Five Northern French Port Cities to Visit

Like its “neighbor” Spain, France is bathed by two totally different seas. The southern side of the country faces the northernmost part of the Mediterranean Basin, with its hot waters and gentle climate for most part of the year. While the northern coasts protrude on the restless and blustery waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Two opposite ways to live a sea life, in every imaginable term: for the inhabitants, the tourists, the sailors, the fishermen. Between North and South France there are so many differences – both cultural and anthropological – that it almost seems to be in two different countries. Even the language sounds different: though everyone speaks French, in their accents there are so many variations, to the point that they often sound utterly deceiving.

Moreover, while the southern French ports are generally renowned and highly frequented (starting from those located in the French Riviera, approximately from Mentone to Cassis, obviously passing through Montecarlo, Nice, Cannes and Toulon), the northern ones are more secluded and out-of-the-way, on average smaller and known only to those who are used to sail those seas. Nonetheless, despite not being as luxurious as the southern ones, many of the northern French port – and the cities they’re part of – deserve to be visited. In terms of Boat hire France and Spain are second only to Italy and Greece; so, if you love to explore unknown waters, check the five suggestions listed below: they’re all port cities within the French territory, from the Atlantic Ocean to the English Channel.

  1. La Rochelle. Located in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, it hosts probably one of the most ancient Atlantic Ocean ports of France. Thanks to the islands right in front of it, it’s always been a safe shelter for the ships during the most violent storms. The city has a strong tourist vocation and an historical university.
  2. Les Sables d’Olonne. Around these popular “sands”, an almost 15.000 inhabitants city stands with its overcrowded port. Once the private sea destinations for many politicians and businessmen, today it is a credible alternative to the most crowded seaside resorts.
  3. Saint-Nazaire. This is, without any doubt, the most “strategic” harbor port protruding on the Atlantic Ocean, among the ones located in the French territory. The suggestive and yet extremely advantageous position – at the mouth of river Loire – makes it automatically an important public transport junction and a coveted tourist destination, especially in the high season.
  4. Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Probably the most suggestive and, at the same time, the most modern port of the entire English Channel, at least for what concerns the French side. The presence of many hotels in the docklands area enhances the power of suggestion of its landscape: just take a look at the city lights by night from a boat’s point of view to realize how fancy and romantic this city can be.
  5. Dunkerque. Or, if you prefer – maybe because you had the chance to see Cristopher Nolan’s film – Dunkirk. The site of one of the most crucial battles of the Second World War is also the third most important port of France, right after Marseille and Le Havre. Almost a paradox, since behind the harbors there is a city that counts less than 100.000 inhabitants and is located about 15 kilometers from the Belgian border. History and modernity intertwine in this last outpost of the French way of (sea) life.

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