19 of the most beautiful villages in France
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Editor’s note: This article is for inspiration for Valentine’s Days or trips in the future. But we hope it gives you some lovely ideas and eases some of that wanderlust!
France has some of the most charming villages in all of Europe. Whether it be tiny towns among Provence’s lavender fields, glamorous beachfront stretches along the French Riviera or blustery northern settlements with the quintessential castle atop a hill, France has it all when it comes to small spots ideal for a tranquil, peaceful or even socially-distanced holiday.
Of course, we’d never advise you to skip the romance of Paris, the excitement of Cannes or the wines of Bordeaux, but you may want to consider an additional side or day trip one of these especially quaint villages in France. And the best news? Many of these villages date back centuries, so they’ll still be around in a few months/years/decades when you’re ready to start travelling again post-Covid pandemic.
1. Rocamadour, Occitanie
Just north of Toulouse, this picturesque village that sits along a tree-covered gorge has some original attractions. Besides the Cité Réligieuse, its own complex of religious buildings and a famed statue of a wooden Black Madonna, Rocamadour is also home to a very unique park, the La Forêt des Singes. Here, over 150 Barbary Macaque monkeys roam free, something you might not expect to see in southern France.
2. Riquewihr, Grand Est
Featured in our best villages in Europe list, Riquewhir is part of Alsace’s famed wine route. The medieval town is located close to the German border, which explains some of the German-influenced historical 16th-century architecture like timbered houses. Located amid Alsatian vineyards and near the Vosges mountains, explore a variety of activities (wine tasting, hiking, biking and more) outside the village centre, too.
3. Carcassonne, Occitanie
Although Carcassonne is slightly larger than many other tiny hamlets on this list, its medieval charm is undeniable. The hilltop city has double-walled fortifications that date back centuries. Inside, you’ll find over 50 watchtowers, a castle, drawbridge and beyond.
4. Le Castellet, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
This feudal hilltop village in the Côte d’Azur is surrounded by verdant vineyards and not too far from the sandy beaches of southern France. Wander the cobblestone streets and don’t miss checking out the town hall. Nearby, enjoy relaxing, rural tourism at small B&Bs, country homes and vineyard boutique hotels. The Paul Ricard racetrack circuit is also closeby.
5. Beynac-et-Cazenac, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Perched overlooking the Dordogne river, Beynac-et-Cazenac features the medieval Château de Beynac, one of the most famous castles in the region which sits atop the village’s main cliff. You can explore Beynac-et-Cazenac on foot, or snap some epic photos from a lazy boat or more energetic kayak ride along the river.
6. Amboise, Centre-Val de Loire
If you haven’t already noticed, many French villages share their names with their standout castles, and Amboise is no different, home to the magnificent Château d’Amboise. The castle is said to be the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s tomb and was once the home of King Charles VIII. Set on the Loire river, the town is perfectly located for exploring castles and wineries in the Loire Valley region.
7. Cordes-sur-Ciel, Occitanie
This fortified, hilltop town dates back to 1222, the year it was titled a “bastide”, or a new town, created for refugees of the Crusades. These days, you can wander the town, its Paradis Gardens, or pay the Musée des Arts du Sucre et du Chocolat a visit. The museum’s unique masterpieces are more often than not made entirely out of sugar and chocolate.
8. Belcastel, Occitanie
Although the village of Belcastel doesn’t have much to do, just wandering the cobblestone streets, crossing the bridge over the L’Aveyron river or admiring the ivy-covered Belcastel Château will be enough to charm you. If you happen to visit during the summer, the Belcastel often hosts watercolour competitions or has art exhibits on display for both locals and visitors to enjoy.
9. Saint-Paul-De-Vence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Saint-Paul-De-Vence is one of the oldest villages in the French Riviera. If the glittering sea views don’t win you over, the art definitely will. The village, though small, has a number of galleries and modern art museums such as the Fondation Maeght. A long-time hub for creatives, note you’re walking the same winding streets that were once walked by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Gene Wilder, who actually got married there in 1984.
10. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Located in the Pyrenean foothills close to the Spanish/French border, Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port is the starting port of the Camino Frances, a pilgrimage route that eventually feeds into Spain’s famed Camino de Santiago. The village sits along the River Nive and features colourful architecture, including a 14th-century Gothic church made of red schist, a type of stone.
11. Les Baux, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
With stunning views of the surrounding Alpilles mountains, Lex Baux is built on what seems to be a giant rock. The Les Baux Château towers high above the village, offering tours and events such as pony rides and animated sword fights. Sustainable travellers will love that the many vineyards surrounding Les Baux produce organic and biodynamic wine varieties.
12. Honfleur, Normandy
This port village in Normandy sits on the banks of where the Seine meets the Atlantic. Lined with 16th-to-18th-century townhouses, this picturesque waterfront town has inspired French impressionist artists such as the famed Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet. Honfleur is also home to one of the largest wooden churches in France, Sainte-Catherine.
13. Najac, Occitanie
This fortified village sits along the banks of the Aveyron River, yet another tiny French town with a castle perched on a hill (this one dates back to the 13th century). Plan to stroll the serene streets, stopping at quaint little churches and checking out the old stone Saint Blaise bridge.
14. Gordes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Continuing the village hilltop trend, Gordes has some pretty awe-inspiring views of the Provencal countryside and beyond from its hill. Art buffs can wander the town and its various churches, plus an 11th-century castle, knowing that artists such as Marc Chagall and Victor Vasarely also walked these streets and used them as inspiration for their artwork.
15. Gerberoy, Hauts-de-France
This northern French destination is known as the “village of a thousand rose bushes,” thanks to its many flowering plants (visit in June for the annual rose festival). Breathe in the floral scents as you admire the colours, brick and timber of the vintage cob houses and the 19th-century castle.
16. Kaysersberg, Grand Est
If the name of this French village sounds German, that’s because it is (Kaysersberg was returned to France after WWII from Germany). Its name in German means Emperors Mountain, referring to a fortress that sits upon a hill in the nearby Vognes peaks. The vibrant and colourful town, located on Alsace’s famed wine route, is rumoured to have inspired Beauty and the Beast.
17. Peillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
An ideal day trip from Nice (or even nearby Monaco), this village was built directly into the hillside rock, making it perfect to explore on foot (if you don’t mind stone stairs and uphill roads). If you’re up for some hiking, seeing the village from many of the nearby hills/mountains makes for some amazing photos.
18. Evisa, Corsica
Surrounded by the Aitone forest, waterfalls and mountains, there may not be much in the way of touristic activities in Evisa, but the village is connected to one of Corsica’s best hiking areas, the Spelunca gorges and canyon. The perfect Corsican day experience would be to explore the village and then hike the Gorges.
19. Moustiers, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Located in the shadow of massive mountain rock formations among a valley of lavender fields, Moustiers is one of the most picturesque villages in France. Besides running through the highly Instagrammable lavender fields, there’s plenty of nature to explore nearby: the mountains and lake of the nearby Verdon Natural Park.
Villages in France have that quintessential quaintness: you can almost count on hilltop castles and cobblestone streets for an all-around picturesque experience. No matter what region of France you’re in, you’ll likely be able to escape the city for a day trip to one of these lovely little spots for a little fresh air and French charm.
For more idyllic European village inspiration, check out these articles:
- 15 of the most beautiful villages in Europe
- 13 of the most beautiful villages in Portugal
- 15 of the most beautiful villages in Spain
- 19 of the most beautiful villages in Italy
Featured image of Carcasonne, France by Alexander Sorokopud/Getty
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