We love traveling anywhere and everywhere in France. It’s probably one our favorite countries to travel in Europe. We’re enamored by it all, from the biggest, most beautiful cities to the smallest, underrated and unknown towns and villages.
Usually we plan a week’s stay in each region or area, because we’ve learned that finding that perfect local brasserie or artisanal boulangerie can take some time. We don’t want to find it then leave; we want to enjoy it, savor it.
We’ve learned a lot traversing this amazing country, so we want to share some of our favorite places with you. We just know, you’ll come, you’ll explore, and you’ll soon be addicted to all of it, just as we are.
A couple times a year, we have to pack up the car and take a road trip through the countryside of France looking for more charming villages to visit. We love the local markets and patisseries where everyone stocks up on their daily baguettes. We love the castles, the vineyards, the canals, the many world heritage sites. We just can’t get enough.
Who could resist a tiny white-washed stone cottage in the midst of the Loire Valley, waking up to a steaming bowl of café au lait to dip your crusty baguette or a warm croissant right out of the oven?
One of our favorite pastimes is planning our road trip day to include a long, leisurely, distinctly French lunch. We order the “menu” or “formule,” which is usually two or three courses to include your appetizer, main, and a dessert from two choices and is reasonably priced somewhere around 25 Euros. Then we always ask the server to recommend us his or her favorite local wine.
After eating, really taking our time and enjoying the ambience for a couple of hours, we hop back in the car and find the vineyard that produced the wine that we just tried at lunch, so we can take home a case or two. In this way, we have discovered some amazing places that are not so well known.
Without further ado…
Our List of the Most Beautiful Cities and Villages in France
We know that what we think is beautiful, idyllic, quaint is a personal choice. Much of it comes from your own experience at the time you visited. Was the weather nice? Did you enjoy your accommodations? Was the food good? We feel that if you give an area a little time, you will be able to weather out those rainy days, the one not so great meal, or whatever is thrown your way. So, peruse this list with the idea that, except for the first city, Paris, which everyone goes to and it can be expensive to stay too long, you will want to take your time and enjoy the simple pleasures of French life.
You can’t even think about France without thinking about Paris, the capital and largest city, the pearl of Europe. We’ve been there too many times to count. When the girls were still living at home, especially as teenagers, they wanted to go to Paris as many times as I would take them.
Paris was a mere four hours away by car, and I had to stop asking them what they wanted to do on the weekend, because it never changed. We went so many times, though, that at least we went looking for quirky Paris, things that were not so on the regular tourist path and often much more interesting. Then as they got older, we looked for more foodie things to do, like finding great street food and we taking a baking lesson.
I love Paris, but there’s more to France than just Paris, and in proving this to the girls we learned just how stunning this country is.
One of the many beautiful villages along the 170 kilometers Alsace Wine Route, and it just happens to be the place that Jim and I stay as often as we can. We love its colorful half-timbered houses, its cobbled streets, old time guild signs, and the many flower boxes bursting with vibrant blooms from spring to fall.
With its stone houses and bridges, beautiful river running through it and plenty of green space and views overlooking the valley, is a gem in the northern province of Brittany. We only spent one day here when we were visiting Mont St. Michel, and it’s on the way to Cape Frehel, do it’s in a really great spot for exploring all of Northern France.
We discovered this tiny gem completely by accident. We were looking for a week’s vacation rental and found one here. It was such a fantastically central location for visiting the coast, the Canal du Midi, and of course lots of vineyards.
One of the prettiest walled cities I’ve ever visited, Carcassonne is a world heritage site. Cobblestone streets winding around to the center, there is something to discover on every corner, from a great little chocolatier to an intimate restaurant with just a few tables. We’re not sure how it happened, but even though it was the height of summer, there were few people around.
Another surprise, this small city is located along the Loire river. We stumbled into their weekly market and loaded up on some fresh produce, homemade pasta, and fresh fish. It made a tasty dinner and great memory. We loved this area so much, and if you are interested, check out these 7 things to do in the Loire Valley.
This was our newest find. We were down in Menton over the winter, but it was still pretty warm. In fact, we only had to wear our coats one day. It’s a hilly town, but climbing to the top for the cathedral and the views was well worth it. We enjoyed its annual Lemon Festival replete with all kinds of lemon foods to taste.
As you can tell, this is a winter town. Surrounded by the French Alps, Chamonix is the skiing capital of France. We couldn’t wait to try the snow on Mont Blanc, and between swooshing down the slopes, gorging on fondue and wine in the evening, I’ve got to tell you…it’s a fantastic place!
This city on the northern coast really took us by surprise. It rained most of the time we were there, and yet we wouldn’t hesitate to go back. The walled old town is as addictive as we have found many other French cities, and being on the coast the seafood was amazing. Who can resist fresh mussels and scallops along with a glass of white wine? I know I can’t.
We didn’t even plan on stopping here, but just driving by on the highway it beckons you in with the view above. There is no way to resist a beautiful city rich in history and home to amazing wines?
Again on the Alsace wine route, we have been to this small town more times than I can count. We love going during the Fiddler’s Fest in early September, but more than that we just love to eat at one of its many Alsatian restaurants and walk along its Disney-esque streets.
France is a wonderful destination. Enjoy these quaint, friendly and charming villages that you can find in every nook and cranny of France. I highly recommend that the next time you contemplate a trip to France, you do more than Paris. I love Paris. Everybody loves Paris, but there is so much more to this amazing country.
Now you can venture to the the sun-soaked villages of the south as well as the windswept towns of the very north. There is a reason that so many famous artists from Van Gogh to Monet lived in this country full of farms, medieval towns, fortified villages, and landscapes that simply ooze charm, so why not check it our for yourself?
Have you found any spectacular French cities or towns? Please tell us about them in the comment section.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.