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

Colmar village

Colmar (Haut-Rhin)

The medieval centre of Colmar, with brightly painted half-timbered houses along the canalside, is extremely attractive

See Colmar guide

Strasbourg village

Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin)

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!

See Strasbourg guide

Aquitaine: secteur sauvegardes

Bayonne village

Bayonne (Pyrenees-Atlantiques)

Bayonne is oten neglected because of famous neighbour Biarritz, but is well worth exploring!

See Bayonne guide

Bordeaux village

Bordeaux (Gironde)

Bordeaux is an unmissable town, one of the most lively and interesting in France and with lots to see and museums to visit...

See Bordeaux guide

Bordeaux Waterfront village

Bordeaux Waterfront (Gironde)

The waterfront in Bordeaux is among the highlights of a visit to this lovely city

See Bordeaux Waterfront guide

Bordeaux-Chartrons village

Bordeaux-Chartrons (Gironde)

Chartrons is an attractive quarter of Bordeaux

See Bordeaux-Chartrons guide

Monpazier village

Monpazier (Dordogne)

Monpazier is an exceptional 13th century bastide town, among the most beautiful villages in France.

See Monpazier guide

Nerac village

Nerac (Lot-et-Garonne)

The quiet town of Nerac in the southern Lot-et-Garonne is ideally visited on Saturday, market day

See Nerac guide

Perigueux village

Perigueux (Dordogne)

One of our favourite towns in the Dordogne, Perigueux has an imposing byzantine cathedral and an extensive medieval old town to explore

See Perigueux guide

Saint-Emilion village

Saint-Emilion (Gironde)

Saint-Emilion is an exceptionally scenic town, and most unusual in being listed as a UNESCO heritage site

See Saint-Emilion guide

Sarlat village

Sarlat (Dordogne)

Sarlat is the historic capital of the region, and perhaps the most remarkable and intact historic town in France. Highly recommended!

See Sarlat guide

Auvergne: secteur sauvegardes

Clermont-Ferrand village

Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dome)

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption, in sombre black lava stone, dominates the historic centre of Clermont-Ferrand

See Clermont-Ferrand guide

Le Puy-en-Velay village

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.

See Le Puy-en-Velay guide

Riom village

Riom (Puy-de-Dome)

The quiet regional town of Riom has several monuments of historical importance to see as you explore

See Riom guide

Thiers village

Thiers (Puy-de-Dome)

Not always considered a tourist destination, Thouars actually has a facscinating historical centre with several interesting highlights

See Thiers guide

Brittany: secteur sauvegardes

Dinan village

Dinan (Cotes-d'Armor)

The extensive medieval centre of the walled town of Dinan ensure its popularity - one of our favourite Brittany towns!

See Dinan guide

Rennes village

Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine)

An unmissable highlight in the region, Rennes has a very picturesque medieval centre

See Rennes guide

Treguier village

Treguier (Cotes-d'Armor)

The cathedral and the 15th century half-timbered houses combine to make Treguier a particularly interesting town to visit

See Treguier guide

Vannes village

Vannes (Morbihan)

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

See Vannes guide

Vitre village

Vitre (Ille-et-Vilaine)

A town not be missed, Vitré has a superb historic centre with numerous fascinating medieval buildings

See Vitre guide

Burgundy: secteur sauvegardes

Autun village

Autun (Saone-et-Loire)

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

See Autun guide

Auxerre village

Auxerre (Yonne)

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

See Auxerre guide

Chalon-sur-Saone village

Chalon-sur-Saone (Saone-et-Loire)

The pedestrianised town centre and cathedral will form the centre of your visit to the Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saone

See Chalon-sur-Saone guide

Clamecy village

Clamecy (Nievre)

The Collegiale Saint-Martin is the principal monument here in the historic centre of Clamecy

See Clamecy guide

Cluny village

Cluny (Saone-et-Loire)

As well as one of the most visited abbeys in France Cluny also has a picturesque town centre to explore

See Cluny guide

Dijon village

Dijon (Cote d'Or)

There is a remarkable range of interesting historic sites in Dijon, perhaps our favourite among the Burgundy towns

See Dijon guide

Joigny village

Joigny (Yonne)

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

See Joigny guide

Tournus village

Tournus (Saone-et-Loire)

The Abbey of Saint-Philibert is the highlight in Tournus, but you will also discover several other interesting historic sites

See Tournus guide

Vezelay village

Vezelay (Yonne)

Even if it didn't have one of the most famous abbeys in France, Vezelay village would attract a great deal of visitors

See Vezelay guide

Champagne-Ardenne: secteur sauvegardes

Charleville-Mezieres village

Charleville-Mezieres (Ardennes)

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

See Charleville-Mezieres guide

Langres village

Langres (Haute-Marne)

The highlight in Langres is the chance to follow the 3 kilometres of ramparts - either walking or by tram

See Langres guide

Sedan village

Sedan (Ardennes)

Now a 'town of art and history' it is the castle and surrounding streets where your visit to Sedan will focus

See Sedan guide

Troyes village

Troyes (Aube)

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

See Troyes guide

Franche-Comte: secteur sauvegardes

Besancon village

Besancon (Doubs)

The citadel, cathedral and some impressive 16th century townhouses are among the highlights to discover in Besancon

See Besancon guide

Dole village

Dole (Jura)

The Collegiale Church that dominates the town skyline is the principal attraction in Dole, and a stroll along the river banks

See Dole guide

Languedoc-Roussillon: secteur sauvegardes

Beaucaire village

Beaucaire (Gard)

Beaucaire is well situtaed for exploring the popular towns of Arles, Nimes and Avignon

See Beaucaire guide

Beziers village

Beziers (Herault)

Beziers is a lively, thriving town with a good number of interesting monuments to see

See Beziers guide

Carcassonne village

Carcassonne (Aude)

The medieval fortress-town of Carcassonne is very extensive and very interesting. Highly recommended!

See Carcassonne guide

Montpellier village

Montpellier (Herault)

The most vibrant city on the Languedoc coast, Montpellier is a very lively university town

See Montpellier guide

Narbonne village

Narbonne (Aude)

Among other highlights, the parts of Narbonne along the canal and around the cathedral are especially worth exploring

See Narbonne guide

Nimes village

Nimes (Gard)

Nimes contains some of the most complete ancient Roman monuments to be seen anywhere in France

See Nimes guide

Perpignan village

Perpignan (Pyrenees-Orientales)

Those looking for a traditional French town with interesting sites will be pleased to discover Perpignan

See Perpignan guide

Pezenas village

Pezenas (Herault)

The wide range of architecture and its unspoiled character make Pezenas one of our favourite towns in the region

See Pezenas guide

Sommieres village

Sommieres (Gard)

Adults will enjoy seeing the many historic monuments in Sommieres, although children might prefer the river beach...

See Sommieres guide

Uzes village

Uzes (Gard)

The medieval centre of Uzes is interesting to explore, then perhaps visit the extensive caves at nearby La Cocaliere

See Uzes guide

Villeneuve-les-Avignon village

Villeneuve-les-Avignon (Gard)

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

See Villeneuve-les-Avignon guide

Loire Valley: secteur sauvegardes

Amboise village

Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

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

See Amboise guide

Blois village

Blois (Loir-et-Cher)

The town of Blois, with its castle, cathedral, extensive historic centre and other monuments is one of our favourite Loire Valleyt towns

See Blois guide

Bourges village

Bourges (Cher)

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

See Bourges guide

Chartres village

Chartres (Eure-et-Loir)

Although most famous for its cathedral, you will also find plenty to explore elsewhere in the town of Chartres

See Chartres guide

Chinon village

Chinon (Indre-et-Loire)

As well as the castle, Chinon has a very impressive medieval centre to explore and lovely river views

See Chinon guide

Loches village

Loches (Indre-et-Loire)

Numerous historic monuments make the citadel in Loches a very interesting place to visit

See Loches guide

Tours village

Tours (Indre-et-Loire)

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

See Tours guide

Lorraine: secteur sauvegardes

Bar-le-Duc village

Bar-le-Duc (Meuse)

In the upper town of Bar-le-Duc you can find good examples of both medieval and renaissance style houses

See Bar-le-Duc guide

Metz village

Metz (Moselle)

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

See Metz guide

Nancy village

Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle)

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!

See Nancy guide

Midi-Pyrenees: secteur sauvegardes

Albi village

Albi (Tarn)

Albi is quite a remarkable town, with a substantial and beautiful centre and sensational views across the river below. Very recommended!

See Albi guide

Cahors village

Cahors (Lot)

Best known for the famous Pont Valentre bridge, Cahors is a lively town which also has a small historic centre

See Cahors guide

Figeac village

Figeac (Lot)

The market town of Figeac has many interesting historic buildings and streets to explore - one of our favourite towns in this region

See Figeac guide

Montauban village

Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne)

The pink houses and ancient arcades ensure that the Place Nationale in Montauban is the highlight in the town

See Montauban guide

Toulouse village

Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)

Toulouse, with its famous red-brick architecture, is one of the most impressive cities in the south of France

See Toulouse guide

Nord-Pas-de-Calais: secteur sauvegardes

Lille village

Lille (Nord)

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

See Lille guide

Normandy: secteur sauvegardes

Bayeux village

Bayeux (Calvados)

Best known for its world-famous tapestry, Bayeux also has an imposing cathedral

See Bayeux guide

Honfleur village

Honfleur (Calvados)

There are lots of interesting things to see in Honfleur - if you can drag yourself away from the lovely harbour!

See Honfleur guide

Rouen village

Rouen (Seine-Maritime)

The cathedral and cobbled streets in the old town are just two of the many highlights in the lovely town of Rouen.

See Rouen guide

Paris: secteur sauvegardes

Versailles Palace village

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

See Versailles Palace guide

Pays de la Loire: secteur sauvegardes

Fontenay-le-Comte village

Fontenay-le-Comte (Vendee)

With some interesting 18th century townhouses to see, Fontenay-le-Comte is also home to the Chateau de Terre-Neuve

See Fontenay-le-Comte guide

Guerande village

Guerande (Loire-Atlantique)

Guerande is one of the most interesting towns in Pays-de-la-Loire, with its medieval fortifications intact and an attractive historic centre

See Guerande guide

Le Mans village

Le Mans (Sarthe)

Le Mans is best known for its famous car race, but also has a very lovely medieval centre to explore

See Le Mans guide

Nantes village

Nantes (Loire-Atlantique)

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.

See Nantes guide

Saumur village

Saumur (Maine-et-Loire)

The town of Saumur, in the shadow of the famous castle, is a lovely historic town along the banks of the Loire River

See Saumur guide

Picardie: secteur sauvegardes

Mers-les-Bains village

Mers-les-Bains (Somme)

Attractive seaside town with lots of Belle-Epoque villas

See Mers-les-Bains guide

Picardy: secteur sauvegardes

Laon village

Laon (Aisne)

The cathedral in Laon is an astonishing early gothic masterpiece, and the Museum of Laon is another unexpected highlight

See Laon guide

Senlis village

Senlis (Oise)

The ruined castle, the cathedral and the narrow cobbled streets make Senlis a very pleasant town to visit

See Senlis guide

Poitou-Charentes: secteur sauvegardes

La Rochelle village

La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime)

The historic town and monuments and the vibrant harbour area make La Rochelle one of our favourite towns in France

See La Rochelle guide

Parthenay village

Parthenay (Deux-Sevres)

Parthenay is a quiet town, with historic monuments that hint at its importance iver the centuries

See Parthenay guide

Poitiers village

Poitiers (Vienne)

Poitiers is a nice town with lots of interesting sights, including the 12th century cathedral

See Poitiers guide

Saintes village

Saintes (Charente-Maritime)

The town of Saintes is very interesting, with an extensive old-town to explore and a Roman amphitheatre

See Saintes guide

Provence: secteur sauvegardes

Aix-en-Provence village

Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhone)

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

See Aix-en-Provence guide

Arles village

Arles (Bouches-du-Rhone)

The roman amphitheatre and the traditional pastel-painted houses in the historic centre make Arles a very pleasant town to explore

See Arles guide

Avignon village

Avignon (Vaucluse)

The Pope's Palace, the Pont d'Avignon and an attractive town centre make Avignon very interesting to explore

See Avignon guide

Briancon village

Briancon (Hautes-Alpes)

The town of Briancon is best known for its extensive Vauban fortifications, and also has lots to discover in its old town

See Briancon guide

Grasse village

Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes)

Grasse, the perfume capital of France, also has a very extensive old town with tall pastel-painted houses to enjoy

See Grasse guide

Menton village

Menton (Alpes-Maritimes)

The beautiful town of Menton, on the slopes of a hill near the Italian border, is one of our very favourite towns in France

See Menton guide

Nice village

Nice (Alpes-Maritimes)

One of the largest towns in France, Nice is also the most visited resort and our favourite Riviera resort town in France

See Nice guide

Rhone-Alpes: secteur sauvegardes

Chambery village

Chambery (Savoie)

Chambery is a very lively university town which is very pleasant to visit and explore

See Chambery guide

Lyon village

Lyon (Rhone)

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.

See Lyon guide

Viviers village

Viviers (Ardeche)

The town of Viviers contains some interesting buildings and a nice view across the Rhone, although the town is also rather neglected in places

See Viviers guide

Map showing the locations of the protected towns