A visit to the South of France isn’t complete without a trip to the sea. Likewise, if you’re visiting Spain, it’s hard to imagine not taking a quick detour east to the magnificent Costa Brava. On your next European vacation, visit one of these family friendly Mediterranean beaches, to experience relaxing like a local. Contributor Heidi Gollub shares her favorite spots.
Last summer, my family spent a month touring Europe. I had the whole trip planned before we left, complete with spreadsheets detailing tourist attractions in each of the seven countries we would visit. We started in Germany, then traveled through Austria and Italy.
By the time we arrived in the South of France, all my kids (and husband) wanted to do was spend a day at the beach. And then another one. We had so much fun playing by the Mediterranean Sea, our carefully laid vacation plans shifted.
Suddenly, our trip became less about visiting new towns, and all about following the coast to find the best family friendly beaches. We dedicated a full week to finding our favorites across two countries. Here are the spots that my kids determined to be the best Mediterranean beaches in France and Spain.
Plage des Ponchettes in Nice, France
You might think that a beach made entirely of pebbles, rather than sand, would be less enjoyable for kids. But, Plage des Ponchettes in Nice, was a delight. An easy stroll from Old Nice, this public beach covered in stones, or galets, offered days of entertainment.
My boys built rock towers, fortresses, and castles, hunted for unique pebbles, and collected sea glass. The girls waded in the warm, turquoise waters. I splurged on ice creams for all from a vendor across the street. And we stayed each day until the sun set, before walking the short distance back to our Airbnb. It was heavenly.
There are many more upscale, private beaches in Nice, which you might prefer if you don’t have kids in tow. But, for family friendliness, Plage des Ponchettes is a winner. It’s free, convenient, close to restaurants, and, while popular, we didn’t find it to be overcrowded, even in July. You will likely encounter some topless sunbathers, because it is the French Riviera, but for the most part the beach is filled with families enjoying a day in the sunshine.
The best thing about a pebble beach is that when you leave, you’re not covered in sand. The stones can be a bit rough on bare feet, though. I would recommend wearing shoes that can get wet. Sandals or water shoes are very helpful for walking on galets, both in and out of the water.
We made wonderful memories in Nice, enjoying several days at Plage des Ponchettes. Next, we struck out in search of a completely different beach experience, following France’s Côte d’Azur three hours west to Montpellier.
Plage de L’Espiguette in Le Grau de Roi, France
After a few Google searches to find the best beaches on the Languedoc coast of France, I read about Plage de l’Espiguette, the longest, wildest remote beach near Montpellier. Backed by sand dunes, this six-mile stretch of wilderness along the Mediterranean Sea seemed like just the ticket. We packed a picnic, loaded up our rental car with beach towels and sunscreen, and headed out for a day at a sandy beach. Plage de l’Espiguette in Le Grau de Roi exceeded all of our expectations. It was the least touristy beach I have ever discovered. Even though we were visiting on the national holiday le 14 Juillet, what Americans call Bastille Day, we had a large stretch of sand entirely to ourselves. And what sand! Soft, white sand as far as the eye could see. Perfect for making sandcastles.
To find this beach, we searched for “Public Parking Espiguette” in Google maps, and kept an eye out for the small sign pointing left to the gravel lot. On the map, it looks like the beach is close, but it took us about 10 minutes to walk there from our car. The walk is through sand dunes, so it is not stroller friendly. It was a bit of a hike to trek with all our beach gear, and a tired four-year-old. But, it was worth it!
Because this beach is so remote, there is not much there in terms of food. Our only options were a restaurant called Les Pieds Nus and the occasional passing ice cream vendor. I recommend bringing a day’s worth of snacks and drinks (and using the bathroom before you go, because there are no public restrooms). Visiting this beach requires a bit more effort, but the reward is great. Miles and miles of rugged beach beauty.
Sant Pol de Mar, Spain
Spain’s Costa Brava has an abundance of beaches, but we fell in love with Sant Pol de Mar. Far enough from Barcelona that it was never crowded, but central enough that we enjoyed easy access to food, bathrooms, showers, parking, and playgrounds, this beach was just right for our family.
The beach at Sant Pol de Mar consists of very small pebbles, that massage your toes as you walk. And the waves here are huge. We went to a store to buy tubes and floating mattresses and the kids had a blast playing in the surf. This was probably their favorite beach of all, just because of the huge waves.
We brought a picnic lunch here, both days that we came, but we did splurge on ice cream and drinks from the beach café. I also bought a beach blanket from a strolling vendor, which was wonderful to lie on (but all of the color bled the first time I washed it).
There are so many breathtaking Mediterranean beaches, I have obviously just scratched the surface with these three. But once you find a family favorite, it’s hard not to return day after day. These beaches kept pulling us back, our entire stay in France and Spain. We’re looking forward to revisiting one day, and to discovering new beaches along the way!