Four Great Coastal Towns To Visit In France


Travel in France is often focused squarely on the wondrous capital city of Paris. This is perfectly fair. Paris has about as good a reputation as any city on the planet, and is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations as a result. Everything from the Eiffel Tower to the city’s perfect pastries and affordable bistros is a draw for the average traveler, meaning there are just about innumerable reasons to go.

But sometimes Paris hogs so much of the spotlight it almost obscures the rest of France, where there are plenty of other breathtaking destinations. Here’s four coastal destinations you should visit:

Natural rock arches in the white cliffs of Etretat.

Étretat

Located just a short distance northwest of Paris, Étretat is a coastal town on the English Channel. It feels more down to earth than a lot of sought-after coastal destinations in Europe with a bigger focus on bed and breakfast options than large resorts or luxury hotels. The town itself at Étretat is mostly at beach level, and features a covered market as well as shops and restaurants catering to a heavy flow of tourists.

If you’re looking for specific things to do in Étretat, your best options are sightseeing. The town is best known for its Chapelle Notre Dame de la Garde, and for the natural arches that jut out from the towering seaside cliffs around the town. One of these arches inspired a famous work by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, and was the subject for other stunning paintings as well.

Rocks outside the town of Biarritz.

Biarritz

Biarritz is located in the southwest, very close to the Spanish border. It’s a beautiful town built right up against the beach and known historically as a retreat for French royals. Nowadays it’s a popular resort destination. It’s become especially popular with those who are learning to surf, or who already know what they’re doing and just want to find some perfect conditions!

Biarritz is primarily a place to relax, but there are also a few specific attractions. Casino Barrière is a gorgeous entertainment centre, and a nice counter to the growing industry of online gaming. Slots, poker games, blackjack, roulette and more are on offer at this classic 1920s Southern France venue. It has all the relevant games, in addition to a flawless location near the beach. If gaming isn’t your thing, you may also enjoy the Museum of the Sea. It’s also right by the beach, and doubles as a museum about marine life and an aquarium putting some of that life on display for guests.

Olive garden in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

This is sensational coastal commune that tends to get very little international attention because of where it is. Located on the Mediterranean coast close to the Italian border, it’s a neighbour to Monaco (and the extravagant town of Monte Carlo), and close to Nice as well. Both of those destinations overshadow Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

This is truly one destination that’s just a pleasure to see up close. It’s built into a hillside over the Mediterranean Sea, and combines more modern accommodations with a medieval feel. Attractions include the stunning Jardin Serre de la Madone, built in 1929, and the ancient castle that was first built around the year 970 at the crest of the hill. Though it’s been sold and retouched over the years it still closely resembles its early form. It even overlooks an area known as the medieval village that’s fascinating to see.
Tiled roofs and church spires against a rocky backdrop.

Piana

This one is a little different because it’s not actually attached to the French mainland. But the coast on the island of Corsica counts! This gorgeous island nestles between France and Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, and is technically a region of France. Geographically, it’s sort of a midpoint between Barcelona and Rome to either side and Monaco to the north.

Piana is light on man-made attractions, but it’s ideal for the traveler seeking a retreat and natural beauty. It’s built over gorgeous pink cliffs that descend to the Gulf of Porto on the western coast of Corsica, and the town itself is built in the midst of lush green surroundings. You’ll mostly enjoy relaxing and sightseeing, though it’s also worth noting that there are some excellent French restaurants in Corsica, and a few of them are in or near Piana (as well as some charming local bars).


Image credits: Étretat by Johan Neven, Biarritz by Mikel Ortega, Olive Park Roquebrune by Tangopaso and View on Piana (Corsica, France) by Paul Arps.