Practical tips: what you need to know about French beaches

Flags and signs: colours to remember

Located near the lifeguard posts, the 3 masts are there to inform you: the first, the west mast, indicates the presence of ground wind by a rectangular flag. The second, the central mast, warns you about the state of the sea with 3 triangular flags: green = calm sea so ‘bathing allowed and monitored’; orange = calm sea but strong wind so ‘bathing dangerous’; red = rough sea so ‘bathing strictly forbidden and not monitored’. Finally the east mast indicates the quality of the water for bathing: blue = good; yellow = poor.

Bathing zones: you can’t swim just anywhere

There are bathing zones at all monitored beaches. The bathing zone reserved for swimmers is marked out by 2 blue flags. Beyond that there are green flags with a red spot to indicate the zone reserved for body-surfers. Still further out begins the area reserved for surfers. Finally, the zone for windsurfers and jet-skis is from 300 to 1850 metres (one mile) from the shore.

Monitoring periods and times: so you always have assistance

The beaches are monitored during the main school holidays between July and August. But some beaches with a lot of tourists may be monitored from as early as April until end September. Monitoring timetables vary depending on the beach: check with the tourist office for your location. It is usually between 10am and 7pm.

Cleanliness: the ‘Blue Flag’ to guide you

The Blue Flag is a European ecology label awarded to towns with clean beaches that respect the environment. You then know that the sand and water are always clean there.

Handiplage logo: beaches with access for the disabled

More and more towns are equipping their beaches to allow access for the disabled: special car park, rolling walkways to make it easy to get to the water. The blind are also assisted by buzzer alerts. You will recognize these beaches by the logo ‘Handiplage’: the more equipped the beach, the more tiny bouys it displays.

Station Kid label: where children never get bored

The Station Kid label guarantees special family accommodation facilities in the town, specific events for children and secure facilities so your kids have a wonderful holiday.

Pets on the beach: more and more beaches accept them

The vast majority ban them. However, dozens of beaches accept pets as long as they are kept on a leash. Check with your tourist office. In the off-season, however, there is no ban on taking your dog for a walk on the beach.

For more information:

  • Annuaire 2007 des marées en France
    • 2007 yearbook of tides in France, Editions Epshom
  • Guide des 100 plus belles plages du monde
    • Guide to the 100 most beautiful beaches in the world, Editions Grands Voyageurs
  • La France côté plages
    • France and its beaches, Editions Plein Soleil
  • Guide des plages de la côte Basque
    • Guide to beaches on the Basque coast, Editions Atlantica Eds