As part of the annual TV show Le Village Préféré des Français, the people of France just voted on the country’s favorite village. The winner? The small town of Esquelbecq. Located about a 25-minute drive south of Dunkirk in the Hauts-de-France region near the Belgian border, Esquelbecq has a population of about 2,000. Esquelbecq beat out 13 other villages to win the title. The village of Lavoûte-Chilhac in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region took second place, and Lassay-les-Châteaux in Pays de la Loire came in third.
Unsurprisingly, most people outside of France likely haven’t heard of Esquelbecq, despite its close proximity to the city of Lille and the fortified hilltop village of Cassel, which won Le Village Préféré des Français in 2018. But there are several reasons why it’s worth taking note of this beautiful village in French Flanders.
For starters, a 17th-century castle surrounded by a moat and gardens sits at the center of town. But Esquelbecq won this year’s contest for more than its aesthetic value. A lot of history has happened here too; the village dates back to the Middle Ages and saw action in both the World Wars.
What to do in Esquelbecq
Esquelbecq’s most popular attraction is the Château d’Esquelbecq, a red-brick castle with eight turrets surrounded by a moat in the town’s center. The current building is from the early 17th century, but previous castles here date back to the 9th century. Although the castle itself isn’t accessible to visitors, the surrounding gardens are open to the public from May to mid-September on weekends.
Another landmark worth visiting is the church of Saint-Folquin, a saint who was the 15th bishop of Therouanne and a first cousin of Charlemagne. He died in Esquelbecq in the year 855. Though the original church dates back to the 10th century, a 1976 fire ravaged the building. It has since been completely restored to what it looked like in the 16th and 17th centuries with a facade featuring diamond patterns of white and red bricks.
History buffs interested in more recent events will also find plenty of World War II history in the area. Located across the street from the château, the Westhoek House is home to Esquelbecq’s Tourism Board and La Plaine au Bois museum. Opened in 2017 on the first floor of the Westhoek House, the museum commemorates the massacre of British soldiers during World War II near the town.
Esquelbecq is also known for being a literary hub with no fewer than three bookstores in town. In addition to monthly book markets, the annual Night of Books festival takes place the first Saturday in July each year. In 2023, 70 authors and dozens of booksellers and publishers took part in round-table talks, workshops, and other events.
Where to stay in Esquelbecq
Because of its small size, Esquelbecq has a few restaurants and limited places to stay in the village proper. However, the Huithuis Manor is a small bed-and-breakfast surrounded by manicured lawns located an eight-minute walk east from the center of town. Each of three rooms has its own bathroom and rates start at €80 per night.
The full list of finalists of the Le Village Préféré des Français 2023
- Esquelbecq, Hauts-de-France
- Lavoûte-Chilhac, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
- Lassay-les-Châteaux, Pays de la Loire
- Druyes-les-Belles-Fontaines, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
- Hattonchâtel, Grand Est
- Pontrieux, Brittany
- Belcastel, Occitanie
- Beaumont-en-Auge, Normandy
- Beaulieu-lès-Loches, Centre-Val de Loire
- Belves, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
- L’Entre-Deux, Reunion, Overseas
- Flagy, Île-de-France
- Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- Lumio, Corsica
The Le Village Préféré des Français has taken place each year since 2012. Esquelbecq takes over the title from the 2022 winner, Bergheim, a village in Alsace about 40 minutes from Strasbourg known for its flower-filled window boxes, candy-colored houses, and medieval walls. In 2021, the town of Sancerre in the Loire Valley took the title.
This article originally appeared online in 2018; it was most recently updated on July 12, 2023, to include current information.