The new official guide to Les Plus Beaux Villages de France showcases 159 of the country’s most enchanting small destinations
What makes French villages so magical? Whether it be gorgeous wisteria-covered cottages, pretty fountain-adorned squares, the relaxing sounds of church bells and chickens, or simply a strong sense of community, it’s no surprise that many tourists choose to visit (or even live in) France’s rural idyll.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association celebrates the most beautiful villages in l’Hexagone, boasting almost 160 members. To qualify, there are three important preliminary criteria: having a population of no more than 2,000 inhabitants; at least two protected sites or landmarks; and a proof of public support for their bid. After a site visit and a final stamp of approval from the Quality Commission, you’re in!
To celebrate the cream of the 2020 crop, the association has launched The Most Beautiful Villages of France: The Official Guide. From Brittany to Provence and everywhere in between, the book is the perfect armchair journey through France, taking in 159 stunning villages that you’ll want to visit on your next trip. There’s a mini-guide to each village with everything you need to know – the top sites, places to eat, events to look forward to – and at the back you’ll find some fab walking routes for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of our favourite Plus Beaux Villages – which is your favourite?
This medieval gem on the banks of the Aveyron is dominated by its spectacular castle. A stone’s throw from the village, the fortified site of the Roc d’Anglars dates from the 5th century. Highlights of a visit here include a trip to the Maison de la Forge et des Anciens Métiers, the former smithy turned heritage centre.
Situated on the famous Alsace wine route, this traditional, flower-bedecked village owes its name to a local laundrywoman, Saint Huna. It’s a gorgeous destination for nature lovers; visit the butterfly garden or the Centre de Réintroduction des Cigognes et des Loutres, dedicated to reintroducing storks and otters to the area.
Grignan is the only new entry to the association in 2020. Lying between the Dauphiné and Provence, a short distance from the Enclave des Papes region, the village and its castle are proud reminders of new beginnings and the famous correspondence of Madame de Sévigné. From the castle’s terraces, a superb view over the landscape of vineyards, lavender fields, and truffle-rich forest is a reminder that some of the best local produce in this part of the Drôme comes from Grignan.
At the foot of Mont Sainte-Odile, colourful Mittelbergheim produces excellent wines. Glowing with vibrant colours in autumn and wild tulips in springtime, it is surrounded by vineyards. The façades of the houses lining the streets have a remarkable unity of style. Dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, they are superbly preserved, adorning the streets with their eye-catching pink sandstone frontages.
The so-called “flame of the Luberon”, this ochre-hued village north of Marseille sparkles with colour in its verdant setting. Take a guided tour of the manufacture, geology, and heritage of ochre at the Conservatoire des Ocres, or visit the lively Thursday morning market at Place du Pasquier.
Perched high on a dramatic escarpment overlooking the Lot river, this village has been occupied since Gallo-Roman times. It’s a mecca for artists and writers; the surrealist writer André Breton once owned a house here (now a cultural centre). Don’t miss the local specialities of truffles and walnuts.
Adapted from The Most Beautiful Villages of France: The Official Guide (Flammarion, 2020). The book is £16.95 and is available in bookshops now, or you can buy a copy here.