France is full of enchanting villages and among the approximately 30,000 communes there are undoubtedly thousands of beautiful ones. However, officially there are exactly 159 Plus Beaux Villages de France – 159 most beautiful villages of all. But how can there be such a precise figure? Easy! This is not a subjective opinion, it’s the number of villages that belong to an actual association. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is a formal “club” of 159 villages spread out across the country, including Corsica and the overseas territories.
The criteria to join the association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is strict. It includes having a population of under 2000 and at least 2 historic monuments worthy of interest. There are many more financial and practical obligations as well. The association was set up in 1982 to help promote tourism and safeguard heritage in small rural locations. In effect it means the villages that pass the selection process are almost frozen in time, protected from some of the ugliness of modern life such as neon signs, advertising billboards and industrial buildings. Of course most have cafés, restaurants and souvenir/craft shops which are naturally independent not part of big chains – no Starbucks or MacDonalds here! Preserved like this, these villages make great destinations for visitors searching for something less commercial, possibly less well-known, more “hidden gem” than “N° 1 tourist spot” (though this isn’t always the case, more on this below).
Some of these villages are well known, while others are well and truly off the beaten track and unlikely to be visited by anyone other than locals if they weren’t part of the association. During 2020 with pretty much all international travel off-limits, the French were encouraged to holiday at home and I can only imagine this will be the case again after the current lockdown eases. If you can’t get to France right now I hope you enjoy some armchair travel, reading about this selection of Plus Beaux Villages de France. Perhaps it’ll help you plan a future trip. However, if you are lucky enough to be living near any of these gorgeous villages then now’s the time to explore your backyard. I’ve only been to 8, barely scratching the surface, so I decided to ask some fellow bloggers for their recommendations on which villages on this most exclusive of lists to visit.
I have arranged the villages by region, starting with my local area, PACA in the south east and moving clockwise around the country. You may well wonder why I’ve made the map above show such a large scale view of the world and not just focus on France….Well, that’s because if you look closely off the east coast of Madagascar you’ll see a pin for one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France! Yes, all the way over in the Indian Ocean lies a French village. Confused? Take a look at my series on Far-Flung France for an explanation.
All texts and photos are provided by the bloggers credited unless otherwise stated. Texts without credit are written by me. Let’s go! Let’s take a tour of some of the most beautiful villages in France.
Plus Beaux Villages de France in Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur Region
Sainte Agnès is only a couple of kilometres as the crow flies from both Italy and Menton, and the coast and because of this it’s known as the “highest coastal village in Europe”. This perilously located village sits on a rocky ridge at just under 800m altitude while being practically on the sea. As you can imagine it offers incredible sweeping views along the coast.
Owing to its strategic location Ste-Agnès has some interesting fortifications including a medieval castle and more recent 20th century defences making up part of the Maginot Line. This is a line of fortifications along many of France’s borders designed to protect the country from the menace of Fascism in the 1930s. The fort can be visited at weekends during winter and every day in the summer months.
Sainte Agnès is a pretty village perché (hilltop village) though to be fully frank I don’t think it’s the most beautiful in the area despite its listing in the Plus Beaux Villages de France. What does make it stand out however are the surprising gardens located high above the village just below the ruined castle. These gardens seem to defy nature. They date from medieval times and are planted to invoke the 5 senses with a variety of medicinal herbs, flowers, fruit trees and a vine, all clinging to the edge of a mountain. The castle, perched even higher still, is in ruins and you explore at your own risk. A risk definitely worth taking!
Gourdon village in the Alpes-Maritimes department is located in an impossibly dramatic position. It literally clings perilously to a cliff over-looking the Loup river gorge. Driving up to it from Châteauneuf de Grasse you catch your first view of this terrifically scenic village from a convenient pull off on the vertiginous road. You see immediately why it’s so very worthy of its title as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. Once in the village itself, the views out across the Côte d’Azur from Nice to the Estérel mountains and down into the river gorge literally take your breath away.
Gourdon is tiny and takes only minutes to walk around as unfortunately its most historic monument, the château built between the 12th to 18th century, is no longer open to the public. (It is available to hire for events though if you’re looking for a unique place to celebrate something special!) The gardens designed by Le Nôtre (he of Versailles fame) can still be visited but only between April and September, in groups of 10+ by arrangement (not ideal for the average tourist but a possibility for locals).
Strolling around the village may only take minutes if you aren’t interested in any of the boutiques, but if you do take the time to look you’ll find many tempting artisanal products mainly based on the local perfume industry. Extend your visit by stopping for a drink or meal at la Taverne Provençale which offers the best views from its terrace.
Gassin suggested by Becks at Access Riviera
Known as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Gassin in the Var department gets more notoriety for being a neighbour to Saint-Tropez. However, if you’re in the area don’t miss visiting Gassin.
Gassin was once a Moorish stronghold that was built as a lookout point during the time of Saracen invasions, so its hilltop location gives excellent views of the surrounding vineyards and Gulf of Saint-Tropez.
The medieval village itself is small which makes it easy to explore in a few hours. Gassin has a few pretty churches, outdoor wells (that were vital for the town water supply) and one of the world’s narrowest streets, l’Androun, that measures just 29 cm wide. There’s a cute shop in the village, Maison des Confitures, that sells over 500 varieties of jam in glass jars topped with Provençal fabric – a great souvenir to buy a flavour or two!
Gassin village was extended in the late 1980s by François Spoerry – the architect who designed Port Grimaud which is known as the ‘Little Venice’ of southeast France because of its canals – and his assistant Xavier Bohl, who won the European architecture prize Philippe-Rotthier
Gassin is a pleasant town to enjoy a long lunch. La Verdoyante is a fantastic restaurant set in an old farmhouse with a pretty outdoor terrace providing panoramic views. It’s impossible to write about Gassin without mentioning the surrounding Côte de Provence vineyards – particularly recommended are both Domaine La Rouillère and Château Minuty for wine tasting or to buy local olive oil.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie suggested by Carolyne at Perfectly Provence
France is a country blessed with many picturesque vistas, but there is only one place with a dedicated star hanging overhead – Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. The perched village flanked by towering cliffs resembles a Provencal nativity scene protected by a 150kg gold star suspended between the bluffs. In 1981, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie joined the ranks of the Plus Beaux Villages de France attracting visitors year-round.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is a hamlet with roughly 700 residents, but the visitors swell that number on a summer weekend. Part of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department Moustiers is considered the gateway to the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon. The park encompasses the stunning Gorges du Verdon, which is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Many visit the town for its reputation of exceptional ceramic artisans. Walk around the village centre visiting the workshops where artists create traditional earthenware – faïence – high-quality porcelain with opaque glaze.
Do make a point of walking up the stairs (there are lots of them) to the hillside chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, classified a historic monument in 1921. Depending on your physical ability, the walk to the church will take 15- 20 minutes. Along the ascent, you find the 14 stations of the cross featuring local earthenware tiles. You can descend the same way or follow the trail towards the Sainte-Madeleine cave and enjoy the village’s overhead views and Lac Sainte-Croix in the distance.
Ansouis suggested by Carolyne at Ginger and Nutmeg
Photo Credit: Le Long Weekend
Perched on a craggy outcrop with its back to the Mistral wind, Ansouis is a gem of a village in Provence’s Vaucluse that deserves its status as one of les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Ansouis sits in the heart of intertwined vineyards and endless olive trees. Walk the narrow laneways to the top of the village, by the church, for expansive views of the Grand Luberon range and the Durance River Valley. Physically elevated above the main route between Aix-en-Provence and Apt, the fortified hamlet’s residents were provided visibility to movement in the area during the Middle Ages.
Today, the town remains a hamlet with barely more than 1,000 permanent residents. As a result of the compact footprint, Ansouis delivers photo-ops at every turn. There are tiny alleys, houses built into ancient ramparts, stone facades with brightly painted shutters, and a medieval castle. The privately-owned Château d’Ansouis is not open to the public for guided visits at this time.
Plan to arrive in Ansouis hungry and with a reservation at Michelin 1-star restaurant La Closerie with only 16 tables. Alternatively, ice cream fans do not miss L’Art Glacier with 50 flavours produced by the Perrière family, who have held the titles of Maîtres Glacier and Maîtres Artisans Glacier for two generations.
Lourmarin suggested by Julie at Vaucluse Dreamer
Photo by Phoebe@LouMessugo
The list of the most beautiful villages of France cannot be complete without Lourmarin, a stunning collection of honey-coloured stone buildings lining cobbled streets, nestling at the base of the southern flank of the Luberon in the Vaucluse. Its elegant and carefully restored Chateau (often housing art exhibitions) is always worth a visit as is the village, with its narrow lanes, beautiful buildings and excellent shops.
Every Friday morning the village fills with colour, scent and noise when the roads and squares are packed with brightly coloured market stalls selling superb local produce and crafts. Hosting one of the best markets in the area, it’s the perfect day to visit and amble around the narrow streets, stopping for a coffee at Café Gaby in the heart of the village, fully immersed in the bustle of French life.
It’s not just the market that is worth exploring, but in the pretty centre you’ll find some lovely galleries, including Isirdi with vibrant works reflecting life in France. There are shops filled with elegant homewares, L’Apothicaire and la Colline being two favourites. You’ll also find little ‘artisan’ studios including the bright pottery of Atelier Buisson Kessler, or reworked old linen by KOT by TG.
With a superb selection of restaurants, including the excellent Le Moulin de Lourmarin, which always has a fabulous ‘market day’ lunch menu, it is a delightful place to experience the best of Provence.
Roussillon suggested by Krisztina at She Wanders Abroad
Located between the Luberon hills and Monts de Vaucluse, the cute little village of Roussillon is often referred as one of the most beautiful villages in France. And it’s not a coincidence, Roussillon truly looks like a fairytale town with its pastel colored houses and cobbled streets.
What’s even more special about the village is that it’s located in the heart of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, therefore Roussillon is also famous for the huge red cliffs and ochre quarries. If you’re interested in knowing more about the ochre, you can visit the Ochre Conservatory where the buildings of an old factory have been completely restored and you can learn more about how the ochre gets processed.
Strolling the charming streets and getting lost in the maze of alleys is one of the best things to do in Roussillon. Make sure to check out the beautiful building of the City Hall located on the lively Town Hall Square. The square is also a great place to grab some food or drink at one of the cafes or try the famous lavender ice cream which is unique in the Provence region.
Although Roussillon is easily reachable by car, finding a parking spot can be tricky, especially during the high season. Therefore, it’s best to visit early in the morning and spend at least half a day in this fairytale village.
Ménerbes suggested by Nadine at Le Long Weekend
The village of Ménerbes is located in the Luberon, a beautiful area of immense natural and cultural heritage in the Vaucluse department. As one of the most beautiful villages in Provence, and indeed France, Ménerbes is appreciated for its beauty, but it has a lot more to offer the curious visitor.
Famous for its associations with Peter Mayle and his best-selling memoir A year in Provence; many tourists flock to the village in search of the scenes from the book, and to live the same enchanting existence.
The best way to experience Ménerbes is to visit the Thursday morning market, stroll through the picturesque streets, shop at the charming boutiques, and have a meal in the acclaimed Bistrot Le 5.
Surrounding the village, you’ll find an agrarian landscape full of olive groves, vineyards, and lavender fields. Ménerbes makes a great day trip from Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or a fantastic base for exploring more of the Luberon.
Gordes suggested by Tracy at Tracy’s Travels in Time
Photo by Phoebe@LouMessugo
Located in the Vaucluse in south eastern France the beautiful village of Gordes is possibly one of the most famous villages in the Luberon. This hilltop village is begging to be explored and getting lost in its labyrinth of narrow paved streets is pretty much guaranteed!
The village has had many famous inhabitants over the centuries. This includes artists such as Marc Chagall and Vasarely Victor, musicians, sculptors and even French Presidents. The arts still plays a major role in the village with art exhibitions, festivals and even a Pottery Market held during the spring and summer every year. Many painters, sculptors, ceramists and craftsmen have workshops in the village with exhibition galleries open to the public.
Don’t miss the weekly market held on Tuesdays where local produce, artworks and beautiful Provencal fabrics take centre stage. Main attractions in the village include Gordes Castle, which was originally built in 1031, and Gordes Church. However the entire village of limestone buildings is a delight to wander. Stop for a drink or a meal in one of the many cafes and restaurants offering diners a taste of Provence.
Gordes is also a fabulous village to base yourself for further exploration of the region due to its proximity to other attractions including Roussillon, Fontaine de Vaucluse and Avignon.
Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence is located on a rocky outcrop in the Alpilles mountains in the Bouche-du-Rhône department in the south of France. This absolute stunner of a village could be said to be the copybook example of how belonging to the Plus Beaux Villages de France club isn’t necessarily a good thing. Only 22 people live inside the village walls, with another 450 ish in the commune itself but 1.5 million visitors swamp its narrow streets every year! With reason of course because it really is an extraordinary place, but can 1.5 million visitors ever be sustainable?
Leaving aside that question and despite its overwhelming number of visitors, Les Baux is possibly one of my favourite places in the PACA region. It offers a (genuinely) spectacular setting with phenomenal views, an impressive ruined castle, 20-odd other historic monuments, probably the most photogenic giftshop ever (my photo above doesn’t do it justice), some delicious restaurants (including a 3* Michelin, L’Ostau de Baumanière) and the utterly fabulous Carrières de Lumières. The latter is a multimedia art space located in a former quarry, where artworks are projected onto the walls to music. The programme changes annually and it’s an absolute must-do if visiting this part of France.
Plus Beaux Villages de France in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region
Arlempdes suggested by Annette at Four Acorns
On a scorching hot August afternoon, we were handed the keys to the castle in Arlempdes, Haute-Loire. The children eagerly unlocked the heavy wooden door, and a magical playground of old stones, evocative ruins and breathtaking views opened up before our eyes. Arlempdes Castle, or what’s left of it, stands atop a rocky spur (called a dyke) dominating a meander on the Loire River.
Precipitously perched at the very edge of the cliff, a diminutive red stone chapel overlooks a volcanic landscape of basalt flows and wooded hills, while the young Loire River, still only 30km from its source, curves around the foot of the cliffs, over 100 metres below. The chapel dates back to the beginnings of the castle in the 12th century; it is, along with the nearby armoury, which has kept its stunning stone vaulted ceiling, the best preserved building.
With a population of less than 150 people, Arlempdes is a tiny village in southern Haute-Loire, whose beautifully restored red-roofed stone houses huddle around the ruins of the medieval stronghold. It only adds to the experience that the keys to the castle are to be retrieved from the bar at the Hôtel du Manoir. The nearby Romanesque church, with its stunning comb bell tower, the 15th century carved high cross and the 10th century postern entrance, are other architectural gems of Arlempdes.
Arlempdes is one of 4 Plus Beaux Villages de France in Haute-Loire, the others being Blesle, Lavaudieu and Pradelles.
Usson suggested by Richard at Deep Heart of France
Usson – this quiet little village in the Puy-de-Dôme department– overflows with stories that connect it to the mainstream of French history.
It’s where the woman known popularly as “Queen Margot” (Marguerite de Valois) lived in exile from the royal court in Paris. Her story is as complex, bloody, and unbelievable as any in French history – and for 20 years she walked the streets of this little town, praying in one of the side chapels of the beautiful Romanesque church and “help[ing] the poor and liv[ing]a pious life…without neglecting, nevertheless, her love life,” as the town’s signs say.
Of course, Usson has the requisite amenities for tourists and some important historic buildings – especially the 12th-century Eglise Saint Maurice. Have lunch if you can on the terrasse of the Auberge de Margot and contemplate the same gorgeous panoramic views Queen Margot saw across the plains and stretching to the blue chain of extinct volcanoes 30 miles away.
(Sadly, the enormous fortress that marked Usson as a center of power in central France is only a ruin – destroyed in 1633 on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu, who feared it might be used to threaten the power of the King.)
It’s a village you might miss if it weren’t on the list of France’s “most beautiful villages.” It’s picturesque, seen from a distance, and the views from the top of the hill are spectacular. But spend a day wandering in Usson and you’ll surely conjure the incredible people and events that passed this way.
Yvoire suggested by Leyla at Offbeat France
This immaculate 14th century village (and its equally ancient chateau) jut out from the department of the Haute Savoie into Lake Geneva, facing the Swiss shore. If you visit Geneva, Yvoire is an easy day trip, with several boats crossing the water each day.
At first glance, this is a typical gated medieval village, with flowers and plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops, with cobblestones and narrow streets and, given the location, chalet-type architecture blended with the stone.
While you’ll find plenty of souvenirs, you’ll also find art. A number of artists have taken refuge here, especially sculptors and potters, and you’ll see their work for sale throughout the village. So souvenirs, yes, but unique ones.
When in Yvoire a few things are musts. Visit the Jardin des Cinq Sens, the Garden of the Five Senses, and enjoy the labyrinth, while using all your senses to explore the vegetation. For something a bit more strenuous, take a ten-minute stroll to Nernier, the next village over, to see what Yvoire might have looked like before it became so popular. And to sample some regional cuisine, you must have lunch at the Hotel du Port and sample their filets de perche, their perch fillets, in an unbelievable butter and lemon sauce. People come from miles around for these. Better yet, in summer reserve a night in the hotel and have supper instead, when the crowds have gone.
Most Beautiful Villages of France in Occitanie Region
Conques suggested by Alison at Dreamer at Heart
The medieval village of Conques is tucked away in a deep valley in Aveyron, France.
Strolling down from the parking lot into Conques, you are immediately swept into a time gone by. The singing birds and the sound of the rushing River Dourdou provide a glorious backdrop to the half-timbered houses, cobbled laneways, ancient archways and church towers.
The Romanesque Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy with its famous tympanum of the Last Judgement is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head inside to admire the contemporary stained glass windows by painter Pierre Soulages and then perch yourself, maybe with an ice cream, and stare in awe at the tympanum which still has traces of colour on the carved figures.
Conques has been welcoming pilgrims since the 11th century and still today it is a stop on the way of the Saint James Pilgrimage route. Perhaps this is why the ambiance in Conques is both tranquil and inspirational. This most beautiful village of France is one not to miss.
Aiguèze suggested by Maria at A World of Destinations
Aiguèze is a medieval village with about 200 inhabitants located on a hilltop in the department Gard. The narrow alleys lead past ancient houses and a few cute shops. Take a stroll through the cobblestone streets and pay attention to the beautiful details in the medieval architecture. The main sight of Aiguèze is a fortress that is located right on the cliff above the river Ardèche. Walk around it to find an amazing panoramic view overlooking the river and the surrounding hills. Next to the fortress there’s a gothic church that is open to public for visits.
If you’re hungry, head to Le Bouchon for a great selection of tapas, meat, fish and poke bowls. The restaurant is located right in the heart of Aiguèze and has a lovely terrace as well as an indoor seating area.
Aiguèze is certainly worth visiting but you don’t need much time to explore it. However, the area around Aiguèze offers lots of things to do and you can easily spend a whole day there. Being surrounded by nature, you can find several hiking trails in the area. Follow the river and explore the impressive Gorges d’Ardèche. Bring your bathing suit in summer because temperatures rise up to 30-40°C degrees and the river Ardèche invites you to jump in. You can even rent a kayak or a SUP board to paddle down the river.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie suggested by Alison at Dreamer at Heart
It is no surprise when you arrive in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (Lot Department) that is has a designation of one of the most beautiful villages in France. The town is perched high above the Lot River, in the Causses du Quercy Regional Natural Park and its jumble of red-roofed homes tumble down the cliffside. The tower of L’Eglise de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie rises high over the town and the chateau ruins situated on high provide sweeping views of the lush Lot Valley. What a strategic location Saint-Cirq-Lapopie held for centuries.
Wander the steep cobbled streets of this medieval village through Gothic archways, past the thirteen designated historic monuments and half-timbered homes. Shop in the boutiques that sell local artisan goods and dine at one of the many restaurants. If you are seeking an exquisite French gastronomic experience head to Le Cantou on Rue de la Pelissaria. Your taste buds will be singing for days.
It is no wonder that poet and writer André Breton arrived here and declared that he had no need to go elsewhere. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie has an enchanting effect. You just might never leave this beautiful French village.
Some of the Most Beautiful Villages in France in Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region
Collonges-la-Rouge suggested by Richard at Deep Heart of France
Here’s an example of real truth in advertising: the village of Collonges-la-Rouge in the Corrèze département is called “la Rouge” because… it’s red. And it is officially one of France’s “most beautiful villages” because…it’s really beautiful.
(In fact, Collonges-la-Rouge is the original “most beautiful village”, since it was the town’s mayor, Charles Ceyrac, who conceived the idea of creating a national association of exceptional sites in 1982.)
The thing that strikes you immediately about the town’s buildings, even from a few miles away, is their rich red color. Most are constructed from red sandstone, colored by high levels of iron oxide taken from local quarries. Other towns near here use this material, too, but it finds its highest expression in the Renaissance mansions of Collonges-la-Rouge; their decorative turrets give the town its nickname, the “City of 25 Towers”.
Many of the old mansions are now auberges, bed-and-breakfasts, or restaurants. Check out the Relais de St Jacques de Compostelle. In the middle of town, it offers plainly decorated non-smoking rooms and classic French dishes in the restaurant.
And the town has done a great job of attracting the kind of shops – handmade products, local foods and liqueurs, and art works – that appeal to tourists. As the Mayor’s office says “We don’t want shopkeepers to sell products from Taiwan. Artisans thrive here.” It’s a village with one real vocation: preserving the charm of a long-lost era for tourists, without being “too pretty” or too much like a theme park for adults.
La Roque-Gageac suggested by Gillian at Bucket List France
Located a short 15 minute drive from the famous town of Sarlat in the Dordogne, the picturesque village of La Roque-Gageac most definitely deserves its title as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France and is a must on your Dordogne itinerary. Nestled between the Dordogne river and limestone cliffs, the village enjoys a very special location and attracts many visitors to the area.
There are many dwellings that are literally carved into the rock face as well as a lovely riverside promenade with great restaurants and bars – our favourite is the restaurant ‘La Belle Etoile’. There is even a small tropical garden due to the unusual sheltered position of La Roque-Gageac.
As a visitor, you can choose to wander around the village on foot or alternatively, take to the waters and get a really unique view of the village. You can hire a canoe or kayak and make your way down the Dordogne river or jump aboard a gabarre boat for a fun and informative 45-minute boat trip. A gabarre is a traditional flat-bottomed boat that was previously used to transport goods along the river towards Bordeaux. The Dordogne is home to 9 of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France and La Roque-Gageac definitely ranks amongst our favourites!
Beynac-et-Cazenac suggested by Cosette at KarsTravels
Beynac-et-Cazenac in the Dordogne department is with reason one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Upon seeing it for the first time, the town captures your attention right away with the castle high above, towering over the Dordogne river. In this town you feel like you’re in the Middle Ages again. It’s that well preserved.
Beynac-et-Cazenac has been inhabited since the Bronze ages. The castle and town have been in the hands of the French as well as the English in turn through the ages. The castle is the most famous building of Beynac-et-Cazenac, set on a rock 150 meters high above the town.
Beynac-et-Cazenac has beautiful old streets and buildings and visiting it is a great thing to do in the Dordogne with kids. Walk up these small streets until you reach the castle, walk a little further on a path and enjoy the beautiful views over the town and river. Visit the castle, there’s an entrance fee. Stroll through the streets of the medieval town. Beynac-et-Cazenac is not a large town, there are cute (touristic) shops to browse through. When at the riverside again take a Gabarre de Beynac, freight ships from the 18th and 19th century. From the Dordogne river you have awesome views of the village.
At the end of your day have dinner at Hostellerie Maleville, with a terrace on the river Dordogne and delicious French cuisine.
Mornac sur Seudre suggested by Susan at Our French Oasis
Tucked away to the west of the main road that runs southwards to Royan in the Charente-Maritime department, lies a village of whitewashed walls and traditional craftsman. Settled into a curve of the river Seudre, the buildings run down to a cut-stone quay, replete with wooden pilings. Mornac sur Seudre is a delight, both to the eye, and also the soul. Once a small village of oystermen and fishermen, it is now a delightful home for local artisans. And tucked in amongst the commercial side of the village are a plethora of small restaurants.
Mornac lies on a small steam railway track and is the only stop between Saujon and La Tremblade. Le Train des Mouettes is a journey best undertaken in sunny weather, but it is an adventure that takes the passenger back in time. If, on the other hand, you arrive by car after leaving your vehicle by the church, you can continue on foot through the pedestrianised roads that snake and dip down to the quay.
First stop is the old covered market which serves as both the village’s traditional marketplace, but also as a setting for evening events, such as the Thursday night markets in summer. A star turn here is a small shop tucked away to one side that sells traditional wooden toys. As one leaves the market, there are only two roads to choose, both of which end up on the quayside.
In summer, the small pedestrianised streets are a minefield of chairs and tables as every eatery and cafe competes for space, and it is a slow but satisfying walk down to the harbour where you’ll find a crêperie which cooks traditional Breton gallettes. It would be rude not to mention that in summer, Mornac also serves Éclades des Moules, a very traditional recipe which is simply mussels cooked on flaming pine needles – just take something for your hands, they get dirty!
Brouage suggested by Jacqui at French Village Diaries
Brouage is a fortified village in the Charente-Maritime hidden within ramparts and turrets that seem to rise from the surrounding salt marshlands. It is a great place for a summer’s day out on bikes.
The town originally made its fortune in salt trading during the 1500s and then became a stronghold of Cardinal de Richelieu during the siege of La Rochelle in 1628, where the Huguenots were defeated. Today the cobble streets of cream stone houses, decorated with hollyhocks, crisscross the high street where the church of St Pierre takes centre stage. Inside the church, the impressive Canadian stained-glass windows and hanging model boats remind the visitor that Brouage is also the birthplace of explorer Samuel de Champlain who with entrepreneur Pierre Dugua de Mons from Royan, founded Quebec in the early 1600s.
A walk along the ramparts will give you embankments to climb, turrets to hide in and a two-kilometre leg stretch with views over the marshlands. You will see cattle grazing and storks, herons, egrets, spoonbills, but not much else on the narrow tracks that meander through the waterways. Within the walls there are artisan boutiques to browse, regular exhibitions at the Halle aux Vivres and a bicycle museum. For a refreshing pause, there are a number of bars and restaurants including Le P’tit Biniou, a brasserie that also serves main meals, where the crêpes and beer come highly recommended.
The rather amusingly named Ars-en-Ré is a pretty harbour village on the island of Ré off the Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime. As with the whole of the island the village oozes sleepy charm, criss-crossed with cobbled alleys, whitewashed houses with green shutters and hollyhocks sprouting out of every little crevice. Stroll around the photogenic alleyways to soak up the atmosphere and at some stage you’re sure to find yourself at the main church, which you will have undoubtedly spotted from a distance on arrival.
St Etienne’s striking black and white 15th century octagonal clock tower is shaped like an arrow and painted in these unusual contrasting monotones to act as a beacon for ships navigating back to port. And it is at this pretty port that you’ll find a selection of cafés and restaurants to while away some time watching the activity going on around you.
Traditionally Ars-en-Ré relied on fishing and salt production but while there are still salt marshes (and the salt produced makes for great gifts), the fishing has mainly given way to tourism these days. Cycling around the salt marshes and out to the 5 remaining windmills (there were once 17) is a fun way to spend some time while visiting this particular member of the Plus Beaux Villages de France club.
Beautiful Villages in Brittany and Normandy Regions
Rochefort-en-Terre suggested by Diane at Oui in France
Rochefort-en-Terre in the Morbihan department of Brittany is 100% deserving of its spot on France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages list. Just 35 kilometers east of Vannes, this stunning village will make you feel like a character in a fairy tale. There are barely any cars in the village’s well-maintained center that is still adorned with Christmas decor in early January, making a winter visit charming. The half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and storefronts looked too perfect to be real! If you picture what a “charming French town” would look like, Rochefort-en-Terre would be it.
The village, with a population of under 1000, is also home to a medieval chateau that was owned by American painter Alfred Klotz who bought it in 1907 and oversaw its restoration. It’s now owned by the French government. Klotz encouraged the locals to decorate their homes with geraniums and this tradition is still in practice today.
Locronan suggested by Veronika at Travel Geekery
Locronan has more proof that it belongs to France’s most beautiful villages, other than the official title. It is a popular set for filmmakers. Locronan’s historical center is made up of granite houses built in the 16th – 18th centuries, richly decorated with flowers. No new houses have been built there and even modern-looking things, such as utility cables, are hidden under the ground.
As is the case with many villages all over Europe, you can find a church at its heart. Here, the church of Saint Ronan from the 15th century is built in late Gothic style and presents one of the best examples of the so-called Flamboyant Gothic with highly decorative elements. A cemetery with a calvary hides behind the church and is well worth visiting too.
Both local and international tourists love Locronan. There are many shops selling traditional Breton biscuits, little cafés and créperies. I can recommend a down-to-Earth local café/bar called “Ostaliri Ti Jos”.
Locronan is conveniently located near the coastline, so you can see the village on your way to/from a hike in Brittany. You can find it in the department of Finistère.
Moncontour suggested by Annette at A French Collection
Stunning Moncontour in the Côtes d’Armor department was one of the first towns we visited on our home purchasing tour and its beauty surprised us as we happened upon it almost by chance. It’s nestled between two valleys and was originally built in the 11th century as part of the defences for the nearby town of Lamballe. The town became the hub for production of canvas and linen cloth up until the Industrial Revolution with its sought after fabrics being exported to South America and the Indies.
The beautiful granite and slate buildings that make up Moncontour are reminders of this prosperous era, and I particularly recommend walking around Moncontour to view Église Saint-Mathurin, the town hall and neighbouring mansions. The church’s stunning 16th century stained glass windows must be seen to be believed.
Jardin d’Hildegarde is another must-see when in this beautiful village of France. The garden grows and displays medieval vegetables and flowers and is open every Sunday in summer.
If you’re as fascinated as I am with the Middle Ages and knights, then the Théâtre du Costume with its permanent exhibition of knights and costumes, including one from Louis XII will interest you.
Barfleur suggested by Chris at Normandy Gite Holidays
You might feel a sense of déjà-vu when you visit Barfleur in the Manche department. It’s twinned with Lyme Regis in Dorset in the UK where some of the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman was shot. There’s a sense of familiarity particularly near the lifeboat station and church. A view of the village is depicted in one of the stained glass windows.
The street overlooking the pretty harbour is dotted with restaurants and brasseries serving traditional French fare. Many of them have outdoor seating where you can enjoy the view. Brightly coloured boats bob up and down at high tide or list comically to one side when the harbour empties at low tide.
Head to Rue Thomas Becket for a small range of independent shops and more eateries. The bustling weekly market is held on the quayside on Saturday mornings. In the summer there’s also a Tuesday morning market.
The opposite side of the harbour is where you get a great view of the village. Make your way to Rue du 24 juin 1944. You can park here and walk along the harbour wall. Particularly on a sunny day you’ll see why Barfleur in Normandy was chosen as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France.
Plus Beaux Villages de France in the Regions of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Grand-Est
Noyers, or Noyers sur Serein which it is also called, is a sleepy medieval village in the Yonne department in the heart of Burgundy. Wandering around its narrow cobbled lanes lined with half-timbered houses you’ll feel a sense of calm, as though time has stood still. Even the pretty river that winds around this Plus Beau Village de France is called the Serene!
This tiny village of around 600 people has a remarkable 78 classified historic buildings dating from between the 15th to 19th century. Among them, the impressive 19th century wash-house (lavoir) with an unusual arcaded side covered in hanging baskets of flowers is particularly lovely. An enchanting feature of the village is its street/square names such as “Place du Grenier à Sel” recalling its agricultural past. Look out for the handmade terracotta signs. You’ll also find charming details carved into the wooden beams on the half-timbered buildings. There are also ancient ramparts, entry gates and ruins of a castle to explore.
Noyers has a number of boutiques selling local pottery and other crafts as well as a surprising museum of naïve and popular art founded in 1876.
Riquewihr suggested by Lorelei at California Globetrotter
When it comes to looking for fairytale villages in France which hold the title “plus beaux villages de France”, it doesn’t get more whimsical than the vibrant, cozy little half-timbered town of Riquewihr, in the heart of the Alsace in north eastern France. Nestled up against the French/German border, which was frequently fought over by both countries, each trying to lay claim to this truly stunning province, you’ll find over 70 charming storybook towns. Along the Alsace Wine Route, Riquewihr stands out among the rest for its unparalleled beauty.
Not only do idyllic vineyards encircle this beautiful little town, but Riquewihr is so beautiful that it was one of two towns in France’s Alsace region that was used as inspiration for Belle’s sleepy little town in Beauty and the Beast. Nicknamed the “Gem of the Alsace Vineyards”, there are several key points of interest in Riquewihr, from the 13th century gate, Dolder and the Winemaker’s House, to any number of cozy wine taverns (“Degustation”) to pop into as you meander through the town and its charming cobble-stoned alleys.
While there are several great restaurants to eat at in Riquewihr, one of the most delicious places to pop into is the Pains d’Epices Fortwenger shop, filled to the brim with all things Gingerbread, a popular shop you’ll find in several main villages in the region. The delicious smell alone will hit you in the face when you walk in and make it hard to ever want to leave this magnifique little town in the Haut-Rhin department!
Eguisheim suggested by Laynni at Routinely Nomadic
Eguisheim is a true gem. Even among the dozens, or hundreds, of cute European towns scattered around the continent, this gorgeous, pristine village stands apart. Most people visit Eguisheim, in the Haut-Rhin department, on day trips since it is located just a few kilometres from beautiful Colmar (a great little place in its own right), from which it can be easily reached on foot or by bike.
Famously the birthplace of Pope Leo IX, Eguisheim is surrounded by picturesque vineyards and is built in three perfectly concentric cobblestoned streets radiating out from the fascinating main square. Its Alsatian architecture features tall, peaked, half-timbered buildings painted in a barrage of bright colours. Less permanently, but just as photogenic, is the amazing array of flower arrangements decorating every doorway, window and delightful little balcony.
Despite its small size, Eguisheim boasts a number of good cafés and restaurants, including the terrific Au Vieux Porche, an excellent lunch stop. It also features plenty of kitschy tourist shops offering fun keepsakes to the multitude of tourists that arrive daily throughout the summer months. Some also claim it was the inspiration for the town in The Beauty and The Beast, although that seems to be a pretty common claim among towns in these parts.
Plus Beaux Villages de France Overseas
Hell Bourg suggested by Alex at Alex Getting Lost
Hell Bourg is, uniquely, the only village on the list of Plus Beaux Villages which is in a French overseas territory. The volcanic island of Réunion is in fact 9,201km away from mainland France, somewhere in the Indian Ocean near Mauritius. Technically, it’s not even in Europe- this is an East African island, to be precise.
Hell Bourg began as a spa town in 1830 and was a fashionable place for the island’s elite to come to get away from it all, bathing in its healing waters. Although the hot springs are no longer here, there are plenty of pretty, brightly coloured colonial houses still lining the streets; as well as some incredible Creole restaurants like Chez Alice. (Try the chouchou au gratin. You’ll thank me, I promise.)
Even better than the quaint streets of Hell Bourg though, is the incredible scenery that surrounds it. The village is 1344m above sea level and seems to be completely surrounded by more tropical forested mountains capped with clouds. Lots of people come to Hell Bourg to hike, and there are plenty of paths of varying difficulties to choose from. One of the most popular natural sights to hike to from the village is the nearby Bridal Veil Falls. With a backdrop like this, it’s no surprise at all that Hell Bourg is classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
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