This small corner of Spain just south of Almeria encompasses a range of different landscapes, in one day you can walk through sand dunes and on wide sweeping bays, play on rocky shores, climb mountains and sit by salt water lagoons bird watching. The scenery is stunning and this is a fantastic area for walking without seeing another soul all day or cycling on quiet lanes. Stay in San Jose, a bustling village, for some nightlife, if you still have the energy at the end of an active day.
A majority of the time, this place is so peaceful you can hear the beach from a mile away. Sure, it's a campsite - but its only a short walk to the local village which hosts some of the most wonderful fresh seafood I've ever eaten. Sitting on the top of the cliff looking down at the beach below, I'm constantly remembered about why I love this place.
A charmingly old fashioned, year-round town where the Camargue meets the sea. Watch the fishing fleet return from one of the harbour-side restaurants, past the abandoned lighthouse. Ideal for walking, the huge expanses of the Plage l'Espiguette merge into the wetlands (abounding with white horses, black bulls and flamingos) and surreal salt flats that divide Le Grau du Roi from its medieval walled neighbour at Aigues Mortes.
I’ll let you into a secret. A hidden corner of one of our closest neighbours where the food is exquisite, the sun shines every day, Catalan and French cultures fuse and the local rose is cheap and inoffensive.
Avoid airport tantrums and restrictive baggage allowances and instead, jump in your car, throw in the children and their paraphernalia then cross the channel and drive south until you reach the Med but don’t turn left and follow the hordes to Nice and Provence but instead head right towards the Pyrenees where, tucked between the Med and the mountains, you will find the Cote Vermeille region basking in the sun, where even in August, you can find space on a beach and a table in a restaurant.
Port Vendres is a deep sea port and marina, crammed with rows of gleaming motor boats and yachts, yet still a working harbour edged by a tangle of nets and ropes. Rows of terracotta topped town houses tumble down its hilly flanks to the palm tree lined streets where a healthy smattering of bars and seafood restaurants host a mixture of primarily French tourists and the odd crusty local sea dog. The morning’s fresh fish and seafood can be purchased from the quayside or sampled al fresco in one of the eateries.
Within an easy drive of the long sandy beaches of Argeles sur Mer or inland Larqoue des Alberes where old houses cluster about a hill topped with a small tower and a meal can be taken on the sun dappled square next to the church from Hotel Le Catalan.
Take a jaunt on the road train to picture perfect neighbour Collioure home to a fine fortress returning via a vertiginous route through the vineyards or travel along the cornice road and over the border into Spain, (you can tell you’re in Spain as the road disintegrates into a pot holed track) and down into Portbou for some tapas and dos cerveza por favor.
An authentic fish stew served with aioli - succulent pieces of fish served in a tasty broth with little pieces of crusty bread topped with a rich garlic mayonnaise - try eating at the local fisherman's cafe rather than the tourist restaurants on the quay. It's cheaper, the taste is much more authentic and the locals are friendly and talkative - the portions are huge too!
Marseille fish quay
Google map: bit.ly/JvhIQ8
A resort south of the Loire which has a 12 km stretch of golden sand. The vast expanse of sea, sky and sand has inspired many an artist. A great place for swimming, surfing and sailing (the Vendee Globe yacht race starts and ends here). Visit the seashell museum and the museum of contemporary art and local traditions.
Buy local produce at the bustling covered market where there’s an array of attractively arranged fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. Tour the local salt marshes, which are situated a few miles out of town, by boat.
Pays de La Loire
Google map: bit.ly/HNeFmW
You can’t help but be aware of the warmth and safety of Nice, a city where you can enjoy that rare freedom of being able to walk around at night with no fear of people as you thrill to the festival atmosphere of street musicians and street theatre in Place Rossetti, or getting lost down the many small streets with their abundance of interesting shops.
Superficially, Nice can seem like an expensive city, but it does not have to be as there is plenty to see and do for free. One of the most fulfilling things you can do here – and a great way to take in the feel and the atmosphere of this beautiful city – is to just walk around taking photographs. There is joy to be found here in every corner: relaxing in Jardin Botanique on a tree-shaded park bench to stay cool in the midday sun; or people watching from one of the many authentic cafes in true Gallic style! Just grab a coffee and a freshly prepared sandwich, then sit back on Promenade des Anglais and simply watch the world go by.
At only 318ha, car-free Île de Bréhat is the largest island in this tiny archipelago of pink granite islets. Idle away the days by kayaking in the ebb and flow seascape, or walk the island's bird rich coves and coastal paths. In spring, while Bréhatins enjoy some pre-season peace, its Mediterranean flowers come into celebratory bloom. Marc Chagall visited in 1924 and painted "La fenêtre sur l'Ile de Bréhat".
The small town called Èze will make you feel like being on a movie set. Located only 12 kilometres away from Nice, Èze is situated very high (430 metres above sea level) and offers panoramic views on the French Riviera. It is also overlooking on outlet of the Fragonard perfume factory. The medieval village is car-free and very charming especially because of its adorable street signs. The small alleys and beautiful flowers everywhere attract many tourists looking for a romantic holiday in a town that could be the set of an old Disney movie. There is easy access to Nice (bus) and Èze is very close to Monaco and Italy as well. Èze is definitely worth a visit, because it is a village that can (and will once you have been there) easily appear in your dreams.
Google map: bit.ly/IvQ1pu
We spent two glorious holidays in this small resort with its attractive beach. A short drive north from the more crowded Vendee resorts, Notre-Dame-de-Monts is a great base for a family beach holiday. The charming "wind museum" in the village is a lovely place to while away an afternoon. Our children loved playing with the interactive wind-powered sculptures and making kites in the atelier.
This popular, pebbly beach is a great for families, with all the amenities you need to encamp safely for the whole day. We happily let our teenagers wander off to the market square to snack on crepes: the whole place is so contained and feels so friendly. Plus the views in every direction are amazing. The summer evenings here can be magical too, with fancy but affordable restaurants, an open-air cinema in the citadel, and spectacular firework displays that are applauded by a chorus of car and ship horns.
You want to know a secret of how to actually relax and enjoy the Côte d’Azur without the holiday crowds, tourist-trap beaches, St Tropez bling or Cannes-we-find-somewhere-where-there’s-more-French-than-Brits-please? Come closer and I shall whisper in your ear a small word: Agay.
The small but perfectly formed Bay of Agay, sometimes referred to as the ruby of the Côte d’Azur, lies 40 km east of Fréjus/St Raphael on the littoral D559. Its little town sits centrally on the main sand crescent of this near circular bite of a bay, with turquoise shallows and viridian pines complementing the gold red volcanic rock of the last range of the Massif d’Esterel forming a glorious backdrop. To the bay’s extremities are to be found pretty, cove like beaches such as the Plage de la Baumette on the east curve or the Plage Camp Long tucked away on the far west corner.
The modest centre ville comprises a promenade of shops, cafes and eateries and there’s a small market by the post office on Wednesdays. For those camping, the Vallée du Paradis site is not quite Paradise itself but its quiet location at the back of the town, bordering the calm river Agay, is conducive to chilling out in the evenings with a glass of rosé, contemplating the deepening shadows on the Rastel d’Agay – a rock of a hill cutting a jagged silhouette against the Mediterranean dusk sky.
Because of the bay being protected by the Esterel hills, its position on this part of the coast provides a year round temperate climate, so - and this is the best tip of all – you can enjoy all its attributes before the season kicks in, under the glow of a warm June sun… with not a lot of people in sight. Well, only those who know about the place. And they’re French. And they’re not that bothered telling us about this pleasant little resort smuggled away from the fleshpots of the Riviera. Keep it to yourself.
If you want to bask in the warm Mediterranean sea, but hate the crowds that fill much of France’s coastline, head to the vibrant, chilled out port of Marseille.
Get up early to soak up the sights and smells of the Vieux Port fish market. When the shouts of the fishermen trying to get rid of their sea urchins grows too much, take a navette (boat shuttle, €2.50 for a 40 minute journey) to Pointe Rouge, a sandy beach with great views across the harbour. Then take a stroll along the coastal path towards Callelongue, stopping off at whichever calanques (rocky coves) take your fancy, for a swim in the turquoise waters.
When you’re ready to head back to the bustle of the city, catch a number 20 bus to the end of the route and then switch to number 19. End the day with a bowl of bouillabaisse (Provençal fish stew) and a glass- or two- of pastis (anise-flavoured liqueur).
A perfect day out from Marseille or Aix-en-Provence is a trip to the beach followed by ice cream. But these aren't just any beaches and ice creams. The bay of local choice is the little fishing village of Carry-le-Rouet, 20 miles from Marseille. Happily spend a day on the beach, nestled at the bottom of burnt orange cliffs, with the garigue and pine trees providing a pretty backdrop or a great place for a shady stroll. When the sun becomes too much, head for the hilltop town of Miramas le Vieux and the most amazing ice cream parlour, Le Quillé, to enjoy the warmth, views and flavours of Provence.
Le Quillé, Chemin de Miramas Vieux à Lunard, 13140 Miramas, France
+33 (0)4 90 50 18 18
Google map: bit.ly/HKdYip
For me, the majority of the coastline of France is either so overrun by tourists as to be indistinct, or where I have fond memories, regrettably not recommendable as they were due to occasion rather than location. One exception to this rule, and a great venue to have in the bag as a pre-ferry or tunnel activity, is the Nausicaa - perched upon the seafront of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The Nausicaa should not be compared to the aquariums found in many towns in Britain - it's a larger, more immersive experience which communicates mans ongoing relationship with the sea. More than just tanks of fish, the theatres and films take you on a journey of understanding, leaving you feeling enriched as a result of the experience.
The 24km coastline between Calvi and Ile-Rousse is full of wonders. It boasts stunning views of fine sandy beaches and turquoise blue sea on one side and of small villages nesting in the mountains on the other side.
Try the Corsican specialities served in most restaurants and enjoy the delicious ice cream while watching Corsican men play the “petanque” (Paoli Square, Ile-Rousse). Visit the Citadel (Calvi), cycle up the nearby mountains or simply relax on the heavenly Bodri beach. Sea, sun and fun guaranteed.
Le Rhul is a three-star hotel located on a bend off corniche Kennedy (the beautiful road that goes along Marseille's Mediterranean coast line). It's not the most modern or best hotel you will go to, but it probably has one of the best views of any three star hotel in the world. The rooms also have a lot of character (not that you will be looking anywhere but out of your window). This was a real treat for a budget traveler like me, and I would never have expected getting a view like this on the coast of France without selling one of my limbs. Some of the best photos I took while traveling through the south of France were from my tiny balcony at this hotel.
We have had breakfast and lunch here, essential to book. Quality food and laid back atmosphere.
A must but be prepared for a lot of yummy mummies and kiddies.
Directly due west of Bordeaux, at the midpoint of La Côte d’Argent lies the jewel that is the Bassin d’Arcachon. From chic Cap Ferret at its most Northern edge touring past houses on stilts, stopping at some of the finest fish restaurants on the planet, and round to the spectacular Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe, offering a challenge to kids of any age, the Bassin epitomises the best of France in every way.
The diamond of the Bassin d’ Arcachon was, for us, the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. As seasoned birdwatchers, we were stunned by the variety of environments – salt marshes to fresh water habitats - that have been created there. With over 20 hides, and up to 280 species of birds to spot, this place is twitchers’ heaven.
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