Oftentimes, Paris and Marseille steal the spotlight when tourists are planning their French vacation. However, there are so many historic towns located throughout the country that deserve a visit. Full of preserved architecture, quiet beaches, vineyards, and much more, we’ve located fifteen stunning French villages for your next family adventure.
By Ania from The Travelling Twins
Albi France is a small, medieval town that is the perfect destination as part of a road trip around France. Its pedestrianized historic center is on a human scale and makes it easy to walk around with young children. Plus the main tourist attractions are very close to each other. Walk around and discover hidden alleys or stroll on the banks of the Tarn.
The most famous sight is the Cathedral of Sainte Cécile, which witnessed the city’s very dense religious and political past. This building, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is unique and recognizable for miles. The most beautiful views are captured on the opposite bank or from the Bridges that span the Tarn.
The other must-see attraction is undoubtedly the Toulouse Lautrec Museum located in the Palais de la Berbie, not far from the cathedral. Small illustrated booklets are available for children to make their visit more fun and learn more about the painter. Very colorful and figurative paintings appeal to children.
The historic coastal town of Antibes is nestled between Nice and Cannes, along the enchanting French Riviera. While the drives to Nice or Cannes from Antibes average in at 30 minutes, the trains will get you to either destination in under 20 minutes.
The town features original cobblestone streets and winding pathways along the water, that connect to local beaches. The wealth that resides in the French Riviera is clear when viewing the yachts anchored outside of Antibes, but the town itself presents more quaintly. Many small shops and cafes line the streets, and make wonderful spots for souvenir shopping or an afternoon refreshment.
Having lived in Antibes for several months, Picasso’s old chateau has been converted into a museum, a must-visit for any art buffs. If you’re more interested in modern art, head to the Saint-Jaume bastion to view the massive Nomade sculpture, created by Jaume Plensa.
If you’re after a mix of history and gorgeous views, walk the Chemin de Calvaire: a pathway that leads to the Garoupe Lighthouse. While the walk is one kilometer long, the scenery makes up for any fatigue. The lighthouse is not open to the public, however, explore the nearby chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garoupe, which dates back to the 16th century. After the long walk, you’ll be happy to find a cafe at the site of the chapel.
As Antibes is a place best explored on foot, La Place Hotel offers a central location with charming amenities. Equipped for any traveler, from quiet singles to busy families, this hotel is a gem. Nearby, Côté Terroir offers an elaborate assortment of gourmet French specialities to dine on.
By Patricia Pagenel of Ze Wandering Frogs
Located in the Auvergne region, about a five-hour drive from Paris, the city of Clermont-Ferrand is one of the oldest in France. Wander around Place de Jaude, and admire the statue of Vercingetorix, a wartime hero from the Roman period. Walk the Old Town’s cobblestones streets and visit the 13th-century Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Cathedral, famous for its tall spires. Another beautiful church is the 6th-century Romanesque Notre-Dame-du-Port Basilica, known for its black Madonna.
From Clermont-Ferrand, explore the region packed with small villages surrounded by farms and forests. Many are actually within the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park, another top attraction. Outdoor activities around these dormant volcanoes include hiking, biking, or even paragliding!
Clermont-Ferrand, as well as the whole of Auvergne, is known for its cuisine (think Truffade, Aligot, Potée Auvergnate, Lentilles du Puy, and more), especially its cheese which include Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal, Saint Nectaire among dozens of different cheese. For the ultimate experience, stay at the La Tour Grégoire, and treat yourself to a dinner at the Michelin-starred L’Ostal restaurant.
Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Collioure resides in the south of France. Unlike other French towns, Collioure takes pride in both its French and Catalan histories, as the town is a mere 15 minute drive from the Spanish border. The Catalan influence means that many of the residents speak French and Spanish fluently, with town signs featuring both languages.
With its position on the Sea, there are many idyllic beaches to spend your time at: splashing in the water, tanning, and enjoying beachside dining. Take a break from land activities and opt for a cruise, taking in the city views from the water. For a day full of dining and shopping, Collioure’s old town is the place to be. History buffs will be happy to explore the 17th century built Notre-Dame des Anges church, located on the shore.
Nearing the edge of downtown, the Hôtel Casa Païral is a quiet hotel, featuring a private pool, many restaurants within walking distance, and quick access to public transportation. A short three minute walk away, you’ll find Restaurant Le Vauban. Serving a variety of delectable Spanish dishes for lunch and dinner, as well as rich desserts.
The historic village of Colmar is located in the Alsace region of France, an hour drive to Strasbourg and a short half an hour drive to the German border. Settled along a series of canals, boat rides allow for a peaceful method of exploration, observing the colorful houses and flower-lined streets.
Walking around Colmar, it feels like a fairytale, which explains why it was an inspiration for the fictional town in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Located on the Alsatian Wine Route, wine tasting is popular among tourists. If you’re interested in picnicking, head to the Covered Market Hall to gather a basket of exceptional cheeses, pastries, and other treats.
Le Cercle Des Aromes is settled nearby to Colmar’s Little Venice, a restaurant known for its charcuterie boards and wine pairings. Nearby, in the heart of Little Venice, is the Hôtel Le Colombier Suites, a chic hotel inside of an 18th century Alsatian residence. With the charm of Alsace and the comfort of modernity, its a charming find.
The medieval town of Eguisheim is another gem of the Alsace region, located right outside of Colmar. While it is six hours from Paris, it is only two hours from Bern, Switzerland. The town’s arrangement is quite unique, as the streets are designed in concentric circles.
Eguisheim is home to multiple historic castles, spread throughout the town, a full day or two could be spent exploring the medieval sites. One of the most notable is the Chapelle Saint-Leon IX, near the center of town. Seeing as Eguisheim is also on the Alsatian Wine Route, an evening of wine tasting would be well advised.
On the edge of town, with great access to dining and the town center, is the Logis Hôtel Colmar Vignes. If you’re traveling with a furry friend, this hotel is even pet friendly. Down the street, Au Vieux Porche serves gourmet French classics.
By John Quinn
Kaysersberg is located in the Alsace region of France near the German border, one hour from Strasbourg and five from Paris. As many villages in Alsace, it is defined by the postcard colorful houses that line its streets.
The village is a fun stop on an Alsace Tour, with so many unusual and animated houses lining its streets and rivers. A trail runs from the town into the hills behind and atop stands Kaysersberg Castle, with towering views over the village and valley below.
When in Kaysersberg you can swap the old world charm for modern elegance equipped with a Michelin star, by dining in the excellent L’Alchemille. Kaysersberg is more than equipped for those looking for a stopover. The charming Le Chambord Hotel on its edge utterly delightful.
La Roque Gageauc
By Katie Chavez of The World on my Necklace Travel
Set in the picture-perfect Dordogne region of France, La Roque Gageauc is a historic village perched above an emerald-colored river and backed by a steep cliff. It is simply spectacular and is easily one of the most beautiful villages in France.
This gorgeous Dordogne village is the perfect place to just wander and admire the pretty stone houses with flower-filled gardens lining the river and winding up the hillside, and the imposing Chateau that hangs over the town.
You can also do an hour-long cruise in a traditional Gabarre, a flat-bottomed wooden boat, which navigates a 7km stretch of the river, providing history on the village along the way.
While in La Roque Gageauc, make sure to eat at La Belle Étoile, the top-rated restaurant in town that serves excellent French cuisine. Make sure to reserve in advance because it is very popular.
Stay at the luxurious Plaza Madeleine & Spa in nearby Sarlat-la-Canéda, which offers spa facilities, a hot tub, heated swimming pool, and daily breakfast.
There are a handful of airports you can fly into. The closest is Brive-Souillac which is 52km away from La Roque Gageauc. The flight time from Paris is around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Nestled away on the slopes of the Vosges mountains, Obernai is located in the Alsace region of northeastern France. Obernai is a short 30 minute drive from Strasbourg, and a longer five and a half hour journey from Paris. If you’re interested in taking a day trip to Germany, the city of Stuttgart can be found two hours away.
The Leonardsau Park makes for a beautiful afternoon. Spend that time exploring a 19th century French castle, surrounded by two and a half acres of French, Italian, and Japanese gardens. If you’re less inclined to walk everywhere, the City Train of Obernai is a fun and easy way to explore the sights, complete with an audio guide.
In the heart of Obernai, the 4-star Hôtel A La Cour d’Alsace offers luxurious accommodations. The hotel features two restaurants, an indoor swimming pool, and more. Across town, Winstub Le Freiberg welcomes customers with a warm and homey atmosphere, paired with gourmet traditional Alsatian dishes.
By Maria Haase of EuropeUpClose
Reims, right in the heart of the Champagne region of France, is located about an hour and a half east of Paris and can easily be reached by car or public transport. This makes it a perfect day trip, but even better, weekend getaway from the French capital.
This small town is famous for its UNESCO Heritage Sites, quaint streets and delicious food. The main attraction of Reims is of course the Reims Cathedral with its stunning architecture and colorful stained windows. Equally popular among tourists are the famous Champagne Houses such as Taittinger or Pommery that offer tours of their basements and of course, a champagne tasting after.
For an unforgettable experience, the best place to stay is Chateaux L’Assiette Champenoise, a luxurious 5-star hotel on the outskirts of Reims.
The Chateaux is also home to an exquisite 3 Michelin Star restaurant run by Chef Arnaud Lallement. Founded over 40 years ago, this family-run operation is a true gem in the city of Reims.
By Mark of Wyld Family Travel
Ribeauvillé is one of the small picturesque french villages that lie on the Alsace Wine Route. Ribeauvillé has a population of just under 5,000 people and is highly popular with travelers exploring the Alsace. Located four hours from Paris by train and an easy day trip from Strasbourg, the town is surrounded by fields of Vineyards.
The main street is lined with restaurants, bakeries, cellar doors and medieval cobblestones. The slow pace of life in the Alsace allowed us to send the kids out every morning for fresh baguettes. At Christmas time the town holds a very popular Christmas mark in December. You should definitely try the local wine from the Ribeauville Wine Co-Op.
On the hill directly behind the town, you will find Castle Saint-Ulrich, Castle Girsberg and Haut-Ribeaupierre. You can easily explore them with kids via a walking trail from town. If you want to experience Ribeauvillé like a local, head off the main streets and find some local establishments such as Gorman Drinks where the locals drink and eat.
Stay at Restaurant Caveau de l’ami Fritz to be right in the middle of the old town area of Ribeauville.
Another stop on the Alsace Wine Route, Riquewihr is a neighbor of Ribeauvillé. Only half an hour’s drive from the German border, and an hour from Strasbourg, Riquewihr is a great location for travelers that wish to day trip to surrounding areas.
Settled between the Voges mountains and Alsatian vineyards, this medieval town has a lot to offer. For the adults, the town is one of the stars of the Wine Route, and many family-run wineries can be found in and around Riquewihr. History fanatics may take interest in the Thieves’ Tower, a 15th century prison turned museum.
Toward the edge of town, Le Cœur des Remparts offers modern cabin living within a renovated, 16th century half-timbered house, classic to the Alsatian region. The local vineyards are easily accessible by foot or bike from the hotel.
In the center of town, Au Tire Bouchon features quality food at costs that are gentle on the wallet. Surrounded by Alsatian culture, in the cozy atmosphere of a half-timbered house, you’ll feel fully immersed in Riquewihr with a meal spent at this restaurant.
The port city of Saint-Malo can be found in northwestern France, in the region of Brittany. Saint-Malo is two hours north of Nantes, and four and a half hours west of Paris. Perched on the shores of the English Channel, is a popular ferry port and tourist destination.
The town holds an immense amount of seafaring history, including pirates and New World voyages. To explore some of this history more in depth, take a trip to the Etoile du Roy, France’s second largest replica ship. Make sure to check that it is in port before venturing over! Saint-Malo is also home to the largest aquarium in France: the Great Aquarium. If you’re more interested in spending time in the water, there are a few charming beaches to visit.
If you walk along the Plage de la Hoguette, you’ll pass the Hôtel Le Beaufort, a charming building with comfortable accommodations for a variety of travelers. Facing the English Channel, many of the rooms offer gorgeous views, along with easy beach access. Closer to Old Town, La Fourchette à Droite serves delectable seasonal delicacies. Many of the ingredients are sourced from local markets, so you can be ensured that every meal is fresh and organic.
By Achraf Aouadi
Sélestat is a small village in the “Great East” (aka Grand Est) in France, yet one of the biggest in the Alsace version. The village has a special charm as it is near the awesome river of the Rhine, which is the natural border between France and Germany.
If you would like to visit Sélestat from Paris, it is about a 450 km journey. The TGV train is a great idea in this case as it will take you only three hours. If you are coming from Nice, for example, the trip is longer, as it is about 900 km far away. However, the village is really worth it as it offers true time-travel to the middle ages.
Sélestat is mostly known for its great medieval architecture, it is a true open-sky museum. Wandering in the center is a great experience in itself, where you can enjoy the chilling atmosphere of the region.
The region is also most famous for its biking trips. The Alsace Bike Tour is one of the greatest things to do in the area. The “Route des Vins” is a known cycle-route that attracts many bikers from all over the world.
While in Sélestat, one of the best tricks to enjoy your stay is to spend a night at a traditional guesthouse. You will be delighted by the welcoming locals and the delicious traditional food.
This charming harbor-side town is located along the French Riviera, in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Villefranche-sur-Mer is a mere 30 minute drive from Nice and two and a half hour drive from Marseille. This driving distance allows for day trips to many popular French cities.
As a village on the sea, taking advantage of the Mediterranean water is a must. Villefranche-sur-Mer is scattered with quaint beaches, offering paddle board and boat rentals, cafes, and space to lay out and soak up the sun.
Throughout Villefranche-sur-Mer, you’ll find beautiful historic churches and chapels, such as the Church of St. Michael and the Chapel of St. Peter. Museum lovers will find great pleasure at the citadel, which offers up three museums: the Volti, the Goetz-Boumeester, and the Roux collection. Each museum portrays the splendor of medieval times in varying ways.
If you’re looking for absolute luxury, the Hotel Royal-Riviera is the stay for you. Featuring spectacular views of the water, spacious rooms, and a private beach, it is worth the cost. Whether or not you decide to stay at the Hotel Royal-Riviera, their Jasmin Grill & Lounge is worth a visit. This terrace kitchen offers a fusion of Indian and Mediterranean specials, all with a breathtaking view of the sea.
Additional reporting by Alexandra Lewis.