Imagine the perfect trip to France, and you probably picture the chic streets of Paris, the glittering beaches of the Cote d’Azur, and the fertile vineyards of Burgundy and Champagne. But your vacation wouldn’t be complete without following the lure of small French villages, where cats wander down quiet cobblestone alleys and patisserie windows beckon with tempting displays of macarons and fruit tarts.
Secret French Villages You Probably Don’t Know About
With tourists and motor coaches crowding their medieval streets, some French villages are in danger of being loved to death. These 10 villages aren’t completely off the tourist map, but they remain unspoiled by mass tourism, and offer visitors a glimpse of everyday life in the French countryside.
L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, Provence
Pastel-painted shops and colorful flowerboxes line the canals that course their way through “the Venice of Provence.” The sun-splashed French village of L’Isle Sur la Sorgue is best known for its antiques, and hosts two annual antique fairs (at Easter and in August). If you’re not up for the crowds, visit other times of year and browse the hundreds of antique stores and art galleries scattered around town.
Where to Stay: After a recent renovation, the centuries-old Grand Hotel Henri has reopened to guests with its trademark elegant rooms and warm staff.
Just a couple of hours southeast of Paris, one of the most charming French villages sits on the Serein River. Noyers is surrounded by well-preserved medieval ramparts that protect its cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Visit the small folk museum, or hike to the atmospheric ruins of Chateau de Noyers-sur-Serein for aerial views of the village.
Where to Stay: The pet-friendly Le Gratin Mondain oozes with rustic charm. Breakfast and dinner are available on site.
A 13th-century citadel looms over the seafront town of Calvi, located on the northwestern coast of the island of Corsica. Stroll along the seafront promenade or relax on the long white beach fringed with pine forest. Locals claim that Christopher Columbus was born here, and visitors can still see the ruins of the house where he supposedly lived. For Calvi’s best views, hike up to the hilltop church of Notre Dame de la Serra.
Where to Stay: The centrally located Casa Bianca offers easy access to Calvi’s historic core and the beach. Rooms are modern, clean, and air-conditioned.
Wandering amid the half-timbered houses of this picture-perfect French village will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Beuvron-en-Auge is located along Normandy’s 25-mile Cider Route, which means you can sample delicious apple ciders and brandies in restaurants all over town—with a side of local Camembert or Livarot cheese, of course.
Where to Stay: Le Pave d’Hotes offers five individually decorated rooms, each with satellite TV and minibar. Breakfast is included and served outside in the garden on warm, sunny mornings.
“In the whole of France there is no sky as blue as the one above Collioure,” said the artist Henri Matisse, who once lived in this Catalan-influenced fishing village just 15 miles from the Spanish border. It’s easy to see why Collioure appeals to artists, with its brightly painted shops and cafes overlooking the turquoise waters of the harbor. There’s even a well-maintained castle worth visiting.
Where to Stay: Hotel Madeloc offers moderately priced accommodations within walking distance of the village center. Spring for a balcony room to enjoy a view of the surrounding hills.
Unspoiled Yvoire has a spectacular location right on Lake Geneva, and it’s one of the best French villages for strolling, thanks to its flower-bedecked cobblestone lanes and the manicured paths of Jardin des Cinq Sens. Because most visitors arrive on day trips from nearby Geneva, Switzerland, consider spending the night so you can appreciate the quiet evening and early-morning hours on the lake.
Where to Stay: Villa Cecile is the perfect place to relax and indulge, with its two seasonal outdoor swimming pools and small on-site spa.
You may as well keep your phone or camera out at all times in Dinan, because there are Insta-worthy scenes around every corner. Geranium blooms spill out of flowerboxes, sailboats bob on the River Rance, and blue and red shutters offer bright pops of color against medieval stone walls. The main drag, called Rue du Jerzual, feels right out of the Middle Ages.
Where to Stay: Just outside the city walls is the Hotel de la Porte Saint-Malo, which offers simple yet comfortable rooms. Public spaces include a garden and a common room with a fireplace.
Espelette, Basque Country
Espelette is a different local flavor than other French villages—literally. It’s best known for the Espelette pepper, and you’ll see the long, narrow chiles hanging out to dry all over town, their skins a vibrant red against the whitewashed walls. Also worth seeing are the town’s traditional Basque church and a 16th-century castle that now houses the tourist office and educational exhibitions.
Where to Stay: Hotel Euzkadi overlooks the main square and offers comfortable rooms and a large swimming pool. Sample Basque specialties at the excellent on-site restaurant.
Oingt is one of the “golden stone villages” of the Beaujolais wine region, named for the warm honey color its medieval limestone buildings turn to in the setting sun. While there are a few interesting sights in Oingt, including the Church of Saint-Mathieu and a tower that affords visitors sweeping vistas over the surrounding wine country, the greatest pleasure of visiting this French village is simply wandering its quiet cobblestone streets.
Where to Stay: Stay within biking distance of Oingt at Chateau de Bagnols, an 11th-century fortress that’s been converted into a Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel. Choose a room decorated in either modern or medieval style, and enjoy garden, courtyard, or vineyard views.
About an hour and a half northwest of Paris is the sleepy French village of Gerberoy, nicknamed “the town of roses.” Visit during the warmer months to wander through the Henri Le Sedaner Gardens, named after a French painter who once took inspiration from the town’s quiet lanes and centuries-old houses. The annual rose festival in June celebrates Gerberoy’s most famous blooms.
Where to Stay: Located just six miles from Gerberoy is Le Moulin des Forges, a B&B set in a restored watermill.
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Sarah Schlichter never met a medieval village she didn’t like. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.