Driving France's Coast

Driving France's Coast hero image

Highlighting the best of France's coastline, from fishing towns to deserted castles.

Sights

Discover the charms of the French coast

France is an ideal place for a road trip; it's brimming with history and culture, and you're greeted with beautiful scenery at every turn. Nowhere is this truer than along the French coast. Sandy beaches, rocky bays, old fishing boats and weathered buildings are just some of the beautiful sights that you'll find on your next road trip around France's coast.

Le Touquet and the North Coast

France's northern coast boasts similar stretches of sheer, white cliffs, as its English counterpart, but with the addition of some impressive beaches. The white cliffs of upper-Normandy make for a very scenic drive, but before exploring this stretch of the coast, we recommend heading to Le Touquet.

Just one hour's drive from Calais, Le Touquet is famous for its vast sand dunes and fantastic beaches, as well as a whole host of sporting activities to enjoy. Play the family at a game of golf or tennis, or if you're after something a little more fast-paced, why not try out land sailing, or take a romantic horse ride down the beach? Le Touquet has plenty of history too, with a beautiful lighthouse offering views over the Opal Coast, and a particularly interesting town hall.

Ploumanac'h and Trégastel

As you continue to explore France's northern coast, you'll come across France's tallest cliffs at Etretat, and once you've gone beyond the mouth of the River Seine, you'll come to Ploumanac'h. Part of the famous pink granite coast (Côte de Granit Rose) in France's Côtes-d'Armor departement, this alluring landscape attracts holidaymakers who come to admire the rare rock formations, pleasant beaches and surrounding wildlife.

With a history steeped in religion, Ploumanac'h has a medieval chapel and an ancient shrine. It's a sleepy part of Brittany, as many people pass through on day trips, but spending an evening here can be incredibly relaxing.

Nearby is Trégastel, which boasts one of the most scenic beaches in the area, the Quay St Ann. This seaside village boasts a beautiful church and an 18th century tidal mill, and one way to see more of the coastline is to take a boat tour to see the nearby islands. It's great for kids, and there's a fantastic aquarium and water park nearby.

The beautiful pink shores of Trégastel

The beautiful pink shores of Trégastel

Roscoff

A small fishing port with pleasant beaches, Roscoff is a terribly pretty part of Brittany's coast. The white sands of Laber Beach are considered to be the best in the area, so remember to pack the bucket and spade for the kids! Roscoff is known for its 16th and 17th century granite houses that can be seen throughout town, as well as the surrounding farmlands, which produce delicious vegetables such as onions, cauliflowers and artichokes.

The Quiberon peninsula

If you're looking to explore some of the coast on foot, the Quiberon peninsula has some wonderful coastal walks. Stretching out into the sea for 14 kilometres, the peninsula has beautiful long beaches and rocky coves for you and the family to explore.

The winds here make water sports a popular activity with many, and if you drive to the end of the peninsula you'll be greeted by Quiberon, which is home to a busy port and various activities, such as a charming mini golf course. Look out for the small, blue and white fishing cottages that line the coast, and discover the fascinating history of Port Maria, which was once France's main sardine fishing port.

Want to discover more of Brittany? We've got a more detailed driving guidefor you to check out.

The west side of the Quiberon peninsula is known as the wild coast

The west side of the Quiberon peninsula is known as 'the wild coast'

La Rochelle and the Atlantic Coast

La Rochelle is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you're with the family. Its nickname is 'the white city' due to the bright limestone buildings that are ablaze in the summer sun. The beaches around here are great for young children, as the sand is soft and the waters are shallow. As well a beautiful old town centre, the city has a famous old harbour, with two towers at its entrance.

The St. Nicholas Tower was the first to be built, and the Chain Tower was built shortly after. These two towers served to protect the entrance to La Rochelle's harbour, and one great way to see them is by taking a stroll along the Esplanade Saint-Jean d'Acre, or by walking to the Quai Duperré, where you get a spectacular view of both towers and the harbour.

Kids will love La Rochelle's impressive aquarium, which takes you down into the ocean's depths and on an amazing educational adventure. If you're an animal lover, you'll enjoy the nature reserve to the south of La Rochelle, Réserve Naturelle Marais d'Yves, which is home to stunning wetlands and hundreds of species of birds.

The Aquitaine Coast

With lush forests and long sandy shores, the Aquitaine coast is a delight to drive down. As you pass beach after beach, you'll eventually come to Dune du Pilat - France's highest sand dune. Just south of the beautiful Arcachon Bay, the 500-metre-wide sand dune stands at 110 metres above sea level, and you get some really magnificent views from the top. Behind the dune sits a vast pine forest, which boasts some great walking routes.

Keep driving down the Aquitaine coast and you'll find a continuous row of beaches, some of which are buzzing with surfers, such as those in beautiful Biarritz. With its charming lighthouse, stunning beaches and superb aquarium, Biarritz is a popular destination for many. It's a fantastic place to try out surfing, and it's easy to find a place to rent gear and get lessons.

You're spoilt for pleasant places to stay on the Aquitaine coast, but why not take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and go camping? There are lots of campsites to the north of Biarritz, like Le Boudigau, which has great facilities for children. There are also great campsites at the charming town of Hossegor, where you'll find luxury boats moored up in the harbour, and stylish locals sipping cocktails in the sun.

Watch the sunset at Hossegor

Watch the sunset at Hossegor

Frontignan

The beaches along France's southern coast benefit from the Mediterranean Sea, and they are incredibly popular with visitors during the summer. We love the town of Frontignan, which is surrounded by protected natural sites and hugged by the Gardiole mountain range to the north; the scenery here is stunning.

The area here is famous for its Muscat wine, and in July, Frontignan plays host to the Festival of Muscat Wine, a celebration of one of France's oldest wines. Take a vineyard tour, explore the amazing natural lakes and go fishing, or wander around town and enjoy its rich cultural heritage.

The French Riviera

Perhaps the most popular part of France's coast, especially with the English, is the French Riviera. You'll have heard of Marseille, and you may well pass through this vast city on your drive along the south coast. However, when it comes to exploring the French Riviera, you might want to choose some quieter spots.

To the east of Saint-Raphaël, you'll find the Bay of Agay. In the Var département there are many wonderful beaches, such as the famous beaches of Saint-Tropez, but Agay offers up the same turquoise waters, with fewer crowds. Overlooked by the red Esterel Mountains, Agay's long beach is dotted with quaint shops and cafés, and if you want an even quieter beach, look out for the many coves scattered nearby.

The beautiful mountain range near the Bay of Agay

The beautiful mountain range near the Bay of Agay

Villefranche-sur-Mer

To the east of Nice, the friendly and compact town of Villefranche-sur-Mer is a great place to visit for families of all ages. This part of the Cote d'Azur can get busy, particularly in summer, but there's so much to see and do. Stroll around the pastel-coloured old town and enjoy a crêpe, or reap the benefits of the busy harbour and feast on some tender local seafood.

The bay of Villefranche is perhaps one of France's most beautiful, and it serves as a great hub for day trips to Nice. Visitors come here each year due to the town's authenticity, great food and rich cultural heritage, and you may know it from the Battle of the Flowers festival that occurs here each February. Villefranche is the perfect place to end your French coast road trip, and Italy is under and hour's drive away.

Getting there and around

With so many fantastic places along France's coast to visit, there's no better way to travel than by car. Calais is just 35 minutes away from Folkestone with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, so you're free to see the coast in as many or as few visits as you like.

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Photo Credits:
The northern beaches at Pas-de-Calais are a great place to start your trip - Image by Flickr user (vincent desjardins)
The beautiful pink shores of Trégastel - Image by Flickr user stephane martin
The west side of the Quiberon peninsula is known as 'the wild coast' - Image by Flickr user jmt-29
La Rochelle's harbour towers - Image by Flickr user Loïc Raynard
Watch the sunset at Hossegor - Image by Flickr user Gaël Chardon
The beautiful mountain range near the Bay of Agay - Image by Flickr user Julian Peter
Villefranche-sur-Mer - Image by Flickr user Artur Staszewski

All pictures licensed for commercial use at time of publication.

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