If you want a classic beach holiday, this is the place. The coastline is dominated by miles of golden sandy beach and the sea is blue and unpolluted. It is no wonder that going on vacation here is as popular with the French as it is with foreign visitors.

You can swim, snorkel, windsurf, sail, and jet-ski to your heart’s content. Alternatively, lazing on the beach soaking up the sun, or sitting at portside bistros sipping from a cool glass of wine is more than enough to fill the day.

Yet only a few miles inland you can walk or ride for hours, scarcely meeting a soul, in a classically Mediterranean landscape of low-growing oak scrub, wild thyme, and rosemary, punctuated by majestic parasol pines and dark green cypresses. The salty lagoons are a haven for birds, and the neighbouring Massif de la Clape, once an island, is now a nature reserve containing some unique species (it also has its own wine appellation, and is particularly noted for its fresh white wines).

The beaches of this area have won many awards for their cleanliness and “child-friendliness.”

Narbonne Plage

NarbonneThis modern beach resort, just 15 minutes outside Narbonne, has seen much development over recent years, giving visitors the pick of fantastic facilities along the huge swathe of sandy beach immediately south of the River Aude.

At Saint-Pierre visitors can book lessons in sailing, windsurfing and kite surfing, or hire equipment if they already know how.  This is also a good base from which to discover the parklands (and wines) of the Massif de la Clape, taking in the natural wonders of the Gouffre de l’Œil Doux, a huge chasm, and the Pussevaches lagoon.

Apart from the many bars and restaurants at Narbonne-Plage, whose stretch of beach has carried the ‘Blue Flag’ eco label for high environmental and quality standards since 1988, there is also a wide range of activities on offer for all, including quad biking, jet skiing, a water park, a supervised kids activity station and a state of the art leisure centre blessed with a crèche for children aged 3-7!

Carcassonne Plage

Carcassonne PlageKnown locally as ‘Carcassonne beach’, it is in fact a lake. See entry under ‘Lac de Cavayere’ for more details of this lovely spot only a few minutes’ drive from Domaine les Hirondelles and the medieval Cité at Carcassonne.

It has pedalos, inflatable water slides in the summer, beach volleyball courts and a tree-top zip-wire park.

Gruissan Plage

GruissanJust south of Narbonne Plage is Gruissan. This old village is known for its fishing and wine industries and for its 1300 beach chalets built on stilts.

It is a very beautiful village, built in a circular fashion, rather like a snail’s shell, winding its way around the ancient ruins of the Tour Barberousse, a fortified outpost dating from 800AD.

The marina is particularly attractive, with many waterside restaurants where you can sample the local seafood and eye the large collection of expensive yachts anchored nearby. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to one of these, you can still go on boat trips round the lagoon.

Apart from the specialist wine and fish merchants here, you will also find a modern beach resort with lots of companies offering water based sports, in particular a windsurfing school catering for adults as well as children.

The beaches are long and sandy, and very popular with windsurfers and beach volleyball players. Championships for both sports are held here during the summer.

The ‘Plage des Chalets’, with its attractive little wooden beach houses on stilts, is renowned as the setting for the cult French film Betty Blue.

Port Leucate

Port LecauteSituated on the edge of the stunning Leucate/Salses lagoon south of Narbonne and boasting miles of golden sandy beach, the resort town of Port-Leucate lends itself to many different sporting activities, from sailing to horse riding, and is well served with excellent resort facilities including a great promenade for rollerblading, a water park, a fun park, a mini golf course and a supervised kids activity station.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy local seafood and wines. This is a great all-round beach for all the family to enjoy.  For a bit of history swing round to the other side of the lagoon where you can visit the fort at Salses-le-Château, built in the 15th century along the Via Domitia. From the five-story tower there are fantastic 360° views over.

La Franqui and Leucate Beach

Leucate PlageLa Franqui and Leucate-Plage are the smaller, less urbanized beaches between the two resorts of Port-la-Nouvelle and Port-Leucate. Both have long stretches of sandy beach, popular with windsurfers and kite surfers, but also popular with those looking for a more tranquil spot.

La Franqui and Leucate-Plage, pretty fishing villages with only a handful of bars and restaurants, are bordered by inland lagoons which give the area a lovely secluded atmosphere. By climbing over the rocks at the other end of the beach from Leucate-Plage village, it is also possible to access an even smaller beach, which is popular with naturist bathers.