Discover historical France: the 'secteur sauvegardé'
Many of the most important historical town centres in France are now protected from further development with the 'secteur sauvegardé' classification, with the goal of preserving the appearance of the historical centre from any further development.
Any construction or renovation in these areas is closely monitored and controlled to ensure that the whole town centre remains unspoiled by new or inappropriate developments - for example, renovations are required to use the historical materials and techniques.
There are about 100 towns covered by these protection orders, and many would also be considered to be among the most attractive and interesting towns in France for visitors, so it is well worth seeing if there are any near you when you visit - I'm yet to be disappointed when visiting them, so the classification is quite a reliable indicator of a town worth visiting!
Note: there is also a map showing the position of these historic towns at the bottom of this page.
List of towns classified as 'Secteur sauvegardé' in France
Alsace: secteur sauvegardes
The medieval centre of Colmar, with brightly painted half-timbered houses along the canalside, is extremely attractive
The city of Strasbourg is one of the most important in France, and also one of the most attractive. At least a day to explore is very recommended!
Aquitaine: secteur sauvegardes
Bayonne is oten neglected because of famous neighbour Biarritz, but is well worth exploring!
Bordeaux is an unmissable town, one of the most lively and interesting in France and with lots to see and museums to visit...
Bordeaux Waterfront (Gironde)
The waterfront in Bordeaux is among the highlights of a visit to this lovely city
Chartrons is an attractive quarter of Bordeaux
Monpazier is an exceptional 13th century bastide town, among the most beautiful villages in France.
The quiet town of Nerac in the southern Lot-et-Garonne is ideally visited on Saturday, market day
One of our favourite towns in the Dordogne, Perigueux has an imposing byzantine cathedral and an extensive medieval old town to explore
Saint-Emilion is an exceptionally scenic town, and most unusual in being listed as a UNESCO heritage site
Sarlat is the historic capital of the region, and perhaps the most remarkable and intact historic town in France. Highly recommended!
Auvergne: secteur sauvegardes
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption, in sombre black lava stone, dominates the historic centre of Clermont-Ferrand
Le Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire)
The town of Le Puy-en-Velay is very interesting to visit and an important pilgrimage town, as seen in its many religious monuments and statues.
The quiet regional town of Riom has several monuments of historical importance to see as you explore
Not always considered a tourist destination, Thouars actually has a facscinating historical centre with several interesting highlights
Brittany: secteur sauvegardes
The extensive medieval centre of the walled town of Dinan ensure its popularity - one of our favourite Brittany towns!
An unmissable highlight in the region, Rennes has a very picturesque medieval centre
The cathedral and the 15th century half-timbered houses combine to make Treguier a particularly interesting town to visit
An unmissable highlight in this region of Brittany, the half-timbered houses in the centre of Vannes make it one of our favourite French medieval towns
A town not be missed, Vitré has a superb historic centre with numerous fascinating medieval buildings
Burgundy: secteur sauvegardes
After exploring Autun with its old town, cathedral and roman ruins you can visit the site of Bibracte, site of the Gauls capital city 2500 years ago
With its cathedral and churches, and extensive historic centre with half-timbered houses and an imposing belltower Auxerre is a very interesting town to visit
The pedestrianised town centre and cathedral will form the centre of your visit to the Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saone
The Collegiale Saint-Martin is the principal monument here in the historic centre of Clamecy
As well as one of the most visited abbeys in France Cluny also has a picturesque town centre to explore
Dijon (Cote d'Or)
There is a remarkable range of interesting historic sites in Dijon, perhaps our favourite among the Burgundy towns
In the centre of the the traditional local town of Joigny you can see some medieval houses with wood-carvings and some more substantial 17th century townhouses
The Abbey of Saint-Philibert is the highlight in Tournus, but you will also discover several other interesting historic sites
Even if it didn't have one of the most famous abbeys in France, Vezelay village would attract a great deal of visitors
Champagne-Ardenne: secteur sauvegardes
In and around the grand Place Ducale, among the largest squares in France, you can see a large number of interesting 17th century houses and arcades
The highlight in Langres is the chance to follow the 3 kilometres of ramparts - either walking or by tram
Now a 'town of art and history' it is the castle and surrounding streets where your visit to Sedan will focus
As well as one of the most impressive medieval quarters in France, Troyes also has important renaissance buildings, a cathedral, a Museum of Modern Art and lots of other highlights
Franche-Comte: secteur sauvegardes
The citadel, cathedral and some impressive 16th century townhouses are among the highlights to discover in Besancon
The Collegiale Church that dominates the town skyline is the principal attraction in Dole, and a stroll along the river banks
Languedoc-Roussillon: secteur sauvegardes
Beaucaire is well situtaed for exploring the popular towns of Arles, Nimes and Avignon
Beziers is a lively, thriving town with a good number of interesting monuments to see
The medieval fortress-town of Carcassonne is very extensive and very interesting. Highly recommended!
The most vibrant city on the Languedoc coast, Montpellier is a very lively university town
Among other highlights, the parts of Narbonne along the canal and around the cathedral are especially worth exploring
Nimes contains some of the most complete ancient Roman monuments to be seen anywhere in France
Those looking for a traditional French town with interesting sites will be pleased to discover Perpignan
The wide range of architecture and its unspoiled character make Pezenas one of our favourite towns in the region
Adults will enjoy seeing the many historic monuments in Sommieres, although children might prefer the river beach...
The medieval centre of Uzes is interesting to explore, then perhaps visit the extensive caves at nearby La Cocaliere
Losing out in visitor numbers to famous Avignon across the river, in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon you will also find several places and sights that are interesting
Loire Valley: secteur sauvegardes
Although it is the castle that attracts visitors to Amboise, you will also enjoy exploring the main square and old streets elsewhere in the small town
The town of Blois, with its castle, cathedral, extensive historic centre and other monuments is one of our favourite Loire Valleyt towns
Although Bourges is known for its stunning cathedral, it also has a substantial medieval centre and the Palais Jacques-Coeur among its many places of interest
Although most famous for its cathedral, you will also find plenty to explore elsewhere in the town of Chartres
The castle is the main highlight in Chinon, but don't forget to allow time to explore the town as well...
Numerous historic monuments make the citadel in Loches a very interesting place to visit
Tours is a large important town with numerous monuments, gardens and medieval buildings, and is also well placed to explore the west of the Loire Valley
Lorraine: secteur sauvegardes
In the upper town of Bar-le-Duc you can find good examples of both medieval and renaissance style houses
As well as the cathedral it is the grand squares surrounded by 18th century townhouses that are among the highlights of your visit to Metz
Rather overlooked as a tourist destination, the centre of Nancy around Place Stanislaus is impressive enough to be classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are several high quality museums!
Midi-Pyrenees: secteur sauvegardes
Albi is quite a remarkable town, with a substantial and beautiful centre and sensational views across the river below. Very recommended!
Best known for the famous Pont Valentre bridge, Cahors is a lively town which also has a small historic centre
The market town of Figeac has many interesting historic buildings and streets to explore - one of our favourite towns in this region
The pink houses and ancient arcades ensure that the Place Nationale in Montauban is the highlight in the town
Toulouse, with its famous red-brick architecture, is one of the most impressive cities in the south of France
Nord-Pas-de-Calais: secteur sauvegardes
The renaissance of Lille over the last 20 years has transformed an industrial town into one of the most rewarding cities in northern France to vist
Normandy: secteur sauvegardes
Best known for its world-famous tapestry, Bayeux also has an imposing cathedral
There are lots of interesting things to see in Honfleur - if you can drag yourself away from the lovely harbour!
The cathedral and cobbled streets in the old town are just two of the many highlights in the lovely town of Rouen.
Paris: secteur sauvegardes
Versailles Palace (Paris)
A short distance outside central Paris, the Palais de Versailles is an enormous and luxuriously furnished palace, with landscaped gardens to match
Pays de la Loire: secteur sauvegardes
With some interesting 18th century townhouses to see, Fontenay-le-Comte is also home to the Chateau de Terre-Neuve
Guerande is one of the most interesting towns in Pays-de-la-Loire, with its medieval fortifications intact and an attractive historic centre
Le Mans (Sarthe)
Le Mans is best known for its famous car race, but also has a very lovely medieval centre to explore
One of the largest towns in France, Nantes has many monuments, museums and places of interest to discover including the famous 'elephant' on the island.
The town of Saumur, in the shadow of the famous castle, is a lovely historic town along the banks of the Loire River
Picardie: secteur sauvegardes
Attractive seaside town with lots of Belle-Epoque villas
Picardy: secteur sauvegardes
The cathedral in Laon is an astonishing early gothic masterpiece, and the Museum of Laon is another unexpected highlight
The ruined castle, the cathedral and the narrow cobbled streets make Senlis a very pleasant town to visit
Poitou-Charentes: secteur sauvegardes
La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime)
The historic town and monuments and the vibrant harbour area make La Rochelle one of our favourite towns in France
Parthenay is a quiet town, with historic monuments that hint at its importance iver the centuries
Poitiers is a nice town with lots of interesting sights, including the 12th century cathedral
The town of Saintes is very interesting, with an extensive old-town to explore and a Roman amphitheatre
Provence: secteur sauvegardes
The vibrant town of Aix-en-Provence is a traditional Provence town, with many museums and sites of interest, and a very leasant town to visit
The roman amphitheatre and the traditional pastel-painted houses in the historic centre make Arles a very pleasant town to explore
The Pope's Palace, the Pont d'Avignon and an attractive town centre make Avignon very interesting to explore
The town of Briancon is best known for its extensive Vauban fortifications, and also has lots to discover in its old town
Grasse, the perfume capital of France, also has a very extensive old town with tall pastel-painted houses to enjoy
The beautiful town of Menton, on the slopes of a hill near the Italian border, is one of our very favourite towns in France
One of the largest towns in France, Nice is also the most visited resort and our favourite Riviera resort town in France
Rhone-Alpes: secteur sauvegardes
Chambery is a very lively university town which is very pleasant to visit and explore
Lyon has all the impressive buildings and monuments, museums, shops and restaurants that you would expect from one of the most important towns in France.
The town of Viviers contains some interesting buildings and a nice view across the Rhone, although the town is also rather neglected in places