If you want to visit the most beautiful places in France, where do you start? Where are they exactly? You can start by looking at the list of designated “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. In each region of France, there are a select number of villages that have been designated the MOST beautiful villages of France. Here are the highlights of each “village de France” that I have visited in each region.
[Updated September 26, 2023]
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Table of contents
- 1. Where Are The “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”
- 2. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France Criteria
- 3. The Most Beautiful Villages In France That I Have Visited
- (a) Auvergne Rhône-Alpes (5)
- (b) Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (7)
- (c) Grand Est (3)
- (d) Nouvelle-Aquitaine (6)
- (e) Midi-Pyrénées (5)
- (f) Brittany (2)
- (g) Normandy (2)
- (h) Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (1)
- (i) Occitanie (14)
- Aiguèze (Department: Gard)
- Villefranche-de-Conflent (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
- Camon (Department: Ariège)
- Evol (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
- Eus (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
- Cordes-sur-Ciel (Department: Tarn)
- La Garde-Guérin (Department: Lozère)
- Belcastel (Department: Aveyron)
- Brousse-le-Château (Department: Aveyron)
- Estaing (Department: Aveyron)
- La Couvertoirade (Department: Aveyron)
- Najac (Department: Aveyron)
- Peyre (Department: Aveyron)
- Map Of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France-My Visits
1. Where Are The “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”
There are over 32,000 villages and in 1982 the French government created the list to promote the small and picturesque French villages of quality heritage. While Paris, Bordeaux, and Lyon are grand and have much to see, many visitors often overlook the small towns in France and these are definitely worth a detour.
Every year, I try to visit more of the villages that are considered the most beautiful in France and so far I have visited 45. Initially, I thought many more villages that I had visited would be on the list. Will I visit them all? Who knows, but I’ll certainly have fun trying. [Note: the number that has been designated “the most beautiful villages of France” keeps changing as more villages are added. Currently, “174” is the number published by the organization, and they are found in 14 regions and 70 departments of France.] Take a look at some of the small towns in France I’ve visited and I think you’ll agree, they deserve the recognition and they are worth visiting.
2. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France Criteria
To be designated one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”, communes must submit an application form, have an on-site evaluation, and meet certain criteria.
Most villages don’t make the list and it’s understandable when you consider the criteria:
- there must be some rural character with no more than 2,000 inhabitants
- they must have two national heritage sites
- there must be an on-site evaluation and
- the application must have mass support from the town council.
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3. The Most Beautiful Villages In France That I Have Visited
Here are the 45 that I have visited from the list of villages in France.
(a) Auvergne Rhône-Alpes (5)
Pérouges (Department: Ain)
When I was heading to Lyon from Switzerland, I had read that Pérouges was on the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, so I had to drop in. After going through the fortress gates, I came upon many shops with local crafts and foods. Pérouges was built in the 12th century and has retained the medieval atmosphere (and towers) and it is known for its medieval festivals.
Yvoire (Department: Haute-Savoie)
Yvoire is another medieval town (700 years old) located between Geneva and Evian. If anything stands out in my mind it’s all the flowers and not surprisingly, one of the attractions is the “Garden of Five Senses”. After walking through the fortress gates and along the narrow cobblestone paths and ramparts, you are provided with stunning views of Lake Geneva.
Vogüe (Department: Ardèche)
As I drove north from seeing the caves at Aven d’Orgnac, the road began to follow the Ardèche River and past the Viaduct de Vogüe. The scenery of towering rocks on my right slowly changed to a commune of houses built into the rock. This was Vogüe and the Château de Vogüe is now a school run by the sisters St Joseph d’Aubenas.
Balazuc (Department: Ardèche)
18 km north of Vallon Pont d’Arc in the Ardèche and 9 km south of Vogüe stands Balazuc, a medieval village that seems to be built into the rocks on the cliffs. The 11th century château is now a hotel. At the end of the town there is a bridge that crosses the Ardèche River where you can get excellent views.
Pradelles (Department: Haute-Loire)
As I drove from Riorges to Anduze, to catch the Train à Vapeur des Cevennes, I stopped in Pradelles, which is popular with pilgrims coming from Puy-en-Velay. It is a small town with many stone houses and is part of the GR70, le Chemin de Stevenson, the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. In his book, Stevenson only made a brief stop and did not stay overnight nor did he visit Chapelle Notre-Dame, the 16th century church in the centre of town.
(b) Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (7)
In this region, there are certainly plenty of “plus beaux villages de Provence” (most beautiful villages in Provence). It had the highest number of villages with this designation (especially in the Vaucluse department)—more than any other region I have visited…so far. The best villages in Provence included:
Roussillon (Department: Vaucluse)
I feel most people think of ochre when you mention Roussillon. The ochre pigments in this area are orange and were used in the 18th and 19th century for textiles and paints. Today one can visit the “Sentier des Ocres” (Ochre Path) for a fee. Also nearby is an entire area of hills and valleys with ochre. It is called Le Colorado Provencal and it is worth visiting.
Les Baux-de-Provence (Department: Bouches-du-Rhône)
While Les Baux-de-Provence town is often considered overrun with tourists, particularly in the high season, it is worth walking through the cobblestone streets and also visiting the Château des Baux de Provence and the nearby Carrières des Lumières.
Gordes (Department: Vaucluse)
I have a fondness for Gordes because it was the first town (outside of Paris) that I had ever stayed as a young person. While significant development (and money) have been invested in the village, making it an expensive place to stay, I still consider it to be the Most Beautiful Hilltop Village in Provence.
Lourmarin (Department: Vaucluse)
Lourmarin is the town that writer Peter Maybe finally decided to live in after being hounded by tourists in Menerbes. It might be considered a high-priced village as there are many art galleries and (expensive) shops, but the architecture and Château de Lourmarin continue to make it a very popular place to visit in the Vaucluse.
Menerbes (Department: Vaucluse)
The village of Menerbes sits on a hill overlooking the Luberon countryside. It is similar to Gordes as there are many winding cobblestone paths so it’s fun just explore the town and head upwards to the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (Truffle and Wine).
Ansouis (Department: Vaucluse)
After having visited Lourmarin, I headed 10 km east to the very sleepy town of Ansouis. I was there on a Tuesday afternoon in June and I only bumped into two people. I came upon a closed art studio and Chateau d’Ansouis which has a collection of tapestries from the 17th and 18th century. The town does have a number of boutiques and art galleries but I guess I’ll have to visit again when things are open.
Venasque (Department: Vaucluse)
Here is another village perched high on a hill. I came upon Venasque during a drive between the Abbey de Senanque and Bonnieux. The three Saracen towers of Venasque’s original fortress still remain as well as the chapel of Saint-Siffrein, which is a very old religious site known for its baptistry.
(c) Grand Est (3)
Mittelbergheim (Department: Bas-Rhin)
Mittelbergheim is surrounded by vineyards which produce excellent Alsatian wine. The last weekend in July is their Fête du Vin which not only celebrates wine but also local culture.
Eguisheim (Department: Haut-Rhin)
Eguisheim has the added distinction of being the winner of the Favourite Village Of The French in 2013. A visit is not complete without a tasting at one of the famous Alsatian wineries. I had (and purchased) some lovely wines at Leon Beyer but what I most enjoyed was walking through the old town.
Riquewihr (Department: Haut-Rhin)
Like Eguisheim, Riquewihr has an old town with lots of half-timbered buildings, cobbled streets, and another famous winery, Hugel et Fils.
(d) Nouvelle-Aquitaine (6)
La Roque-Gageac (Department: Dordogne)
As you drive toward La Roque-Gageac, the hilltop town certainly impresses. When you wander throughout the town, don’t miss the walkway which provides excellent views of the Dordogne River.
Beynac-et-Cazenac (Department: Dordogne)
Château de Beynac is an imposing site at the top of Beynac-et-Cazenac and was in the perfect position for a fortress in the 12th century. Along with La Roque-Gageac, it is a popular place to rent kayaks as the village is on the banks of the Dordogne River.
Limeuil (Department: Dordogne)
This medieval village sits high above two rivers—the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère Rivers. It was a strategic position, during many different wars and attacks and today it has a lovely garden and park. I was especially impressed by the activities that were set up for children (and adults) to learn about the plants and nature.
Castelnaud-la-Chapelle (Department: Dordogne)
To me, the town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is all about the restored, medieval castle of Château de Castelneaud sits high above the Dordogne River and it is definitely worth a visit. The interior and exterior are not only immense, but creatively decorated with artifacts from the period as well as displays about its history. From this vantage point one can see the town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, La Roque Gageac, and Les Milandes.
Domme (Department: Dordogne)
The village of Domme is yet another that sits on a cliff. There are exceptional views of the Dordogne Valley and the medieval town is surrounded by fortress walls making it a bastide or fortress. The Knight Templars were imprisoned here in the 1300s.
Ars-en-Ré (Department: Charente-Maritime)
On the northwest part of Ile-de-Ré lies the small village of Ars-en-Ré. As I rode my bike to the Baleines lighthouse at the end, I passed by salt marshes and salt farms. The village has a fairly large harbour and the main focal point is the church, Église Catholique Saint-Etienne.
(e) Midi-Pyrénées (5)
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (Department: Lot)
This photo is probably my favourite of all the Plus Beaux Villages. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a medieval village overlooking the Lot River and it is extremely popular. Just look at it! According to the Lot tourism board, the town has 13 historic monuments. But as a result, it is over run with tourists so if you want to visit, get there early or late in the day.
Autoire (Department: Lot)
I subscribe to National Geographic Traveler Magazine and they often feature parts of France that are not always well known. When I saw a picture of Autoire, I had to visit the town and take a photo just like in the magazine. It is located right near the Dordogne border and is 68 km east of Sarlat.
Carennac (Department: Lot)
This is another town highlighted by National Geographic Traveler Magazine and I had to see it. It was a bit busier than Autoire and there were a few restaurants open. 11th and 12-century structures have remained including the Church of St Pierre which is the focal point of the center’s courtyard.
There are some picturesque places to visit in northern France where many of these towns in Brittany and Normandy had narrow streets, and stone, and half-timber houses.
Rocamadour (Department: Lot)
Two of my favourite villages in the Lot are Saint-Cirq Lapopie and Rocamadour which I wrote about in this post, “Best Perched Villages In The Lot“. The latter was added to the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France in 2022 and it’s about time! As I approached the village from the east on the D22 road I was presented with the most stunning view of this village which is perched on the side of the limestone cliff. Rocamadour is known as a Cité Réligieuse with many religious structures, shrines, and statues dating back from the middle ages. It has been attracting pilgrims for centuries. As I wrote in my post, DO take time to complete a circuit of the village starting at the top, by Château de Rocamadour. You’ll really get a great overview of how important this religious city is.
Martel (Department: Lot)
The 12th-century, medieval village of Martel is sometimes called, “La Ville Aux Sept Tours” because there are 7 towers throughout the town. Martel is a well-preserved town with pedestrian-only sections and as you walk on the cobblestones, you pass by half-timber houses, buildings with red roofs, several restaurants, and shops, and the building with the highest tower, Eglise Saint-Maur de Martel. The popular, covered (18th century) market takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the main square, Place de la Halle (also called Place des Consuls).
(f) Brittany (2)
Saint-Suliac (Department: Ille-et-Vilaine)
Located south of St. Malo, Saint-Suliac slopes down towards the Rance River and on a cloudy day in late May it was pretty empty but it was a pretty village. If you do visit, try to go on a sunny, warm day. It will be even more attractive than it already is.
Rochefort-en-Terre (Department: Morbihan)
In 2016 Rochefort-en-Terre gained another accolade: Favourite Village Of The French and it’s understandable why. It really is a beautiful village and I quite liked visiting the “main strip”—- lots of shops with local products, a tourist office, and restaurants, The Parc du Chateau de Rochefort-en-Terre wasn’t open but the grounds were lovely to walk through.
(g) Normandy (2)
Veules-les-Roses (Department: Seine-Maritime)
Veules-les-Roses is a small town on the Alabaster coast located between Etretat and Dieppe. It has thatched roof houses, half-timbered houses and LOTS of roses everywhere. Hence the name which also refers to the Veules River which runs through the town. There are 3 restored watermills and one of the main attractions is the beach, making the town a popular vacation spot.
Beuvron-en-Auge (Department: Calvados)
Half-timbered buildings populate this very pretty and quiet village that is located 30 km east of Caen. The main attraction is certainly the main square and street.
(h) Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (1)
What I most remember about his town is ending our day’s bike ride heading up a steep incline to the town which sits high on a hill. Unfortunately, my friend’s bike chain seized and she fell off her bike. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt. After dinner, we went for a walk through the town that has the fortress, Château de Châteauneuf, which overlooks the Côte d’Or region.
(i) Occitanie (14)
I think some of the best places to visit in the south of France are in the Occitanie region, which is becoming one of my favourite areas. It’s got the Pyrenees mountains and it just seems less touristy. In fact, during my numerous visits, I have found this region had more locals who did NOT speak English (which was great so I could practise my French).
Aiguèze (Department: Gard)
Aiguèze is very close to the Ardèche border and is considered to be the entrance to the Ardèche Gorges. I had a lovely lunch at Restaurant La Bouchon and afterward walked among the ruins of the 12th-century chateau. From the fortress, you can look down upon the Ardèche River and get panoramic views of the area.
Villefranche-de-Conflent (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
This is another fortified town that switched hands between the French Spanish throughout its long history. It has retained its medieval “look” even though there are numerous shops and restaurants. The fortress walls still remain. The village is also one of the main stops for the “Little Yellow Train”. In the town one can take the tunnel to see Fort Liberia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Camon (Department: Ariège)
I enjoyed strolling around Camon which is celebrated for its rose bushes. Each year in May there is an annual Rose Festival and it is often called the “Little Carcassonne” due to its resemblance. It is a fortified village that surrounds a Benedictine Abbey. Unfortunately, the Abbey is private so one cannot visit it.
Evol (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
In the Eastern Pyrenees lies the medieval mountain village of Evol which is a commune of the village of Olette. Most striking are the houses. Many have shale (schist) walls and are covered with slate. The feudal castle of Château d’Évol was built in 1260 and much still remains.
Eus (Department: Pyrénées-Orientales)
On my way from Prades to Villefranche-de-Conflent in early June, I decided to stop off at Eus. It is a hillside village with very steep cobblestone paths. But it does provide excellent views of the countryside and at the top is Eglise Saint-Vincent-d’En-Haut. It was incredibly windy and maybe it was just the day or perhaps it’s always like this because of the position of the town in the mountains. Just be forewarned.
Cordes-sur-Ciel (Department: Tarn)
Cordes-sur-Ciel was added to the esteemed list in 2021 and I was surprised it hadn’t already been on the list. On my way from Bordeaux to Collioure, I stopped in this lovely village; however, it was quite deserted because it was early January. While only one restaurant was open (and full), all I could do was wander around town. Like Saint Paul de Vence in Provence, the village has many artisans and I can imagine it could be quite crowded in high season.
La Garde-Guérin (Department: Lozère)
Heading south to Anduze, I came upon Château de la Garde-Guérin and its fortified village from the 12th century. It’s a very quiet village with many stone houses and the remains of the château. You can’t go up to the top; however, from the area in front, there are splendid views of the Gorges du Chassezac.
Belcastel (Department: Aveyron)
Belcastel is one of the most beautiful villages that I’ve seen. The Château de Belcastel sits high on a hill overlooking the village and the Aveyron river. Numerous stone houses with slate roofs sit on the side of the hill and with cobblestone streets and a lovely stone bridge, the village has continued to retain its medieval character. Do take a tour of the château which was restored by Fernand Pouillon after he found it in ruins in 1974. It provides excellent panoramic views.
Brousse-le-Château (Department: Aveyron)
The views from the medieval castle in Brousse-le-Château are equally impressive as at Belcastel. As I approached the village on the D145, all of a sudden the village appeared. It was very impressive to see all the stone houses and the château on the banks of the Tarn River. There is a lovely stone bridge that leads to the Château de Brousse and getting to the castle entrance is a treat as you wind your way along the narrow cobblestone paths. The main attraction at the large castle are the outstanding panoramic views you are afforded.
Estaing (Department: Aveyron)
Another beautiful village in the Aveyron is on the banks of the Lot River and has a restored castle overlooking the medieval village.
The Château d’Estaing was purchased in 2005, by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and it was later sold in 2012 to the Fondation Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. There is some question as to whether he was a descendent of the d’Estaing family—a very powerful family in the Rouergue region beginning in the 11th century. However, in the château, there are many displays and much information about the d’Estaing family and a few rooms devoted to the President and his career.
La Couvertoirade (Department: Aveyron)
From the 12th century, the Knights Templar took over the fortified town of La Couvertoirade (La Cité de La Couvertoirade), located on the Lazarc plateau, building a church and castle, and then, two centuries later the Knights Hospitaller occupied it adding more walls to surround the village.
Today, while the stone buildings and some remains of the castle and church still remain, the village has become a centre for crafts, with many shops selling pottery, textiles, jewelry, knives and more. There are also a number of restaurants and places for accommodation.
Najac (Department: Aveyron)
The focal point of Najac is the fortress which towers over the village below. Views of the village and surrounding Aveyron area cannot be beat from the top of Château de Najac.
This medieval château, also called Forteresse Royale de Najac, was built on top of a rock providing the perfect strategic defence, first in the 1100s and then again in the 1200s by Alphonse de Poitiers. It imprisoned many Knights Templar and there is a secret passageway that leads to a circular dungeon.
The village has a few restaurants and one bakery, where I got a slice of an Aveyron specialty, fouace, a sweet bread like brioche that is flavoured with orange blossom water. There’s a lot of (steep) walking to get there from the village but the views are stunning.
Peyre (Department: Aveyron)
One of the best things about Peyre, located just outside of Millau are the views of the Millau Viaduct. The village is built on the side of hill and from the top you can see the Tarn river wind its way through the valley.
It’s a very quiet town that has a troglodyte or cave church—Église Troglodyte Saint-Cristofol, built in the 1500s into the rock face. It was a refuge for the inhabitants when they were attacked. There is also Église Saint-Christophe de Peyre down below overlooking the river.
The restaurant L’Estival is right by the river and has really good food and excellent views of the Millau Viaduct as well.
Sauveterre-de-Rouergue (Department: Aveyron)
A former bastide (fortified town), Sauveterre-de-Rouergue was built in the late 1200s. It still retains its lovely character with stone arcades, a well in the centre, and buildings from the 13th century. As you walk around town you’ll see many colourful, half-timbered houses.
The village is known for its craftsmen and craftswomen who produce knives, glassware, ceramics, and leather goods. Many special events take place in the square and in July and August, there is a market on Friday nights.
So, yes, I NEED to go back and conquer the remaining 129 towns. I have a lot of work to do.
Which of the 174 have you been to?
Map Of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France-My Visits
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