When it comes to France, most people only think about the sparkling Eiffel Tower in Paris or the beautiful coastline in the French riviera, but France has a lot more to offer. Fairytale looking medieval villages, hilltop views, majestic castles, vineyards, lavender fields, pastel colored buildings along the coastline – these are just a few of the many reasons why you need to spend at least a few days in the French countryside.
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities and looking for an authentic French experience, you are in the right place! From the fairytale looking Alsace to the dreamy Provence and the stunning French Riviera, here are the most beautiful villages and small towns in France you absolutely can’t miss.
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Most beautiful small towns in France
Are you looking for the best towns to visit in France? Don’t worry, I got you covered! In this article you will find all the most beautiful small towns in France together with a bunch of useful recommendations about the best things to do in each location, how much time to spend there and lots of other insider tips.
On the below map you can see all the places mentioned in this article with their retrospective number. The numbers don’t reflect any ranking order, they are just simply there to make it easier for you to find all the prettiest towns in France on the map. You can also save this map to your Google Maps app on your phone if you click on the bracket in the upper right corner.
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Located the northern edge of the Verdon Regional Nature Park, the cute little town of Valensole is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful small towns in France. Valensole is built on the side of a hill, overlooking a small river valley so the beautiful views are guaranteed.
The medieval village boosts many beautifully restored colorful houses with pretty shutters and you can find several chapels, fountains and gardens in Valensole as well. There is no shortage of restaurants, cafes and shops either, where you can find many crafts and traditional products, especially ones made from lavender.
Although the town of Valensole is really pretty in itself, what makes it even more special is the Plateau of Valensole located around the town, which is famous for its lavender and truffles. This is the biggest area in France devoted to growing lavender so if you’re dreaming of visiting the lavender fields in Provence, Valensole is the perfect base for discovering the area.
The lavender season generally lasts from mid-June to mid-July so this is definitely the best time to visit Valensole if you want to see blooming lavenders. Apart from lavender fields, you can also find many other fields like sunflower, sage or hay. The whole area is absolutely beautiful, so it’s worth spending at least 3-4 days there to be able to explore all the beauty Provence has to offer.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN VALENSOLE
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Situated in Luberon, near the foothills of Monts de Vaucluse, the small town of Roussillon looks like a real life fairytale village with its pastel colored houses and dreamy cobble stoned streets. No wonder it’s listed in the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – a collection of the most beautiful villages in France covering 14 regions and 70 departments in the country.
The town features many beautiful buildings and lively squares so you can easily spend a full day in Roussillon wandering through its charming streets and enjoying the small town vibes. You can find several amazing cafes and restaurants in Roussillon featuring delicious local delicacies – don’t forget to try the lavender ice cream which is the specialty of the Provence region!
Roussillon is situated in the biggest ochre deposits in the world, therefore it’s famous for its beautiful red cliffs and ochre quarries. Following the Ochre Trail – a path leading through the ochre lands – is one of the best things to do in Roussillon and if you’re keen on learning more about how the ochre is processed, you can visit the Ochre Conservatory.
There are many organized day trips from Avignon that includes a short visit to Roussillon but if you have your own car, you can easily reach Roussillon from Marseille and Nice as well. Since the town is really popular among tourists, it’s best to go early in the morning otherwise finding a parking spot will be very difficult.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN ROUSSILLON
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One of the most iconic villages in Provence, Gordes has lured visitors for centuries with its bucolic position, charming character and rebellious history. Today it’s a quiet place to visit, but its allure still stands true.
Nestled into the heart of the Luberon valley – an area of immense natural and manmade beauty – it’s very close to other well-known villages such as Roussillon and Menerbes. But Gordes is perhaps the most photographed village as it is perfectly perched on the edge of a hill, its houses cascading down the side and a prominent church and château sitting at the helm. It’s easy to see why Gordes is one of the most beautiful small towns in France!
Visit on a Tuesday morning to take advantage of the weekly market which is held in the main square. Meander through the pretty cobblestone streets and take in the views of the valley below, pop into the handful of boutiques selling handmade figurines and locally-made cosmetics, and pause in one of the cafes for a leisurely lunch or dinner with a view.
Nearby, you’ll find the famed Abbey de Senanque which is surrounded by lavender fields in summer, and the not-so-well-known Village des Bories which is a fascinating look at the area’s history. You could visit Gordes in a day, or use it as a luxurious base to explore the Luberon.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN GORDES
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Menton is the cutest town located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, close to the border with Italy. Menton is one of the most beautiful towns in France as it has an ideal location, a lovely architecture, and a wonderful climate. It’s so gifted that it’s often called as “the Pearl of France”!
First of all, the town has a few beautiful beaches that you can access very easily. Secondly, the buildings in the Old Town of Menton are really picturesque, they are all painted with ochre colors and have cute louvered shutters. Last but not least, the climate in Menton is exceptional with warm temperatures, a lot of sun and very little wind. If you’re looking for the best winter sun destinations in Europe, it can be amazing choice!
Here are the best things you can do in Menton. You can start by wandering in the medieval Old Town, where you will be able to admire all the pretty colorful houses. Take a look at the beautiful Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel on your way! If you love photography, you will find countless beautiful Instagram spots in Menton, especially in the Old Town.
Enjoying the beach is also a must when in Menton. Additionally, the town is full of pretty gardens with many interesting plants, such as Villa Maria Serena or Fontana Rosa garden. Lastly you can have a look at the Bastion, a fortress built in the 17th century which is now a museum. It has been decorated by Jean Cocteau, a famous French artist.
Menton can easily be visited as a day trip from Nice but if you want to properly discover the town, it’s best to spend at least 2 days there. If you want to enjoy the exceptional climate and the beach you can stay even longer and you can also make Menton your base for discovering some of the most beautiful cities in France along the French Riviera like Marseille, Cannes or Nice.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN MENTON
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Walking through Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is like walking back through time. The narrow cobblestone streets, the many passageways and the friendly shops lead up a hill to a fortress overlooking Menton and Monaco on either side. An often-overlooked town that lies between a principality and one of the Riviera’s up and coming towns, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin offers any visitor respite from the tourists down below.
The views from the 10th century fortress are worth the steep climb up to the town. Looking through crumbling rock steeped in history, travelers see the yachts that line the Monaco harbor. From way up above, they will see the water shimmering a beautiful blue in contrast with the orange tops of the houses in town.
A day trip will suffice to explore Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Visitors can marvel at the beauty down below while having a picnic. Le Vieux-Village (Old Town) Roquebrune is home to many restaurants and Le Comptoir de l’Aumônerie near the main square has a large selection of meats, French cheeses and other take-out foods to go.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN ROQUEBRUNE-CAP-MARTIN
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Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the stunning Mediterranean coast, the picturesque medieval village of Eze is undoubtedly one of the prettiest villages in France. Eze is situated along the French Riviera and since it’s very close to Nice, it’s possible to visit Eze as a day trip from Nice.
Eze is also a popular cruise destination on the Mediterranean coast. However, if people are coming via cruise, it does involve a strenuous uphill hike to reach Eze Village. Alternatively, if you are using public transport, there are bus services from Nice that stop directly at Eze Village.
Explore the 1000 year old medieval hilltop village, passing through the honeycomb coloured buildings, houses and souvenir shop. One of the most famous attraction in Eze is Jardin Botanique d’Eze, a three tier botanical garden that hosts cactus, succulents and exotic plants overlooking the turquoise waters of Mediterranean. Path to the botanic garden is steep and up hill, but at the end you are rewarded with sweeping views.
If you fancy, you can also visit Fragonard Perfume factory that is located a short walking distance from the entrance of the gardens. Alternatively, you can hike down on the Nietzsche Path that connects Eze-Sur-Mer beach to Eze Village via a 5 km (3.1 miles) steep hiking route.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN EZE
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a charming commune on the French Riviera, just on the outskirts of Nice. It’s a popular escape for Nice dwellers, since the town provides more peace and quiet and a lot nicer beaches than Nice does. If you’re looking for the best small towns in France, you definitely need to put Villefranche-sur-Mer on your list!
The lovely town is made up of a labyrinth of small winding streets all leading down towards the seaside promenade and Villefranche’s main pebble beach. In the town you should definitely spend some time tasting local gastronomy and strolling around. Baroque Saint Michael’s Church can be found in the heart of the Old Town. Don’t miss a nearby Saint Peter’s Chapel with a uniquely painted façade.
Villefranche Citadel is located right above the bay and is just a short stroll away. It houses the Town Hall and several museums and the area provides wonderful views of the Villefranche Bay. Since the Bay is especially deep by nature, large cruise ships can often be found anchored there.
It’s easy to visit Villefranche on a day trip from Nice – at least half a day is recommended. You can choose any means of transportation, including train (7 mins). You can even walk if you like, that would take an hour. Most Nice locals simply hop on a scooter (20 mins), especially on weekends!
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-MER
8. Saint Paul de Vence
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Saint Paul de Vence is a charming, walled medieval village perched on top of a hill, looking out to the Mediterranean sea. Aside from being perfectly picturesque, it’s most famous for the artists who flocked there in the past, including Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.
Today it remains a place where artists congregate, and the higgledy-piggledy streets are lined with creative galleries. It’s also home to the well renowned art museum, Fondation Maeght. St Paul de Vence is a perfect place to spend some time browsing the galleries, enjoying the views and tracing the footsteps of history’s greats.
Things to do in St Paul de Vence include visiting the cemetery where Chagall is buried, enjoying the artwork in the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs and going to the Musee Renoir where Renoir used to live. A visit to the Fondation Maeght is highly recommend and includes a beautiful walk through pine forests from the village.
La Colombe D’Or is the village’s most famous and fancy restaurant, but another good option is La Tilleul. If you’re looking for the best places to stay in Saint Paul de Vence, check out Hotel La Grande Bastide which has sweeping views of the village.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SAINT PAUL DE VENCE
Grasse is a gorgeous small town in France, just inland from the French Riviera. Famous for being the home of French parfumeries, Grasse is recognised worldwide for being the capital of perfume. In addition, Grasse has a beautiful old town with lots of windy cobble stoned laneways to wander through and explore.
To get to Grasse on a day trip from the French Riviera using the central city of Nice as a starting point, it will take around 45 minutes to drive. By train or bus, the same trip will take just over an hour.
When in Grasse, it would be madness not to take in a few parfumeries. Molinard, Fragonard and Galimard are all big names in the French perfume industry and they all have stores here to explore. The International Perfume Museum is another great spot to learn all about the town’s rich history in creating fragrances.
Another brilliant spot in Grasse is to take in the exceptional views from the Grasse Cathedral. This historic 13th century church is a great display of Romanesque architecture, easily accessible in the old town.
Far and away, though, the best thing to do in Grasse is to wander the streets of the old town and explore. The magic of the quaint, medieval streets holds many surprises from providores to parfumeries which are absolutely worth taking the time to discover.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN GRASSE
Carcassonne is a fortified town in the Southern region of France, famous for its citadel, dating back to the Gallo-Roman period. It is a stunning example of medieval architecture, complete with double walls, a drawbridge, and 53 watch towers.
The location of the town on a hilltop at the center of several ancient trade routes established Carcassonne as an important strategic stronghold, which gave it a storied history of successive rulers that has led it to become the incredible UNESCO World Heritage site that it is today.
Even if you are not a history buff, Carcassonne has much to offer. Within the fortress are several bars, restaurants, and other establishments where you can enjoy a refreshment while admiring the citadel around you. You might feel like you’ve stepped into another time period altogether, but you can still do some shopping while you’re at it.
The Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus is one of the main attractions of the town, and is a seamless blend of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Construction began on the church in the 800s, but was not completed for around 600 years, which explains the shift in architectural style. Its rose window dates back to 1280.
Although the town itself is fairly small, it’s still one of the most beautiful towns in France and visiting Carcassonne will definitely be a unique and memorable experience. A few days is enough to explore the fortress and soak in the medieval atmosphere.
To make the most of your trip, time your visit to catch a concert at the Theatre Jean Deschamps. This music venue is on the site of the former cathedral cloister, and is an epic place to take in a show within the fortress. It has hosted many of the biggest names in music on its intimate amphitheater stage, and is unlike any other venue in the world.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN CARCASSONE
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Issigeac in the Dordogne region of South-West France is a beautiful medieval village that’s been standing since the 13th century. It’s located just 20 minutes from the town and airport of Bergerac and a little more off the beaten track than some of the more popular villages in France.
The highlight of Issigeac is its Sunday market which attracts locals and tourists from all over Dordogne. You’ll find artisan stallholders selling the best of the region – beautiful fresh chèvre goats cheese, the sweet local Monbazillac wine, cakes, pastries, and oils made from local walnuts and beautiful pottery. It does get very busy during the summer months so it’s worth arriving early (around 9am) if you want the pick the best of the products and escape the crowds.
A wander through Issigeac is like taking a step back in time with wonderfully preserved old buildings and distinctive half-timbered houses. The landmark Bishop’s Castle is a stunning building dating back to the 16th century, with close connections to the papal palace in Avignon at the time. Next door is the gorgeous church of Saint Félicien with lovely stained glass windows and a peaceful air. If you’re visiting during Saturday afternoon in the summer you may be lucky enough to spot a wedding taking place.
You can explore Issigeac in a couple of hours but since it’s one of the best small towns in France, it’s worth staying a few days to soak up the atmosphere of the town. There are a number of great cafes and restaurants within the town, but for a special meal a visit to La Brucelière restaurant to dine on the terrace and enjoy the best of local produce is a must.
Located in the Charente region of South West France, Cognac is a quintessential French town. Wandering around cobbled streets, admiring charming architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries and exploring the beautiful gardens are just a few of the many amazing things to do in Cognac.
Known for its production of Cognac – a type of brandy – you can’t visit Cognac without embarking on a tour of one of the distilleries. Home to Hennessey, Rémy Martin and many more, you’ll have a chance to learn all about the distillery process and take part in some Cognac tasting.
If the distilleries aren’t to your taste, take a stroll along the banks of the River Charente. Or, to explore the river a little further, hire a canoe and go paddling down the Charente. Stop for a meal and a refreshing glass of wine at one of the riverside restaurants. You’ll be spoilt for choice with restaurants in Cognac, all serving delicious local food.
Cognac makes a perfect stop along a French road trip. A couple of nights in this charming French town are enough to see what’s on offer. For a little more relaxation, stay in a villa or château nearby for a longer stay. If you’re a music lover then you will love the Cognac Blues Passions Festival, which takes place every July. With a great line-up, wonderful atmosphere, and brilliant jazz music, it’s the perfect way to spend a few summer days in Cognac.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COGNAC
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Located in the Dordogne department, Beynac is one of the most beautiful small towns in France. It’s so beautiful that it even made it to the list of Plus Beaux Villages de France! The town towers over the river and the views and accessibility make it one of the best towns to visit France.
Wander through the medieval streets and browse through the souvenir shops. Visit the castle perched on top of the mountain, towering over the town. Next to the castle is a path which has a perfect view over the river Dordogne and surroundings.
Take a ride on a Gabarre de Beynac, a freight ship from the 18th and 19th centuries, on which you can make a tour on the river. From the river the views are fantastic on the town of Beynac. The last thing to do in Beynac is going kayaking on the river Dordogne, it’s a great activity with perfect views. Visiting Beynac is definitely one of the top things to do in the Dordogne with kids.
If you plan to do all the thing there is in Beynac, including the Gabarre ride and kayaking, then plan a whole day. If you only want to do the things inside the town walls, take half a day for it. The restaurants inside the medieval town mostly cater to tourists so instead of eating there, it’s better to have lunch at restaurant Hostellerie Maleville on the river.
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The beautiful town of Amboise in the Loire Valley of France is a perfect place to stay in order to see the area. Although it is close to many of the most popular chateaux in the Loire Valley, Amboise is a destination in its own right. It has a lovely setting on the banks of the Loire River and the old buildings, gorgeous gardens, and quiet cobblestoned streets make Amboise one of the most beautiful towns in France.
However Amboise is more than just pretty. It also has its own chateau, Chateau D’Amboise, situated above the town with gorgeous views over the river and valley. There is a small chapel on the grounds of the castle which holds the burial site of Leonardo da Vinci. Chateau D’Amboise is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful castles in Europe and it’s a must visit in the Loire Valley.
While in Amboise you can also visit Clos de Luce, a gorgeous manor home where da Vinci spent his final years. Even in his old age he was still working and creating and at Clos de Luce you can see some of his creations brought to life.
Amboise is known for wonderful food. Restaurant L’ilot is one of the best restaurants in Amboise, it provides a unique experience where you can watch the chef at work in the middle of the restaurant while you dine. If you decide to spend the night in Amboise you will find a multitude of wonderful manor homes to choose from which have been converted to small, but luxurious hotels.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN AMBOISE
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Provins is a cute medieval small town in France, located 90 km (56 miles) southeast of Paris. Provins is quite small so it’s easy to visit as a day trip from Paris. Direct trains leave hourly from Paris Gare de l’Est to Provins and it takes less than 1.5 hours to reach Provins. It is also possible to visit Provins as a day trip from Disneyland Paris, with many direct bus connections between Disneyland Paris and Provins.
In medieval times, Provins was a fair town under the protection of the Counts of Champagne. It was dedicated mostly to the trade of tissues and thanks to its central location in Europe and the Counts’ protection it became very rich to the point that it had its own coin. Still today Provins celebrates a themed medieval market in June, and all the inhabitants and merchants are dressed up in medieval costumes.
Provins managed to keep a big part of its medieval heritage, like the walls and some defensive towers. In the Old Town, there’s an imposing keep named Cesar Tower that it is worth a visit. Other interesting things to see in Provins are its medieval squares, medieval architecture with half-timbered houses, and a few museums dedicated to some aspects of life in medieval Provins.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN PROVINS
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There are many beautiful towns in the Alsace region of France and Ribeauville has to be one of the very best. With the fairy tale buildings that the area is known for and one of the worlds most famous cuisines, Ribeauville is definitely one of the best towns to visit in France.
As you walk up the main street, the castle on the hill (Chateau Saint Ulrich) looks down on you and on a warm, sunny day it looks majestic in the surrounding forests. The main street is gorgeous in itself. From cute little souvenir shops to food stores you can find something that will give you a gorgeous memory of your trip to Ribeauville. The windows in the houses above the shops are decorated, especially at Christmas time.
On Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings you will find a fresh produce market in the town square that sells some of the tastiest fresh produce from the area. It is brilliant to purchase some of this food and take home to cook. If you are unable to cook it you can eat it on the spot or as you wander the town.
While you may only need a few hours to wander the streets of Ribeauville, you can make this gorgeous town the base for your trip to the Alsace. From here you can visit many of the vineyards the area is famous for or you can take a day trip to places like Strasbourg or Colmar where you can find one of the best Christmas markets in Europe during the holidays. And don’t forget to look up to see the stork’s nests sitting precariously on top of the chimneys in some places!
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN RIBEAUVILLE
Located on the southernmost tip of the French island of Corsica, Bonifacio commands an impressive position. Bonifacio is made up of two very distinct parts. The lower, more modern marina of Bonifacio is packed with yachts and is perfect for people watching at the many bars and restaurants which line the waterfront.
Contrastingly, looking down on this modern glamour is the older part of Bonifacio, a medieval citadel perched on a rocky cliff with outstanding views of the Mediterranean Sea and the lovely Lavezzi Isles. There are boat trips to the islands – they offer beautiful unspoilt beaches.
The medieval part of Bonifacio is reached via a steep pathway (or a little tourist train if you’re arriving in the heat of summer). The warren of narrow streets are filled nowadays with shops and restaurants but it’s not difficult to imagine how this little settlement must have been hundreds of years ago: stone churches are squeezed between fancy eateries and narrow passageways give glimpses of the sea where enemy ships would have been spied in days gone by.
Bonifacio is an essential day trip for anyone visiting southern Corsica. Come out of season for a more authentic experience when the streets will be quieter but the views no less dramatic.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN BONIFACIO
France has some of the most beautiful villages and towns in Europe so if your itinerary allows, it’s worth spending a few days in the French countryside as well. I hope you liked this post about the best small towns in France and you will be able to visit a few on your next trip to France!
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Do you know some other cute towns in France that I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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