The Most Beautiful French Islands to Visit


 

France is home to dozens of islands, most of which are unfortunately overlooked by visitors to the country. From tropical Mediterranean vibes to rugged Atlantic coasts, the French islands showcase the country’s varied climates and unique blend of cultures. Whether you’re looking to explore a new region or simply escape city life for a bit, it’s hard to find a better respite than France’s gorgeous islands. Here’s my guide to the ten most beautiful French islands to visit.

1. Corsica

Bastia, Corsica by Gordon Knight on Wikimedia Commons

Covering over 3,000 square miles, mountainous Corsica is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and is even considered its own French department. This beautiful French island is situated off the southern French coast, between France and Italy; which helps give it a truly rich, blended culture. And some pretty tasty cuisine!

There’s so much to see and do in Corsica, especially for more outdoorsy types. The island’s white sand beaches and charming coastal towns are complimented by lush green forests and a rugged mountain range cutting the island in half. This varied landscape is perfect for those who want to swim, fish, climb, hike, or simply enjoy some laid back island time.

Reachable by ferry, boat or plane, a visit to Corsica can be as adventurous as you like. More low key visitors will want to stick to the islands main cities: Ajaccio in the south and Bastia to the north. More adventurous types might prefer a small coastal town or a quiet mountain retreat. In terms of weather, the months between May and September are the ideal time to visit the isle. Though Corsican winters aren’t prohibitive and tend to be rather Mediterranean and mild.

2. Ile de Ré

Photo by Magnus Manske on Wikimedia Commons

Located just a quick hop from La Rochelle, Ile de Ré is a beautiful French island off the western coast. There’s a bridge connecting this island to the mainland, so access is super simple from La Rochelle. And while not too far removed from the mainland, you’ll sense a change in lifestyle as soon as you set foot on the island.

Ile de Ré is a popular year-round vacation destination for in the know locals, and visitors lucky enough to get good tip off. Best explored on foot or by bike, the island is covered in cycling paths, and getting around is both simple and scenic! The island’s extensive Atlantic coastline makes it ideal for outdoor sports like surfing and sailing. But if you prefer to stay on land, Ile de Ré’s quaint villages have a lot to propose in terms of commerce and local seafood restaurants.

3. Ile-de-Brehat

Photo courtesy of Marc Lagoutte – Sourced from Brehat Official tourism Site

Up next on my guide to the most beautiful French islands to visit takes us to the country’s westernmost region. Just off the coast of northern Brittany, Ile-de-Brehat is actually an archipelago made up of several picturesque islands. The two main islands are car-free, and can be reached by a ten minute ferry ride from Point de l’Arcouest, convenient enough for a day trip if you want!

Besides the stunning seascapes, you’ll also get a sense of true island tranquility here. People move at a slower pace, and there’s not a sense of rushing or stress on the island. Quite the opposite in fact. There are plenty of beautiful and secluded beaches, which are perfect in warmer months. And if you happen to visit in the off season, you can still tour the stunning lighthouse and sample the local seafood all year round.

4. Ile des Embiez

Photo courtesy of Jordan Plihal

A picturesque island off the French Riviera, Ile des Embiez is one of the lesser known French vacation spots. And its relatively secret status makes the island an ideal getaway if you’re hoping to beat the summer crowds. The Ile des Embiez is also known as the Paul Ricard island. In 1958, the liquor giant purchased the Embiez archipelago, and his family still owns the islands today!

Ile des Embiez boasts pristine secluded beaches and a very island style way of life. There’s only one hotel, a couple restaurants and a mini mart on the island, which helps keep crowds at bay. The best way to explore the island is on foot (and unless you brought a bike, there’s no other form of transport available). Cicadas provide a soft summer soundtrack, the perfect accompaniment to a night on the beach and fresh seafood.

Plus, the island is super easy to get to! You can reach Ile des Embiez in just about ten minutes via personal boat from Six-Fours-Les-Plages. You can also opt to take a ferry from the nearby harbor at Sanary, which is more scenic and will take around 20-30 minutes.

5. Porquerolles

Courtesy of France Tourisme

Located just a quick hop from the charming town of Hyères and the Ile des Embiez is another beautiful French island to visit this summer. Porquerolles is an island off the Cote d’Azur, part of the Golden Islands archipelago. If you’re hoping to get out into nature and escape busy city life under the Southern sunshine, Porquerolles is a great option.

The island has a varied climate and terrain, so you’ll have your pick of rugged coastlines or tranquil white sand beaches. Porquerolles is the perfect destination for outdoorsy folk too. Hiking trails, cycling paths, and swimming holes are plentiful on the island. And for those who just want to relax and take it easy, you’ve got quite the array of accommodation and dining options as well.

There’s quite a bit to see on the island. The various ancient fortresses provide excellent seaside vistas and the old windmills are worth a visit too. And don’t forget to check out the Porquerolles lighthouse! There’s a pretty amazing view of the island and the harbor from the lighthouse grounds.

6. Ile du Levant

Photograph courtesy of Devchonka on Wikimedia Commons

Ile du Levant is a dreamy island destination in the Mediterranean, just off the French Riviera near Toulon. This spot is perhaps the most unique island destination in my guide, and will probably require a little extra open-mindedness if you’re planning a visit.

The island is home to incredibly diverse landscape, a stunning national park, great beaches and comprises one of Europe’s most vibrant naturist areas. Basically, this means clothing is optional throughout the island. And some of the beaches actually require sunbathers to be in the nude! The vibe here is very relaxed, people are friendly, and there’s zero judgement. Of course, a fully nude vacation isn’t for everyone so make sure you’re comfortable with the idea before booking a ticket.

The Ile du Levant is pretty easy to get to as it’s just off the coast. To reach the island, take a scenic ferry ride from Hyères to Le Levant. There are several crossings each day during the summer, but it’s best to book in advance as they do tend to fill up.

 

7. Ile-d’Arz

Photo by X. Dubois – Sourced from Ile-d’Arz official Tourism Website

If you’re planning a visit to France’s stunning Brittany region, you won’t want to miss discovering the area’s coastal islands. The Ile-d’Arz is one of the most beautiful islands in the region. Actually, Ile-d’Arz is rather an archipelago of nine islands off the Atlantic coast. There are just a handful of permanent residents, most of whom have called the island home for generations. Before becoming an idyllic escape popular with tourists, Ile-d’Arz was a quaint fishing and sailing village.

You can get to Ile-d’Arz via a ferry from Vannes, in Brittany. The ride is short but scenic, and the vistas are only amplified upon your arrival. Jagged coastlines intersect with calm harbors and verdant hills, making for truly stunning views. Since there are no cars allowed, the island is popular with cyclists, hikers, and campers. There are excellent hiking and biking trails which zigzag across the island, and plenty of beautiful forested camping areas.

8. Ile de Noirmoutier

Photo courtesy of Pierre Delion – Sourced from Noirmoutiers official Instagram

While the bridge connecting Nourmoutier to the mainland technically disqualifies it as an island, the chilled out lifestyle there says otherwise. Situated about a 5 hour drive from Paris on the Atlantic coast, the laid back island of Noirmoutier has been a favorite escape for centuries.

Noirmoutier is home to several museums, an aquarium and even a medieval castle, but the island community puts on various events and shows all year round. The overall vibe is very low key, and locals will welcome you with a smile.

And on the foodie side, Noirmoutier is famous for its unique terroir which in turn creates some delightful products. Known for producing excellent oysters, potatoes and shellfish, Noirmoutier is also revered for the sea salt produced there; the particularly fine stuff that’s prized by chefs worldwide. You can visit the salt marshes and shop at the local market, maybe even try your hand at some fishing!

9. Groix

Photo courtesy of Groix Tourism Page on Official Birttany Tourism Site

An island with a rather unusual (and hard to pronounce) name, Groix is one of the lesser known spots on my guide. And it’s definitely one of the most beautiful French islands to visit.

Situated 14km off the coast of Lorient, in Brittany, getting to Groix is already a bit of an adventure. Ferries run from Lorient to Port Tudy on Groix every hour in the high season. And this scenic yet bumpy ride takes around 45 minutes. That being said, it’s definitely worth the journey! Once you’re on the island, it’s like being transported back to a simpler, kinder time.

During the 1800s Groix was a major tuna fishing village, and actually the largest in all of France. But the fishing industry all but died out here, and the island has transformed over the years. Nowadays Groix is prized for its delightful farmer’s markets, pristine mineral beaches, and a sense of tranquility. The best way to explore the island is by bike, and there are over 40km of well-maintained cycling paths which showcase gorgeous sea vistas.

10. Mont Saint-Michel

Photo by Julija Makani – Sourced from Mont Saint-Michel Official Instagram

Corsica aside, it’s safe to say the Mont Saint-Michel is France’s most famous island. Known as the ‘Wonder of the Western World’ it’s certainly the most popular with tourists as well. The Mont Saint Michel receives over 2.5 million visitors each year!

And well, a guide to the most beautiful French islands to visit just wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning the Mont Saint-Michel. Located just a kilometer off the coast of Normandy, this tidal island was one of the earliest settlements in France, dating back to the year 709.

Originally, the island was settled as a monastery, but has also functioned as a religious pilgrimage site, and even as a prison during the French Revolution. Today, the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ancient Abbey still stands, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and even lodging options to explore in the town itself.

You can visit the Mont Saint-Michel on a day trip from Paris (it will be a long day, but it’s doable), it takes about 5 hours to get there via car. Or about 4 hours via train and shuttle bus.

Well, that just about finishes up my guide to the most beautiful French islands to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and that you’ll visit some of these gorgeous islands yourself!

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