When you think of France, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is Paris. But France has much more to offer than just the glitz and glam of the City of Love.
Small villages all over the country each have their own charm and rich history. From unique architecture to regional food and wines, you are sure to find a new experience that you would have never thought of in each of these beautiful villages.
When it comes to the most beautiful villages France takes the croissant!
We have compiled a list of some of the best small villages to visit in all of France. So whether you find yourself on the French Riviera, the Loire Valley, or near the German border, you are sure to find a small village to explore near you. These French villages are sure to not disappoint.
Beautifully located on the banks of the Loire River, Candes-Saint-Martin is a lovely hidden gem right in the heart of the Loire Valley.
This village was named after Martin of Tours, a bishop from the capital of the former Touraine region. Today, you can find the Saint Martin collegiate church where his former home once stood.
The architecture of Candes-Saint-Martin is quite unique in that most buildings are built with beautiful white tufa limestones topped with slate gray tiled roofs. These houses have been preserved for hundreds of years and are quite a sight to see.
The medieval village is one of the oldest Gallo-Roman villages in the Loire Valley area. The entire Loire Valley has been considered a UNESCO world heritage site since 2000 as a living cultural landscape.
With its location along the Loire River and being an important site for trade, it has often been home to sailors and you can still find traditional river sailboats along the banks today.
After walking through the town, take the Chemin du Panorama where at the top you will find a lovely view of the entire village scene. For more rigorous exercise, check out the Euro Vélo 6, a series of mountain biking trails throughout the Loire Valley.
Candes-Saint-Martin has been officially recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Several criteria must be met for a village to receive this distinction including;
- Having a maximum population of 2,000.
- Being home to multiple historic monuments.
- Possessing unique heritage or architectural qualities.
In fact, only 20 percent of villages that apply are given this distinction.
The best places to stay in and around Candes-Saint-Martin are:
Almost hidden within the hills of the French Riviera, you will find the charming fortified village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The village dates back to the Middle Ages and throughout history has attracted various types of artists, poets, and writers such as Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre with its illustrious charm.
Today, you will find the narrow streets lined with many art galleries and ateliers. With its lively vibe, it’s no wonder so many creatives have been called to Saint-Paul-de-Vence. It is one of the most captivating small villages in southern France.
Some may say that this village has become “too touristy”, but don’t all great things attract a crowd? Try visiting in either spring or early fall to take in all the charm of the village without the crowds.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Saint-Paul-de-Vence:
See Related: Must-See Small Towns in France
As one of the prettiest villages on the French Riviera, Èze never disappoints. The village of Èze is known for its lush, exotic gardens and picturesque cobbled streets lined by stone buildings. It stands proud on the top of a high cliff overlooking the beautiful, turquoise Mediterranean Sea.
It is a must to visit Èze’s Jardin Exotique (exotic garden), which has earned the distinction of “Jardin remarquable” (remarkable garden) by the French Ministry of Culture. The garden was created shortly after World War II in ruined castle remains and is home to plants from desert regions and plants that are native to the Mediterranean and similar climates.
Fun fact: Unlike the bell towers in Nice, the bell tower of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Èze is not decorated in beautiful tile.
Why is this?
Well, lightning struck the bell tower not once, but twice in the 1840s, causing significant damage. Nowadays, the bell tower is equipped with a lightning rod but the small village is not taking any chances!
The best thing to do in this typical Provencal French village is to take in its charm and walk around the beautiful village and its gardens. If you are up for a bit of exercise, take the train to Èze-sur-Mer and walk the steep cobbled paths up to the old town. It is a moderate, uphill hike that usually takes a little over 1.5 hours but I promise that it is very much worth it.
Maybe reward yourself with lunch with a view afterward at Les Remparts!
You can also take a free tour of Fragonard’s famed perfume factory to learn about the process of perfume making and maybe even find your own signature scent.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Èze:
- Budget: Color Garden Condo– This condo has a beautiful garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea
- Luxury: La Chèvre d’Or – One of the most iconic hotels in the French Riviera
With its golden, sandy beaches and colorful buildings reminiscent of the Italian coast, Villefranche-sur-Mer is absolutely stunning.
Come here to enjoy a full beach day under the sun or a quick stop for coffee or lunch when traveling between Nice and Monaco.
I first discovered Villefranche-sur-Mer while on the train between Nice and Monaco. When the train exited the tunnel, I was immediately taken aback by the beauty of this tiny town. I told myself I would visit on my next day off and it soon became one of my favorite beaches on the French Riviera.
Many restaurants along the small port offer fresh seafood and other local food options. You can also find more popular options like poke bowls and açaí bowls.
Just on the opposite side of the bay is St. Jean Cap Ferrat, which is often referred to as the “Beverly Hills of France”. Multi-million dollar villas line the cape. Check out the beautiful gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild to really take in the lifestyle of the rich and famous who call this place home.
You can also take the Sentier du Littoral hike along St. Jean Cap Ferrat for a wide view of Villefranche-sur-Mer and its bay.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Villefranche-sur-Mer:
See Related: A 2 Days in Nice, France Itinerary You’ll Want to Copy
Just under an hour away from Nice, you will find the hilltop village of Gourdon, which boasts expansive, stunning views of the entire Côte d’Azur.
This charming little village is on France’s official list of the most beautiful villages in France. The cute, cobblestone streets are lined with stone buildings each with stores offering their own locally made products from glassware to lavender honey.
You will not find too many tourists in this beautiful village, which has allowed Gourdon to maintain its authentic Provençal charm.
Don’t miss the waterfalls at Saut du Loup, just a short way from Gourdon. The falls are stunning and it’s also a great place to grab a quick bite if you hadn’t eaten in Gourdon.
Since there are no trains that connect Gourdon to the Nice Metropolitan area, the best way to get there would be by car. Check out Kayak for the best deals on car rentals in the area.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Gourdon:
- Budget: Mas Giro – A charming bed and breakfast featuring an outdoor pool
- Mid-Range: Roulotte de Florette – A unique accommodation experience along the river of nearby Bar-sur-Loup
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is the true definition of a fairytale village. Once parked, there is about a five-minute walk before you are greeted with the charm of the old town. As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you will see many shops offering local crafts and foods, particularly lavender, honey, and earthenware. There is no shortage of artisanal products to bring back with you from your travels!
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie was given the distinction of one of the most beautiful villages in France in 1981.
Pack your good walking shoes and take the steps along the old fortified walls of the village up to the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir. The chapel is absolutely stunning as is the view at the top. There you will be able to take in the old town as well as the vast Provencal countryside.
Along the main road is a gorgeous flowing river with small waterfalls. To fully enjoy the calming sound of the flowing water, enjoy some delicious French cuisine at La Cascade restaurant.
If you’re looking for a great south of France itinerary that includes a stop at this beautiful village, head over to our article here, which includes the perfect day in Provence. You could also take a guided tour to Moustiers combined with some of the other small villages in southern France.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Moustiers-Sainte-Marie:
See Related: South of France Itinerary: 10 Days in the French Riviera and Provence
Known as “the gateway to Provence”, the eye-catching village of Sisteron should certainly be on your list of towns to visit while in Provence. This town is located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region of France, which is where the upper alps meet the Provencal countryside.
Entering the village, you are met with the stunning contrast of the turquoise Durance river and the slate gray mountainside. One of the best and most well-known viewpoints of the citadel comes from the highway right before crossing the river.
Nearby, you will see the stunning Pénitents des Mées. These sedimentary rock formations were created due to erosion, but legend has it that local Count Rimaud actually had them put there to lead him back to his castle in the year 800.
If you are looking for adventure, you can find the Gorges de Méogue less than 30 minutes from Sisteron. Here you will find crystal clear pools, refreshing waterfalls, rapids, and old stone bridges dating back to the Roman empire. There are many activities to do at the gorges such as canyoning, swimming, and hiking!
Here are the best places to stay in and around Sisteron:
Facing the Luberon Valley and considered to be one of the most well-known villages in Provence, you will find one of the most beautiful hilltop villages in France: Gordes.
Known for being the home to many artists throughout history, Gordes still holds true to its roots by hosting several art exhibitions and festivals throughout the year.
It is located just 30 minutes from the city of Avignon, 2.5 hours by train from either Paris or Nice, and less than one hour from Marseille, so it is a great day trip to combine with any of these cities. I highly recommend taking the train as it is such a great way to take in the surrounding countryside ending at this true French village.
To explore the area on your own time, check out Kayak for the best deals on car rentals in Avignon.
One of the most remarkable buildings in the village is the romanesque Saint-Firmin church, which was built in the 18th Century when the former medieval church became too small to accommodate all the residents. The church was designed with beautiful wood paneling and impressive murals that have stood the test of time.
Be sure to check out the cellars at the Saint-Firmin palace, where you can view the preserved ruins of the city dating all the way back to the 11th Century. The old olive oil mill called Moulin des Bouillons is also a cool site to explore, as it is an extremely well-preserved olive mill from the 16th Century.
If you plan to stay in Avignon, don’t miss the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). It is one of France’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Gordes:
See Related: Strasbourg Cathedral: A Visitor’s Guide to this UNESCO Site
In the Haute-Garonne region located in southern France, you will find the historic village and former episcopal see of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. The medieval village dates back to the 1st Century when it was built by the Romans.
This picturesque village has gone through many changes throughout its history, which is why it is a great place to find such diverse character, architecture, and culture.
The main feature of this beautiful village is the grand cathedral, which was modeled to look more like a fortified castle. Beyond the cathedral, you can find ruins of the ancient theater and forum as well as one of its earliest Christian churches. One of the most famous former residents of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was Raymond Bertrand de Got, who later became Pope Clement V in 1305.
Just outside of the main village lies the basilica of Saint-Just. Take a stroll around the grounds and you’ll feel as if you’ve just been transported to the Tuscan countryside. This village was not only given the distinction of “most beautiful villages in France”, but also the distinction of “patrimoniaux remarquables” (remarkable heritage).
Both the cathedral and the basilica are open for visits year-round, either by a combination ticket or separately, which includes an audio guide or paper guide if you prefer. If you can visit during the summer, check out the archaeological museum, which is open from May to September.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges:
One of the most unique villages on this list, as its name suggests, Collonges-la-Rouge is a tiny town filled with beautiful red homes and buildings!
Well, why are they red?
All the buildings in this village were built using local sandstone, which can only be found in this particular region of France. Because of this unique quality, Collonges-la-Rouge was named one of the most beautiful villages in France!
This Instagram-worthy, picturesque village is a must-see if you are ever in southern France. Historians believe that the first buildings in the city were built in the 8th Century. Take in the uniqueness of this town and its buildings by joining a guided walking tour hosted by the tourism office.
If there is any particular street not to miss, it would be La Rue Noire (Black Street). It has a shady past being a place known for crime but is now a quirky street that attracts photographers and artists due to its unique zigzag path.
One of the most gorgeous buildings in this red town is the Château de Vassinhac. The stunning chateau originally belonged to Lord Vassinhac and his family, the most prominent family in the village during the 16th Century. It is open to visitors from April to November and is such a great place to visit to take in the views of the town. This stunning structure is definitely considered to be the town’s beauty.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Collonges-la-Rouge:
See Related: Best Places to Visit in France That You’ll Fall in Love With
Located in the heart of the Dordogne Valley, the medieval town of Beaumont-du-Périgord was founded back in 1272 on behalf of King Edward I of England and is home to countless historic monuments. The city had changed hands countless times back and forth between England and France during the Hundred Years War during the middle ages. Centuries later, it was officially settled in the name of King Louis XIV in 1643.
The church of St-Laurent-et-St-Front was constructed in 1272 and is known for its gothic style as well as its fortified bell towers. The unique thing about this church is that it was built as a fortress. Along with the church, check out the Porte de Luzier (Luzier’s gate) which was built in the 1300s as the entrance to the fortified city.
For a unique view of the medieval town, why not take a hot air balloon tour? The tour lasts about three hours and you will be able to have a perspective of the region that not too many people get to see. There are also various hiking paths around the perimeter of the village with beautiful views of the town and surrounding areas.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Beaumont-du-Périgord:
- Budget: Duplex Carryou – A unique experience in the heart of the village
- Mid-Range: Maison de Beaumont – A stunning bed and breakfast in the French countryside
The village of La Roque-Gageac is a hidden gem located in the Dordogne department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. With a dramatic setting against a steep cliff and along the Dordogne River, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this village is dotted with lovely stone houses and is home to a population of fewer than 500 residents. It was also given the distinction of Les plus beaux villages in France.
Despite being hundreds of miles away from the Mediterranean Sea, it has its own “Mediterranean-like” microclimate, due to its location against a cliff and orientation facing south. It has cleverly been nicknamed the “Nice of Périgord”. If you take a walk through the village’s lush gardens, you can even spot some tropical flora such as banana trees, agave, and palm trees.
Settlements in La Roque-Gageac date back all the way to the 12th Century. Take a visit to the ancient Fort de La Roque-Gageac, which was used as a fortress for over 600 years, to take in the surreal views of the Périgord Noir and Dordogne River.
The fort was closed to the public in 2010, when the roof partially collapsed but has recently secured and reopened in June 2020. You can also now see a CGI reconstruction of the fort to really take in what it was like back during the Middle Ages.
If you’re short on time, this half-day tour will take you through various small villages along the Dordogne River, highlighting the small village of La Roque-Gageac.
Here are the best places to stay in and around La Roque-Gageac:
- Budget: Le Coin Tranquille – A clean and quiet accommodation set in a quaint stone house just minutes from the beach
- Mid-Range: Gîte de Saint-Donat – A bed and breakfast where you can feel at home with complimentary wifi and private parking
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in France
Given the distinction of being one of the most beautiful villages in France in 1982, Monpazier is a tiny village with a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages; including being the backdrop for the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. It is one of the countless medieval villages in France.
There are over 30 buildings lining the narrow streets in this village that are distinguished as historical landmarks, many of which are religious buildings, including the Saint-Dominique Church and the Les Récollets convent, both of which were built in 1644. The church itself will leave you stunned with its beautiful stained glass windows.
Today, the convent is used as an exhibition center for archaeological findings in Monpazier as well as more modern art.
Guided tours of the bastide are available year-round. However, the best time to tour the bastide would be in July or August, when tours are given by torchlight every Monday evening.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Monpazier:
On the shores of Lake Geneva, you will find the small village of Yvoire teeming with medieval charm. Located in the Haute-Savoie region, it is one of the most picturesque villages in the region.
The fortified village boasts over 700 years of rich history and breathtaking views of the French Alps and Lake Geneva.
One of the most beautiful things to see in Yvoire is the Garden of the Five Senses. The medieval garden, which is home to over 1,300 varieties of plants, is located right in the heart of the town and was even given the distinction of “Most Remarkable Garden” by the French Ministry of Culture. The garden is open to visitors from mid-April to October and offers guided tours every 15 minutes.
After visiting the gardens, make your way down the medieval streets to Yvoire Castle, which was built in 1306 as a strategic military site because of its location between Lake Geneva and the Rhône.
Once you are done admiring the medieval castle, make your way down to the port where you can view the fortified gates of the village while you enjoy an evening glass of wine.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Yvoire:
- Budget: Camping La Pinède – Tiny homes with free private parking and access to an indoor swimming pool
- Luxury: Hôtel Restaurant du Port – Located just 5 minutes from the beach and with unbeatable views of Lake Geneva
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Switzerland & Things to do
This may be a niche pick for a place to visit in France, but Hossegor is nothing short of a surfer’s paradise. This small town boasts vast, sandy beaches and an atmosphere that you’d think could only be found in Southern California or Hawaii.
The sleepy town with a year-round population of less than 4,000 is located in France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and is seemingly untouched by visitors, except for one time a year, when it hosts the world-famous WSL Quiksilver and Roxy Pro surfing competitions every September.
Whether you’re a surfing connoisseur or just love the beachy vibe, the energy in the air during this time is simply unmatched.
There’s nothing quite like watching these professional athletes rip and shred the waves right alongside locals on their home break. You can make a whole surf trip starting in France, traveling down the Atlantic Coast to Spain, and ending in Portugal, where you can find big wave surfers attempting to tame 40+ foot waves.
If surfing and beach-bumming aren’t your things, feel free to take a day trip to the world-renowned city of Bordeaux for wine tasting with a professional sommelier or visit the Hossegor golf club, Golf d’Hossegor, for a laid-back round of golf only a short distance from the beach.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Hossegor:
- Budget: Hôtel de La Plage – A beach-front hotel on the famed central plage
- Mid-Range: Hotel Mercedes – Located 10 minutes from the beach with private parking available
Located in the Alsace wine region and close to the German border, Eguisheim is a picturesque village seemingly out of a fairytale. After all, the region was the inspiration for Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Strolling through the village’s charming cobbled streets, you are greeted by colorful, half-timbered buildings that transport you to another time.
The village earned its title of “One of the most beautiful villages of France” in 2003 and one of its unique features is that the narrow streets of the medieval town make concentric circles surrounding its former 13th Century castle, Château de Saint-Léon-Pfalz.
Take a day tour like this one to not only visit Eguisheim but to explore Alsace’s famed wine region or a private tour if you are traveling in a group.
If you are lucky enough to visit Europe during the Christmas market season, the Alsace region is not to be missed! Try checking out nearby towns such as Colmar and Strasbourg on this special Christmas Market Tour.
During this time, you will get the gift of seeing all of the village’s half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets decorated with lights, wreaths, and holiday cheer while snacking on some pretzels and hot wine. Not to mention, you can check off a UNESCO world heritage site by visiting the Grande île of Strasbourg.
Here are the best places to stay in and around Eguisheim:
- Budget: Auberge de Rempart – A quaint, family-run inn located in the heart of the village
- Mid-range: James Vignoble Hôtel – A hotel surrounded by vineyards with stunning views of the Black Forest
What is Les Plus Beaux Villages de France?
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, which translates to “The most beautiful villages in France” is an association founded in 1981. The association is made up of mayors from various villages in France. Their main objective is to make these small villages more visible to the world while still keeping their authenticity and heritage. They do not want to turn these villages into tourist attractions, but rather have visitors come to appreciate their unique qualities. These are some of the best villages in France to visit to experience the authentic culture of each region.
What are the minimum criteria for a village to be considered?
– A maximum population of 2,000 inhabitants
– At least two historical monuments or protected heritage sites
– The village must provide a reason for wanting to be considered for this distinction
How many villages are in France?
Currently, there are 164 villages that are given the distinction of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Any village in France can apply once the criteria are met but only about 20 percent of applications are approved!
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