The Best Coastal Towns in France Easily Accessible by Ferry


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The Best Coastal Towns in France Easily Accessible by Ferry

Golden beaches, wind-sculpted sea cliffs, and crashing Atlantic surf await on the other side of the Channel, and whether you’re looking for a tranquil seafront escape or a buzzing seaside resort, the French coast is just a ferry ride away. Here’s our pick of the best 7 coastal towns in France, all of them easily reached by ferry from the UK.

1. Honfleur

Good looks and captivating photo angles come easy to Honfleur, with its pastel-hued tableau of townhouses casting colorful reflections across the water and assortment of fishing boats bobbing in the harbour. This is one of Normandy’s most visited towns and a popular destination for Parisians escaping the capital for the coast, brimming with charming villas, boutiques, and cafés.

Stroll around the 16th-century harbour, a favourite of painters like Monet and Boudin, browse the bustling market, and admire the coastal botanical gardens, before taking your pick of beaches.

Ferry route:

Portsmouth to Le Havre (30-minute drive)

2. Saint Malo

Ferry passengers arriving at the port of Saint Malo don’t even have to travel to enjoy a break in one of Brittany’s most picturesque coastal towns―perfect if you fancy leaving the car at home and hopping aboard as a foot passenger.

Explore the ancient city walls, which boast both Celtic and Roman roots, and lose yourself in the cobbled lanes of the Old Town, then hit the beach, tuck into some fresh oysters, and stroll over to the Grand and Petit Bé Islands, reachable only at low tide (unless you want to swim back, of course).

Ferry route:

Portsmouth to St Malo

3. Concarneau

Rugged, rocky bays, sandy beaches, and time-stood-still fishing villages characterize the coast of Brittany, and Concarneau, on the southwest shore of Finistère checks every box. Wander around its medieval ramparts, gaze out across the fishing port, or get up early to visit the morning fish market by the harbour, all with magnificent views across one of Brittany’s most beautiful bays.

Once you’ve taken in the town, follow the scenic coastal corniche north to the idyllic Plage des Sables Blancs (about a 20-minute walk), arguably one of Brittany’s best beaches.

Ferry route:

Plymouth to Roscoff (1-hour 45-minute drive)

Portsmouth to St Malo (3-hour drive)

4. Étretat

France’s homage to the White Cliffs of Dover lies just a short drive north of Le Havre, along Normandy’s aptly named Côte d’Albâtre or Alabaster Coast. Stretching for more than 4km along the shore, the white-chalk cliffs of Étretat provide an impressively dramatic backdrop for a coastal hike, passing natural landmarks such as the Porte d’Aval arch and L’Aiguille (the Needle).

Be sure to stop by the town of Étretat, too, where the half-timbered buildings hide a cluster of great seafood restaurants and boutique hotels.

Ferry route:

Portsmouth to Le Havre (30-minute drive)

5. Barfleur

Afforded the title of one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”, the pint-sized fishing village of Barfleur doesn’t disappoint. Perched on the northeastern shore of the Cotentin peninsula, this coastal escape is known for its striking granite houses, historic lighthouse, and fortified church.

The other reason to swing by is the seafood, and there’s a choice of restaurants along the harbour, where you can tuck into a bowl of delicious fresh-from-the-Atlantic mussels drenched in white wine sauce.

Ferry route:

Poole to Cherbourg (30-minute drive)

Portsmouth to Cherbourg (30-minute drive)

Portsmouth to Caen (1.5-hour drive)

6. La Baule

Blessed with one of the longest beaches of France’s Atlantic Coast―a whopping 9km, running all the way from Pornichet to Pouliguen―La Baule-Escoublac sits at the mouth of the Loire River in Pays de la Loire. Water sports enthusiasts will be in their element here, whether you want to surf, windsurf, kitesurf, or learn to sail a catamaran, while inland, the Parc naturel régional de Brière has woodland hikes, scenic bike trails, and canoeing tours around the wetlands.

The town itself, lined with boutique hotels, gastronomic restaurants, and chic cafés, has some clear Breton influences, so you won’t have to look far to find a crêpe or galette, but equally rewarding is a day trip to regional capital Nantes.

Ferry route:

Portsmouth to St Malo (2.5-hour drive)

7. Biarittz

We’re heading south for our final pick to the surfer’s paradise of Biarittz at the heart of French Basque Country. You’ll be in good company at this glamorous resort town – Biarittz was once the vacation spot of choice for European royalty, welcoming everyone from Emperor Napoleon III to Queen Victoria to Alfonso XIII of Spain.

Today, it’s all about catching some waves, soaking up the southern sun, and immersing yourself in Basque culture and cuisine, perhaps followed by a spa day at one of the town’s famous thalassotherapy spas. Bonus: as you’ll be landing in Spain and driving across the French border, you’ll get to check off two countries on one trip.

Ferry route:

Portsmouth to Bilbao (1-hour, 45-min drive)

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FrenchEntrée's Digital Editor, Zoë is also a freelance journalist who has written for the Telegraph, HuffPost, and CNN, and a guidebook updater for the Rough Guide to France and Rough Guide to Dordogne & Lot. She lives in the French countryside just outside of Nantes.

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