There are 35 villages in France that are designated as "villages etapes".
These villages are selected because they offer a good way of making your journey more interesting - instead of stopping at a boring motorway services you can stop at a village that has character and places of interest, and offers the facilities that you need.
These villages are a good option when you are travelling during day time and usual opening hours. A motorway services might stay open 24 hours a day but a cafe in a small village probably will not!
You can see a map showing the Villages étapes at the bottom of this page.
If you are planning to drive across France to reach your holiday destination we highly recommend that you do a little bit of forward planning and break your journey at one of these villages whenever possible. We have visited a good number of them during our travels and while they vary a great deal in size, facilities and character I can't think of a single one where I have wished I had stopped in a Motorway services instead!*
* Although I have to say, many French motorways have numerous stopping areas with very nice and carefully planned picnic areas, especially those that do not also have petrol stations and restaurants. They often also have attractive views, lots of trees or a site of interest, so stopping in one of these for a picnic is not the end of the world...
As a minimum the villages have a cafe, hotel, basic shops such as a bakers and pharmacy and a bank. You will also find a small tourist office in each village.
How to find the Villages Etapes?
The villages themselves are signposted from the motorways, along with the facilities that they offer, and the turnoff to take for a Village Etape is clearly marked. The signs do not usually say how far the village is from the motorway turn-off, which is slightly annoying as some are just one or two kilometres and others can be four or five kilometres drive.
Still not very far, but it does make a difference when you are in the middle of a long journey so I do recommend you choose a village or villages using the map below before you set off, rather than just taking a chance.
Where to find the Villages Etapes?
The majority of the villages are:
(1) along the main route that crosses Normandy and Brittany between Caen and Carnac
(2) along the motorway between Orleans and Brive and leads to Languedoc-Roussillon and south-west France
(3) in south-east France between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier.
Our personal favourites include Uzerche and Donzenac in the limousin (southern France) and Dol-de-Bretagne and Josselin in Brittany (north-west France)
The association of Villages Etapes has produced a map with all the locations and also a brief guide to the highlights in each of the villages. If you will not have internet access during your journey it is a good idea to print the map and guide before travelling. Get it from here.
Note: main picture is Uzerche in the Vézère Valley, small pictures are Dol-de-Bretagne, Pierre-Buffière and Donzenac.
Map showing the villages étapes in France