Driving in France: 8 of the best Villages Étapes

Josselin is one of the lovely alternatives to a motorway service station in France. Pic: Benoit Bruc

Josselin is one of the lovely alternatives to a motorway service station in France. Pic: Benoit Bruchez/Getty - Credit: Archant

These stunning destinations are worth taking the slip road for

Star-shaped Rocroi in Ardennes. Pic: Clemenyv/Wikimedia

Star-shaped Rocroi in Ardennes. Pic: Clemenyv/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

From Plus Beau Village to Petite Cité de Caractère, France has an ever-expanding list of ‘quality labels’ that are doled out to deserving communes across the country. One that you may have spotted on your travels is Village Étape. But what actually is a Village Étape and what should you expect if you visit one?

Villages Étapes are located within five minutes (or five kilometres) of major routes and offer a charming alternative to your standard service stations and aires (motorhome rest stops). To be awarded this quality marker, there are strict criteria to meet: excellent amenities such as restaurants, hotels and shops; a commitment to sustainability; and an information point and activities for tourists. They’re well signed off motorways and you can be assured of a great welcome. Here are eight worth stopping at...

Neufchatel-en-Bray's restored church. Pic: Evan Frank/Getty

Neufchatel-en-Bray's restored church. Pic: Evan Frank/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rocroi, Ardennes

Road: RN51

A star of the Ardennes! This unique, star-shaped town was fortified during the reign of Henry II in the 16th century. Don’t miss the fascinating museum telling the story of the Battle of Rocroi.

Plombieres-les-Bains, the spa town in the Vosges. Pic: Marc Pissot/Wikimedia

Plombieres-les-Bains, the spa town in the Vosges. Pic: Marc Pissot/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

Neufchâtel-en-Bray, Seine-Maritime

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Road: A28

Take a trip to cheese heaven - Neufchâtel is also part of the Route des 4 fromages AOP de Normandie. The beautiful church dates back to the 12th century and although it was wounded in the war, it was restored to its former glory in the 1950s.

The marble fountain in Chorges. Pic: Toutaitanous/Wikimedia

The marble fountain in Chorges. Pic: Toutaitanous/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

Plombières-les-Bains, Vosges

Road: RN57

The so-called ‘Town of a Thousand Balconies’ is famous for its thermal springs, some of Europe’s hottest – perfect for relaxing in after a long day of driving.

Brens in Tarn. Pic: Paternel 1/Wikimedia

Brens in Tarn. Pic: Paternel 1/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

Chorges, Hautes-Alpes

Road: RN94

Chorges is a stone’s throw from the azure waters of the Lac de Serre-Ponçon. Visit the historic church or snap a photo beside the pink marble fountain, a Monument Historique.

Donzenac in Correze. Pic: Zivex/Wikimedia

Donzenac in Correze. Pic: Zivex/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

Brens, Tarn

Road: A68

At the heart of the Tarn département, on the banks of the eponymous river, sits this idyllic village. See what remains of the 9th-century château built by the Counts of Toulouse.

The dreamy Chateau de La Rochefoucauld. Pic: Mossot/Wikimedia

The dreamy Chateau de La Rochefoucauld. Pic: Mossot/Wikimedia - Credit: Archant

Donzenac, Corrèze

Road: A20

This thriving medieval village makes an ideal stop-off for architecture lovers, with many Monuments Historiques to admire. It’s famous for its slate – pay a visit to France’s last working slate quarry, Ardoisières de Corrèze.

Medieval Josselin in Brittany. Pic: JJFarquitectos/Getty

Medieval Josselin in Brittany. Pic: JJFarquitectos/Getty - Credit: Getty Images

La Rochefoucauld, Charente

Road: RN141

La Rochefoucauld is famous for its beautiful château, the most important in Charente and occupied by the same family for more than a thousand years.

Josselin, Morbihan

Road: RN24

Historic Josselin is a must-visit Breton destination, with its 11th-century castle and gorgeous gardens. Don’t miss the doll museum in the grounds, home to around 3,000 dolls!

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