You think you know France? Here’s a look at 10 of the most beautiful, off-the-beaten-path small towns in France you might not have heard of.
It should come as no surprise that picturesque towns and villages adorn the landscapes that lay between Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and other major cities in France. Exuding charm and character, many of these unspoiled hidden treasures are lesser known to some travelers and just waiting to be discovered. Here are ten of the best small towns and villages in France that you probably never heard of.
1. La Roque-Gageac
Nestled into the foot of a cliff on the banks of the Dordogne river, the south-facing Roque-Gageac, is one of France’s most beautiful villages. Take a ride on a barge, traditional boats that once transported goods, to admire the facades of the charming little riverfront houses. A small tropical garden near the church is filled with palm trees, banana trees, bamboos and cacti.
Not far from the city of Carcassonne, home to the famous fortress of the same name, is the adorable bastide of Mirepoix. Located in the Pays des Pyrénées Cathare, Mirepoix has retained its authentic Medieval charm. The half-timbered houses surrounding the covered square in the village center will make you swoon, and you won’t want to miss the antique shops offering a myriad of brilliant vintage objects.
The commune of Saint-Véran is located in the heart of Queyras Regional Natural Park. Considered one of the most beautiful villages of France, Saint-Véran is Europe’s highest inhabited commune. Its wooden chalets with slate roofs, small wood fountains and typical mountain bread ovens will literally make your heart melt as this village benefits from an extraordinary amount of sunshine, hence the sundials that dot the village’s narrow streets.
Located in the heart of the Luberon Natural Regional Park and just a few miles from Aix-en-Provence, Cucuron will delight you. This typical Provencal village is complete ramparts, a dungeon, washhouses and a Basin pond lined with century-old plane trees that give Cucuron its distinct flair. Lose yourself among the colors and smells while walking from one small square to another, and sip a glass of Côtes du Luberon in complete tranquillity.
5. Saint Goustan
Saint Goustan is a village in Brittany that has remained unchanged, and strolling through the cobbled alleys feels a bit like stepping back in time. Cross the stone bridge and stroll the narrow streets dotted with craftsmen and art galleries to arrive at the port, named for the patron saint of sailors and fishermen.
Bormes-les-Mimosas… such a name is filled with promise! Classified as one of the most flowery villages in France, Bormes-les-Mimosas is perched on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Grand Corso Fleuri du Mimosa de Bormes is held every year on the last weekend of February. Admire the pink-and-ochre-tiled rooftops, winding flowered lanes, ramparts and castle ruins as you walk through this typical Provençal village.
The village of Castelnou is a gem located near Catalonia and set against the backdrop of the mythical Canigou mountain. Castelnou is perhaps better known–and therefore a little more touristy–than the other villages on this list. However, we felt like it was worth a mention because it’s perfectly preserved. There is no overabundance of shops or hotels that distorts the exceptional postcard-like scenery.
8. Moncontour de Bretagne
Surrounded by greenery in the heart of the Breton countryside and clinging to a rocky spur, the medieval town of Moncontour is surrounded by imposing ramparts. The town hall, church, superb bourgeois residences and magnificent private mansions are part of Moncontour’s remarkable history and architectural heritage.
For those who prefer the sea or taking a stroll on the beach, Piriac-Sur-Mer is dreamy. Situated on the Guérande peninsula, this charming small town will surprise you. So typically Breton, Piriac-Sur-Mer boasts a rich natural, architectural, literary and legendary diversity. Enjoy the saltwater air of this charming seaside resort and enjoy the port’s authentic atmosphere. Charming little houses both in the heart of the village and along the coast make for some picture-perfect panoramas.
At the edge of Aveyron on the road to Santiago de Compostela stands a castle at the foot of a small village characterized by flagstone-roofed stone houses. The fortress of Belcastel was built at the end of the tenth century on top of a ninth-century chapel. It was subsequently abandoned then architect Fernand Pouillon restored it in the seventeenth century. Today, Belcastel houses an art gallery that contributes to the community’s dynamism. Pay attention to the mailboxes of the houses in the village, each one is more amusing than the other. Also, book a table at the one-star Michelin-rated Vieux Pont restaurant, a gastronomic institution overseen by chefs and sisters Nicole and Michèle Fagegaltier.