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The collection of the most beautiful villages in France – Les Plus Beaux Villages en France – today stands at 157, covering 14 regions and 70 departments in France. These villages are exceptionally attractive, yes, but they also have to prove themselves on numerous criteria such as heritage and protected monuments, population size, urban quality and more.
In 1981, Charles Ceyrac, mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, inspired by the The Most Beautiful Villages of France feature on Reader’s Digest, set out to create an association that would protect and promote the heritage of communities and villages across France. Only a year later he was successful in setting up the association, contacting the mayors of the villages in the Reader’s Digest article to be involved.
By focusing effort and funds on rejuvenating these villages – making them attractive places for locals to live and to stay rather than moving their home elsewhere – Les Plus Beaux Villages en France has gone from strength to strength and is well considered by the tourism industry and locals alike.
Roussillon simply shimmers. It is the most golden village in Les Plus Beaux Villages en France and one not to be missed if you are looking at the South of France or Provence as your next destination. Its red colouring comes from the ochre in the earth around Roussillon, creating the most magnificent red cliffs and facades that emulate the heat of the climate.
2. Saint Suliac
South of Saint Malo in Brittany is the picturesque fishing port of Saint Suliac. The granite cottages with blue windows are quintessential features of the region, while the 12th-century church is a very attractive spot to take a detour.
In the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France is Lagrasse. The Abbey of Sainte-Marie is the focal point of the village, really, and this impressive building has been part of the landscape since 799. At the time, it was one of the region’s most important abbeys. The houses and cobbled streets look like something out of a fairy tale.
4. Les Baux-de-Provence
Perched on a rocky plateau, Les Baux-de-Provence boasts stunning views out over the The Alpilles. The impressive fortified chateau is a must-see and if you can, try to visit during the low season as it gets incredibly busy during the summer months and school holidays.
During the Middle Ages, Barfleur was the first port of the Anglo-Norman Kingdom. The strong links to England can be seen in its granite houses and church architecture. Today, it is still a fishing port and one that is used recreationally. If you like moules frites, now is the time to indulge; Barfleur still has some natural mussel banks, which are harvested by boats.
For the most incredible views across the landscape approaching the Mediterranean Sea, Gourdon is one massive tick. Make sure to give time to the Château de Gourdon – originally the property of the Counts of Provence until the 13th century – whose small formal gardens are particularly attractive.
According to the association, Saint-Véran is the highest inhabited municipality in Europe at an altitude of 2042 metres. Located in the breathtaking Queyras Regional Nature Park that edges the Italian border. Don’t miss the panorama from Notre-Dame-de-Clausis chapel.
You can see how villages like Rochefort-en-terre, just 35km east of Vannes, have inspired fairy tales and mythical stories throughout the ages. Half-timbered homes meet Renaissance mansions on the main street (pictured below), and tucking into a crepe in this setting has never tasted better.
Often called the ‘pearl of Lake Geneva’, the village of Yvoire is an absolute delight. The sailing and fishing boats bob around in the pretty harbour with the view of the lake behind. Wooden jetties, wooden balconies and flowers galore, Yvoire is a real slice of tranquil heaven.
Villages don’t get much prettier, do they? The Ardèche region in France is known for its dramatic landscape and so it’s unsurprising that villages like Balazuc exist. One of the best views of the village, which cascades down the valley, is taken on the opposite side of it. Though once within the medieval streets, the vaulted passages frame the view nicely, too.