Ornans, in Franche-Comté
towns of France
helps you discover the parts of
France that most tourists never reach
France has hundreds
of attractive small towns. The trouble is that while they are all by
definition attractive, many of them have little else to write home
about, other than the fact that they are attractive. Once you have
looked at the old buildings, sat in a café on the main
square, or had a meal, that's it: all there is to do is to move on.
This is true even for some of the most beautiful
small towns and villages that appear in all the guide books and on all
the websites – those that are on
well-trodden tourist circuits, and those that are heavily plugged by
tourist boards. About-France.com presents a unique selection
small French towns, many of them well off the tourist trail, that are
not just attractive, but interesting
too. Attractive small towns with distinctive features, museums, or
other attractions; beautiful and interesting small towns and
villages all over France, that do not make it into the main guidebooks
Many small French towns, specially in rural areas,
escaped much of the urban disfiguration that has blighted larger towns
and cities. Many have also put a lot of money and effort into
regeneration and renovation of their built environment.
For more information on France off the beaten
path, discover About-France.com's guide to the regions of France
with a region by region overview, our pages on the beauties of
and our original and exclusive selection of attractive French
on and off the main tourist circuits .
selection of some of the most attractive small towns in France
these towns are all places with between
1,500 and 10,000 inhabitants -
and exceptionally a few more - places large enough to offer all
essential services, including hotels
and restaurants, but small enough to be easy to visit on foot. While
some – notably those in popular tourist areas – are
mentioned in most detailed guidebooks, others are largely omitted from
classic printed tourist guides in English.
marked "Accessible by train" are on lines with a regular train
service and a station in or close to the historic town.
Help expand this list: About-France.com welcomes
suggestions from readers (Contact)
||This small town is quite popular: one of
the classic stops on the Alsace wine trail, it has a remarkably well
preserved centre in typical Alsace style; also wine producers, the
Albert Schweizer birthplace and museum, and other historic monuments
||A small town built on an island in the
river Dronne. The old town
on the island has attractive narrow streets with small shops and
restaurants. Between the river and the cliffs at the valley's edge
stands an impressive Benedictine abbey, the oldest part of which is a
"troglodytic" section built into the cliff, including an underground
35 km east of Bordeaux, Saint Emilion
is a small town with a very attractive historic centre. Renowned for
its wines, Saint Emilion also has a remarkable 11th century
"monolithic" church, carved out of the rock - the second largest
underground church in the world – plus several other
the road to the Monts du Cantal, an attractive small town, built on a
steep hillside. Stone-roofed houses built of the local volcanic rock.
Less touristy than nearby Salers. Energetic visitors can climb up to
the statue of Notre Dame de la Haute-Auvergne, on a volcanic outcrop
just above the old town. Accessible by train.
|A gem of a small
town, with bustling Saturday market; the magnificent mediaeval
basilica with unique Gallo-roman mosaic floor and fine mediaeval
frescoes is one of the finest Romanesque churches in France. There
is also a
freshwater aquarium and a lace-making museum. International watercolour
festival mid July. Market day is Saturday. Accesssible by train.
Saône et Loire
the "Bresse Bourguignonne" area, Louhans has a unique main-street,
bordered on either side by 15th century arcades, with small shops
behind them. The town has a large and popular market every Monday
morning. It also has a printing museum and a historic hospital, with a
Renaissance pharmacy or apothecary.
Indre et Loire
country town dominated by its impressive mediaeval fortress. There is a
mediaeval gateway to the old town, and a renaissance town hall. Accesssible by train
||A small fishing port on the far west coast
of Brittany, at the end of the Crozon Peninsula, south of Brest. Port,
beaches, 17th century fortifications.
town with old houses overhanging the river Loue, a trout river. Gustave
Courbet birthplace and museum with a good collection of Courbet's
works; kayak and bike hire for outdoor enthusiasts.
small town that is one of the capitals of the Jura vineyard area. Wine
cellars, mediaeval church, and the Pasteur museum. Louis Pasteur lived
and worked here. Accessible by train
hillside town with views to the valley and to the Cevennes mountains.
Famous for its figs. The town has narrow cobbled streets and many
mediaeval and Renaissance buildings, and a castle
attractive small town on the banks of the river Vidourle. The old town
is remarkable for its criss-crossing narrow streets, and its arches and
arcades. It boasts three ancient city gates and a Roman
bridge, substantially rebuilt in the 18th century. In
times, the town was extended towards the river, and a third of
the Roman bridge is now within the old town.
||Delightful small former fishing port on the coast not far from the
Spanish border. the historic Chateau Royal stands on rock between
two inlets, opposite the water's-edge church of Notre Dame des Anges.
There is a historic centre with narrow streets and boutiques. Collioure
has attracted artists since the start of the 20th century. Accessible
delightful small town on the banks of the river Dordogne; cobbled
quayside beside the river, ancient houses. At St. Julien nearby,
discover a living museum of mediaeval farming.
town in the undulating countryside close to the Avesnois regional park.
Remarkable Matisse museum in the former Palais Fénelon;
interesting historic brewery and brewery museum.
Pas de Calais
fortified hill town just south of Boulogne. Montreuil was the British
military command post in WW1. The town has an impressive
citadelle, and attractive cobbled streets. Markets on Saturday morning,
plus Friday evenings in July and August.
extreme south of Normandy, 40 km
west of Dreux. A small town with a fine flamboyant belfry (climb the
tower for 360° views), a lovely square, many attractive
half-timbered houses, and other fine Renaissance buildings. Historic
walking trail. Accessible by train.
||Home to the
historic Bayeux Tapestry,
woven to celebrate William the conqueror's victory at Hastings in 1066.
A unique treasure. Bayeux also has a fine cathedral and a historic
centre. Accesssible by train
hilltown in the south of Normandy; ramparts, old centre with half
timbered houses, historic church and castle. There is a popular market
on Friday mornings.
||20 km east of Poitiers, Chauvigny is a remarkable
small town, insofar as it boasts five historic castles built
in a row
on the same rocky ridge - a cluster of castles which is unique in
Europe. In addition, St. Peter's Collegial church has a remarkably well
preserved set of intricately sculpted mediaeval capitals. Chauvigny
also has a museum of industrial archaeology, and a museum of popular
culture and other attrctions close-by.
off the beaten track, Barjols, a former leather town, retains a
tradiutional character that has been lost by most small towns in this
popular tourist region of France. On a hot day, Bardols, with its 30
fountains and 12 old lavoirs, feels cool and refreshing. On its
squares, there are shady café terraces beneath towering
trees. Market on Sundays.
very interesting small town beside the river Ouvèze, in
Vaucluse. Humans have lived here since prehistoric times. The town has
interesting Roman remains, notably a Roman bridge, a theatre and Roman
houses. There is also a "mediaeval town", perched on a buttress on the
other side of the river. The small town has two cathedrals, the most
interesting being ND de Nazareth which is a fine romanesque building,
with cloisters. The 12th century Chapelle St Quenin alos merits a visit.
small town, with narrow cobbled streets; Centre for olive
oil, apricots and aromatic plants. Arcaded market square,
Renaissance gateway. Close to Mont Ventoux.
Paul Trois Chateaux near
are no castles here, but an ancient city with traces of the old
ramparts, and three gateways into the old city. There is a
mediaeval cathedral, and next door to it an archaeological museum. A
few kilometres away is the village of Suze la Rousse with its very
impressive mediaeval castle. Market day is Tuesday.
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