When it comes to traveling to France most people choose Paris as their destination and fail to see the real French beauty. Some might take an epic trip and see the chateaux in the Loire Valley, but there’s much more to France. From Provence and its lavender fields and cobbler stone villages to colorful Colmar, here are the real authentic small towns in France everyone should have on their list.
13 French villages not to miss
Keyserberg – by Derek and Mike from Robe Trotting
The Alsace region of France is a beautiful area with so much to offer any visitor. Alsatian culture is a blend of German and French influences. It shines through in the cuisine, architecture and of course, the history of the region.
One gorgeous small town in the French Alsace is Keyserberg. It’s in the heart of the Alsatian wine country and the most charming and provincial destination in France.
It’s lined with brightly colored timber-framed houses and has a quaint stream running through the center with several millhouses. It’s easy to reach Keyserberg from Colmar as a day trip.
There’s a lot to take in when you visit this charming village and some of the best are the food and drink. It’s wonderful to walk the streets and visit a bakery for a tasty croissant or pretzel. Don’t forget to order a cafe au lait and do some people watching at a sidewalk cafe.
Kayserberg is also home to plenty of wine purveyors. You can find wine houses offering tastings and generous samples all over Keyserberg.
Visitors should also visit the World War II memorial in Keyserberg. It’s a somber reminder of the difficult history of the region. Keyserberg is a part of France that has violently changed hands between France and Germany multiple times.
During the Second World War it was part of Germany and many of the locals, who still identified as French, were forced to fight for Germany against their own countrymen.
Strasbourg – by Nassie at Snippets of Paris
If you are traveling along the French-German border, you have to make a stop in Strasbourg. These days it is part of France, but at several times in its history, it was invaded by German forces who made it their own. Even their local language Alsatian is a dialect of German.
But what attracts tourists to Strasbourg is its beautiful timber-framed buildings and old-world style. Despite two world wars the city has managed to restore and retain its original architecture, with the historic center classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city is home to the oldest gothic cathedral in the world, the Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Other charming sites are the Petit France neighborhoods which were the historic heart of the city, the Grande Ile, and Place Kleber.
But there is a modern side to Strasbourg as well. Today it is one of the capitals of Europe, along with Brussels and Luxembourg. The city is the seat of the European Parliament (which you can visit) and other European institutions.
With superb high-speed train links, the city is less than 2 hours from either Paris or Frankfurt. So plan a trip to Strasbourg and try some of their famous Tarte Flambé (also known as Flammkuchen in Germany) and wash it down with some Alsacian beer. You won’t regret it!
Bonnieux – by Claire at Epic Road Rides
Bonnieux is a small hilltop village in the Luberon region of France. It’s an absolutely gorgeous, honey-colored place that dates back to Roman times and gazes down on the fields and valleys that surround it, covered in vines, lavender the fruit trees.
The village is a maze of ancient, twisty streets, cool squares, little boutique shops, and delicious restaurants – it’s a delight to explore. Make sure you come with your walking legs as 86 stone steps take you to the Vieille Eglise and the old cedar trees at the top of the village. From there you get fantastic views of the Vaucluse hills and the villages of Gordes and Roussillon.
Alternatively, if you prefer to explore on wheels rather than on foot, cycling is a fantastic way to get around the region. There’s a shop in the village that will even hire you an electric bike if you need some battery assistance for the hills.
By bike, you can get over to the nearby hilltop villages of Lacoste (5km), Goult (8km) and Lourmarin (11km), each of which is also beautiful and make great destination points, especially if you arrive on market days.
If you’re with children, there’s also a superb bike path along the bottom of the Calavon Valley, which takes you to the beautiful, well-known Pont Julian Roman bridge.
We hardly ever re-visit destinations, but Bonnieux is one of those places that has a special place for us and we’ve been back three times already! Go, you’ll love it.
Annecy – by Arzo at Arzo Travels
Annecy is probably one of the most beautiful towns in France – this picture-perfect town is a must-see.
Why Annecy is so great? Well, there are many reasons: colorful medieval houses, with the many canals, the clean, alpine air, and the proximity to a gorgeous, pristine lake.
While Annecy is probably always a great idea visiting in the summer months is probably the best time to see all the colorful buildings, along with all the colorful flowers in flower pots which you can find all over Annecy.
There is a reason why Annecy is known as the Venice of the Alps – strolling the old town with the narrow, cobble-stoned streets and crossing the many small bridges is one of the best things to do. Stop at the Palais de L´Isle – one of the main attractions before visiting Château d’Annecy.
But also make sure to spend some time at Lake Annecy. This clear lake is one of the cleanest in Europe – and as it is set against the Alps the scenery is just stunning.
Enjoy some water sports, do a boat tour or just chill at the lake. Annecy might be small but is full of charm and offers a different kind of activities – so it is the perfect town to visit for all ages.
Colmar – by Bridget at The Flashpacker
Colmar is the jewel of the Alsace region of France. Considered to be one of France’s most beautiful towns, it’s reputed that Colmar was the inspiration for Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A true fairy-tale town.
Colmar’s old town is a harmonious ensemble of half-timbered buildings, dating back to the 17thand 18th Century, clustered around cobbled streets.
However, it is La Petite Venise (Little Venice) that is Colmar’s star of the show, with its candy-hued buildings reflected in the canals that lace through this area. For a different perspective of Little Venice, take a 30-minute boat ride along its canals.
Colmar’s 14th Century covered market ((Marché Couvert) is delightful. Awash with opportunities to buy enticing food items, including cheeses and jars of mustard, it’s also a great place to stop for lunch.
Art aficionados will not be disappointed. Martin Schongauer’s Madonna of the Rose Bush(1473), displayed in Colmar’s airy Dominican Church, is considered to be a masterpiece.
However, one of the very best reasons to visit Colmar is its food and wine. Alsace food, a blend of German and French cuisine, is sublime. Don’t leave Colmar without trying a Tarte Flambée, so-called “Alsace Pizza”. Even better when washed down with local Riesling or Pinot Noir!
Menton – by Emma at Travel on a time budget
You mustn’t miss Menton on a trip to the South of France. Situated on the Cote d’Azur, it’s known colloquially as The Pearl of France, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s a picturesque little town with small winding streets on which you’ll find an array of cafes, restaurants and little gift shops. Many of these sell products based on the local lemons: Menton is famous for these, a result of the warm micro-climate here. You’ll also see trees all along the streets, laden down with oranges.
There is a small pretty seafront here; I love standing on the beach and looking over at the town’s pastel-colored buildings. You can also visit the casino and the museum dedicated to the works of the artist Jean Cocteau.
In honor of the famous lemons, the town hosts the annual Fete du Citron (Lemon Festival), a colorful, vibrant and fun event, involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit. There are fruit parades, a garden of lights and an exhibition with huge “monuments” made up of oranges and lemons. If you like quirky and unusual festivals (and of course, lemons!), you’ll love this.
Aside from Menton being a beautiful town and it hosting fun and quirky festival, I love its location.
It is practically on the Italian border – so much so that you can actually walk into Italy. Monaco is also only a 20-minute train ride away and Nice less than an hour away.
It’s, therefore, a perfect place to visit: it’s a lovely town with enough to do for a few days and is a great base from which you can visit other towns and cities.
St. Jean Pied de Pont – by Mildred at Amateurist Advice
St. Jean Pied de Port is a picturesque town in the Basque region of France. Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, its name translates to “foot of the pass”. This romantic little town is the perfect place to get away from the busy city, and to learn more about the Basque culture in France.
Upon entering, it feels as if you’re taking a walk back in time. St. Jean is a fortified town and to this day the walls still stand. All through the town, there are beautiful views of the Nive river surrounded by historical buildings. There are also charming stone bridge crossings.
On your visit, make sure to take a stroll on the Rue de la Citadelle. The cobblestone road is full of shops, and pilgrims ready to hike the Camino de Santiago. At the top of the Citadelle, you can catch a gorgeous view of green valleys dotted with red-tiled roofs.
This beautiful historical town also offers cuisine and pastries from the Basque region.
The most delicious cake I’ve ever tasted was in St. Jean. It had layers of meringue, filled with butter icing. The cake was from Barbier-Millox, self-proclaimed “le roi due gateau basque”. Seriously, the cake was enough to make the trip worth the journey.
Gordes – by Pam at Travel Hacking Mom
I remember the exact moment I saw Gordes, France perched on the top of a hill for the first time! It was absolutely breathtaking and I couldn’t believe that we would be staying near this small village for a week.
I had long wanted to visit the Provence area of France and Gordes was our perfect landing spot for a week of visiting many small towns in the area.
Gordes is the perfect place for wandering. We loved to meander through the narrow streets of the village and find a small bakery for a treat. We would then find a spot to enjoy the panoramic view of the valley below us.
One should check out the castle that is the main focal point of the village. It was built in the 11thcentury and remodeled during the Renaissance. It is now an art museum.
The Senanque Abbey is also an interesting visit and it is open for visits by the monks that live there. Lavender is a popular product of the area and the monks cultivate it and honey to sustain their lives there.
I loved the weekly market held there every Tuesday in the village center. We would buy cheese and salami and take them back to our Airbnb, along with fresh bread, to make sandwiches.
Lavender, wine and olive oil were also popular buys at the market stalls, along with souvenirs.
Gordes was the perfect place to stay to visit Provence. We would take off for a few hours every day to visit other villages and towns but return each afternoon to our home base of Gordes.
Every time we drove up and saw Gordes, I was happy we had chosen to stay there. The village is classified as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and it truly lives up to that distinction. From the first view of Gordes to the views of the valley below, Gordes is the most picturesque and perfect vision of what a small town in Provence, France should be.
Saint Tropez – by Sarah at CosmopoliClan
The most glamorous of French Riviera cities is known for its multi-million-dollar yachts and jet-set summer crowds.
St Tropez is a celebrity magnet and the beach clubs at Pampelonne beach uphold that reputation. But at its heart, you’ll find that there’s a much softer and surprisingly charming side to this former fishing village.
When you saunter the picture-perfect streets of old town St Tropez, La Ponche, you’ll discover immaculate pastel-hued houses adorned with bougainvillea, convivial restaurants with inviting patios and cute cafés that offer a refreshing break from the Mediterranean heat.
Awaken your senses at the farmers market on the Place des Herbes, climb the steps to the citadel to enjoy the panoramic view, visit one of the various art galleries and watch a game of jeu de boules on the Place des Lices while sinking your teeth in a creamy Tarte Tropézienne.
Feel the wind in your hair while hiking the coastal trail or take in the ocean views from the Cape Camarat lighthouse. To top that off, St-Tropez is ideally located to explore some of the Provence’s most enchanting mountain-perched villages such as Ramatuelle and Bormes-les-Mimosas.
However you wish to spend your time in St Tropez, know that there’s more to this pretty French town than its lavish cover would lead you to believe.
Le Bec-Hellouin – by Darah and Garrett at Where food takes us
Le Bec-Hellouin is one of the small French villages whose charm you’ll never forget. As if a listing on the official list of the most beautiful villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France) wasn’t enough to lure you to this quaint gem, the fact that it’s neatly nestled in the heart of Normandy should be the icing on the cake.
Le Bec-Hellouin, lined with its half-timbered houses and surrounded by the Normandy countryside, has a lot of history and deep, spiritual ties to its past.
The town’s abbey, the most eye-catching structure in the village, dates back to the 11th century. You’re free to walk around the beautiful grounds and can find parking along the street just outside.
Near the abbey is where you’ll find a cozy little creperie, La Crêpe Dans Le Bec, to have a taste of French cuisine right in the middle of one of the most beautiful villages in France.
If you can manage it, time your visit during autumn or spring for a less-visited, more colorful experience. Our trip in late October was so serene and we wished we never had to leave.
If you can’t get your fill of French abbeys (we totally understand) then why not pair Le Bec-Hellouin with the famous abbey of Mont St. Michel, just a three-hour drive away? Normandy is full of wonders!
Auvers-Sur-Oise – by Dominika from Sunday in Wonderland
If you have had enough of crowded Paris, then one of the cutest and most mysterious French towns waits for you just around 1 hour to the North from the city. Auvers-Sur-Oise, which we are talking about, is charming in many ways.
First of all, it’s super tiny and filled with lovely traditional French houses made of stone. Hanging around among them ensures a feeling of a real French small-town life.
In this pretty town, we can admire the sophisticated Château d’Auvers. This palace, with majestic gardens, was built in the XVII century. Today we can visit its multimedia exhibitions of Impressionism.
But the most important reason why you should visit Auvers-Sur-Oise hides in a few other places. The city dedicated a special path indicated by metal medallions in the ground to one of the most famous painters of the XX century. Vincent Van Gogh, the artist often associated with this town, spent there the very last weeks of his life.
The reason for his death is not entirely known until now. They say he shot himself by a gun. But others claim it was a terrible accident with the participation of third parties.
We might never know the truth but the travel to Auvers-sur-Oise is definitely a perfect day-trip from Paris. You can spend the whole day following the last paths of Van Gogh, visit the real places shown on his famous paintings, discovering places important for him (like Auberge Ravoux), and eventually place the flowers on his modest tomb in a cemetery situated among the fields of wheat.
Metz – by Martina & Jürgen from placesofjuma.com
The beautiful city of Metz is in the Northeast of France, near the borders of Germany and Luxembourg. At our visit, we loved the many wonderful gardens, the historic old town, and the many French restaurants and boutiques. And so for us, Metz is one of the absolute highlights in the country.
This charming town is settled directly on the marvelous Moselle River, where bridges connect to the island of Saulcy, a charming area with many buildings from the 18th century. On warm summer days, people love to stroll along the riverbanks, having a picnic or taking a boat ride.
Another must-visit is the Metz Cathedral – Saint-Étienne – one of the most beautiful and largest Gothic church buildings in France. Or the Opéra-Théatre de Metz Métropole (Opera House), which is one the oldest opera house in Europe.
Another highlight is the Place Saint-Jacques, which is well known by locals and tourists for its many lovely cafés and restaurants whose terraces are popular in summer.
All in all, Metz is truly amazing and with lots of historic charm and plenty of wonderful attractions for sure one of the best villages to visit in France.
Village l’Herbe in Cap Ferret – by Jennifer & Tim at Luxe Adventure Traveler
Cap Ferret is one of France’s hidden gems that mainly only locals know about. Located on the long stretch of the Atlantic Coast in the South West of France, Cap Ferret has long been an oyster lover’s heaven.
Colorful villages where oyster farmers still head out daily to bring in the freshest and most delicious oysters dot the peninsula. Any Bordeaux local has their favorite go-to village and oyster shack that becomes their spot for the hot summers in the South West.
Bordeaux locals Jennifer & Tim of Bordeaux Travel Guide certainly have theirs. It’s Village l’Herbe, one of the most charming of the villages along Cap Ferret.
The old fisherman’s houses have been spruced up in a rainbow of colors. The tiny little sand covered pedestrian lanes all have funny names fitting of the houses that are on them, like Rue Tomate where a house grows a garden full of tomato plants and Rue des Chiens Qui Dorment where the actual sleeping dog is typically found snoozing in a patch of sun.
There’s a beautiful stretch of public sandy beach here too, perfect for lazing a summer afternoon away. Of course, any trip to Village l’Herbe isn’t complete without indulging in at least a dozen oysters from one of the no-frills oyster shacks where you can literally while away hours slurping the freshest oysters with your toes in the sand.
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