Discover historical towns in France: the 'secteur sauvegardé'

Photo of Historical Towns

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

Colmar (Haut-Rhin)

Colmar village

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

Colmar travel guide

Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin)

Strasbourg village

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!

Strasbourg travel guide

Aquitaine

Bayonne (Pyrenees-Atlantiques)

Bayonne village

Bayonne is a lovely historic city with a cathedral, a substantial old town and a charming riverside promenade

Bayonne travel guide

Bordeaux (Gironde)

Bordeaux village

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

Bordeaux travel guide

Bordeaux Waterfront (Gironde)

Bordeaux Waterfront village

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

Bordeaux Waterfront travel guide

Bordeaux-Chartrons (Gironde)

Bordeaux-Chartrons village

Chartrons is an attractive quarter of Bordeaux

Bordeaux-Chartrons travel guide

Monpazier (Dordogne)

Monpazier village

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

Monpazier travel guide

Nerac (Lot-et-Garonne)

Nerac village

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

Nerac travel guide

Perigueux (Dordogne)

Perigueux village

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

Perigueux travel guide

Saint-Emilion (Gironde)

Saint-Emilion village

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

Saint-Emilion travel guide

Sarlat (Dordogne)

Sarlat village

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

Sarlat travel guide

Auvergne

Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dome)

Clermont-Ferrand village

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

Clermont-Ferrand travel guide

Le Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire)

Le Puy-en-Velay village

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.

Le Puy-en-Velay travel guide

Riom (Puy-de-Dome)

Riom village

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

Riom travel guide

Thiers (Puy-de-Dome)

Thiers village

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

Thiers travel guide

Brittany

Dinan (Cotes-d'Armor)

Dinan village

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

Dinan travel guide

Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine)

Rennes village

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

Rennes travel guide

Treguier (Cotes-d'Armor)

Treguier village

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

Treguier travel guide

Vannes (Morbihan)

Vannes village

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

Vannes travel guide

Vitre (Ille-et-Vilaine)

Vitre village

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

Vitre travel guide

Burgundy

Autun (Saone-et-Loire)

Autun village

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

Autun travel guide

Auxerre (Yonne)

Auxerre village

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

Auxerre travel guide

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

Chalon-sur-Saone village

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

Chalon-sur-Saone travel guide

Clamecy (Nievre)

Clamecy village

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

Clamecy travel guide

Cluny (Saone-et-Loire)

Cluny village

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

Cluny travel guide

Dijon (Cote d'Or)

Dijon village

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

Dijon travel guide

Joigny (Yonne)

Joigny village

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

Joigny travel guide

Tournus (Saone-et-Loire)

Tournus village

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

Tournus travel guide

Vezelay (Yonne)

Vezelay village

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

Vezelay travel guide

Champagne-Ardenne

Charleville-Mezieres (Ardennes)

Charleville-Mezieres village

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

Charleville-Mezieres travel guide

Langres (Haute-Marne)

Langres village

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

Langres travel guide

Sedan (Ardennes)

Sedan village

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

Sedan travel guide

Troyes (Aube)

Troyes village

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

Troyes travel guide

Franche-Comte

Besancon (Doubs)

Besancon village

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

Besancon travel guide

Dole (Jura)

Dole village

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

Dole travel guide

Languedoc-Roussillon

Beaucaire (Gard)

Beaucaire village

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

Beaucaire travel guide

Beziers (Herault)

Beziers village

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

Beziers travel guide

Carcassonne (Aude)

Carcassonne village

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

Carcassonne travel guide

Montpellier (Herault)

Montpellier village

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

Montpellier travel guide

Montpellier-Antigone District (Herault)

Montpellier-Antigone District village

Montpellier-Odysseum District (Herault)

Montpellier-Odysseum District village

Narbonne (Aude)

Narbonne village

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

Narbonne travel guide

Nimes (Gard)

Nimes village

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

Nimes travel guide

Perpignan (Pyrenees-Orientales)

Perpignan village

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

Perpignan travel guide

Pezenas (Herault)

Pezenas village

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

Pezenas travel guide

Sommieres (Gard)

Sommieres village

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

Sommieres travel guide

Uzes (Gard)

Uzes village

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

Uzes travel guide

Villeneuve-les-Avignon (Gard)

Villeneuve-les-Avignon village

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

Villeneuve-les-Avignon travel guide

Loire Valley

Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

Amboise village

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

Amboise travel guide

Blois (Loir-et-Cher)

Blois village

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

Blois travel guide

Bourges (Cher)

Bourges village

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

Bourges travel guide

Chartres (Eure-et-Loir)

Chartres village

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

Chartres travel guide

Chinon (Indre-et-Loire)

Chinon village

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

Chinon travel guide

Loches (Indre-et-Loire)

Loches village

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

Loches travel guide

Tours (Indre-et-Loire)

Tours village

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

Tours travel guide

Lorraine

Bar-le-Duc (Meuse)

Bar-le-Duc village

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

Bar-le-Duc travel guide

Metz (Moselle)

Metz village

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

Metz travel guide

Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle)

Nancy village

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!

Nancy travel guide

Midi-Pyrenees

Albi (Tarn)

Albi village

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

Albi travel guide

Cahors (Lot)

Cahors village

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

Cahors travel guide

Figeac (Lot)

Figeac village

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

Figeac travel guide

Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne)

Montauban village

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

Montauban travel guide

Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)

Toulouse village

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

Toulouse travel guide

Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Lille (Nord)

Lille village

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

Lille travel guide

Normandy

Bayeux (Calvados)

Bayeux village

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

Bayeux travel guide

Honfleur (Calvados)

Honfleur village

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

Honfleur travel guide

Rouen (Seine-Maritime)

Rouen village

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

Rouen travel guide

Paris region

Versailles Palace (Paris)

Versailles Palace village

A short distance outside central Paris, the Palais de Versailles is an enormous and luxuriously furnished palace, with landscaped gardens to match

Versailles Palace travel guide

Pays de la Loire

Fontenay-le-Comte (Vendee)

Fontenay-le-Comte village

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

Fontenay-le-Comte travel guide

Guerande (Loire-Atlantique)

Guerande village

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

Guerande travel guide

Le Mans (Sarthe)

Le Mans village

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

Le Mans travel guide

Nantes (Loire-Atlantique)

Nantes village

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.

Nantes travel guide

Saumur (Maine-et-Loire)

Saumur village

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

Saumur travel guide

Picardie

Mers-les-Bains (Somme)

Mers-les-Bains village

Attractive seaside town with lots of Belle-Epoque villas

Mers-les-Bains travel guide

Picardy

Laon (Aisne)

Laon village

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

Laon travel guide

Senlis (Oise)

Senlis village

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

Senlis travel guide

Poitou-Charentes

La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime)

La Rochelle village

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

La Rochelle travel guide

Parthenay (Deux-Sevres)

Parthenay village

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

Parthenay travel guide

Poitiers (Vienne)

Poitiers village

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

Poitiers travel guide

Saintes (Charente-Maritime)

Saintes village

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

Saintes travel guide

Provence

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

Aix-en-Provence village

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

Aix-en-Provence travel guide

Arles (Bouches-du-Rhone)

Arles village

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

Arles travel guide

Avignon (Vaucluse)

Avignon village

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

Avignon travel guide

Briancon (Hautes-Alpes)

Briancon village

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

Briancon travel guide

Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes)

Grasse village

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

Grasse travel guide

Menton (Alpes-Maritimes)

Menton village

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

Menton travel guide

Nice (Alpes-Maritimes)

Nice village

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

Nice travel guide

Rhone-Alpes

Chambery (Savoie)

Chambery village

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

Chambery travel guide

Lyon (Rhone)

Lyon village

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.

Lyon travel guide

Viviers (Ardeche)

Viviers village

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

Viviers travel guide

Map showing the locations of the protected towns