11 Best Small Beach Towns in France
France has over 2,000 miles of coastline, leading to some top-notch small beach towns worth checking out. There is so much more to France than just Paris, fashion, and wine.
People often forget that it has a vast landscape with mountains, lakes, beaches, and islands to explore.
Keep reading for some of the best small beach towns throughout France.
- Northern France vs. Southern France
- Best Small Beach Towns in France
- 1. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Provençal Occitan
- 2. Ajaccio, Corsica
- 3. Cannes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- 4. Martigues, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- 5. Cassis, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- 6. Menton, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- 7. Gruissan, Occitan
- 8. Honfleur, Normandy
- 9. Etretat, Normandy
- 10. Saint-Malo, Brittany
- 11. Deauville, Normandy
Northern France vs. Southern France
There are several differences between towns in Northern France and those in Southern France.
Northern France, for starters, does not have weather as warm as the south.
Though it gets hot during the summer, the rest of the year is cloudy, rainy, and colder.
On the other hand, in the south of France, it’s super hot in the summer and pretty mild the rest of the year, leading to many people enjoying the outdoors as much as possible. Kind of like California.
Food and culture are also different. For example, the North of France has more influence from places like Belgium and Germany, whereas the South of France has more influence from Italy and Spain.
This leads to cultural, food, work, and architectural differences among many others.
One part of the country is not better than the other. Summer is great no matter where you are in France.
If you can, visit a beach town in both the north and south of France and decide for yourself which is better for you.
Best Small Beach Towns in France
Southern France along the Mediterranean Sea is a warm, sunny, and enjoyable place to be. The south of France has great weather that makes visitors and locals want to get outside and enjoy it, especially the beaches.
Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer, France, stands for Saint Mary of the Sea and is located about an hour and a half from Marseille and an hour from Montpellier.
This tiny beach town has a population of roughly 3,000 people which more than doubles in the summer when visitors flock to this adorable town to enjoy the beach.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer has upheld its historical roots but has also embraced modern-day tourism when it becomes a bustling beachside town in the summer.
The beach town has several beaches worth checking out.
Plage la Brise de Mer, which translates to Breeze of the Sea beach, is located in the center of town and has views of the nearby church, which was built from the 9th to the 12th century and resembles a fortress.
This beach is lined by a jetty on both sides that juts out over the water so you can walk along the edge.
Turn around and enjoy the view of town behind you or face forward and stare at the extensive sea ahead. The jetty curves on each side, creating a swimming pool effect that is excellent for children.
Each beach has a jetty to help protect against corrosion.
Another awesome beach to check out is Plage Crin Blanc which stands for the White Mane beach.
Here, you’ll find horseback riders galloping along the shore. If you choose this beach, you can spend your day relaxing among the horses.
Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer is the perfect small beach town in France.
It has several streets filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants restricted to cars so that tourists and locals alike can walk around freely.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is historically kept yet modern creation the opportunity for a swim in the sea you’ll never forget.
2. Ajaccio, Corsica
Ajaccio is the capital of the island of Corsica, which is a part of France. While it may be the capital, the population is small compared to other cities in France.
Corsica has tons of small beaches to explore throughout the island, but Ajaccio is very easy to access and has many accommodations and restaurants on the water.
Ajaccio is famous for being the birthplace and home of Napolean Bonaparte.
His home is now a museum you can visit, among other Napolean references throughout Ajaccio. Ajaccio is quaint for a city capital.
It has many restaurants along the water, colorful and bright buildings, and a modern yet historical vibe. If you go out of town a bit, there is a beautiful mountainous backdrop.
Ajaccio has tons of beaches to explore.
The water is as clear as can be and you’ll even see fish swimming with you just by looking down into the water. Be sure to walk the coast because you may even find sea glass.
Ajaccio is easily reached by ferry from Toulon, Marseille, and Nice or you can fly to one of four airports on the island, including an airport in Ajaccio.
Because Corsica is an island, there is less tourism than other mainland cities, allowing Ajaccio and other places in Corsica to continue to feel like small, quaint beach towns in France.
3. Cannes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Believe it or not, Cannes isn’t that large of a town even though its name is pretty famous throughout the world.
Cannes is renowned for the Cannes Film Festival held annually to preview new films of all genres.
Only film industry professionals can attend the festival. During this major event, some of the most famous actors, producers, and directors walk the iconic red carpet steps.
Other than this major event in May, Cannes is a laid-back beach town just over an hour from the Italian border. It is one of the best day trips from Nice.
It’s also commonly known as the smaller version of the nearby city of Nice, about an hour away. It’s also about an hour from Monaco, putting Cannes in a great spot on the southeastern coast of France.
Cannes has beautiful modern yet historic architecture, many boutiques, and quaint restaurants.
The flawlessly curated trees along the boardwalk create a boujee atmosphere.
The port on the water has tons of large boats and there are public beaches just off the main road as well as some private beaches that are part of beach clubs.
Cannes gives off a boujee vibe and has a rich reputation, but it’s not that expensive. There are plenty of affordable places in good areas you can stay in.
You don’t have to join a beach club for the day to enjoy the sand and there are tons of great restaurants in town that are less expensive than those on the water.
Cannes is a great place to visit if you love a more modern city, yet one that still has a history.
There are many restaurants and cafes to try and many waterfront areas to explore in Cannes.
It is so easy to hop on the train from nearly anywhere in France and get to Cannes.
4. Martigues, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Martigues is about 40 minutes from Marseille and has been called the Venice of France because of the canals running through the streets.
Besides its historic architecture, quaint establishments, colorful buildings, and small-town beauty, it has some fantastic beaches.
What makes Martigues unique is it’s not only situated on the beach, but it’s also located on Berre Lake, so it has expansive water views in almost all directions.
Plage de Sainte Croix is a small beach about ten minutes from the town center and it’s known for its perfectly shaped cove.
This beach has a great view from above. You can park on the cliff and walk down the stairway to this beauty.
The trees covering the view on your way to the beach make it one of the most pleasant surprises when you finally reach the clearing and can see the cove, the trees create a gorgeous archway to one of the most beautiful beaches.
There isn’t much civilization surrounding this beach apart from a single restaurant and an old nearby chapel. Sainte Croix beach feels like a picturesque get away from society.
Martigues hasn’t been swallowed up by mainstream tourism, so it has maintained its historic, small-town feel.
As a result, this is the perfect small beach town to enjoy in France. If you enjoy a small-town vibe while still having access to tons of activities, you’ll love Martigues.
5. Cassis, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Cassis is a beautiful small beach town that is about 20 kilometers east of Marseille. It is a quiet town that is surrounded by beautiful cliffs. It is the perfect place to go in France if you are looking to roam the streets and sit in outdoor cafes drinking rosé.
It is a popular place to visit in the summer months but still maintains its small-town charm. If you are looking for a small town to visit in the French Rivera, this is the place.
6. Menton, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Another great spot on the French Rivera has to be Menton, it is close to the Italian border so has some Italian influence in it, and actually used to be a part of Italy until 1860 when the French claimed it.
There are lots of bars and cafes along the boardwalk that line the rocky beach with beautiful mountains in the background it is hard not to fall in love with this charming town
However, if that wasn’t enough to convince you it is also home to the sunniest place in France, having the most days of sunshine in all of France. This is due to the microclimate that is created between the mountains and the sea.
Best of all it is almost unknown to tourists and off the beaten track like Nice and Monaco.
7. Gruissan, Occitan
In the heart of the Regional Natural Park of Narbonne in the Mediterranean, sitting between the sea and a lagoon is where you will find Gruissan. A small beach town in Northern France.
It is home to fine sandy beaches, cute cafes, and a stunning tower in the middle of town. Be sure to visit the Barberousse tower while you are there to see the best views of the town.
Gruissan is close to the Spanish border so you will find a decent amount of Spanish influence here, including Tapas.
Northern France has beaches along the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel.
The weather isn’t as warm as in the South of France or for as long, but the beaches are still worth visiting in the summer when the temperature rises and the sun comes out.
8. Honfleur, Normandy
Honfleur is a small port town with a population of under 10,000 people. It’s located where the Seine River and the English Channel meet.
The Vieux-Bassin (the old harbor) of Honfleur is known for being the subject of artists like Claude Monet. The 16th to 18th-century townhouses and 15th-century churches are admired by all visitors.
Walking along the port and water of Honfleur is a majestic and picturesque experience. Its colorful buildings and old town charm make it truly a place to enjoy.
Vasouy Beach is a beautiful beach to check out. It’s a public beach preserved by the city with cliffs as a backdrop. It’s the perfect picturesque beach and a great place to bask in the sun.
9. Etretat, Normandy
Etretat was mainly known as a small fishing town and its beach was used by fishermen for many years.
However, it became increasingly popular and is now considered a small resort town.
Located on the English Channel, the beach of Etretat is surrounded by large cliffs on the water that ultimately divides the beach in half.
People even rock climb these cliffs! They’re stunning and an iconic part of the landscape.
Etretat is undoubtedly recognized by the large, defined cliffs. The cliffs create arches, one of the most magnificent and incredible sights to experience.
The beach isn’t inundated with businesses, restaurants, or bars. Instead, it’s a quiet, relaxing place to spend your time.
There are many fantastic cafes and restaurants in town, but the beaches remain quiet and undisturbed.
10. Saint-Malo, Brittany
Saint-Malo is a port city and the old part of town is surrounded by granite walls and dates back to the 6th century.
The town dates back to the Celtic period and was later taken over by the Romans. Most of it was rebuilt after WWII, but there is still some ancient architecture and historical significance to admire.
Saint-Malo beach looks out over many islands and some are even walkable during low tide.
Some of these islands even have structures that make exploring and adventure all the more fun.
The main beach is Grand Plage which translates to Big Beach, which is two miles long, but there are some smaller beaches if you want something less crowded and more private.
Plage de Bon Secours has a tied-off area that creates a natural swimming pool, making it great for families with young children.
11. Deauville, Normandy
Deauville is a small beach town located in the Normandy region of France. It is a beautiful beach town and is known as “The queen of Norman beaches” and thought out to be one of the most prestigious beaches in all of France.
However, it does not take away from the small beach town feel. While you are there you can hit up the horse tracks, casino, or even enjoy a stroll down the marina. You will absolutely love the charm of this city.
France has tons of notable small beach towns worth exploring.
So whether you head to southern or northern France, you’re in for a treat! Bask under the sun, enjoy the English Channel or the Mediterranean Sea, but most of all, enjoy the top-notch views.
Do you have a favorite small beach town in France that wasn’t mentioned on this list? Say so in the comments below.