Atlantic Coast, France

Living on France's Atlantic Coast

Iyna Bort Caruso

Atlantic sunlight, historic cities, offshore resort islands. It’s easy to fall under the spell of France’s Atlantic Coast.

A dozen of the country’s prettiest villages sit along or within easy distance of the shoreline. They’ve been awarded special designation as Les Plus Beaux Villages of France for their beauty and the role they play in the nation’s cultural heritage. They contribute to an exceptionally diverse landscape that encompasses golden sand beaches, dramatic cliffs and prized vineyards.

On the northern Atlantic coast is La Rochelle, a city that grew from a small fishing village into a summer resort. Its seafront buzzes with cafes and restaurants. The coastal town is well preserved. Three medieval towers stand at the entrance to the harbor. Collectively they’re designated as a national monument and have become icons of the town. The chic island of Ile-de-Ré is off the coast of La Rochelle. The island is popular with Parisians looking to escape the city in summer.

Fans of the region say western France enjoys a more relaxed vibe than some of the country’s more high profile coastal counterparts. Chateaus and historic villas lend a timeless quality.

It wasn’t long ago that Bordeaux was tagged with the label of La Belle au Bois Dormant--sleeping beauty. No longer. Today its streets are revitalized, its architecture is restored and its forgotten districts have been reclaimed. This historic port city is the largest urban UNESCO World Heritage Site. Buildings dating back to the 18th century fill the streets of Old Town. And, of course, there’s wine. Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing region in France with 54 appellations and extending 80 inland from the coast. High speed train service makes the region easily accessible to Paris.

Close to the Spanish border in the French Basque region is fashionable Biarritz. This one-time home of French Royalty--the summer palace built by Napoleon III and his wife Eugenia is now the Hôtel du Palais--introduced the sport of surfing to the country in the 1950s and is one of Europe’s best surfing spots. Biarritz is also considered a showplace of exquisite Belle Epoque architecture.