Map of France
Getting Acquainted with France
Naturism in France
Nudity and the Law in France
Map of France
| SOUTHERN |
||Lor ||Lorraine *
|Bour ||Bourgogne Burgundy
|Bre ||Bretagne Brittany
|Ch-Ar ||Champagne-Ardenne *
|Cor ||Corse Corsica
||PACA ||Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
|* There are no listings in this guide for Champagne-Ardenne or Lorraine.
|Getting Acquainted with France
The French Republic consists of continental France along with a widely dispersed collection of territories (mostly islands) throughout the world. In this section, we focus on Metropolitan France, which is continental France along with the Mediterranean island of Corsica. (Four French islands of the Caribbean—St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Guadaloupe and Martinique—are included in the North America section.)
Metropolitan France covers 551,695 square kilometers, which is about 80% the size of Texas. Continental France, which is basically Metropolitan France without Corsica, is often called l'Hexagone—that is, The Hexagon, due to the country's vaguely hexagonal shape. The distance from one corner of the hexagon to its opposite extreme is roughly 1,000 kilometers (as the crow flies), which is approximately the distance from Chicago to Philadelphia. The most extreme driving distance in France is a trip from the Italian border near Monaco to Brest (in Brittany). This southeast to northwest trip is about 1330 kilometers via the shortest possible route.
France is at the heart of Western Europe. It has land borders with six to eight countries, depending on how one chooses to classify Monaco and Andorra, and it is linked to the United Kingdom via the Chunnel. Paris may be the most renowned city in the world, but the rest of France is just as fascinating. Set out in any direction from Paris and you'll reach places that are remarkably different in character yet somehow unified by a unique French flair.
Here's a whirlwind trip along France's border that illustrates the striking diversity and complexity of the country, starting in the southeast at the border with Italy and moving clockwise. Nice, less than 30 kilometers from Italy, is a stylish city with a distinctly Italianate aura. Farther west along the Mediterranean, on the opposite end of popular and romantic Provence, Marseille is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world and has been for over 200 years, with large Muslim and Jewish populations and citizens with ancestors from Greece, Italy, Russia, North Africa and the Middle East, among other places. Of all the countries France borders, the longest border is with Spain, formed by the formidable Pyrenées. At the eastern end of these mountains near the Mediterranean, you will find bilingual signs—not French and Spanish, but French and Catalan. Traverse the rugged and sparsely populated border area and you'll come upon the tiny, landlocked principality of Andorra nestled in the mountains. At the Atlantic end of the Pyrenées, you will be in Basque country, and you will encounter signs in the mysterious language called Euskara. Move northward along the vast Atlantic coastline and you'll find Brittany in the northwest corner of France, where there are beaches with very un-French-sounding names like Maez an Aod and Lost-Marc'h. Brittany has Celtic roots, with a native language and culture related to that of Ireland and Celtic areas of Great Britain. Moving east along the body of water the French call La Manche and English speakers call the English Channel, you'll pass through Normandy, the "nor" of which is for "north"—not because Normandy is in the north of France, but because it was settled (well, invaded then settled) by Nordic (i.e., Scandinavian) people who arrived over a millennium ago. Keep going east and there is Belgium, a small country that is a transitional mesh of the languages and cultures of France and the Netherlands. In the southern half of Belgium, along most of its border with France, French is the predominant first language, and French is the first language of 40% of Belgium as a whole. Traveling east along the border of France and Belgium, you'll reach tiny Luxembourg. If Belgium is a marriage of French and Dutch, then Luxembourg is a marriage of French and German. Past Luxembourg, there is Germany. The French region of Alsace occupies most of this border region, and it has changed hands between France and Germany multiple times just since the late 1800's. The border, mostly formed by the Rhine, hasn't changed since the end of World War II, but Alsace remains a region full of German place names and citizens with unusual name pairings like Monique Freiburg and François Köhler. South of Alsace is Switzerland, a country that is mostly Germanic in language and culture but where French is spoken as a first language by 20% of the people. While we tend to instinctively modify "Alps" with "Swiss," the highest peak in these snow-capped mountains, Mont Blanc, is actually in France. Climb down the eastern slopes of Mont Blanc and you'll be in Italy again.
France is divided into régions, départements and communes. Although these political divisions do not precisely parallel those in the U.S., they are roughly equivalent to states, counties and towns.
France consists of 26 regions, 22 of which are listed above. (The other four are overseas regions.) Each region is divided into departments— as few as two and as many as eight. The are 100 total departments, 96 of which belong to Metropolitan France. Each department of mainland France is assigned a two-digit code called a department number. For example, in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, Aude is department 11. These numbers are frequently used on maps. Furthermore, this number is the first two digits of all postal codes within that department. For example, in Aude, the commune of Fleury has the postal code 11560. (In the region of Corsica, the two departments are numbered 2A and 2B. These are the only two departments that have have letters in the code. All postal codes in Corsica begin with "20.")
For the purposes of this guide, we have divided France into five areas—Northern, Atlantic, Southern, Interior and Corsica. If you read the pages in order, starting with "Northern" then moving to "Atlantic" then "Southern," there is a geographic continuity of the coastal beaches, with interior sites inserted where appropriate. The Northern beaches are basically listed east to west, moving from the border with Belgium to Brittany. The Atlantic beaches are basically listed north to south, moving from Brittany to the Atlantic border with Spain. The Southern beaches are basically listed west to east, moving from the Mediterranean border with Spain to the border with Italy. The "Interior" section does not pertain literally to all non-coastal sites but rather to sites that are within eight of France's eleven landlocked, non-coastal regions. (Of the remaining three landlocked regions, one is listed under "Southern," and there are no listings for the other two.)
|Naturism in France
France is undoubtedly the naturist capital of the world. The number of nude beaches in France is rivaled only by Spain. For naturist resorts and other retreats, France is simply unrivaled.
How many nude beaches are there in France? Good question. Some websites have listed 200 to 300 nude beaches in France, which is misleading. Many of these are places where naturism is not consistently practiced even if discreet nudity occurs from time to time. We'd estimate a more realistic number of well-established nude beaches at about 125. That number includes around 90 beaches where naturism has some sort of official sanction and several dozen more unofficial nude beaches. Almost all of these beaches are on the coast. While there are a few established nude beaches in the interior of France, most of these are poorly documented and far less attended than coastal beaches. Incidentally, a nude beach in France is one where swimsuit bottoms are not necessary. Topless bathing is commonplace on many beaches in France. That is not to say that bare breasts are ubiquitous on all textile beaches. It seems to be a matter of the local culture of a particular beach. Topless bathing is most common in the coastal resort towns, especially those along the Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera).
While France has an impressive selection of nude beaches, what clearly puts France far ahead of any other country in the world is its astounding array of naturist retreats. There are around 100 naturist retreats in France—places that exist specifically for naturists and where nudity is obligatory, at least in certain areas. While there are naturist resorts scattered throughout France, the bulk of them are located in the southern third of the county—south of latitude 46, which is roughly the latitude of the Gironde Estuary, the city of Lyon and the tri-border intersection of France, Switzerland and Italy. On the map at the top of this page, the letters "Lim" and "RA" are approximately at latitude 46. Most naturist retreats in France are vacation centers that are open to everyone, and they range from small-scale campgrounds in the hilly interior to mega-resorts on the Atlantic and Mediterraneans coasts that can accommodate hundreds and even thousands of guests.
|Nudity and the Law in France
While Europe in general presents more opportunities by far for nude recreation than any other part of the world, the cultural perception of when and where nudity is acceptable is not homogenous in all parts of Europe. For example, Scandinavians view it as their right to be nude on any beach so long as the sensibilities of textiles who were there first are respected, and authorities are sympathetic to this point of view. In Germany, nude sunbathing is commonplace in urban parks, particularly in Munich and Berlin. In Spain, where there is not a national law that forbids nudity, the prevailing current legal thought seems to be that a critical mass of naked people makes a beach a "legal" nude beach, with no special permission required. In contrast, in France nudity in a public place is presumed to be illegal except in designated areas. Furthermore, public nudity in France is largely a beach phenomenon. You will not find naked sunbathers in the parks of Paris or any other city. Nudity and legality is more of an issue in France than in some other European countries, even if the law is not always enforced. The French are notable for an obsession with jurisprudence, but they are also rather notorious for ignoring or circumventing the laws they don't like (at least some of them). Naturism has largely manifested itself in France within the prescriptions of the law. There are, after all, around 90 beaches that are designated and clearly signed for naturist use. At most of the well-established unofficial (and technically illegal) nude beaches, authorities tend to turn a blind eye.
In France, the issue of nudity in public places, in particular at beaches, is one that is determined at the commune level, which is the lowest administrative level of French government. A commune is governed by a mayor and is what English-speakers regard as a municipality. French communes vary tremendously in terms of size and population and may consists of a large city, a cluster of villages or sometimes just a tiny village. The point is that all land in France belongs to a commune. One commune abuts the next. Wherever you are in France, you are standing within the boundaries of a commune and are subject to its local laws.
Except with specific permission from the commune that has jurisdiction, public nudity is not legally allowed in France.
If a commune gives the okay for a beach or part of a beach to be used by naturists, it can do so in one of two manners: nudity can be autorisé or toléré—authorized or tolerated. From the point of view of a person who is naked on the beach, the distinction is inconsequential. In a nutshell, an authorized naturist beach is one where the designation is formal, and a tolerated naturist beach is where the designation is informal. Should a commune decide to revoke the okay for naturist use (as has happened on occasion), it takes more effort to do so at an authorized beach than at a tolerated beach.
Again, the distinction is purely academic from a visitor's point of view. At a beach designated for naturism, you may encounter a sign that says "naturisme autorisé," or you may encounter a sign that says "naturisme toléré." It makes no difference, and there is no reason you should favor an authorized beach over a tolerated beach.
If naturism is neither autorisé nor toléré, you may assume that naturism is interdit. Interdit literally means "forbidden," but don't take that too seriously. With respect to nude beaches, "interdit" can more aptly be defined as "not expressly permitted." If the commune has not deemed naturism at a beach to be autorisé or toléré, then naturism is by default interdit. There are many beaches in France where nudity is customary despite any kind of nod from the communal government, and at most of these beaches local officials don't interfere. In the rare instances where nudity at an established nude beach is known to be risky, we do our best to inform you of the risk. Most of the time, risk simply means that a gendarme may order you to put something on. Fines for nudity at remote or unofficial nude beaches are uncommon, and arrests are quite rare. Responsible and prudent nudists are not likely to encounter trouble with authorities.
Our advice: If there is no signage indicating that nudity is permitted, look for other nude bathers before disrobing and be cautious about disrobing in front of textiles.
France's national naturist organization is the Fédération française de naturisme (FFN). It is a good starting point if you know French and are interested in organized naturism in France. However, if you are looking for supplemental nude beach information, these two websites offer more than FFN:
Both these sites are in French only, and both of them are forum-oriented websites where visitors share their thoughts and opinions about nude beaches and other naturist places. Each website can be complex to navigate if you do not have a basic familiarity with the French language and the geography of France.
In our Google Earth files, we have (when possible) linked nude beaches to their corresponding pages on PlageNat and Vivrenu. Even if French is all Greek to you, you can cut and paste URLs into a translation program like Google Translate to get a perspective on what the French think about various nude venues in France.
NATURISME and NATURISTE
Take off the "e" in either word and you have the English equivalents—"naturism" and "naturist." In 1953, the International Naturist Federation (INF) formally
defined naturism as "A way of life in harmony with nature, characterized by social nudity, with the intention of encouraging
self-respect, respect for others and care for the environment." Philosophical connotations aside, the words "naturism" and "naturist"
are used very broadly simply to describe places or events where nudity is considered normal and acceptable. These terms are much more
widely used in France than are the terms for nudism or nudist—nudisme and nudiste. For example, a nude beach is
more commonly called a plage naturiste than a plage nudiste. Furthermore, naturiste may imply clothing optional or
nudity requisite. The term vêtements optionnels—clothing optional—is not common in French usage.
Nude, naked. This adjective describes the condition of being unclothed. The adjectives naturiste or nudiste should be used to describe nude beaches and resorts or naturism as a lifestyle. A man who is naked is un homme nu, while a woman who is naked is une femme nue. A man or woman described as a nudist or naturist may be called un homme nudiste or une femme naturiste. A nude beach can be called une plage naturiste or une plage nudiste, but not une plage nue.
Literally, "green beach." This term is used to described a beach that is in the interior (e.g., on a river or lake) rather than on the coast.
Similarly, the term France verte is used to describe interior—as opposed to coastal— locations.
This word, which is the same in English and French and can be a noun or an adjective in either language, is popular term of
convenience used to describe people who wear swimsuits or places where swimsuits are worn. It is easier to say "textile beach," or
"plage textile," than to say "beach where swimsuits are required."
CENTRE DE VACANCES
Vacation center, as in a holiday resort. While most naturist resorts, retreats, campgrounds and the like in the United States,
Canada and the United Kingdom tend to be set up as private-membership clubs, most of their French counterparts are better
described as centres de vacances that are open to the public and that, for the most part, are not operated as private
clubs. However, be advised that many French vacation centers require that guests be cardholding members of the International Naturist
Federation (INF). If you belong to your country's affiliated national naturist organization (like AANR in the U.S.
and FCN or FQN in Canada),
you should already have an INF card.
Pronounced sham-bra dote, with "dote" rhyming with "boat." Literally "rooms of guests" or "guest rooms," chambres d'hôtes are similar in character to bed & breakfasts, inns and guesthouses. They are small-scale establishments where breakfast is usually included.
A gîte is a private house available for short-term rentals. The owners who rent out the house typically live in a separate house on the property or nearby. Travelers seeking more privacy and independence may prefer a gîte over a chambres d'hôtes. Gîtes advertised to the naturist market vary in character and may offer space for naturism in a totally private or in a semi-communal context. For example, if a gîte includes a swimming pool, it may be available only to the renters of a single house and thus completely private, or it may be shared with the owners. Or, a property may include a collection of gîtes, typically no more than three, that share a common naturist swimming pool.
Nudity authorized, frequently used on nude beach signage.
Nudity tolerated, also frequently used on nude beach signage. From the naturist's point of view, naturisme autorisé
and naturisme toléré mean the same thing.
MAILLOT DE BAIN
Swimsuit, often just maillot. A sign that reads "maillot obligatoire" means just what it sounds like—swimsuits are required.
A gendarme is a member of the gendarmerie, which is one two national police forces in France. (The other force, the
police nationale, is involved mostly in policing urban areas.) Most coastal areas (among other areas) are under the
jurisdiction of the gendarmerie, so gendarmes are responsible for policing France's beaches and enforcing the local laws, including
those that pertain to swimsuit requirements. If you are naked on a beach that is not signed for nudity, you may be subject to the
enforcement whims of a gendarme—maybe a reprimand, maybe a fine, maybe nothing at all, but almost never arrest unless some sort
of blatant behavior is involved. As explained in Nudity and the Law, there are some beaches in France that are not officially designated for naturism but where
authorities leave naturists alone.
GENDARME DE SAINT-TROPEZ
Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez is a 1964 French comedic film about a small-town police officer who is reassigned to chic
Saint-Tropez, where he battles a group of nude bathers. In French naturist lingo, the term is derisively applied to any public
official who hassles nudists for being naked at a public beach. (Fortunately, interference at established nude beaches is rare these
Most place names in France are either the same in English or recognizably similar. Here are a few that are not quite as obvious or well known.
|La Manche||the English Channel|
||the French Riviera (roughly the eastern third of France's Mediterranean coast)|
|Île-de-France||the region that includes Paris and its suburbs||