Eden Plage Mala, Cap-d’Ail, near Monaco
A hidden cove, a respite from the flashy excesses of the Riviera near Monaco, Eden Plage is reached by a tricky headland path (closed when the sea is rough) or a long, stepped descent from the village. The restaurant-bar serves great seafood, burgers and chips with views of the steep cliffs of Saint-Laurent bay and the gently-lapping Mediterranean. You can rent a paddle board or kayak on the gravelly beach and head into the nearby grottos. There’s also a floating pontoon to swim to and red sunbeds under the parasols. You might be disturbed by a model from the boutique behind the bar showing off swimsuits, pareos or a macramé bag or just the waiter topping up your rosé (€8 a glass), but otherwise, it’s the most undiscovered beach resort on the Côte d’Azur.
• Allée Mala, edenplagelamala.com
Emile et une huître, Cap Ferret, near Bordeaux
The pace of life decreases the further down the finger-shaped headland of Cap Ferret you go. Half way along and among a huddle of cabanes à huîtres (oyster shacks) is Emile et une huître (a pun on the Arabian folk tales – the owner Thierry’s grandfather was called Emile), a driftwood beach bar overlooking Arcachon bay decorated with a jumble of recycled nautical bits and bobs. Thierry (fourth generation ostréiculteur) and his daughter bring out trays of oysters and tart white wine to customers on a terrace, watched over by marine scarecrows made up of old ropes and floats. Six oysters with bread and butter (€5), a plate of whelks (€6) or a glass of giant prawns for €7. Each cabane farms its own oysters, not many have internet or websites and fewer accept credit cards.
• 61 avenue de l’Herbe, (unofficial Facebook page)
Le Time’s Beach, Sète, near Montpellier
A throng of beach bars compete for diners and sun-lounger space near Sète but it’s worth the long stroll westwards, down the long sandy spit to Le Time’s Beach. The decking and cabins are the same colour as the sand, a camouflage from the seagulls who come for the early-morning fish auctions in the centre of town. Le Time specialises in brochettes, salads and grilled fish; its mussels and oysters are from the Thau lagoon behind the spit. Owner Andres Mendy opened the place five years ago and says the beach is great for families, particularly because it has its own lifeguard station. Midsummer heatwaves and spirits are not usually good sun-bedfellows, but the nearby town of Marseillan was the birthplace of Noilly Prat, the world’s first pale, dry vermouth (1813), and has a distillery and aperitif tasting lounge.
• Plage des Trois Digues, (unoffical Facebook page)
Le Snack Ti’largo, plage de Pampelonne, near Saint Tropez
Next to a long public section of one the most beautiful stretches of beach in France is Le Snack Ti’largo, a steel kitchen in a hut with rickety, hand-painted seats and a line of fairy lights that come on at sunset. In the summer, it’s open until midnight (or whenever clients want to leave). Next door is the posher Nioulargo restaurant for more substantial meals but Ti’largo is great for a swordfish brochette with ratatouille or a quinoa salad and has been serving iced rosé on the sand since 1984. After dark, they bring you fleecy blankets so you can comfortably watch the lost millionaires stumbling back towards Saint Tropez. A glass of pastis costs €5, beer €4 and a bottle of wine, €18.
• Boulevard Patch, Ramatuelle, (unofficial Facebook page)
La Playa, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue
A 10-minute seafront walk from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, La Playa is on plage Est, one of the Camargue’s protected crescent beaches. Blanched wooden seats, sandy decking, a few dangling buoys and lanterns give a relaxed, Antipodean beach feel. For this summer the bar has launched a new vodka, beer and lime drink called a Trumpch, dedicated to the US president, which has a floating Ken’s head in it (from Barbie and Ken) instead of a swizzle stick and umbrella (€8). La Playa manager Antoine Neuville says the bar likes to “keep things simple; fresh fish – tuna, sea bass and sometimes lobster, all from fishermen in Saintes-Maries”. It serves the local rice, clams and ceviche (€17) and the same staff have run it since it opened five years ago, “so they know everyone”.
• La plage Est, 13460 Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, laplaya-en-camargue.fr
Looking across to Dinard and the causeway to the little island of Le Grand Bé, the terrace of L’Embraque has the best views in Saint Malo. Open for lunch and an evening aperitif, the beach bar serves Breton beer for €3.10 a glass and wine for the same price. Its big sellers are moules frites and oysters but it’s the panorama that people come for, especially at sunset. Access is through gates in the citadelle ramparts which lead on to the Plage de Bons Secours where the 1937-built seawater pool is still popular with families, attracting a Busby Berkeley-style procession of synchronised teenage divers.
• Plage de Bons Secours, (on Facebook)
Helios, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes
Private beach restaurants and lounge bars take up most of the sandy coastline at Juan-les-Pins, serving the same fantastical cocktails, spicy grilled prawns and chunky seafood pizzas. There’s Le Ruban Bleu, Epi (Happy), Jazz, Jetty, and Juanita but pick of the bunch is Helios which has a coconut-matting roof, teak tables and thick white sand. Helios’s theme is Bali with beige parasols for the bar area and brown for the beach. Head plagiste (beach attendant) Guillaume lays out over 200 mattresses each morning for the early-risers. He says: “Here, we rake and clean the sand, sun-loungers have more space and we have a private pier for those who don’t want to be bothered by trinket-sellers.” Juices and sodas cost €5, a steel goblet of strawberries €9 and a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, €290.
• Promenade du Soleil, bouffierfirm.com
La Cabane du Lodu, Santo-Pietro-di-Tenda, Corsica
Across the headland from the remote, fabulously white Saleccia beach is a genuine paillote (beach hut) with hammocks, wooden barrels as tables and lots of people who can’t believe they’ve found it. The bar is on the sentier des douaniers (customs officers’ footpath) where a door in a floating frame opens to reveal wicker chairs, sun-faded cushions and a view across the turquoise waters of the northern coast. Access is via a little ferryboat from nearby St Florent, by 4×4, or a three-hour trek across the Désert des Agriates. To minimise waste, manager Yohan says the bar tries not to use too many bottles so all juice is freshly squeezed. It is open from 9.30am to twilight.
• Plage du Lodu, lacabanedulodu.com
Bibam Bar, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, near Biarritz
Electro colours, plastic chairs that nearly blow away in the wind, Bibam is a fun, seaside bar run by the Dallamagne brothers on the Basque surfers’ coast. In a world dominated by tuna and anchovy fishing, Bibam focuses on big burgers (€11-12) on large plates with salad and chips. It also does an excellent charcuterie board (€14), deep fried calamari (€6) and, being only 13km from Spain, a litre of sangría for €10. The terrace overlooks Mayorco beach where locals in vintage T-shirts paddle their surfboards out towards the moutons (white horses). Bibam Bar stays open until 2am with live bands on Thursdays.
• 661 route des plages, Saint-Jean-de Luz, on Facebook
Le Goéland 1951, Réville, near Cherbourg
Le Goéland 1951, north of Utah beach of D-Day fame on the Cotentin peninsula, is the perfect place to watch the cross-Channel yachts and seagulls (goelands) swoop for fish and chips. In an airy, wooden viewing station, built at the end of a concrete second world war bunker (the dining room is inside it), a glass of the local beer costs €2.90, cocktails €7 and it serves a creative selection of local fish, oysters, tapas (€5-6) and charcuterie or cheese boards (€8). It’s a bustling bar, open every day from 11am until 1am with live bands playing all weekend and a DJ every Friday night. Deckchairs face Tatihou island and the Vauban fortifications at St-Vaast-la-Hougue.
• 82 route du Phare, (on Facebook)