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The Belle France guide to the most beautiful villages in Southern France

France’s southern reaches are famed for their beach resorts, their endless sunshine and the laid back lifestyle that permeates every corner. From the rolling countryside of the Midi Pyrenees to the clear waters of the Cote d’Azur, and beyond to the red cliffs and hillside villages of Corsica, there’s a distinctively slow pace that enraptures all who visit.

The regions of the Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Corsica (and French overseas dept Réunion) make up 77 of the 156 most beautiful villages of France. 

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Languedoc-Roussillon

Reaching from the Cevennes down to the Mediterranean coast, Languedoc-Roussillon encompasses some of southern France’s most famous resorts, as well as the unspoilt territory of the Gorges du Tarn. It’s a region that appeals to sunseekers and history enthusiasts alike, an eclectic blend of lively urbanised locations and dramatic panoramas.

Points of interest: Carcassonne | Montpellier | Perpignan | Nîmes | Narbonne | Uzès | Saint-Gilles | Béziers | Villefranche-de-Conflent Sète | Céret | Arles-sur-Tech | Saint Martin-du-Canigou

Capital: Montpellier

Climate: dry and warm for most of the year, mild winters and very hot summers. Rainfall is rare.


Aiguèze, Gard

Aiguèze is a small village with a big pull. Perched high above the Ardèche river, it boasts sensational panoramic views of the Ardèche gorges and surrounding countryside. Its ruined fortress, labyrinthine of paved alleyways and impressive Renaissance entrance to the church draw visitors from far and wide.

Castelnou, Pyrénées-Orientales

Castelnou, just 20km southwest of Perpignan and close to neighbouring Spain, lies in the rolling hills of the eastern Pyrénées. Shadowed by a castle which sits proudly above the village, it is home to a Spanish-influenced church with a baroque bell tower and ornate door shrouded in iron scrolls. The castle dates from the 10th century but was largely destroyed in the 16th century. It was renovated in the 20th century only to be destroyed by a fire although in recent years it has been restored and is now open to the public.

Eus, Pyrénées-Orientales

Originally part of Spain, Eus has a distinct Spanish influence and many of its street names remain Spanish as a reminder of its past. Laid out on a gently sloping hillside in the Pyrenean foothills, it is said that the village basks in more sun than any other village in France.

    

▲ Évol, Pyrénées-Orientales

Birthplace of novelist Ludovic Massé and home to a reading room dedicated to him and his works, Гvol is an authentic Pyrenean village. Its buildings are constructed using the local schist stone and have thackstone roofs.

La Garde-Guérin, Lozère

Set in an exceptional location in the Cévennes near to the impressive Chassezac Gorges, the fortified village of La Garde-Guérin offers a remarkable aspect of the surrounding landscape and is often compared to views found in remote villages in the Scottish Highlands. Formerly a strategic military site, it was attacked several times but has retained its watchtower and original houses.

La-Roque-sur-Cèze, Gard

At first site this small medieval (and entirely pedestrianised) village appears very old, and indeed the castle and bridge dates from the 12th century, however many of the buildings including the church were actually built in the late 1800s. Its location on a steep hill above the Céze river in the north of the Gard department enjoys extensive views across surrounding vineyards and waterfalls in the valley below.

Lagrasse, Aude

With views of vineyards and hills, typical of the CorbiПres wine-growing region, Lagrasse sits on the banks of the Orbieu looking across to the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary of Orbieu, founded in the 8th century. Sites include the remains of its ancient ramparts and its abbey with imposing bell tower, 14th century covered market hall and Historic Monument-listed Gothic church. 

 ▲ Minerve, Hérault

Perched on a rocky peninsula in the heart of the barren Languedoc landscape, this medieval village looks down over the River Cesse before it’s waters disappears underground into the extensive cave network below. In the early 13th century a group of Cathars took refuge in the village. A six week siege took place and after a catapult bombardment destroyed the only water source, the village surrendered and the Cathars were subsequently burned at the stake.

Montclus, Gard

A village of mainly seasonal residences and definitely not geared towards the tourist trade, Montclus is peaceful and surrounded by vineyards. There are many caves around the village, some found to have artefacts from the prehistoric age. Le Murier, the village’s only eatery is open during the summer months and offers a low-cost lunch menu.

Mosset, Pyrénées-Orientales

Mosset is a beautiful village set in outstanding surroundings. The commune in its entirety is the largest in the area covering over 7,000 hectares. Its exceptional fauna and flora biodiversity has earned it a classification under the European “Habitat-Natura 2000” directive and is one of the 25 major cultural sites of the Pyrénées-Orientales sitting within the Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees.

Olargues, Hérault

About 40km northwest of Béziers in a meander of the River Jaur, within the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc, lies Olargues. Its old stone houses with pretty shutters of all colours perfectly compliment its natural surroundings. Several bridges span the adjacent river including Pont du Diable, or devil’s bridge as it is known by locals. It is said that it is the site of altercations between the devil and residents.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Hérault

Saint-Guilhem is set deep in the Gellone valley alongside the Hérault and surrounded by the rugged slopes of the Hérault Gorges towering high above the village. The abbey was founded early in the 9th century and as a result it became an important stopping point on religious pilgrim routes.

▲ Sainte-Enimie, Lozère

Nestled in the heart of the exceptional Tarn Gorges, this stunning village is an ideal starting point for kayaking or hiking down the Tarn to the hermitage caves - where Sainte-Enimie lived towards the end of her life. The Burle spring is said to have miraculous properties and local folklore claims the waters cured the Merovingian Princess Enimie in the 6th century. The village hosts the medieval comic strip festival in July with workshops, exhibitions and other activities.

Villefranche-de-Conflent, Pyrénées-Orientales

If its UNSECO classification isn’t enough of a draw, Villefranche’s unique layout and architecture will surely lure you in. At the time of its establishment in the late 11th century as a strategic defence site it lay on the Franco-Spanish border. Its fortifications were built during this time and laid untouched for over 600 years until Vauban, a military engineer, strengthened and adapted them in the 17th century. The pink marble seen throughout the village is famous in the area and, in the right light, gives off a beautiful fuchsia glow.


Midi-Pyrénées

The Pyrénées comprises the Midi-Pyrénées, at the centre of which is Toulouse, and the Pyrénées Orientales, which belongs to the southern Languedoc and borders Andorra and Spain. Together they form a stunning area of France, with pretty towns and swathes of sunflower fields and vineyards, which steadily rise to become the mountainous landscape of the Pyrenees themselves.

Points of interest: Albi Cathedral | Lourdes | Rocamadour | Millau Viaduct | Padirac Cave | Church of the Jacobins, Toulouse | Canal du Midi | Gorges du Tarn

Capital: Toulouse

Climate: hot and muggy during summer but pleasant and warm for most of the year. Receives the most sunshine in France.


Autoire, Lot

Nestled in a limestone plateau between Figeac and Gramat with the dramatic cliffs of the Causse as a backdrop is the village of Autoire which, despite being small, has a rich history. Its central square is punctuated with a beautiful fountain and bedecked with flowers. Several castles and a manor house still stand in the village including Château de Limargue. Each year in late July the village plays host to the ‘Embrasement des Falaises’, a big firework display which lights up the surrounding cliff faces.

Auvillar, Tarn-et-Garonne

Sitting raised above the River Garonne and consequently having impressive far-reaching views across the extensive countryside, Auvillar is among the prettiest villages in the Tarn. Its heightened position and access to the navigable Garonne made it an important site. Its perimeter is fortified and the original entrance to the village was via a drawbridge which was replaced with a clocktower in the 17th century.

▲ Belcastel, Aveyron

At the start of the 20th century Belcastel was in ruin. Access to the village was difficult and many of its buildings including the château had fallen into disrepair. It wasn’t until 1974 that famous French architect Fernand Pouillon bought the château and proceeded to restore it by hand over the course of 8 years and with the help of many locals the village was also renovated to its former glory. Nowadays its cobbled streets and medieval bridge spanning the Aveyron river make it a mustvisit. Watercolour competitions and art exhibitions are held in the village each summer.

Brousse-le-Château, Aveyron

Resting at the confluence of the Tarn and Alrance, Brousse-le-Château is small but packed full of history. Its old Gothic bridge spanning the River Alrance, cobblestone streets, neat stone houses adorned with flowers, 15th century fortified church and hilltop castle ruins are just a handful of the sights on offer in the village. The local market takes place every Tuesday morning in July and August.

Bruniquel, Tarn-et-Garonne

Stone and wooden houses with half-timbering, turrets, mullioned windows and flower-decked streets make Bruniquel a delight to visit. It’s two imposing castles overlook the village, a stark reminder of its past as a former stronghold. The Payrol House, former residence of the governors of Bruniquel and glorious example of medieval civil architecture houses murals dating from the 13th century. It once relied on the hemp, linen and saffron trades.

Camon, Ariège

An explosion of roses in the late spring, “the village of 100 rosebushes” or Camon is nestled in a flex of the Hers river. Rose bushes were once planted as a sign of good health by winegrowers and the village celebrates this with the annual rose festival. The village is also known as “Little Carcassonne” because of its fortifications and central Benedictine abbey.

Capdenac-le-Haut, Lot

The village of Capdenac dominates the right bank of the Lot. An archaeological site of Neolithic importance, its history is rich. Many Historic Monuments are housed within the fortified walls of the village (including the walls themselves) including the dungeon and watchtowers - now containing the tourist office - and the fortified gates.

Cardaillac, Lot

Standing proudly on a rocky spur, the preserved medieval village of Cardaillac is set in leafy and green surroundings. If you can find your way through the maze of cobbled lanes then you should visit the fort for excellent views over the rooftops and out to the rolling hills. Historical events include an attack against the village in 1188 by Richard the Lionheart and an execution by the German division which subsequently went on to brutally massacre the residents of Oradour-sur-Glane in west-central France.

▲ Carennac, Lot

Carennac is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful villages along the Dordogne river. Elevated above the south bank, it is best known for its typical Quercy architecture, Romanesque priory and for its greengages. The Romanesque-style Saint-Pierre church features a remarkable carved tympanum depicting Christ holding the Book of Judgement with the apostles and angels below him.

Castelnau-de-Montmiral, Tarn

Wonderfully preserved and typical of the region, Castelnau was founded in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse. Its main square is largely surrounded by medieval houses with original arcades at ground level. The Church of Notre Dame of the Assumption houses a 15th century altar and a striking jewel encrusted cross adorned with 310 precious stones.

Conques, Aveyron

The small, largely depopulated village of Conques occupies a spectacular position on the flanks of the steep, wooded gorge of the Dourdou. The village was established alongside the founding of the abbey in about 800 AD. There are two main streets, rue Haute which was the route for pilgrims coming from Estaing and Le Puy and rue Charlemagne which leads steeply downhill to the river and Pont Romain.

Estaing, Aveyron

Set at the base of the Aubrac mountains and at the mouth of the Lot river gorges, the village of Estaing is on the route of the pilgrim trails to Santiago de Compostela. Take a stroll along the river bank and cross the 16th century, UNESCO-listed bridge in the centre of the village. About 1 in 3 visitors to this village are pilgrims and the Hospitalité Sant-Jacques will stamp your pilgrim passport for you.

Fourcés, Gers

Laid out in an unusual circular fashion, Fourcés is an idyllic village with a rounded central square surrounded by picturesque arcade houses and shaded by trees. It also has another smaller village square named Place des Cornières, clocktower and 15th century castle. On the last weekend of April, the village explodes into colour with the annual flower market.

▲ La Couvertoirade, Aveyron

Situated within the Regional Natural Park of Grands Causses in southern Aveyron this archaic village looks more like a film set. Standing tall above its paved side streets are a remarkable group of buildings from its feudal past - nearly perfectly preserved. The commune radiates out over 6000 hectares yet with a population of just 189 people its lanes are quiet.

Larressingle, Gers

Nicknamed the “Little Carcassonne of the Gers”, Larressingle wins the award for being the smallest fortified village in France. It is also one of the most visited destinations in the Gers. Located just 5km from Condom, it was once the home to the bishops of Condom and its defences are almost completely intact, giving the impression of a perfectly preserved medieval settlement. In the summer months many of the houses open as gift shops.

Lautrec, Tarn

Above the rooftops and church spire stands proud Moulin à vent de la Sallette, Lautrec’s very own windmill. Still in working condition and open to the public in high season, it was built in the 17th century on the side of an earlier 14th century mill. This spot high above the village boasts spectacular views across the Tarn landscape. The village is also renowned for the pink garlic (l’ail rose) that is produced in the surrounding area. They even have a festival celebrating it.

▲ Lauzerte, Tarn-et-Garonne

Nineteen years after founding Castelnau-de-Montmiral, the Count of Toulouse established Lauzerte in 1241. This small bastide town set atop a hill was once an important stop off for pilgrims in the Middle Ages and now lies on the GR65 national pathway. Its village square is stunning and is thought to be the best preserved bastide village centre in the region.

Lavardens, Gers

About 20km from Auch, Lavardens was historically a fortified village. It is now very much dominated by its 17th century castle which, along with its interesting 15th century church with unique spiral staircase and surrounding Gascony countryside make this village a pleasant stop over.

Loubressac, Lot

Loubressac is a magical village, rare in that it is able to evoke the feeling of a past era. Its old stone houses with terracotta roofs and small flowery gardens are punctuated with colourful hanging baskets. The village has been the proud recipient of both the ‘most beautiful flowering village of the Lot’ and ‘best flowering village of the Midi-Pyrenees’.

Monestiés, Tarn

Located just north of historic Albi, nestled rather attractively in a bend of the River Cérou lies Monestiés. The Saint-Jacques chapel, located to the east of the square as you approach the village, once welcomed pilgrims on their way to Compostela and houses some 20 polychromatic stone statues representing the last moments of the Passion of Christ.

Montréal-du-Gers, Gers

Established in the 13th century along with many other bastide villages in the area, Montréal-du-Gers features a central village square surrounded by stone houses with arcades below and side streets radiating out from the centre. Outside the village walls, a flight of steps lead down to the gently flowing River Auzoue and a fourther stroll will bring you to the ruins of the Church of Saint-Pierre-de-Genens which was razed in the religious wars during the Middle Ages.

Najac, Aveyron

Najac occupies an extraordinary site on a conical hill isolated in a wide meander of the Aveyron Valley. Its castle, perched on the peak of the hill, can be reached by following the main street past stone-tiled and halftimbered houses up the hillside. In the centre of the original medieval village, at the foot of the castle, stands the Church of Saint-Jean which the villagers of Najaf were forced by the Inquisition to build at their own expense in 1229 as punishment for converting to Catharism.

▲ Peyre, Aveyron

Although somewhat overshadowed by the massive Milau Viaduct which crosses the valley a little upstream, Peyre still retains its charm. Set against the steep Tarn valley cliffs its narrow streets lined with traditional stone houses make it a very attractive village. There are also several troglodyte houses built directly into the soft rock of the cliff. Don’t miss the troglodyte church: the Church of Saint Christophe dating back to the 11th century.

Puycelsi-Grésigne, Tarn

Sitting on a rocky plateau overlooking the Vère valley, Puycelsi is packed snugly behind 800m of ramparts. Its main access road rises steeply into the village before opening up into a larger space with narrow side streets spurring off and lined with 14th and 15th century stone and wood houses with terracotta roofs and painted shutters. Unlike most villages, Puycelsi has no central square.

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, Haute-Garonne

Once home to a 30,000-strong Roman colony in 72 BC, Saint-Bertrand’s population now stands at just 250. Lugdunum Convenarum as it was known as under Roman rule, its ancient foundations still remain and can be visited. Keen cycling fans may recognise the village as cyclists passed by it during the Tour de France 2012. Its impressive cathedral dominates the village and a blend of Roman and Middle Aged architecture makes it an interesting visit.

▲ Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Lot

Perhaps one of the most beautiful of ‘the most beautiful villages’ in the Lot, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is perched on the side of a rocky cliff, its houses staggered up the hillside above the south banks of the River Lot, appearing almost fairy-tale-like as you approach from the east. Visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the tourist droves and explore the quaint cobblestone lanes and half-timbered houses with flower-strewn balconies.

Saint-Côme-d’Olt, Aveyron

On the banks of the Lot and situated on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Saint-Côme-d’Olt is arranged in circles around the central church and market square with rings of houses emanating out from the centre. The Church of St-Cosmas boasts a Renaissance door and twisted bell tower.

Sainte-Eulalie-d’Olt, Aveyron

Although small, Sainte-Eulalie really packs a punch in terms of architectural, cultural and historical heritage. Its streets are awash with colour, old stone houses with floral façades perfectly maintained, an 11th century Romanesque church, 15th century castle, 16th century Renaissance mansion and several art studios including a museum

Sarrant, Gers

This very small medieval bastide village follows the same layout as Sainte-Eulalie with its houses circling a central church although it has lost most of its original fortifications and moat. The cluster of houses is crowned with the beautiful church spire which can be seen from all around. A small medieval garden lies within the village which was planted with old vegetable varieties and medicinal plants.

Sauveterre-de-Rouergue, Aveyron

Sauveterre is a royal 13th century bastide village tucked away in the far south of the Aveyron. It was a very prosperous little settlement until the 16th century with trades including handicrafts and blacksmiths. Its archaic square, encircled by beautiful timber-framed houses, hosts night markets every Friday evening during July and August. dedicated to local painter Marcel Boudou.


Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Provence conjures images of dazzling azure skies, ordered olive groves bathed in sunshine and stone cottages with painted shutters. Inland, it’s a place that promises to realise dreams of a relaxed lifestyle, while the glamorous coast draws the stylish and well-heeled in their dozens. The beaches of the CЩte d’Azur are nothing short of legendary, their sweeping sands sloping gently into the cool Mediterranean, where tanned figures sip Champagne on yachts.

Points of interest: Saint-Tropez | Monaco | Menton | Verdon Gorge | Avignon | Old Port of Marseille | The Provençal Colorado | MUCEM, Marseille | Luberon villages | Sénanque Abbey | Arles | Aix-en-Provence | Nice

Capital: Marseille

Climate: Mediterranean climate, hotter and drier on the coast, cooler and fresher in the mountains.


Ansouis, Vaucluse

A part fortified village topped with a listed castle, Ansouis has changed very little over the centuries. Its pretty 15th-17th century houses have been meticulously restored and the remains of the ancient walls, the belfry tower and pretty fountains make for a leisurely stroll.

Bargème, Var

Sitting on a rocky hill overlooking the valley below is the 12th century village of Bargème. It is the highest village in the Var: perched at a height of 1,097m its authentic and peaceful atmosphere is home to a Romanesque church and the ruins of the feudal castle.

▲ Coaraze, Alpes-Maritimes

Nicknamed ‘village of the sun’, Coaraze is perched on a rocky outcrop just half an hour from the bustling city of Nice. For a period of 4 years from 1744 to 1748, the village was under Spanish administration. Stroll through its winding cobbled streets, through arched covered passages and past houses painted in Italian pastels.

Gassin, Var

Sat atop a craggy promontory, the medieval Gassin looks out over St-Tropez bay and Maures forests. Occupied since the Neolithic period, it wasn’t until the development of nearby seaside resort towns and the construction of a railway that the village saw steady streams of tourists and was recognised for its provenНal beauty.

▲ Gordes, Vaucluse

Perhaps one of the most well known of all the Provence hilltop villages, Gordes rises up among the valleys of the Luberon and is topped with a Renaissance style castle which is a major tourist attraction. Every Tuesday morning, the village hosts its weekly market. Its stone-paved streets are lined with merchants selling their wares including food, clothing, Provençal dishes, decorations and handicrafts.

Gourdon, Alpes-Maritimes

Teetering on a rock edge with a remarkable panorama of the magnificent Med, the fortified village of Gourdon is famed locally for its glass art, perfumes and soaps, honey, nougat and gingerbread. Its elevated position has meant it has served as a stronghold many times in the past. Climb “Chemin du Paradis” for incredible views at the end.

La Grave, Haute-Alpes

Le Grave lies at the foot of the Col du Lautaret, facing the majestic glaciers of the north side of La Meije. Its volcanic stone houses with typical wooden features are painted against a breathtaking, mountainous backdrop. The village is known mainly as a ski resort among the more adventurous skiers although it has avoided becoming a tourist trap.

▲ Les Baux-de-Provence, Bouches du Rhône

The idyllic hilltop village of Les Baux-de-Provence is perched atop a ridge about 15km northeast of Arles. A simply gorgeous example of a Provençal citadel complete with 11th century castle ruins, a stunning château, 16th and 17th century churches, chapels, local produce stores, cafes and honey-coloured stone mansions lining its sun-kissed streets. Because of its dazzling setting and spectacular architectural, historical and cultural heritage it draws flocks of day-trippers so its best to visit in the late afternoon or evening.

Lourmarin, Vaucluse

Nestling amongst vineyards, olive groves and almond trees sits the lively village of Lourmarin. Late British writer Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) lived in Lourmarin as have many other writers who chose the village because of its unspoilt location. The road leading to its castle is lined with fountains, pretty provenНal houses and little gift shops.

Ménerbes, Vaucluse

A maze of cobbled alleyways and authentically rustic buildings, the hilltop Ménerbes is best known for its links with A Year in Provence writer Peter Mayle who recounted his tales of renovating a farmhouse just outside of the village. Picasso and Franco-Russian artist Nicolas de Staël both owned houses in the village. Be sure to visit the quirky corkscrew museum where more than 1000 different varieties of the essential tool are on display!

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

Dubbed ‘Étoile de Provence’, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie sits perched on the cliffside at what is the start of the Alps and end of Haute-Provence’s rolling pastures. It is known for its faience earthenware. The layout of the village looks rather like a nativity scene with a large gold star hanging above. Be sure to visit the magnificent, listed parish church with its Lombard bell tower and the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel which can be reached by climbing 262 steps carved out of the rock.

▲ Roussillon, Vaucluse

Situated within the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon on an ochre ridge, Roussillon really is a provençal artists’ palette. Its buildings all conform to a colour palette of rich reds, deep oranges and earthy pinks that blend in with its magnificent natural surroundings. The village sits in the heart of the world’s largest ochre deposit which was intensely mined in the 18th century for its pigments to be used in the textile industry. Irish writer Samuel Beckett went into hiding from the Germans in the village between 1942 and 1945. During that time he wrote his novel Watt.

Sainte-Angés, Alpes-Maritimes

Europe’s highest seaside village, Sainte-Angés sits high above the coast on a rocky outcrop some 780m above sea level with tremendous views over the Mediterranean. The village has managed to escape hosting too many tourists, largely down to its challenging access route. Its cobbled streets and vaulted passages lead to sights such as the castle ruins and WW2 concrete bunker with a substantial underground tunnel network.

Saint-Véran, Haute-Alpes

At 2042m above sea level, Saint-Véran is one of the highest vilages in Europe. It lies within the Queyras Regional Nature Park and enjoys a unique natural position. Its picturesque part stone, part timber chalets line the streets and you will discover rare wooden fountains, a listed church and an old fire engine.

Séguret, Vaucluse

Medieval Séguret clings to a hillside above undulating vineyards. Its streets are narrow, cobbled and lined with flowering vines. A good base for hikers and cyclists, and lovers of peaceful countryside, you can gently wander its alleyways and discover its past.

Seillans, Var

This medieval hilltop village perched between the southern Alps and the Esterel offers a variety of cultural and historical pursuits. Tourists are lured by its charming buildings and scenery combined with its sunny and warm climate. Every August the village hosts the International Musique-Cordiale festival celebrating classical, choral and jazz music. The village appealed to Max Ernst who moved there in the early 1970s.

Tourtour, Var

Tourtour is a beautiful amber-stoned village stretching out across a promontory with stunning panoramic views across the Massif des Maures, Sainte-Baume and Sainte-Victorire and Mont Ventoux in the distance. A stroll through its cobbled lanes will reveal is medieval history.

▲ Venasque, Vaucluse

At the foot of Mont Ventoux, teetering on a rocky spur, rests Venasque. Its twisting streets and archaic buildings are weathered by centuries of harsh winds. To trace back its long history, visit the three main buildings: the walls, the Notre-Dame church and the 11th century baptistery.


Rhône-Alpes

From the isolated mountains of the Vercors to the high plateaux of the ArdПche, the Rhône-Alpes is an ever changing landscape that never fails to amaze. Home to the sloping vineyards of Beaujolais and the Rhône Valley, and to the stunning white peaks of the Haute-Savoie, it has plenty to recommend it to keen walkers and cyclists.

Its most famous attraction is of course Mont Blanc, which towers over the resort town of Chamonix and draws visitors to the area in all seasons. A trip up the Aiguille du Midi is worth the daunting cable car ascent: the 360 degree views of the Alps are utterly breathtaking.

Points of interest: Mont Blanc | Lake Annecy | Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière | Pont d’Arc | Bastille, Grenoble | Aven d’Orgnac | Palais de l’Isle | Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon | Musée des Confluences | Château d’Annecy | Miniature and Theater Museum | Courchevel

Capital: Lyon

Climate: variable, mix of continental and Mediterranean. Summers are hot and can be humid, winters are cold and snowy. Above average rainfall.


▲ Balazuc, Ardèche

Situated high above the River Ardéche with views of the rugged Ardèche gorges, Balazuc is a characterful village with a rich past. Wander through its fascinating labyrinth of streets interspersed with arched passages, arcades and stairways and discover the castle and Romanesque church of St Magdalen, which is a venue for concerts and exhibitions of paintings in summer.

Bonneval-sur-Arc, Savoie

A typical Savoyard village and the highest in the Maurienne region, Bonneval-sur-Arc boasts authentic slate-roofed stone chalets in a remarkable location within the Vanoise National Park. During ski season the village is transformed into a ski resort with impressive snow-capped mountains as a backdrop.

La-Garde-Adhémar, Drôme

La Garde-AdhОmar, a small town of just over 1000 inhabitants with a rich historical heritage, draws tourists along its narrow cobbled alleyways, to soak up a past that is still very much present. With breathtaking views over the RhЩne Valley and a timeless village square filled with cafés, restaurants, art galleries and craft stores, it’s no wonder this village has made it to the list.

Le Poët-Lavel, Drôme

Laying snug amongst lavender fields is the 12th century hilltop village of Le Poët-Lavel which came into being when the order of the Hospitaller de Saint John de Jérusalem decided to establish a commandery here. The “Raymond du Puy” International Art Centre, built entirely from materials recovered from the area, treats locals and visitors alike to annual concerts and exhibitions during the summer.

▲ Mirmande, Drôme

Set among trees, orchards and open meadows is the ramparted village of Mirmande. Not only is this pretty village a member of ‘the most beautiful villages in France’, it has also won awards for its ‘most beautiful roofs in France’ and is a member of the ‘botanic villages of the Drôme’. Awash with colour from its many gardens and with far-reaching views across the valley, its no surprise that many artists take their inspiration from the village.

Montbrun-les-Bains, Drôme

Known for its spa which is said to have respiratory, rheumatology and general health bettering qualities and thermal waters which have been recognised since Roman times, Montbrun is a popular tourist spot. Unlike other villages in the area, its buildings are tall, supported by buttresses built into the rock and terraced. Yet, despite their height, they are still dominated by the ruined towers of the imposing Renaissance castle that sits high up on the hill.

Oingt, Rhône

Typical of the Beaujolais region are the golden-stone houses that line the streets of Oingt. The village boasts spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding hills and vineyards. Once a very prosperous village, it was ravaged by plague and damaged by war from the 16th century onwards although a regeneration program was started in the mid 20th century which saw many dilapidated buildings tastefully restored.

▲ Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye, Isère

Home to an abbey founded in the late 1200s by the Order of St Anthony to house the relics of St Anthony of Egypt, Saint-Antoniel’Abbaye is a charming village with some impressive architectural sights. Past its half-timbered houses stands a medieval market hall and the Saint-Antonie Church, a Historic Monument with magnificent carved entrance.

Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, Haute-Savoie

Lying on the confluence of two branches of the River Giffre (the Giffre-Haut and Giffre-Bas), Sixt-Fer-à-Chevel is a wonderfully unspoilt year round ski resort known for its rich cultural heritage and unique architecture. The village falls within the protected Natural Reserve of Sixt-Passy which is home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna as well as breathtaking scenic spectacles.

Vogüé, Ardèche

Having retained much of its medieval architectural heritage and with an excellent geological location, Vogüé has earned not only its membership of ‘the most beautiful villages in France’ but also among the top 5 ‘Village preferé des Français’ (‘favourite villages of France’). Its medieval castle is open to the public despite still being privately owned by a local family. The village is also home to one of the narrowest streets in France, Rue des Puces.

▲ Yvoire, Haute-Savoie

Occupying a picture-postcard setting on the edge of Lake Geneva, is the absurdly pretty village of Yvoire whose cobbled lanes are lined with artisan shops and chunky stone houses adorned with flowers. The village won its first floral award in 1959 and has regularly won since. It also represented France at the Europe in Bloom completion and won the Landscapers and Horticulturalists trophy.


Corsica

For an island of relatively small size, Corsica offers a remarkable amount: sunkissed beaches, spectacular mountains, historic monuments, quiet hillside villages and busy port towns. Alongside these are typically Mediterranean buildings, trendy cafés and bars, and a generous sprinkling of palm trees.

Points of interest: Maison Bonaparte | Scandola Nature Reserve | Cavallo | Bonifacio | Gorges of Restonica

Capital: Ajaccio

Climate: mild temperatures all year round


Piana, Corse-du-Sud

Overlooking the Gulf of Porto on the west side of the island lies the town of Piana. It owes its reputation to the UNESCO-listed calanches of pink granite which seem to plunge towards the sea. The heart of the village is arranged in an amphitheater-style layout with its rustic houses radiating out from the centre.

▲ Sant’Antonino, Haute-Corse

Sant’Antonino is amongst the oldest villages in France dating from the early 9th century. Its strategic location means it has a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape and the coast. In recent years its authentic Corsican houses have been sympathetically restored. A handful of shops are located in the village as well as welcoming terraces and, a little way from the centre, the Church of Annunciation which houses four paintings: “The Deposition of the Cross with Four Donors”, “The Escape in Egypt”, “The Souls of Purgatory” and “The Virgin with the Rosary with St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena”.


Réunion

Réunion Island, a French department in the Indian Ocean, is known for its volcanic, rainforested interior, coral reefs and beaches.

Points of interest: Le Piton de La Fournaise Mafate | Voile de la MariОe | Saint-Paul Market | Saint-Denis | Ermitage beach | Eden Garden

Capital: Saint-Denis

Climate: tropical climate softened by winds from the Indian Ocean. Seasons are opposite to those in France and although temperature fluctuates through the seasons, the sun shines all year round.


Hell-Bourg, Commune de Salazie

Once a famous spa resort that attracted a rather well-heeled crowd, it now attracts visitors from across the globe to admire its attractive Creolean architecture and enjoy its stunning tropical surroundings. Against the backdrop of mountains and forests, its enchanting centre is filled with old Creole mansions and a colourful local cemetery.


We've produced a comprehensive digital guide to France's 156 most beautiful villages. Click below to explore.

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