular seaside resort with plenty to do, if the prospect of relaxing on the welcoming sand does not float your boat. There are numerous coastal paths between nearby coves just waiting to be explored. It makes a great base from which to visit other beaches in the area, such as the long, sandy bay at Trégastel. You can also take a boat tour around the islands just off the coast, which are the site of France’s largest bird sanctuary.
4 Les Sables d’Olonne, Vendée
This seaside town is famed for the Vendée Globe yacht race, which starts and finishes here every four years – but a wide range of watersports attract holidaymakers to its Grande Plage year-round. With the long, curved bay right on the town’s doorstep, and cafés and restaurants in sight of the water, Les Sables d’Olonne is a classic beach holiday destination. When you’re not paddling in the surf or trying your hand at sailing or surfing, simply stretch out on a sun lounger or while away the hours making sandcastles.
5 Étretat, Normandy
Perhaps Normandy’s most iconic coastal landscape, Étretat is famous for the two huge natural archways that jut out from the towering cliffs and plunge into the sea below. The beach between them is too pebbled for a bucket and spade, and the English Channel is often a bit chilly for bathing, so the way to really enjoy this section of the Alabaster Coast is from on high. Trek along the trails that follow the grassy cliff edge to enjoy dramatic views and the sun bouncing off the white limestone and glinting on the water way below you.