The Côte d’Azur may have the glitz and glamour but France’s western coast is every bit as beautiful, possibly more so. And what’s more you’ll have no trouble finding an idyllic stretch- or even an island- to yourself if you know where to look.
Here are some of my highlights.
Gulf of Morbihan is a real gem and one of the most beautiful bays in Europe. There are around 42 islands in total, though this depends on the tides. Two of the largest are easily accessible by a regular ferry service. Île aux Moines and Île d’Arz both boast scenic coastal walks that take in tiny beaches, secluded coves and Neolithic standing stones.
Glenan Islands, think Caribbean beach but with colder (okay, much colder) water. No exaggeration, the islands boast some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe and there’ll only be a few yachts and day trippers sharing it with you. Day trips run from Bénodet, and take around an hour to reach the islands.
The Medoc– boasts mile upon mile of deserted beaches backed by huge sand dunes and pine forests that are very flat and perfect for exploring by bicycle. Soulac sur Mer is particularly nice and even in high season you’re sure to find acres of virgin sands just south of the centre.
Dune du Pilat– the tallest sand dune in Europe measures 2.7km in length, 500m in width and 110m in height. It’s a tremendous sight and wouldn’t look out of place in Oman or Saudi Arabia.
Biarritz – it’s easy to forget that you’re in France as you walk along the sea-front seeing nothing but surfers for the two miles or so along Plage de la Cote des Basques that runs toward neighbouring Spain, indeed the whole vibe here is more Californian than virtually anywhere else in Europe.
A great way to discover the whole west coast without backtracking is to use one of Brittany Ferries’ services to Brittany and then return on their ferry service from Bilbao, just over the border in Spain, where even more adventures await!