10 charming French villages to discover
After you’ve settled in your new European digs, it’s time to start planning your adventures. It’s easy to think of the glitz and glamour of Paris, or the historical monuments dotting Utah and Omaha beaches in the Normandy region. While these must-visit places should definitely be on your list, why not check out one of these smaller villages along the way?
Located among the rolling hills of Alsatian vineyards, the winemaking history of Eguisheim dates back to the Roman Empire. Romans settling along the French-German border planted the first vines in the 4th century. Follow the cobblestoned streets as they wind their way past half-timbered buildings and to the castle in the middle of town. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, take a trek past the grapes to Les Trois Chateaux. Now in ruins, the three castles were once home to French royalty.
According to folklore, this tiny village is named after an Irishman (Ronan) who saved a young local girl from suffocating to death. Perched along the northwest coast of France, Locronan was once known for making sails for the French navy. With sturdy granite homes and cobblestone, colorful shutters make the dormer windows stand out. If you feel like you’re walking through a movie set, you are! Many Hollywood feature films have been shot on location here. For gorgeous views of the Bay of Douarnenez, hike to the summit of Montagne de Locronan.
This postcard-picture worthy village can actually attribute some of it tradition to a wealthy French-born American. After purchasing a crumbling chateau, the American encouraged local residents to adorn their windows with planter boxes full of vibrant geraniums. The village is a mixture of Renaissance and half-timbered houses. Be sure to take note of the quirky and colorful signs in and above shop windows. From late spring to early fall, street lamps softly illuminate the town from dusk until midnight.
Reminiscent of the Southwest, Roussillon is located in the south of France. Situated inside a national park (Parc Naturel du Luberon), the village derives its fame and colors from the vast deposit of ochre minerals. With varying shades of reds, oranges and yellows, the rich hues of the ochre-façade buildings give a stunning contrast against the lush green pine trees and vibrant blue sky. Visit the ancient sundials found throughout the town, or visit Sentier des Ocres — a national park with sheer cliffs and fine reddish-orange sand.
Located at the northern end of Lac Annecy, this alpine village is known as both the Pearl of the French Alps. With two canals lazily winding their way through town, it’s also often referred to as the Venice of the Alps. The crystal clear waters of the lake are popular in the summer with water sport enthusiasts. Be sure to visit the Palais de l’Isle at the confluence of the canals. This well-preserved building has served as a prison, treasury mint and residence to French nobility.
Nestled 1,400 feet above the Mediterranean, Èze is a quiet alternative to its bustling neighbor, Cannes. With sweeping views of the Cote d’Azur, explore the narrow, cobblestoned alleyways and stone buildings and homes draped with bright bougainvillea. Take a journey through tropical foliage at the Jardin Exotique d’Èze, or step back in time as you wander through the ruins of a 12-century castle in the village center.
Located very near Eguisheim, this beautiful medieval village is distinctly French with German flair. Famous for award-winning Riesling wines, Riquewhir boasts stunning half-timbered buildings and original architecture spanning more than seven centuries. Take a bike ride through the heart of the lush Alsatian vineyards, or sip a glass of wine at a café in the shadow of the impressive 25-meters-tall Dolder Tower.
The Normandy region is perhaps most famous for the D-Day invasion along its coastline during World War II. While these beaches are well-worth visiting, consider travelling a little further north to the sleepy maritime village of Étretat. Stunning, sheer white chalk cliffs and arches dot the coast, inspiring many artists — including Claude Monet. Remnants of the war can be seen in the abandoned bunkers hidden in the hillsides. Stroll through the Marché Couvert for souvenirs, or visit the beautifully reconstructed Church of Notré Dame.
You’ll have to ditch the car in order to explore this wonderfully preserved village — personal vehicles aren’t permitted. Located in south-central France, Conques may look a little familiar. Belle’s fictional town in the recently released “Beauty and the Beast” drew inspiration from Conques. Hike up the hill to the Sainte Foy Abbey for an impressive panorama of the town and rolling hills. Grab a baguette at a local boulangerie, relax along the babbling Dourdou River, and marvel at the Roman bridge that spans the waterway.
Perched along the banks of France’s smallest river, Veules-les-Roses seems as though it belongs in a storybook. With charming thatch-roofed half-timbered homes with rows of blooming roses and irises, it’s no wonder the village was a favorite of Victor Hugo. Known for harvesting watercress and Veulaise oysters, be sure to visit the restored water mills in this picturesque town. The remains of the cargo ship “Cérons,” which ran aground June 12, 1940 during an evacuation of 300 British soldiers, can be seen along the coastline during low tide.
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