The Belle France guide to the most beautiful villages in Central France
Central France may not boast fine beaches or share its borders with other European nations, but some of the country’s richest landscapes and attractions are located here: the châteaux of the Loire Valley, the lakes and moors of Limousin and the volcanoes of the Auvergne.
The regions of Auvergne, Centre-Val de Loire, Pays-de-la-Loire and Limousin are home to 27 of the 156 most beautiful villages of France.
We've produced a comprehensive digital guide to France's 156 most beautiful villages. Click below to explore.
A land of volcanic peaks, fertile valleys and hot mineral springs, the Auvergne offers stunning scenery and ancient heritage in abundance. The Chaîne des Puys, a series of rounded volcanoes, stretches out over the landscape in a display of wild beauty, while Romanesque churches stand in regal sophistication in the region’s towns. The most notable of these include the cathedral at Le Puy-en-Velay, a starting point on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route, and the basilica of Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand.
Points of interest: Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne | Clermont-Ferrand and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption | Le Puy-en-Velay | Vichy
Capital: Clermont-Ferrand - Climate: Warm but short summers and cold and long winters. Late frosts are frequent but rain is less frequent.
This small village perched atop a volcanic peak and nestled in a meander of the River Loire is dominated by the ruined remains of the Château d’Arlempdes dating from the 12th century. The small Roman style church and chapel is also worthy of a visit. Its bell tower is unusual in that it features a series of arches each containing a bell. The ruins of its château serve as backdrop for the “Theatrales du Velay” drama festival every summer.
Discover the beautiful Romanesque architecture, typical of the region, as you wander the pretty streets of Blesle. Founded in the 9th century and built around a Benedictine abbey, the village was gradually expanded and gained a castle in the 11th century (the keep still remains) and ramparts were added later. The village is home to the Musée de la Coiffe or Headdress museum.
▲ Charroux, Allier
A wander through Charroux’s cobbled streets will reveal its artistic and artisanal past. Discover arty stores and workshops of painters, sculptors, potters, candle makers and glass blowers and little shops selling oil, conserves, soap and other locally made delicacies. Explore the village’s timber-framed market hall, old wells splashed with flowers of blush and crimson and its own local museum.
Home to the last surviving Romanesque abbey to feature a preserved cloister in the Auvergne, Lavaudieu is bathed in culture and tradition. Walk along its narrow streets and discover its traditional vineyard houses built with golden stones and rounded tiles. Its abbey, surrounded by kitchen gardens, is a listed Historical Monument and houses a Byzantine fresco in the former refectory.
▲ Montpeyroux, Puy-de-Dôme
A visit to this medieval village will transport you back to feudal times. Dominating the village is the keep, which offers views of the Alier valley and Massif du Sancy mountains. Montpeyroux translates to ‘rocky mountain’, a reference to its surround quarries of arkose which was used to build the village’s houses.
Just 30 minutes from Le Puy en Velay and lying on the crossroads of Velay, Gevaudan and Vivarais, Pradelles is a medieval, and latterly renaissance, fortified village. Robert Louis Stevenson, the famed author who published Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes in 1879 briefly stayed in the village and the Stevensons trail (GR 70) now runs through the settlement.
Located on the edge of the Regional National Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne, this small town has altered very little since its 16th century heyday. Its former grandeur is a result of the village becoming the administrative centre for the Auvergne highlands in the mid 1500s. Local gastronomy includes Salers cheese, truffles and bourriol (pancake made using buckwheat flour).
Sitting at an altitude of 780m, with some parts exceeding 1000m, and dominating the Doire valley, Tournemire was founded between the 11th and 12th centuries around a medieval stronghold. Guided tours of the village are available. Wander the empty streets and take in the attractive stone houses - built using the stones of the former castle.
▲ Usson, Puy-de-Dôme
Usson rests on the side of a volcanic peak and overlooks the chain of Puys and the plateau of Cézallier. To get an uninterrupted view of the Puys, ascend 640m above sea level and visit the hillock of Usson. Standing proudly at its summit you will find a statue of the Virgin whose mission is to protect passing airmen.
Centre-Val de Loire
Majestic châteaux, steeped in history and overflowing with treasures, vividly illustrate the long and colourful past of the Loire. These splendid buildings, frequented by France’s nobility for centuries, are set beside the mighty River Loire and provided the inspiration for the fairytale castles in Sleeping Beauty and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Known as the Garden of France, the region is fertile, characterised by soft green valleys and lush vineyards producing Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc among other varietals.
Châteaux to visit: Château de Chenonceau | Château de Chambord | Château de Blois | Clos Lucé | Château d’Amboise | Châteaud’Azay-le-Rideau | Château de Chaumont | Château de Cheverny | Château d’Ussé | Château de Valençay | Château de Villandry
Capital: Orléans - Climate: Mild and pleasant for much of the year, winters are cold but short.
Lying at the foot of a castle is the pretty village of Apremont with its dainty planted wells and old houses covered in foliage. In the latter half of the 20th century, Parc Floral opened in the village and is home to rare and endangered plant species and preserves ancient flowers and trees dating as far back as the 1700s.
Situated 35 miles west of Tours on the confluence of the Loire and Vienne is one of the oldest Gallo-Roman villages in the Loire Valley. Candes-Saint-Martin, a former fishing village, retains much of its original medieval structure and many of its buildings are listed historic monuments. High above the village is a plateau which offers stunning views over the valley and rivers.
▲ Crissay-sur-Manse, Indre-et-Loire
Its enchanting white tufa stone houses with square turrets and mullioned windows, narrow streets teeming with flowers and 15th century castle ruins make Crissay-sur-Manse a joy to visit. The majority of the village was rebuilt in the 16th century after the Hundred Years War including many of its houses and its church. Its local culinary specialities include goats cheese, honey, gingerbread and wines of Chinon.
Crammed with galleries and studios, Gargilesse is a popular spot for artists and craftspeople including famous French novelist George Sand who stayed in the village regularly. Its dainty streets lined with ivy-covered stone houses lead to the Romanesque Notre-Dame church. Its crypt houses a 12th century Virgin and impressive wall murals.
Accessed via a narrow Gothic bridge spanning the weeping willowlined River Loir, this attractive medieval village is not one to be missed. The village, nestled in a leafy valley overlooked by the ruined, yet still imposing, ChЙteau de Lavardin has a rich past going back to prehistoric times. Its church contains beautiful frescoes and troglodyte houses mingled with elegant Renaissance buildings make for a unique visit.
Originally built around a medieval stronghold, the village received a facelift in true Renaissance style in the 15th century when the royal court began spending more time in the region. Montrésor became a centre for courtiers and royal servants and in the late 1400s the village along with the old feudal castle was purchased and transformed into an elegant royal residence. Latterly the château was the property of Philippe d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIV. The beautiful houses, as well as the historic communal laundry on the banks of the tree-lined river, contribute to the village’s calming atmosphere.
This fortified medieval village sits perched on the side of a hill surrounded by verdant green countryside. Its architectural and historical heritage range from the 13th century church, home to a stunning granite baptismal font, to the 14th ancient fortifications, 16th century houses and 18th century priory, which today houses various exhibitions.
▲ Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez, Loire
Originally founded in 1084 by Saint Bruno, this village didn’t actually become a village until after the Revolution in 1794. Prior to this, the site was home to a Carthusian monastery. It is the only example of a Carthusian monastery turned into a village in France.
Dominating the Rimarde Valley is the small fortified village of Yèvrele-Châtel. Its ruined 13th century castle proved its worth during the Hundred Years War, being the only defensive stronghold north of the River Loire not to be captured by the English or the Burgundians.
Majestic châteaux, steeped in history, vividly illustrate the colourful past of the Loire. These splendid buildings, frequented by France’s nobility for centuries provided the inspiration for the fairytale castles in Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. Known as the Garden of France, the region is fertile, characterised by green valleys and vineyards.
Points of interest: Château d’Angers | Le Mans | Nuit des Chimères | Fontevraud Abbey | Château de Brissac
Capital: Nantes - Climate: Warm and temperate with high rainfall
Sitting in the heart of the Loire Valley, Montsoreau is not only a member of ‘les plus beaux villages de France’ but also of “Villages de Charme de l’Anjou” and “Small Cities of Character’ and is at the centre of the Regional National Park Loire-Anjou-Touraine. The white tufa stone Renaissance château de Montsoreau was made famous by the novel “La Dame de Montsoreau” by French writer Alexandre Dumas.
Often seen as the pearl of Maine this small medieval town, much like Montsoreau, is a member of “green holiday resorts” and “small character town” labels. Its castle, built in the 17th century, is now home to the Architectural and Heritage Interpretation Centre, which dedicates itself to Mayenne’s heritage offering and hosts exhibitions, conferences and educational workshops.
▲ Vouvant, Vendée
Stationed about midway between Nantes and Poiters and tucked snug in a meander of the River MОrО, this medieval gem houses several historic sites and monuments. The Forest of Mervent-Vouvant that borders Vouvant is the region’s largest forest covering over 5,515 hectares. The MОlusine tower is a classified Monument Historique as is the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Church and 13th century Romanesque bridge.
Limousin’s idyllic pastoral landscape, its honey coloured hamlets and glittering lakes belie its past, one of fierce battles and sieges. Its countryside expresses an ‘off the beaten track’ feel – deciduous forests give way to grazing lands, uplands form the north western edge of the Massif Central, and the River Dordogne cuts through the south west, which is peppered with small villages.
Points of interest: Aubusson and the Creuse Valley | Uzerche | Limoges | Château de Val | Château de Rochechouart | Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat
Capital: Limoges - Climate: Mild, pleasnt and humid during the summer months but can be cold during winter.
▲ Collonges-la-Rouge, Corrèze
With its red-sandstone houses and pepper-pot towers, Collongesla- Rouge is the epitome of rustic charm. Despite its size, it is popular with tourists and is well worth visiting early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the crowds. Some 5 miles east of Turenne and surrounded by insulating green countryside dotted with chestnut and walnut trees, you will be thrown back in time as you stroll through its streets.
Known as the ‘village of three’ because of its three churches, three castles, three calvaries and three fountains, Curemonte rests in a peaceful, green valley alongside a rocky hillside. Although touristy, unlike many of its neighbours it doesn’t have a whole host of gift shops and cafés and has kept its antiquity relatively unspoilt.
A small town about 15km south of Bellac, Mortemart is full of remarkable architectural gems. Home to just 120 permanent residents, its lush surroundings make for good hiking trails. Traces of its past can be found dotted throughout the town including the remains of the dikes of Mortemart’s château, two former convents and the 16th century timber-framed covered market hall.
Featured in the TV adaptation of “Des gives aux loups” by French novelist Claude Michelet, this medieval Corrèze village, with its narrow streets, fortified doors and old stone houses will transport you back in time. Perched on a hill on the Limousin/PОrigord border, this pretty village hosts classical music festival ‘L’Eté Musical de Saint-Robert’ which showcases chamber music, vocal and world music.
▲ Ségur-le-Château, Corrèze
Former “safe place” of the first Viscounts of Limoges who came to the village to construct their fortresses, this picturesque village has a very rich heritage. In the past it was home to many families of notable public figures who left their mark. The Auvézère weaves in and out of the village and its imposing 12th century hilltop castle overlooks the rooftops.
Turenne and the surrounding area formally had complete autonomy from the rest of France, raising taxes, coining their own money and ennobling individuals. The state was at its largest throughout the 1400s and covered the major fortified cities of Argentat, Servières, Beaulieu, Gagnac, Martel and Saint-CОrО. Turenne was sold to King Louis XV in 1738 and consequently the quasi-independent state ceased its autonomy. Its narrow streets and historic buildings, including its majestic castle with 14th century keep and 13th century watchtower, offer a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.
We've produced a comprehensive digital guide to France's 156 most beautiful villages. Click below to explore.
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