Make a detour to one of these small yet characterful destinations for an authentic taste of France
Since the 1970s, some of France’s finest towns and villages have been honoured with the title ‘Petite Cité de Caractère’. This label is given to communes with outstanding heritage and of fewer than 6,000 residents. There are currently 190 Petites Cités de Caractère across the country to explore – here are a few of our favourites to whet your appetite.
A little piece of Scotland in France, Aubigny-sur-Nère hosts the famous Fêtes Franco-écossaises every summer to celebrate its historic links with its cross-Channel cousins, stemming back to the Hundred Years’ War. Visit the town’s Château des Stuarts to discover more about the Auld Alliance.
In the leafy Vosges, the so-called ‘town of a thousand balconies’ is a celebrated spa resort, with royals and celebrities coming to take the waters over the years. Sample the Napoleon Baths in its stone ‘cathedral’, the brainchild of Napoleon III, or follow in the footsteps of the emperor with a stroll in the stately Parc Tivoli.
Le Croisic, Loire-Atlantique
With its cute harbour and half-timbered houses, Le Croisic is a quintessential French coastal town. It’s a hub for fishing and cockle farming, and tourists can follow the Route des Coquillages to see the cockle beds and give them a try at recommended restaurants along the way. For more fishy fun, all the family will enjoy the immense aquariums at Océarium.
A Petite Cité de Caractère since 2012, Aubeterre was once home to three different religious orders until the Revolution: the Cordeliers, Minimes and Clarisses. The monolithic Church of St Jean and the Romanesque Church of St Jacques are must-sees, and there are plenty of traditional shops for picking up a souvenir or two.
This lively destination lies in the Loire Valley and like many towns in the area, boasts its own fabulous château. The Flamboyant Gothic building is now a hotspot for contemporary art and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bargain hunters, listen up – the town also hosts the Loire Valley’s largest flea market.
The focal point of this riverside town is its stunning abbey, founded in 769 by Charlemagne. Take a tour to see the troglodyte caves behind the abbey, including the outstanding Last Judgement cave with its bas-reliefs. The Dordogne town is perfectly located at the gateway to the Périgord-Limousin Regional Nature Park for outdoors enthusiasts.
This green and pleasant destination in the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park is an artist’s dream, with its verdant lanes and riverside vistas over the Sarthe. The likes of Camille Cottin and Gustave Courbet have stayed here in the past and today there are a handful of artist workshops and galleries to explore. Don’t miss the church with its beautiful frescoes, either.
You might also like…