Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the Most Beautiful Villages in France) is an association set up to protect and promote the heritage of the most beautiful villages in France. The association, which began in 1982, now includes 156 French villages spread over 14 regions and 69 departments.
The ambition of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is 'to reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred year old lime and plane trees.'
The criteria to qualify as one of France's Most Beautiful Villages
Whilst many villages strive to be included as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, the selection criteria is quite stringent. Being one of the prettiest villages in France is not enough to qualify. Villages must not exceed a population of 2000 inhabitants and they must have at least two protected sites or monuments in the area.
The excellent Les Plus Beaux Villages de France website lists all 'member' villages and provides a guide to must-sees and must-dos in the area, along with photos that will make you wish you were already there.
A few years ago I purchased a great book called Beautiful Village Drives, which offers suggested scenic itineraries in eight regions of France. With detailed driving information, village profiles and restaurant recommendations, I have used the book to plan a few of my visits to France's most beautiful villages.
Even without this book, it is easy to include one or more of the beautiful villages in your holiday itinerary. They are well sign-posted and local tourist offices can provide information. Keep in mind, though, that some facilities (including tourist offices and restaurants) may not be open in the off-season.
It's still possible to visit the most beautiful villages during the cooler months - you'll probably be the only one wandering the medieval streets - but you may be wise to bring your own lunch.
Whether you plan to stay in one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France or not, it's certainly worth making the effort to visit at least one of these pretty villages if you are travelling nearby. These villages really capture the charm of rural France that you probably thought no longer existed.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Some of the most beautiful villages of France I have visited
On my travels through France over recent years I've managed to visit a number of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The Plus Beaux villages I've visited are listed below with links to separate posts I’ve written about each village.
One of my favourite villages in France is Yvoire, It’s located on the French side of Lake Geneva in the Auvergne-Rhone Alpes region. Nicknamed the ‘French flower village’, Yvoire’s attractions include a castle, ramparts, a fortified gate and a lovely harbour. (Haute-Savoie department.)
The Grand Est region of France boasts numerous members of the Plus Beaux Villages association. I love Riquewihr, (in the Haut-Rhin department) with its brightly painted half-timbered buildings, narrow streets and the pretty clock tower. It could quite rightly be awarded the title of the most picturesque village in France.
Nearby Hunawihr is another stunning village surrounded by lush green vineyards. Home to a fortified church and cemetery, 16th century houses and a stork and otter re-introduction centre, the village is well worth a visit
In Occitanie (formerly Languedoc Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees), there are plenty of gorgeous French villages to visit including Minerve, (department of Herault), once the scene of a deadly crusade and now a quiet hamlet in a popular wine growing area.
Home to a magnificent Abbey, Lagrasse, (Aude department) sits on the banks of the River Orbieu, its narrow streets leading you towards the central market square which dates back to the 14th century.
Possibly one of the cleanest villages I’ve visited, Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert's streets are lined with stone houses whose windowsills are a burst of colourful blooms. The main square features a 150-year-old plane tree and nearby is the imposing Gellone Abbey.
Photos of its medieval tower and arched bridge over the River Jaur are what prompted me to visit the village of Olargues, also in Herault. Others are attracted to the village as it is a great base for enjoying outdoor activities.
Another Herault village included in the ‘most beautiful’ list is Roquebrun. It sits on the banks of the River Orb which is crossed by a beautiful stone bridge. The river is lined with old mills and on a hill overlooking the town is the only remnant of the village’s castle, a stone tower.
Roquebrun’s Mediterranean Garden is the village’s main attraction.
Provence boasts many of the most charming villages in France, amongst them Menerbes, Gordes, Lourmarin and Roussillon. Each of these villages, which are tourist magnets, are unique and have their own special appeal.
Menerbes rose to fame when English author Peter Mayle wrote about his year as an ex-pat living in the picturesque Provencal village, whilst the location of Gordes, perched on a rocky outcrop in the Luberon department, is what draws many crowds.
The ochre colours of Roussillon's buildings - sourced from the village's ochre quarry - add to the beauty of this hilltop village.
Lourmarin, whilst not a hilltop village, has cobbled streets lined with lovely stone buildings and, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places in France.
When it comes to the best small villages in France with a view, Peyre, in the Aveyron department, comes up trumps. Situated on a rocky hillside beside the Tarn River, the medieval village was given a new outlook in 2004 when the Millau Viaduct was built across the river.
The contrast between the ancient stone buildings of the village (many of which are Troglodytes) and the sparkling steel of the bridge, make an interesting, and not unpleasant sight.
Not far from Peyre, are the lovely medieval hilltop villages of Puycelsi (Tarn) and Bruniquel (Tarn-et-Garonne). These walled villages still retain the feel of yesteryear and are lovingly maintained.
At the heart of Puycelsi, the parish church surprises with a stunning interior, whilst the ruins of Bruniquel’s two castles make an interesting visit - as well as providing great views over the surrounding countryside.
Further to the west of Occitanie in the Pyrénées-Orientales department, Eus and Villefranche-de-Conflent lie just a few kilometres apart.
Built on a steep hillside on the slopes of the Pyrenean foothills, Eus is home to the ruins of a medieval chateau and ancient cobbled streets which are joined by vaulted passageways.
At Villefranche-de-Conflent, pastel-coloured stone houses line the medieval streets in the centre of the village whilst thick fortified walls surround the village. These ramparts were built in the 11th century to protect the residents during a conflict between the French and the Spanish.
Which of the Most Beautiful Villages of France will you visit?
Ready to visit one (or more) of France’s most beautiful villages? Why not stay the night and enjoy the peace and tranquility of these villages after the day trippers have left? Click here to check accommodation prices. You might also like to read my recommended accommodations in France.
Many of the French villages listed above can only be reached by car. Click here to get a quote for your car hire .
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