With thousands of kilometres of coastline, France has a long, long list of beaches. Just the sandy ones stretch for over 5,400km. But if you’re looking for the best French beaches you’ll want to narrow your criteria down a little. One of the best ways to do this is to check out the those with the pavillon bleu award.

French beaches blue flag pavillon bleu

Known as the blue flag in English, pavillon bleu beaches in France (and marinas too) have ticked lots of boxes to earn the privilege of flying the well-known flag. In 2017, some 390 French beaches won the accolade along with 102 marinas.

Most blue flag French beaches

The Alpes-Côte d’Azur coastline takes the prize for the most blue flag beaches this year. This popular stretch of the Mediterranean received a total of 58 and they’re dotted more or less everywhere along the coast. So it’s easy to be near at least one. Hot on its heels comes the Occitanie coast with 53 blue flags, also conveniently flying along this popular shoreline.

In a country crisscrossed by infinite rivers and canals, it’s no surprise to discover that the best French beaches aren’t just on the coast. Inland lakes and the occasional river boast long stretches of sand and several has earned themselves blue-flag status. For instance, the Lac de Serre-Ponçon, a giant reservoir located between the Alpes-de- Haute-Provence and the Hautes-Alpes, flies nine blue flags this year.

The same applies to marinas. While most pavillon bleu marinas are located on the French coastline, there’s a good sprinkling inland too. For example, Port de Decize on the confluence between the Loire and Nivernais, flies a blue flag. As does Port de l’Epervière, a popular marina for mooring at Valence on the Rhone.

The criteria for the best French beaches

To fly the pavillon bleu, a beach has to fulfil a very long list of criteria. At the top of them comes sustainability. The commune where the beach is based must show that it’s doing its bit for sustainable tourism. This includes minimalising environmental impact by providing facilities such as rubbish bins and public toilets. Pavillon bleu beaches must also be accessible to all visitors.

When it comes to the natural surroundings, the commune must aim to avoid water pollution. Regular updates on water quality must be provided so visitors know exactly what they’re swimming in. The commune must also show it’s raising environmental awareness by providing information about local fauna and flora, etc.

Find out where the 390 blue-flag French beaches are here.

The criteria for the best French marinas

Blue-flag marinas in France are those where environmental protection takes priority. Marinas must show their efforts to reduce water pollution and waste, and preserve the natural surroundings. They also need to reduce their impact on the surroundings by protecting local wildlife.

See a map of all the blue-flag French marinas here.

Safety first on French beaches

Another requirement for the best French beaches is safety and those flying a pavillon bleu must provide lifeguard services during the summer holiday season. Blue flags in the water mark out the swimming areas – swimming isn’t allowed outside these. Flags on the beach indicate swimming conditions – green for good, orange for caution and red for danger.

Blue flag beaches and marinas also offer tips on safe swimming in freshwater or seawater plus advice on boating whether you’re on a hire boat or just a stand-up paddle board. There’s also information on how to look after the environment when you’re on the beach or water. You can download the free brochures (in French only) for rivers and lakes here and for beaches here.

Handy app

If you want information about the best French beaches at your fingertips, the pavillon bleu association provides a free app for iPhones. The app locates the blue-flag beaches and marinas, and provides essential information about each one.

Discover the best French beaches on the waterways and rivers for yourself on a hire boating holiday.