Discover 10 of our personal favourite villages
Some villages come back to haunt your memories for years after a visit - a scenic location, fine historical architecture, lovely gardens, traditional shops and cafes, all can play their part in creating these 'extra-special' places.
Lots of factors play their part in whether a village stands out as special - not just 'unchanging' features such as the landscape and the architecture but others that change with time:
- are the flowers in bloom? - are there too many tourists? - is the sun shining? - are the hills behind the village tinged with evening sun - or shrouded in cloud? - are you relaxed and enjoying yourself or dragging tired children behind you? It is these type of things that make the list of favourite villages so personal because they make everyone's experiences different.
We have chosen ten of our favourite French villages that we are sure you will enjoy visiting...
Lacoste (Luberon, Provence)
There are many better known villages in the lovely Luberon region of Provence, but we chose Lacoste because it is unique among these. Entering the small village through an ancient stone gateway you find yourself immediately on a narrow cobbled street that winds up the hill between small traditional houses - the 'stepping back in time' effect is immediate!
Above the village is another surprise - the ruins of a castle once occupied by the Marquis de Sade (who gave his name to sadism!), with exceptional views across the surrounding provencal countryside.
The village of Saint-Montan, in the heart of the Ardeche, is just one of several picturesque villages here and choosing one as 'especially noteworthy' is not easy.
Parking is also a nightmare - but the village is exceptional, with a maze of narrow stone alleys winding up the hill and every twist in the road presenting another photo opportunity, and a new view across the countryside. High above the village (keep going up the hill even if its a sunny day!) are the ruins of a medieval castle.
Castelbouc (Gorges du Tarn)
Probably the smallest of our choices Castelbouc is little more than a cluster of houses winding along the bottom of the Gorges du Tarn - but the houses are all very pretty and the setting is exceptional. Be sure to also look at the village from the viewpoint on the road high above Castelbouc.
There are also no facilities to speak of here, but you are close to Sainte-Enimie which has cafes etc (and is also very picturesque)
Saint Paul de Vence (Riviera - Provence)
It isn't easy to choose a village on the Riviera that is very beautiful AND very quiet - impossible I think, so i won't try. Our choice is certainly a very lovely village, but is also very busy with tourists, and with good reason.
As well as the very pictresque village itself (pretty much one long cobbled street lined with medieval houses that are now art galleries and restaurants) you can also see the cemetery where Marc Chagall was buried, and the highly reputed Fondation Maeght modern art museum (best known for its Miro and Modigliani sculptures).
La Roche-Bernard (Brittany)
I wasn't quite sure if we should call La Roche-Bernard a large village or a small town since it has an 'old' part and a more extensive 'newer' part.
It is the medieval village centre that you will visit - small and very attractive, with many traditional houses to admire along a network of narrow streets
La Roche-Bernard is situated on a river with a small harbour, so don't miss the chance to wander through the countryside along the river banks.
The villages here in Basque France have a very distinctive character, with their 'trademark' white washed houses and distinctive red or green shutters.
Many of the vilages deserve to be explored - we selected Espelette because of its association with chilli peppers, which are hung to dry in great numbers on the buildings, bringing an extra dash of colour and interest.
Be sure to also visit the church, a good example of the traditional churches in the region.
The Dordogne contains innumerable pretty villages that you will discover as you travel around - and we could easily have suggested half a dozen alternatives to Molieres.
Molieres is interesting becase it is a medieval bastide town focussed around a central arcaded square, like many in the region, but (a) was never finished and (b) has not been developed as a tourist village.
The village is small (and the church is big) but it gives perhaps a more authentic glimpse of what an 'unchanged' medieval village was really like than many traditional villages.
Roquebrun's main strength is its position high on a hill overlooking the Orb River - but it holds another surprise for those who visit.
First stroll slowly up the hill through the lovely narrow streets of the village, passed typical houses of the region: small stone houses with canal tile roofs.
At the to op the village you will discover a lovely Mediterranean garden with some amazing cacti, and fabulous views across the surroundng region.
This is a region with a great number of pretty villages, many along the Alsace wine route which passes through the vineyards and villages of the regiobn.
It's hard to choose favourites but Bergheim is certainly a contender - it is a traditional Alsace village with houses painted in the popular local shades of pastel and very picturesque.
The village is unusual in the region for being surrounded by ancient defensive walls and towers
Cordes-sur-Ciel is one of France's fineset medieval villages (and larger than most in this list of favourites), with a wide assortment of buildings and monuments to admire, most notably those in the gothic architectural style.
There are also a good selection of small shops, restaurants, gardens, museums...so allow plenty of time to really explore Cordes.
Bonus village: Mirepoix
Ok we've already got 10 villages listed but we couldn't quite agree on the final list so decided to add another...
Mirepoix is a village with a lovely central square surrounded by medieval houses set above traditional arcades (sheltered areas to protect the traders in medieval times) and a visit is highly recommended.
In particular note the decorative wooden carvings on some of the houses.
Choosing our favourite villages in France
We have tried to select villages that have a very individual character, and if not exactly 'off the beaten track' aren't necessarily among the most visited in France. We have also excluded villages that are already classified as 'most beautiful villages in France' - that would be too easy!. Our choices are usually in locations where there are several other equally picturesque villages nearby - so if you don't like our own favourite you will have plenty of others to choose from!
Let us know your own favourites below!