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France has long-been been the most visited country for travelers around the world, and it’s not just Paris that allures them. While the City of Light is a big allure, along with the glamour of the French Riviera, the country is home to a number of towns that look as if they just stepped out of a storybook. Whether or not you visit the big cities, be sure to head to the countryside to experience some of these beautiful villages.
Frequently mentioned as the most picturesque village on the Alsatian Wine Route,
Riquewihr’s cobblestone streets are lined with colorful wooden houses looking just the same as it has for some 500 years. Entrance into the town walls is through a series of ancient gates. You’ll see fountains and wells, along with pretty courtyard overlooked by galleries laden with flowers. As the region’s wine is the main attraction, you’ll be able to sample it in one of the many wine cellars.
Dating back to the 9th century, Colmar is often called “Little Venice” because of its tranquil waterways that meander through the medieval streets. Also an Alsatian village, it’s considered the capital of wine in the district and is characterized by both French and German influences. Discover local bakeries for sampling kugelhopf and croissants, and dine in eateries that specialize in foie gras and sauerkraut. The architecture is a mix of styles too, with everything from German Gothic to French Neo-Baroque.
Set in the south of France, Lacoste is famous for its wine and cheese, with multiple vineyards throughout the Provence region for touring and tasting, although many visitors come simply to soak up the town’s charms that include medieval architecture and the opportunity to step back into a lost time. You can also view the haunting ruins of a castle that once belonged to the notorious Marquis de Sade, and enjoy especially picturesque views over the valleys of the Vaucluse. Chateau de Sade is the crown, with its crumbling walls now in the process of being restored to the glory it once had by owner and fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
Annecy is perhaps one of the most romantic spots on Earth, surrounded by the towering French Alps just over 20 miles from Geneva, Switzerland in northeastern France. The town is divided by little canals and tranquil streams that flow from the intensely blue Lac Annecy. The terraces that line the canal help to give it a Venice-like feel, along with the famed Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century storybook kind of castle that was built in the middle of one of the canals.
Located in the Normandy region in the north of France, Veules-les-Roses has drawn writers and artists for centuries with its seaside air and attractive looks. It boasts village thatched cottages and 19th-century sea-bathing villas, while roses bloom on just about every corner during the summer. While it has a population of just around 600, you’ll find numerous attractions to explore thanks to the town’s rich history, which dates all the way back to the 3rd-century. You can also enjoy strolling the promenade and pier which offers several activities, including fishing.
An especially exquisite village, Locronan was named for the hermit who founded the town in the 10th century, Saint Ronan. Once a major center for woven linens, required by the French, English and Spanish navies for their sales, it hosts some fantastic examples of Breton architecture, with lots of impressive houses dating primarily from the 18th century, built with the aid of wealthy sail merchants. When trade dried up, the village remained trapped in its past, offering the opportunity to stroll streets that are still much as they were several hundred years ago. Explore the village museum find out more, with exhibits that cover the area and its weavers through paintings.
This 13th-century village sits atop a steep hill that’s surrounded by dense forest, with just one main street running along the ridge. A royal chateau rises above at its highest point, providing beautiful vistas of the village and the surrounding Aveyron countryside. While the chateau hasn’t been inhabited for many years, it’s well-preserved, offering the chance to view secret narrow passageways that lead from the new to the old circular dungeon. The village of Najac itself is home to attractive medieval houses the region is known for along with a number of cafes, some of which include terraces with fabulous views.
Provence is known for its many charming towns like Lacoste, but Gordes is truly a must-see. This small, magical village that dates to Roman times has a wonderful laid-back atmosphere that makes it ideal to get lost in. Take a walk down one of the many winding paths or streets that will bring you to the hilltop town where you can soak up the spectacular views that include vibrant fields of lavender while enjoying a picnic on one of the benches. If you visit during the summer, you can look forward to any number of cultural events including multiple exhibitions, concerts and a the “Summer Nights at Gordes” festival.
Rochefort-en-Terre is sure to transport you back to the Middle Ages with its quaint squares, 16th-century half-timbered houses, medieval mansions and storefronts that look too perfect to be real. Legendary for its unique steeples and red geraniums, make your way through the narrow, often flower-scented streets, past ateliers, workshops and antique stores, admiring the pretty homes along the way. In this village with an artsy past, you’ll find plenty of artists and craftspeople too, although the artisan biscuit makers such as Le Rucher Fleuri in Rue du Porche is a definite highlight.