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From the lavender fields of Provence to the crystal blue water of the French Riviera, the French countryside has always been famous for its charming scenery. Each region is known for its unique traditions and heritage, filled with rich culture and historical significance. Here are the most charming villages for your French countryside escape.
This fortified medieval city is located just over an hour’s drive southwest of Avignon, amid marshlands, in one of the most captivating spots of Provence, the Camargue. Famous for its 13th-century city walls, gates, and towers, the main tourist attraction for visitors here is the chance to walk around the ramparts and explore the Constance Tower, which was used as a prison for protestants in the 17th century. Then head to the Church of Notre Dame des Sablons, the oldest monument in the town. It dates back to the 13th century and has beautiful stained-glass windows. If you’re planning to shop, market days in Aigues-Mortes are Wednesday and Sunday. There’s also a Sea aquarium at nearby Le Grau-de-Roi where you can see sharks and tropical fish. Dine at Le Saint-Amour, a warm and welcoming restaurant offering set menus and local specialties. Vegetarian options are also available. You can see the chef at work, preparing and cooking local products through the open kitchen.
Located in the Lot department in Southwestern France, this honey-colored hamlet is known as the Pearl of the Lot Valley. It boasts half-timbered houses, renaissance mansions with brown tiles, and Gothic buildings with corbelled facades. You can catch the reflection of the village in the Lot River which runs below it. Ideal for a stroll, the quaint flower-filled narrow streets of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie are lined with craft workshops and art galleries. The cobblestoned village is home to a mere 200 inhabitants and is empty during the winter months. There are also several restaurants in the village center, so allow plenty of time for lunch. Check out the Rignault Museum, a carefully restored village house, and guardhouse that also has a beautiful garden and breathtaking views along the river valley. Visit the Eglise Saint-Cirq-et-Sainte-Juliette, which was once a Roman church, but then underwent a full revamp in the 16th century and is now a Languedoc-Gothic masterpiece. Don’t forget to take a river cruise down the Lot Valley where you pass by the seven marvels of the Lot Valley including the Chemin de Halage, the ancient trading port of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, and the English castle at Bouziès carved into the rock façade.
Viviers is a small commune located in the southern-central part of the Ardeche department, a few kilometers south of Montelimar. Start your visit around the Cathedral of Saint-Vincent, which is the center of the old town. Dating from the 12th century to the 18th century the cathedral’s famous features include its bell tower and campanile, and the tapestries inside around the stalls. Don’t miss the old Episcopal palace, this prestigious monument has an Italian-style living room with beautiful paintings. Make sure to also explore the bishop’s reception room covered with murals, then go to the canonical quarter. This religious district overlooks the Rhône on one side, and on the other, dominates the secular city. If you have a thing for bridges, you must check out the ancient stone bridge (the Pont Romain) across the Escoutay River. The bridge has 11 arches and dates from the second or third century.
This quaint town is located just seven miles from France’s northeastern border with Belgium. Sitting atop a mountain hill, it offers breathtaking views of the Flanders plains below. Enjoy Flemish specialties such as mussels and beef stew. Then go to the multi-award winning garden known as the Jardins du Mont des Récollets. This garden is quite famous in France and was voted the favorite garden of the French in 2011. Enjoy a drink on the terrace of the Grand Place square then get lost in the details of a Flemish painting at the Musée de Flandre, which is full of both ancient and contemporary Flemish art. If you’re up for a hike, go to the Rampe Alpine, a footpath that goes from the Square to the top of the hill.
Known for its vineyards, this medieval village has beautiful half-timbered houses that look straight out of a fairytale. The picturesque town is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in the French countryside and is only a 15-minute drive away from Colmar, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. Walk up the Grand Rue in Eguisheim where you can admire the colorful houses by strolling through the cobbled streets. Take a bike ride in the vineyards and try the local wine during your visit — the wines of Alsace are very highly regarded. If you’re in search of good Alsatian food, the Auberge des Trois Châteaux is the place to go (try the excellent Baeckeoffe.)
6. Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is the perfect day trip from Paris as it’s just a 45-minute train ride away to the Unesco World Heritage Site region famous for its striking landscape and richness of monuments. If you’re looking to be pampered, go to Les Sources de Cheverny (pictured above), a low-key, eco-friendly retreat and spa surrounded by vines and forests in the historic French château countryside. Located between two châteaux, Chambord and Chenonceau, Les Sources also has a spa which is located in an 18th-century castle, where you’ll find Caudalie products and treatments using grapeseed extracts. There’s also an outdoor jacuzzi in the middle of the forest. Take an electric bike to explore the region’s grand Château de Cheverny, the Wood Chalet and Tintin exhibition.
A little over two hours by train from Paris, Beaune is in the center of Burgundy, the capital of wine-making in France. This postcard-perfect city is surrounded by vineyards, filled with cellars and stockists, and even has its own wine bookshop. Visit the world-renowned annual wine auction in the Hospices de Beaune, which happens during the third week of November. Around half of the city’s ancient ramparts are still standing, hence exploring them is quite an adventure. Notre-Dame de Beaune is one of the finest examples of a Romanesque cathedral in the French countryside. It’s close to the old hospital and not far from the Maison des Colombiers in the heart of town. Then head to Musée du Vin de Bourgogne, Beaune’s wine museum.
Another town in the Loire Valley that’s worth visiting is the medieval town Chinon, which sits along the Vienne River. The town got its fame through royalty as it became a favorite resort of French kings in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Chinon’s Roman roots can be traced back to the town’s royal fortress, the hilltop Château de Chinon, which presides over the western Loire Valley town. Go to Château du Petit Thouars which is known for its 17th Century wines. The winery is still run by the same aristocratic family that inhabited the château in 1634, growing Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grapes on vines that were replanted in 1975.
This 13th-century photogenic hilltop village in the Tarn department in Southern France is known for artists and writers gravitating there (Albert Camus was a regular.) It’s also famous for the Gothic residences built between 1280 and 1350 in the French countryside. Explore Cordes, a large and well-preserved bastide with narrow streets. If you are a fan of local art then you’re in the right place — during the 1940s Cordes was discovered by a group of artists, a tradition which continues even today with around 50 artists living and working here. You can find every type of potter, artist, or glassmaker crowded into this little town, and most visitors return home with a picture, painting, or sculpture to take home as a souvenir.
This picture-perfect town is located on Lake Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France where the glacial waters flow through the town that’s built on canals. Take a walk along the lake’s shore where you can see the crystal clear, lagoon-like water. If you keep walking on the lake shore you will find a beach as well and you can see many people water-skiing, wakeboarding and wake surfing. Go to the old town where you’ll find tons of water-side restaurants and delicious bakeries — Annecy is famous for its eateries and will delight any gourmet.
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