Chocolate-box half-timbered houses, Unesco-listed churches and rustic cobbled lanes – welcome to the fairy-tale France of your dreams.
For these are officially among the country’s most eye-catching settlements, recognised by the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (‘most beautiful villages’) association.
The organisation was formed in 1982 has since listed almost 160 villages, chosen for their heritage, architecture and general quaintness. And size matters – a ‘Plus Beaux Village’ cannot have a population larger than 2,000.
The villages are scattered around the entire country – and some lie in fairly remote spots, hidden in obscure gorges and amid jagged peaks.
But finding them is easy because the association has produced a book called The Most Beautiful Villages of France, which contains directions, maps, architectural highlights and prime dining recommendations for each settlement. There’s a Michelin map, too, which pinpoints them.
Here we’ve picked out a few of our favourites. Scroll down for the villages that have turned up ‘enchanting’ to 11.
Welcome to Angles-sur-l’Anglin, which is about as romantic as it gets in France. There are riverside weeping willows, an old bridge, a mill wheel, a ruined fortress and pretty houses on cobbled streets
Grignan, pictured, in the Rhône-Alpes region, is a 2019 winner of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France award
Grignan (pictured) is home to a stunning 12th-century château and charming lanes. And the views, as this picture shows, are rather inviting
The beautiful village of Villefranche-de-Conflent, which lies deep in a valley where the Cady and Tet rivers meet. It’s 34 miles away from Perpignan-Rivesaltes airport
Villefranche-de-Conflent (pictured) is encircled by medieval ramparts and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site
The walled town of Talmont-sur-Gironde, which lies 81 miles away from Bordeaux-Merignac airport, was built in 1284 on the orders of Edward I, according to the book. It says that the streets of this village, which is encircled by the Gironde estuary, ‘are punctuated by flowers, dotted with monolithic wells and sundials, and enlivened by craftspeople and traders’
The coastal village of Veules-les-Roses, near Dieppe in Normandy, has been inhabited since the 4th century. It was a 2017 award-winner and is described by the book as ‘bursting with charm’
Najac, in the Aveyron department in southern France, sits at 1,115ft amid wild gorges, with the 12th-century fortress the dominating feature
Behold La Roque-Gageac, a village by the Dordogne river distinguished by proximity to a dramatic cliff and streets festooned with tropical and Mediterranean plants. Take a boat for unmatched views of this gem
Salers sits 3,117ft above the Maronne valley in south-central France, at the edge of an ancient lava flow. The book explains that it’s known for its ‘gastronomic delights’. It says: ‘Acclaimed equally for meat and cheese, from Salers’ own breed of cows, the village represents the high point of gastronomy in the Auvergne’
Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, which sits at a lofty 1,700ft above sea level near the Pyrenees, was named after the bishop who built its eye-catching place of worship – Cathedral Sainte-Marie. The hamlet has a long history, dating back to 72 BCE, and it’s believed to have been King Herod’s place of exile
The village of Collonges-la-Rouge is a striking one, thanks to its red sandstone buildings. It sits on the border between Limousin and Quercy and centres around an 8th-century Benedictine priory
Bruniquel, in the Occitanie region in southern France, boasts not one but two medieval castles, which are both 600 years old. But there’s more. The book says: ‘Everything is picturesque – the sculptured figures, a pair of trefoil or mullioned windows, an arched doorway. And the byword here is stone, both gray and golden’
This aerial image of Bruniquel shows how the castles are perched atop a rocky promontory
If you visit Fources in Gascony, you’ll end up going round in circles – because this 11th-century village is built in a circle. You’ll probably want to do a few loops as the half-timbered facades of the buildings are well worth a repeat visit
There is so much to admire in Estaing in southern France, near the Gorges of the Lot, that it’s hard to know where to start. The highlights include the 11th-century Chateau des Comtes d’Estaing, a 15th-century church that houses the relics of Saint Fleuret, stunning Renaissance houses, and a Unesco-listed bridge
Beynac-et-Cazenac is most definitely olde-worlde – the site has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Present-day visitors will find an Instagram-baiting tiered settlement with an imposing castle that lords it over the Dordogne river
Two words sum up southern France’s Belcastel according to the book – ‘medieval gem’. It says that the village ‘is dominated by its spectacular fortified castle and dips its toes in the Aveyron river at its base’
The fortified village of Brouage in south-western France is surrounded by ramparts one-mile long (two kilometres) and 26ft (eight metres) high, reinforced with 19 watchtowers. According to the book, it was the setting for a love affair between King Louis XIV and Marie Mancini
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie sits at the entrance to the Grand Canyon du Verdon in Provence. And what a sight it is to behold. The book says that the Adou river ‘tumbles through the village and is spanned by little stone bridges’. The picturesque-o-meter needle is also moved upwards by ‘golden houses topped with Romanesque tiles huddled around small courtyards and lining the alleyways’
The village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert is one of the Languedoc’s unmissable pit stops. While there you’ll want to take in the Unesco-listed church, the charming square (pictured) and ‘sun-weathered’ abodes
Nestled amid the Tarn Gorges, encircled by cliffs, is the cute-as-a-button Sainte-Enimie. There are half-timbered workshops and houses aplenty, plus a Romanesque church and the Burle river, which the book says has healing properties
Gourdon, population 396, sits atop a rocky promontory over the Loup valley with views out to the sparkling Mediterranean. Queen Victoria visited in 1891
Gordes, as the book says, is the ‘archetypal Provencal village’. The views are stunning, the cobbled streets enchanting and its history fascinating. It’s little wonder that the settlement, which faces the famous Luberon mountain, has inspired numerous poets and artists over the years
La Grave sits at an altitude of 4,757ft in the Alps – and is a mecca for mountaineers and expert skiers and snowboarders. Within the village, the 11th-century church is a highlight
No, you’re not looking at a set for a fantasy film – this is the village of Eguisheim, known for its chocolate-box houses and for being the birthplace of wine-growing in the Alsace, according to the tome
The pièce de résistance of Burgundian gem Chateauneuf is the 12th-century castle, which has gigantic towers and an imposing ‘curtain wall’. The views from the village across the wooded hillsides of Auxois are, by all accounts, amazing
Perched on a cliff over the Gorges of the Ardeche, near Avignon, is the village of Aigueze. The locals, known as Aiguezois, are known for their friendliness and sense of humour
The Alsatian village of Riquewihr is ‘besieged by vines’ – so finding a nice glass of wine there isn’t difficult. But make sure you reserve plenty of time for gawping at the colourful half-timbered houses
This image shows the jewel in the crown of the village of Montsoreau – the 15th-century castle. The settlement sits between Anjou and the Touraine, about 45 miles from Nantes-Atlantique airport
Higgledy-piggledy clusters of 16th and 17th-century wine-growers houses is the name of the game in idyllic Lods, which sits by the Loue river in eastern France
On a steep hill in Burgundy, just south of Auxerre, lies Vezelay, which is blessed with a Unesco-listed 12th-century basilica and the quaintest of streets, as this image shows
Lying snugly in a remote valley in the Jura region is dinky Baume-les-Messieurs. Highlights include a 9th-century abbey and the nearby Baume caves, said, according to the book, to be among the most spectacular in Europe
Saint-Ceneri-le-Gerei in north-western France, near Alencon, nestles in a bend in the Sarthe river and is peppered with delightful, ancient dwellings. The book points out that the village ‘has charmed many famous painters’ including Corot and Boudin
Moncountour, in Brittany, is ‘girdled by its imposing medieval ramparts’, the book says. It continues: ‘The village was founded in the 11th century as part of the defenses for nearby Lamballe.’ Wonder its streets and you’ll discover grand mansions and a 16th-century church – the Eglise Saint-Mathurin
Lavardin (pictured left and right), 45 minutes by car from Blois in the Loir-et-Cher department, became famous, we’re told, when it withstood Richard the Lionheart’s attack in 1118, ‘thanks to its castle’s tiered defenses’. The only battle you’ll face today is against a desire to stay there forever…
If you’re a fan of old wooden-frame houses, you’ll want to make a beeline for Beuvron-en-Auge (pictured) in Normandy. The book explains that said houses, and businesses, ‘huddle around a magnificently restored covered market’
La Romieu, in south-western France, near Agen, is remarkable for its Unesco-listed collegiate church of Saint-Pierre. The building is a prime example, we’re told, of Southern Gothic architecture
The Most Beautiful Villages of France, by Flammarion, can be ordered through Amazon. There is also a Michelin map, right, that pinpoints them