8 Tiny French Beach Towns to Escape to This Summer

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As France winds down quarantine restrictions, residents have been encouraged to vacation locally this summer instead of going abroad, an important distinction for those looking to avoid crowded cities. But whether you’re steering clear of tourists in Nice and Marseille, looking for a more affordable option, or just want to window shop for your post-confinement vacation, there are plenty of smaller shore towns along the French coast where you can soak in the sun with a little bit of leg room.

1. Collioure

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This fairytale fishing village on the Spanish border has managed to avoid much of the overdevelopment and tourism-driven economies of other French towns on the Mediterranean. Its proximity to Spain lends the town (whose population is under 2,500) a bit of old-world Catalan culture. Snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking await at Collioure’s five beaches, each with its own flavor.

2. La Flotte

Registered as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, La Flotte is located on the Île de Ré off the coast of La Rochelle. The former fishing village was built in the early 1800s and inspired by medieval architecture, and is the perfect place to bike around, pick up some fresh produce at the market, and lounge under a canopy of plane trees by the harbor, or take a walk to the lighthouse.

3. Biscarrosse

What Biscarrosse has on its side is pure beach surface area. With both surf beaches and tranquil lakes, there are options for every type of waterfront you want, whether you’re interested in windsurfing, waterskiing, or sailing. Check out the ‘Biscarrosse Elm’ and a 15th century castle waiting by the shore, or go exploring the Landes de Gascogne forest.

4. Bandol

Bandol is a small seaside town, but it’s had some pretty illustrious patrons, including writers Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley. It’s remained a low-key alternative resort town, compared to neighbors like St. Tropez. Bandol wines are famous throughout Provence and the rest of France, so it’s not a bad place to go if your idea of a vacation is sitting on the beach with an excellent rosé in hand.

5. Pigna

This medieval village in the Balagne region of Corsica is all narrow, flower-filled streets and blonde houses with blue shutters, perched on a hilltop surrounded by olive trees. Though it has a population of less than 200 people, the town is renowned as a flourishing haven of Corsican music and art, and is sure to inspire.

6. Sausset-les-Pins

Pebbly beaches and rocky inlets dot the shore of this charming town on the Côte Bleue, surrounded by pine trees farther inland. Avoid the crowds in Marseille by taking the road less traveled… though it is well-marked, and can be traversed on foot, bike, or horseback.

7. Arcachon

If you like oysters, Arcachon is the seaside town for you. The Maison de l’Huître is the bivalve mecca, but the town is filled with restaurants specializing in these mollusks. Try your hand at bird watching at the protected Teich Bird Reserve, or kayak out to see the picturesque stilted huts at Bird Island, or take a look at the oyster farms and the Banc d’Arguin nature reserve.

8. Beaulieu-sur-Mer

A favorite of Queen Victoria, Scott Fitzgerald, and Gustave Eiffel, this tiny “beautiful place by the sea” is a low-key, upscale vacation option for those looking to stare into the gorgeous mouth of the Côte d’Azur. It’s a privilege for any lover of Belle Époque architecture to visit, and you can also check out a reproduction of a Greek estate at Villa Kerylos, or the nearby Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat for slightly grander prospects.

Stay tuned for local travel restrictions and beach openings. Wanderlust responsibly.