Best Villages and Small Towns in France

15 May, 2022

Best Villages and Small Towns in France

May 15, 2022

France is one of the most visited countries in the world and deservedly so. The country has way more to offer than just Paris (even though there are plenty of things to do in Paris) and the French Riviera. Many travelers venture beyond the tourist hotspots of the country to explore its Rolling Hills, Fairytale towns, rural castles and pretty villages. With a variety of low-key destinations and tranquil villages to choose from, you’re truly spoiled for choice here. 

There’s something about the French countryside that just exudes charm. Perhaps it’s the quaint villages with their cobbled streets and flower-filled window boxes. Or the endlessly rolling hills, dotted with vineyards and fragrant Lavender fields.

To make planning a little easier for you, we’ve put together a list of the best and prettiest villages to visit in France. Read on and enjoy.

1- Carcassonne

Best villages and small towns in France- Carcasonne

Closest city near Carcasonne: Toulouse
Time to Toulouse: 1 hour 9 minutes

Carcassonne is a fortified medieval city in the south of France in the region of Occitanie. Situated on the banks of the Aude river on a hill, Carcassonne is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. It’s an easy day trip from Toulouse and takes only about 30 minutes by train. Carcassonne was first settled in the sixth century BC unfortified in the fourth century. 

The view of the city from the new bridge as you approach the old town is absolutely breathtaking. Entrance to the walled city is entirely free. As you walk up the cobblestone streets and reach the old town you’ll discover that the city has two opposing sides. Ancient buildings, ramparts and a lovely castle coexist side-by-side with bustling restaurants and souvenir shops.

There are points all over the city that offer stunning views of the surrounding French countryside. Walk around the city and through all its quaint streets to make the most of your time here. If you want to avoid large crowds of tourists, try to go in the evening or early in the morning.

Things to know about visiting Carcassonne

  • There are two main entrance gates- North and south.
  • If you’re not in great shape physically, it’s best to take the north entrance because the route leading to the south entrance can be a bit steep.
  • There are guided walking tours for those who are interested in getting to know the city in a deeper way.
  • There are quite a few restaurants within the city walls but many of them are considered tourist traps. Always read reviews before you go!

2- Rocamadour 

Best villages and small towns in France: Rocamadour

Closest city near Rocamadour: Toulouse
Time to Toulouse: 1 hour 54 minutes

Rocamadour tends to be touristy and crowded. But, the village is simply spectacular. It’s one of France‘s favourite tourist destinations and well worth visiting. Perched on a small cliff and towering over the Alzou river, the mere sight of this medieval village can take your breath away. 

Rocamadour is also known as Cite Religieuse. The town has a fascinating history and pilgrims have been coming here for centuries. You can climb up to the churches from the lower town. The churches are in fact a group of religious buildings. The main pilgrimage point is the church of Notre Dame. During your visit, you can enjoy documented stories about miracles that have happened in the church.

Things to know about visiting Rocamadour 

  • The climb back to the top can be a little bit of a workout. If you’re not in good shape, it’s best to take the lift.
  • The village produces a famous cheese with AOC status called Rocamadour 
  • Other popular attractions include la foret des singes, Basilique Saint Saveur and the Castle Remparts 

3- Chablis

Closest city near Chablis: Toulouse
Time to Toulouse: 1 hour 9 minutes

Everyone knows Chablis, the famous wine from burgundy. However, the lovely little town of Chablis remains relatively unknown to most tourists and travelers. This means that you can enjoy a visit without being pushed around by hordes of tourists. 

As is expected of a wine region, the town of Chablis is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards. The main great variety grown here is the Chardonnay. Even if you’re here just to taste the wine, don’t forget to visit the town.

To reach the historic center, you have to pass through a beautiful medieval bridge. In spring and summer months, the bridge railings are covered with beautiful pink, red, violet, blue and yellow flowers. Once you reach the centre of town, you’ll see a mix of stone and half timber buildings. You’ll find a variety of shops, restaurants and wineries here.

Things to know about visiting Chablis

  • Many small vineyards and wineries are closed on Sundays. Call in advance before you go. 
  • The wine region around Chablis is gorgeous and loved by cyclists
  • There are some quaint, romantic hotels and B&Bs in the town. 

4- Riquewihr

Best villages and small towns in France: Riquewihr

Closest city near Riquewihr: Strasbourg
Time to Toulouse: 45 minutes

Riquewihr Is a quaint village in the Alsace region of France bordering Germany. Located in an ideal setting between mountains and vineyards, this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alsace. The Alsace wine route runs through the village. It’s an easy day trip from Strasbourg.

Riquewihr is a fortified village with the earliest fortifications dating back to the 13th century and the newer fortifications constructed in the 16th century. It’s primary pedestrian street is Rue Charles de Gaulle peppered with half-timbered homes, charming little side streets and buildings painted in pastel shades. The village also has a belfry which was previously used to protect it from invasion.

The area known as Ribeauville-Riquewihr produces some amazing white wines. Don’t forget to go wine tasting when you’re here.

Things to know about visiting Riquewihr

  • It’s easy to reach from Alsace and Colmar
  • Although famous for its wine, you’ll also find regional producers of delicious liqueur in many flavours

5- Barfleur

Best villages and small towns in France: Barfleur

Closest city near Barfleur: Caen
Time to Toulouse: 1 hour 26 minutes

Have a hankering for fresh wild mussels straight from the sea? Head to Barfleur in Normandy! With a fantastic view of the English Channel, this beautiful port town is famous for its yummy mussels and homemade chips (french fries for American readers) that you can wash down with a bottle of delicious local cider. In fact, Barfleur is known to have the best modules-frites in Normandy.

The first port in this area was a Norman port. The town has played a crucial role in Norman French history through centuries since 1066. Dotted with beautiful granite houses and amazing local restaurants, the town boasts Norman influences everywhere. The Church of Saint Nicholas is quintessentially Norman with a square tower rather than a spire.

Just stroll around, explore the coast, enjoy some mussels and watch local fishermen at work.

Things to know about visiting Barfleur

  • Try to pick a clear day for your visit if possible
  • Visit the historic centre and the church of Saint Nicholas.

6- Amboise

Best villages and small towns in France: Amboise

Closest city near Amboise: Tours
Time to Toulouse: 30 minutes

Overlooking the gorgeous river Loire in the Loire valley, the town of Ambroise has all the pomposity of a royal town. French kings and queens have lived in the Chateau of Amboise for centuries. Two very famous people from European history have called Amboise their home- Leonardo da Vinci and King Francis the first.

You can see the majestic royal castle as you approach the town from the opposite side. Although it is a bit touristy and often crowded, the town still retains its charming medieval feel. While you’re here, visit the castle and its lovely gardens as well as the church of Saint Denis built in 1107. Also visit the Chateau Clos Luce where Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years.

Things to know about visiting Amboise

  • If you go there by car, park outside the town and walk inside
  • If you prefer not to walk, biking is a good option too
  • Try local Loire valley wines

7- Saint Emilion

Best villages and small towns in France: Saint Emilion

Closest major city near Saint Emilion: Bordeaux
Time to Toulouse: 48 minutes

Saint Emilion is an adorable medieval village located in the Bordeaux wine region of France. The entire village is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. Here, great wineries coexist with beautiful buildings and monuments. 

The village has narrow, winding streets reminiscent of Tuscan hilltop villages and the surrounding vineyards create a picturesque backdrop. Saint Emilion wines are also some of the most famous Bordeaux wines in the world. 

There are plenty of wineries where you can savor a delicious glass of wine with local appetisers. You’ll also find plenty of guided tours and organized picnics on websites like Airbnb, viator and Getyourguide.

Things to know about visiting Saint Emilion

  • There are many amazing wineries in Saint Emilion where you can taste local winds.
  • We recommend visiting at least one wine-producing château during your visit
  • For jazz lovers, Saint Emilion hosts one other biggest jazz festivals in the country at the end of July
  • Spring is the best time to visit Saint Emilion as summers can be extremely hot.

8- Annecy

Best villages and small town in France: Annecy

Closest major city near Annecy: Geneva
Time to Annecy: 45 minutes

Annecy is a picture-perfect Alpine town tucked away in eastern France just an hour away from Geneva. The town’s historic Vieille Ville is famous for its cobblestone streets, beautiful canals and lovely buildings painted in pastel shades. 

Taking a leisurely stroll along the crystal-clear lake Annecy is one of the biggest joys of visiting the town. It is one of the cleanest lakes in all of France. The lake is ideally set beneath majestic mountains. The view of the lake against the mountain backdrop is simply exquisite.

The old town is packed with cute little cafés, restaurants and boutique shops. You’ll discover a charming little street at every turn.

Don’t forget to check out the lovely castle of Annecy that offers spectacular views of the old town. The oldest parts of the chateau date back to the 12th century.

Things to know about visiting Annecy

  • There are boat tours you can take on Lake Annecy
  • For those who don’t want to book a boat tour or walk, rental bikes are available in the town centre
  • The castle is about 15 minutes away from the historic old town

9- Colmar

Best villages and small towns in France: Colmar

Closest major city near Colmar: Strasbourg
Time to Colmar: 51 minutes

Colmar is a postcard-perfect town located in France, close to the border with Germany. Over the centuries, Colmar has belonged to both France and Germany. German architectural influences can be seen all over the town. 

Located along the Alsatian wine route, Colmar is well known for its picturesque half timbered- buildings, Venetian-style canals, flower-laden bridges and cute little cobblestone streets. It is often considered the capital of Alsatian Wines. 

Little Venice, locally known as Petite Venice, is probably the most well-known neighborhood in town. When not overrun by tourists, the area looks like it’s right out of a fairytale. You’ll find lots of restaurants to choose from. Even the best of cameras often fail to capture the remarkable beauty of little Venice. Other famous tourist hotspots in Colmar include the fishmongers district, Unterlinden museum and maison Pfister.

Things to know about visiting Colmar

  • It’s just an hour away from Strasbourg
  • Don’t forget to go wine tasting in Colmar
  • If you find Parisian Michelin star restaurants outrageously expensive, you’ll find a few affordable options here.
  • Spend at least a full day here!

10- Honfleur

Closest major city near Honfleur: Le Havre
Time to Honfleur: 31 minutes

Honfleur is a beautiful and colourful small town located in Normandy, France. It is situated on the estuary of the Seine River, and its chief commerce is fishing. Although originally built exclusively for the purpose of trading, the town is now a popular tourist destination due to its picturesque setting and well-preserved architecture.

Many of the buildings in Honfleur date back to the Renaissance, and the town has been used as a backdrop for many films and TV shows. In addition to its charming atmosphere, Honfleur is also home to several museums and art galleries. visitors can learn about the town’s history and enjoy its beautiful scenery.

Things to do in Honfleur:

  • Visit the Vieux Bassin or the old Harbour known for colourful half-timbered houses overlooking the dock
  • Admire the lovely Church of Sainte-Catherine made entirely of wood
  • Check out the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce perched on a little hill. Pilgrims used to visit this chapel to thank God for saving them for natural disasters.
  • Pop into the The Eugène Boudin Museum that is home to many fine arts paintings associated with artists of the region
  • Gawk at the stunning Pont de Normandie that connects Honfleur to Le Havre
  • See Les Maisons Satie, a quirky museum dedicated to Erik Satie- a French composer born here

11- Vézelay

Closest major city near Vézelay: Dijon
Time to Vézelay: 1hour 28 minutes

Vézelay, Burgundy is a small town located in central France. It is best known for its Abbey of St. Mary Magdalene, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town is also home to a number of other historical landmarks, including the Basilica of St. Maximin, the Church of St. Pierre, and the ruins of the castle of Vézelay.

Burgundy is famous for its wine, and Vézelay is no exception. The town is home to a number of wineries, and visitors can enjoy tasting sessions and tours. In addition to its historical significance, Vézelay is also a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. The region around the town is home to a number of scenic trails, and the nearby Morvan Regional Park offers an array of outdoor activities. Whether you’re interested in history or nature, Vézelay is sure to delight.

Things to do in Vézelay:

  • Visit the Vezelay Abbey where pilgrims have been coming for the last 1000 years.
  • Walk around to admire the lovely Renaissance houses
  • Spend a few hours at the nearby fortified village of Avallon

12- Bazas

Closest major city near Bazas: Bordeaux
Time to Bazas: 1 hour 28 minutes

Bazas is a small town located in the southwest of France. It is best known for Bazas Cathedral, a beautifully preserved Romanesque church that was once part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Bazas is also home to Aventures Sud-Gironde, a popular adventure park. The town has a long history, dating back to Roman times. Bazas was once the capital of the province of Saintonge and has been occupied by a number of different cultures over the centuries. Today, Bazas is a peaceful and scenic place to visit, with plenty of activities to enjoy.

Things to do in Bazas:

  • Visit the Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist built over the course of the 13th and 14th centuries on the site of a Roman sanctuary. Don’t forget to linger outside to admire the ornate carvings outside.
  • Walk to the Astronomer’s House, a gorgeous mansion from the 1500s decorated with astronomical motifs
  • If you’re there on a Saturday, visit the lively Bazas market
  • Have lunch at the cathedral square
  • Sample some local wines from the Gironde region

13- Dinan

Closest major city near Dinan: Rennes
Time to Dinan: 44 minutes

If you’re looking for a quaint and charming town to explore, then look no further than Dinan. This medieval town is located in the northern region of Brittany and is full of narrow streets, half-timbered houses, and Gothic churches. And don’t forget about Dinan’s signature attraction: the 13th century castle that looms over the town.

Dinan is also a great place to enjoy some traditional French cuisine. From savory crepes to sweet caramelized apples, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So whether you’re looking to feast your eyes or your stomach, Dinan is definitely worth a visit.

Things to do in Dinan:

  • Visit the beautiful Dinan castle that dates back to the 14th century
  • Gawk at the Tour de l’Horloge, a marvellous 15th-century belfry 
  • Stroll around the 13th century ramparts to experience history
  • Explore the remains of the Couvent des Cordeliers, a 13th century monastery
  • Admire the lovely half-timbered buildings in the village

14- Montbazon

Closest major city near Montbazon: Tours
Time to Bazas: 21 minutes

Montbazon is a charming town located in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France. The town is situated on the banks of the River Indre, and its picturesque setting has made it a popular tourist destination. Montbazon is home to a number of historical landmarks, including the Château de Montbazon, a 12th-century castle that was once the seat of the Duke of Brittany.

Today, the castle is open to the public, and its beautifully preserved interior is well worth a visit. In addition to its historical attractions, Montbazon also offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes, making it the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed day in the French countryside.

Things to do in Montbazon:

  • Visit the Montbazon castle, one of France’s oldest fortified structures to understand life in the middle ages
  • Go on an immersive guided tour of the dungeons and cellars of the castle 
  • Gorge on pancakes, fouée bread and other yummy treats at the Castle Tavern

15- Roussillon

Closest major city near Roussillon: Avignon
Time to Roussillon: 50 minutes

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that France is a place that captures the heart. And nowhere is this more true than in the picturesque region of Roussillon. Situated in the far south of the country, Roussillon is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, which means it enjoys long, hot summers and mild winters. The landscape is truly beautiful, with sweeping vistas of mountains, valleys and plains. And of course, there are the famo us vineyards for which the region is so well-known.

But Roussillon is more than just a pretty face. It’s a place steeped in history, culture and tradition. From its Roman roots to its present-day status as a gastronomic hotspot, there’s much to discover in this enchanting corner of France. So why not add it to your travel list? You might just fall in love with Roussillon too.

Things to do in Roussillon:

  • Look up at the stunning red cliffs of Roussillon from below the hill
  • Take a leisurely stroll around the charming squares and alleyways in town
  • Check out the Place de la Mairie, an old town square filled with lovely 18th-century homes,

16- Eguisheim

Closest major city near Eguisheim : Strasbourg
Time to Eguisheim : 1 hour

Eguisheim is a small town in France with a big reputation. Though it is only home to around 1,300 residents, Eguisheim has been voted the most beautiful village in the country multiple times. And it’s not hard to see why. With its well-preserved medieval architecture, quaint cobblestone streets, and stunning vineyards, Eguisheim is a true fairytale town.

Visitors can stroll through the picturesque streets, sample local wines at one of the many wineries, or simply take in the stunning views. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a charming day trip, Eguisheim is sure to enchant.

17- Villefranche-Sur-Mer

Closest major city near Villefranche-sur-Mer: Cannes
Time to Villefranche-sur-Mer: 53 minutes

Villefranche-Sur-Mer is a picturesque town located on the French Riviera. The town is known for its lovely harbor, which is lined with pastel-colored houses. Visitors can stroll through the narrow streets, window shop in the chic boutiques, or relax on one of the many beachfront cafes.

There’s also plenty to see and do in the surrounding area, from visiting the nearby city of Nice to taking a day trip to Monaco. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation or an action-packed getaway, Villefranche-Sur-Mer is the perfect destination.

18- Peillon

Closest major city near Peillon: Nice
Time to Peillon: 30 minutes

Peillon is a commune in the southeastern French department of Alpes-Maritimes. Situated on a mountainous plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Peillon is a picturesque village with stunning views. The village is home to a number of historical landmarks, including the 11th-century Peillon Castle and the 13th-century Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Church.

Peillon is also known for its traditional pottery, which has been produced in the area for centuries. Visitors to Peillon can enjoy exploring the village’s winding streets, sampling the local cuisine, and hiking in the surrounding mountains. With its beautiful setting and rich history, Peillon is an ideal destination for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

19- Oppède Le Vieux

Closest major city near Oppède Le Vieux: Avignon
Time to Oppède Le Vieux: 47 minutes

Oppède Le Vieux is a small commune in the south of France. It is situated on a hill in the Provence region, and overlooks the valley of the Durance river. The name ‘Oppède Le Vieux’ means ‘old man of the hill’, and refers to the fact that the town was founded by a Roman centurion who retired here. Today, Oppède Le Vieux is a popular tourist destination, with its ancient stone buildings and winding streets.

However, it is also worth noting that the town has a dark history; it was the scene of a massacre during the French Revolution, and was later used as a staging post for the Nazi occupation of France. Despite this, Oppède Le Vieux is now a peaceful and charming place, and well worth a visit.

20- Goult

Closest major city near Goult: Avignon
Time to Goult: 47 minutes

Goult is a picturesque village in the south of France that is well worth a visit. The village is located in the heart of Provence, and it is surrounded by beautiful countryside. The village itself is quite small, but it has a lot to offer visitors. There are several churches and museums, and the streets are lined with shops and cafes.

There are also a number of excellent restaurants, and the local wine is definitely worth trying. The people of Goult are very friendly, and they make sure that visitors feel welcome. Overall, Goult is an ideal place to spend a few days exploring the Provence region.

21- Candes-St-Martin

Closest major city near Candes-St-Martin: Tours
Time to Candes-St-Martin: 46 minutes

Candes-St-Martin is a village in the Loire Valley of France that is best known for its picturesque setting and medieval churches. The village is situated on a stretch of the river that is particularly scenic, and its two main churches are both notable for their centuries-old architecture. In addition to its churches, Candes-St-Martin is also home to a number of authentically French restaurants and cafes.

As a result, the village is popular with tourists looking to get a taste of traditional French culture. However, Candes-St-Martin is also notable for its more unusual attractions, including a statue of a pig that is said to bring good luck to those who rub it. Whether you’re looking for history, culture, or just a bit of fun, Candes-St-Martin is sure to have something to offer.

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