In France, the Atlantic is often synonymous with surfing, water sports and sun. Discover our selection of the best seaside resorts on the Atlantic coast.
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La Baule, one of the most beautiful bays in the world
By Delphine Cadilhac, Journalist
This smart, stylish beach resort is one of the best known on the coast: its 9km waterfront and huge beach – one of the most beautiful bays in the world – are the key to its timeless success. It has to be said that the walk along its famous promenade – particularly from the grand hotel l’Hermitage heading towards Pouliguen, without cars to spoil the views– is definitely worth a visit...
Another side of la Baule are a number of historic villas which have retained their special character. These can be explored on foot or by bicycle...
And if you've got the urge to go sailing this is the right place for you, as the town’s sailing schools are among some of the best. The Pajot brothers started here, so you couldn't ask for better ambassadors!!
Where to swim in Aquitaine.
By Anne Dupond, Journalist
The beach of the Côte des Basques in Biarritz, the birthplace of surfing
It is no coincidence that TripAdvisor website users voted the Côte des Basques in Biarritz as the “Best French Beach” for two years running. This beach is in a magnificent setting, with views of the Spanish coast and the Pyrenees, and occupies a special place in the hearts of water sports fans. This is where surfing was born in Europe in 1957, after some local sports enthusiasts were introduced to it by a Californian who came to the area to shoot a film.
But this mythical beach deserves its reputation. There is no swimming allowed at high tide as the beach is completely underwater, meaning that there is no access! So please pay attention to the tide tables. However at low tide, the water is calm and the spot is relatively sheltered from the swell and the wind.
Want to relive the beginning of surfing glory in the region? Treat yourself to a beginner’s session at the Jo Moraiz surf club (tel: 06 62 76 17 24), named after one of the French pioneers of water-skiing and the first surfing school launched in France in 1966. His son, Christophe Moraiz, has since taken over and carries on his love of the sport with introductory courses (5 days) and beginners’ sessions (90 mins).
At sunset, walk in the footsteps of the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII of England) walking to the Grande Plage through the iconic Villa Belza perched on a rocky outcrop, and admire the grand hotels of the Belle Epoque such as the Hotel du Palais, and the art nouveau and art deco villas. It doesn't get more romantic than this...
The Plage du Petit-Nice at the foot of the Dune du Pilat
Picture it.... To your right, the Dune du Pilat, the highest dune in Europe, looks down on you from its 104-metre apex.... Opposite, the Banc d’Arguin nature reserve and its heavenly lagoon provide breathtaking views. Welcome to the Plage du Petit Nice in Teste-de-Buch, in the heart of the Bassin d’Arcachon and its turquoise-coloured inland sea.
Thrill seekers can choose a beginner’s paragliding session to explore this beautiful protected site with the Pyla Paragliding Club (tel: 06 20 91 53 92), located directly on the beach. Another option is to book a nature walk at Banc d’Arguin with SEPANSO, the body responsible for the protection of the reserve (tel: 05 56 66 45 87): unless you prefer to climb to the top of the Dune du Pilat to enjoy the view, overlooking la Pointe du Cap-Ferret (Cap-Ferret). Allow an hour to reach the dunes and then climb the 160 steps that separate you from the top or attack the ascent directly feet in the sand (for the brave).
The view, which changes depending on the tides, can also be enjoyed from the beach. Walk along the beach towards the dune to explore the bunkers, a trace of the German army’s presence during World War II, now covered in graffiti. Feeling a bit peckish after this walk through time? Then head for Chez Aldo, the restaurant set back from the beach under the pine trees. On the menu you’ll find hearty dishes of grilled fish and seafood.
The Plage de Contis in the heart of the Landes forest
The beaches of the Landes, with the forests behind them and bordered by dunes, have retained the authenticity and charm appealing to lovers of unspoiled landscapes. This wild coastline can be particularly appreciated from the Plage du Contis, a beautiful family-friendly beach stretching for 27km as far as Leon in the south and towards Mimizan in the north.
To enjoy this expanse of white sand stretching as far as the eye can see, climb up the Contis lighthouse, which looks like a candy cane with its black and white twisted stripes. Set in the middle of the forest on a dune, it offers a 360 degree view of the blue Atlantic Ocean and the vastness of the green forest canopy of Les Landes.
After climbing the 183 steps between you and the top, can you see the little stream below flowing into the sea? This is the Courant de Contis, a river that winds through 450 hectares of marshland. To explore this natural area where you can encounter kingfishers, grey herons, otters, European minks and turtles as well, you can choose to go down the courant de contis in a canoe or stand-up paddleboard (long boards which you paddle standing up). Go to Atlantis Leisure, at the base of Contis located in the neighbouring village of Saint-Julien-en-Born (tel: 05 58 42 84 51). Not a big fan of the water? Why not go off and explore the surrounding area by bicycle (Bikes Brooks, Tel: 06 76 70 28 59).
La Grand Plage d’Hendaye for a family holiday in the Basque Country
Located very close to Spain, the Plage d’Hendaye, which extends over 3km, is the largest sandy beach on the Basque Coast. La Grand Plage is protected by two gently sloping sea walls and is ideally located in the heart of the city facing the Bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, so is one of the safest beaches in Aquitaine. No wonder it is a popular meeting place for families and also for surfers, who come to ride its breakers.
With a variety of nearby activities, there are plenty of excuses to tempt you away from simply sunbathing. There is surfing of course, but also windsurfing, rowing, stand-up paddleboarding, light sailing, motor boating, sea fishing, jet skiing, sea kayaking and diving for beginners. Water sports are king here, and packages to suit all ages and levels are available. If you yearn for the exotic, discover the small coves along the coast and surf the waves in a Hawaiian dugout canoe with the Atlantic canoe club (tel: 05 59 47 21 67), which offers introductory tours.
The youngest guests can have a ball at Club Mickey or Club Neptune which welcome children and adults, while you can enjoy a well-deserved break away from the sun in one of the nearby beach huts. Zumba lessons on the sand are also scheduled every Monday morning throughout the summer, as well as family sandcastle building contests every Wednesday. We bet you won’t have time to do it all!