What’s not to love about a French seaside town? Featuring bustling quays teeming with stands selling the local catch, colourful seafront properties and top-notch restaurants, French coastal resorts are the real deal when it comes to an atmospheric escape or a bolt-hole from city life.
Like the Victorians, the French flocked from towns and cities to take the waters in stations balinaires, not just to enjoy the beach but to take advantage of the healing properties of seaweed and iodine-laden sea breezes. So, if your dream of a French property is focussed on French seaside towns, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
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What are the qualities to look for in a French seaside town?
First and foremost, even in the south, the sun doesn’t shine all year long. If you’re considering moving to the coast, think about the weather.
While the north and north-west of France typically enjoy a maritime climate similar to the UK, even the sunnier spots of the south and south-west can be cool in winter. The Basque coast close to Spain is wetter than average (but greener too – think luxurious golf courses), and despite blistering high-season temperatures, the Mediterranean mistral wind can make even a sunny day feel cool on the Côte d’Azur.
If you’re making a permanent move, it’s important to consider the local infrastructure and what attractions are available in the winter months. French seaside towns close to large centres of employment like La Rochelle (Nantes), Biarritz (Bordeaux) and Deauville (Paris) remain relatively busy even in the off-season, thanks to second-home owners and commuters who keep a sense of community alive even when the tourists depart.
Proximity to the UK is a major consideration for many. If you prefer air travel, then look for a coastal resort within easy reach of a major airport such as Nice, Bordeaux or Paris. Menton, St Jean de Luz or Le Touquet spring to mind.
If you’re coming by car, then certain northern resorts like charming Wimereux in the Pas-de-Calais are a perfect hop-skip-and-jump option. Channel crossings to St Malo and Cherbourg offer easy access to towns like Dinard in Brittany and Honfleur in Normandy.
Alternatively, the TGV provides an excellent service via Paris to Brittany (consider Corncarneau), Marseille (La Ciotat is a picture-perfect spot) and Bordeaux (Bidart is increasingly popular), just three hours or so from the capital.
Our top picks of French seaside towns
The Channel coast
The seaside towns of the Côte d’Opale such as Wissant with its miles of golden sands and Belgian-inspired cuisine (think moules frites) are our favourite spots for a Northern French getaway, in or out of season. You’ll feel instantly at home thanks to the familiar architecture and temperate climate. If you’re looking for more of a buzz, or if golf is high on your agenda, consider Le Touquet-Paris-plage for an instant hit of sophistication, whatever time of the year you visit.
Prices in Wissant average €3,500 per square metre (€350,000 for an average-sized house) and for Le Touquet you’ll pay around twice that for a similar property.
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Brittany and Normandy
Both these areas are huge regions with vastly different geographies and characters. If you love wild coastlines and bracing Atlantic vistas, then consider the West Cotentin (Granville is an elegant spa town with a direct link to Paris and magnificent beaches), or Quimper in Brittany with its distinctive Celtic ambiance.
Alternatively, lovely Fécamp on Normandy’s Alabaster cost offers dramatic walks along pebbled peaches, and Ploumanac’h on the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany with its extraordinary rock formations and crescent beaches offers interest at every turn.
In terms of prices, expect to pay a modest €150,000 for a 100sqm home in Fécamp, and around €220,000 for a similar property in Ploumanac’h.
The Mediterranean coast remains a perennial favourite with ex-pats.
The Atlantic Coast
The wild and windy Bay of Biscay has fascinated (and terrified) seafarers for centuries. Yet, this coastline is home to the most striking and increasingly popular seaside towns that France has to offer. Our favourites? Elegant Rochefort near La Rochelle with lovely long beaches (around €2,000 per m2) and Arcachon close to Bordeaux, home to grand brick and cream villas and fabulous seafood restaurants (€6,600 per m2), are our favourite resorts.
The Mediterranean coast
Easily accessible by air or high-speed train, the Mediterranean coast remains a perennial favourite with ex-pats. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Graham Greene made their home here, and you only need to read their literature to appreciate the richness of the landscapes and extraordinary beauty of this inland sea with its unique flora, scents and cuisine.
So, where to choose? Despite its gritty reputation, we like Marseille and its close neighbour Cassis, thanks the buzzing nightlife and recent investment in cultural attractions like the newly-renovated Vieux Port and MUCEM, the museum of Mediterranean history. Not to mention the incredible national park of the Calanques, fjord-like inlets of turquoise waters, a paradise for snorkelers and walkers alike.
Make sure you’re prepared for a viewing trip with the tips and tricks from our Viewing Trip guide.
Further east, bypassing perennial (and pricy) favourites like Cannes and St Tropez, we would opt for sleepy Menton, the jewel of the Med and close to the border with Italy for our French seaside home. Not only does Menton boast lovely beaches, but its covered market remains a hotspot with locals year-round. In addition, mountains rise steeply behind the town and offer fabulous walking with panoramas that stretch from the Italian Riviera in the east to Monaco and west to Toulon and beyond.
In terms of prices, both Marseille and Menton remain surprisingly affordable, although Cassis has seen a steep rise in property prices in recent years, thanks to its proximity to employment hotspots. Expect to pay around €400,000 for an average-sized home in Menton or Marseille’s popular 7th arrondissment that hugs the coast, and close to €550,000 for a similar property in neighbouring Cassis.