The 11 Most Beautiful Villages in the French Countryside

For more than a decade, these French villages have received television-level fame for their beauty.

White, fairytale-like buildings against a bright blue sky and lush green land

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a stop on the Camino de Santiago, is one of France’s most beautiful villages.

Photo by Jon Chica/Shutterstock

The French love a good contest. From Paris’s annual baguette competition to the cow beauty pageant at the Salon de l’Agriculture, there’s no stopping the matchups. Even villages in the countryside of France are judged in Le village préféré des Français, an annual TV show hosted by journalist Stéphane Bern (aka Monsieur Patrimoine).

Of 14 candidates each representing a French region, the French public vote for their favorite. And in a country known for its cinematic, pinch-me-pretty villages, that’s no easy feat. The result for the lucky winner is an undeniable boon for tourism—though sometimes to ill effect. (Tip: Avoid the crowds by visiting in the off-season instead of summer or the May holiday weekends.)

Here’s a look at the heart-stealing champs over the past 11 years.

1. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

  • Location: Occitanie; 30 minutes from Cahors
  • 2012 winner

From its vertiginous perch on a craggy cliff, this honey-colored hamlet is reflected in the waters of the Lot River below. A tangle of medieval alleyways tumbles down the hillside, dominated by the 16th-century Gothic church. Much of the village has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages, and today harbors 13 classified historic monuments, including the 14th-century Maison Bordes and an old hospital dating to the 13th. It’s attracted artists and writers since the early 20th century, including surrealist poet André Breton, who summered among the hollyhocks.

The fountain with statue of Saint Leon in the main square, or Saint-Leon Square of Eguisheim, France in the Alsace region.

Eguisheim has a lot to offer, especially for oenophiles.

Photo by Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock

2. Eguisheim

  • Location: Alsace; 15 minutes from Colmar
  • 2013 winner

Traditional roots run as deep as the vineyards in this village that’s straight out of a storybook. With half-timbered houses festooned with geraniums, Eguisheim is situated on Alsace’s fabled Route des Vins (Wine Route), celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Local winemakers have been working the land for generations: Domaine Paul Schneider is an independent, family-owned winery housed in a 17th-century tithe barn, while Domaine Emile Beyer has transmitted its viticultural savoir faire since 1580 (that’s 14 generations).

Cordes-sur-Ciel, a village near Albi in Tarn, Midi-Pyrenees, Southern France, as seen from the southern viewpoint.

Cordes-sur-Ciel, located in southern France, can be appreciated from different viewpoints.

Photo by Anibal Trejo/Shutterstock

3. Cordes-sur-Ciel

  • Location: Occitanie; 75 minutes from Toulouse
  • 2014 winner

Photogenic is an understatement here. Rising high above the sun-baked Occitan valleys, this 13th-century hilltop village noses the clouds. Hence the phrase “sur ciel” (“in heaven”) added to the official name in 1993. From the fortified gate, steep cobblestone lanes wind uphill to a postcard panorama. Artists and writers gravitate here (Albert Camus was a fan), and you’ll find a number of artisans’ boutiques among the Gothic houses made of ochre sandstone.

The Ploumanac'h lighthouse at golden hour in Brittany, France

The Ploumanac’h Lighthouse was rebuilt in 1946 after German troops destroyed it in 1944.

Photo by Marcello Landolfi/Shutterstock

4. Ploumanac’h

  • Location: Brittany; two hours from Rennes
  • 2015 winner

Generations of vacationers have heard the siren song of Brittany’s Pink Granite Coast. Swept by dramatic tides, the shore is strewn with spectacular boulders and rock formations among sandy beaches. In the heart of this idyllic setting sits the village port of Ploumanac’h. Landmarks include the lighthouse, historic tide-operated mill, and the myth-shrouded island oratory dedicated to Saint-Guirec, an evangelizing Welsh monk (later declared a saint); he arrived on this beach in the 7th century. From here, boat excursions depart for the Sept-Îles, an archipelago that’s an important sanctuary for migrating birds, including puffins and northern gannets. Spring and summer are best for bird-watching.

Rochefort-en-Terre medieval village, Morbihan department in the Brittany region, France

Like many of the villages listed, Rochefort-en-Terre dates back hundreds of years.

Photo by Unai Huizi Photography/Shutterstock

5. Rochefort-en-Terre

  • Location: Brittany; 80 minutes from Rennes
  • 2016 winner

At a distance of about 20 miles from the ocean, this village of 700 inhabitants offers another side of Brittany. The village dates to the 12th century, but a new tradition was born in the early 20th century, when American artist Alfred Klots fell under Rochefort’s spell and settled here, restoring a ruined castle as his home. In 1907, he launched an annual window box competition, and Rochefort blossomed into a city of geraniums, the granite facades of the Renaissance houses decorated in riotous color. A highlight on the cultural calendar is the annual Christmas illuminations, which draw visitors from all over France.

Picturesque street with traditional half timbered houses on the Alsace Wine Route.

Kaysersberg translates to “Emperor’s Mountain” in German.

Photo by SCStock/Shutterstock

6. Kaysersberg

  • Location: Alsace, 1 hour from Strasbourg
  • 2017 winner

Stork nests, vine-clad hillsides, colorful half-timbered houses next to the River Weiss: It’s the quintessential portrait of Alsace here in Kaysersberg, also situated on the Route des Vins. Lorded over by the ruins of a strategic 13th-century castle, Kaysersberg is home to the destination hotel-restaurant Le Chambard, where beloved TV host Anthony Bourdain died. Here chef Olivier Nasti operates a Michelin two-starred establishment alongside a casual winstub, or traditional brasserie.

Mill in the village of Cassel, in northern France

Moulin de Cassel, a windmill in Cassel, is one of the village’s biggest landmarks.

Photo by MisterStock/Shutterstock

7. Cassel

  • Location: Hauts-de-France; 1 hour from Lille
  • 2018 winner

With its origins going back to the Iron Age, this fortified hilltop village has borne the brunt of a millennium-old geopolitical tug of war. At the crossroads of Roman roads in ancient Gaul, Cassel was sacked by the Vikings in 880, and later became a 17th-century war prize fought over by France and Spain. Today, Cassel offers an immersion in Flemish culture not far from the Belgian border. Brick gabled houses line the Grand’Place, estaminets dish up traditional cuisine like carbonnade flamande (a beef stew made with beer), and the carnival brings wondrous street parades of “giants” made of papier-mâché, wood, and fabric.

Street view in Saint Vaast la Hougue. This is small town in Normandy near to Cherbourg, France

Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a seaside village famous for its oysters.

Photo by kateafter/Shutterstock

8. Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

  • Location: Normandy; 30 minutes from Cherbourg
  • 2019 winner

Often likened to Ireland, the wild Cotentin Peninsula is marked by wind-swept moors tumbling over rocky cliffs into the English Channel. It’s here where this coastal fishing village welcomes sailors to its yacht marina, one of the largest in Normandy. The village of 2,000 people is also known for its oyster production and 17th-century towers that are part of the UNESCO-listed fortifications of Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer. You can reach Tatihou Island just offshore on foot at low tide across the oyster beds.

Traditional half-timbered houses in the streets of the small town of Hunspach in Alsace, France

The eastern French village of Hunspach has both French and German influence.

Photo by Sergey Kelin/Shutterstock

9. Hunspach

  • Location: Alsace; 45 minutes from Strasbourg
  • 2020 winner

The fairy-tale region of Alsace clinched a third “favorite village” title when Hunspach won at the height of the COVID pandemic. Close to both the German border and the forested Vosges regional natural park, Hunspach exudes authenticity, its central area classified a historic monument by the French government. Since the Middle Ages, the colors of the shutters on the half-timbered houses indicate an artisan’s dwelling. Browse for kelsch, the traditional fabric made of linen and cotton, at the Kelsch’ Idée boutique.

Sancerre, France view from tower, skyline panoramic

Getting a panoramic view of Sancerre, which sits in the Loire Valley, is one of the best ways to appreciate its landscape.

Photo by Omaly Darcia/Shutterstock

10. Sancerre

  • Location: Centre-Val de Loire; 90 minutes from Orléans
  • 2021 winner

For many, Sancerre is synonymous with the crisp white wine from the Loire Valley. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Loire River, the medieval town that gave the vin its name overlooks vineyards as far as the eye can see. (The view from the top of the Tour des Fiefs is magnificent.) Don’t miss the 15th-century Maison Jacques Cœur, the village’s oldest house, which once belonged to King Charles VII’s royal advisor.

Half-timbered houses, entwined with flowers and medieval tower, preserved from the city fortifications of the 13th century in the daytime

Bergheim is known for the medieval fortified walls that surround it.

Photo by Olgysha/Shutterstock

11. Bergheim

  • Location: Alsace; 40 minutes from Strasbourg
  • 2022 winner

The flower-filled window boxes and pastel-hued houses may evoke a charming fantasy, but the history of Bergheim is anything but. Between 1582 and 1630, 40 women were accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake—the Maison des Sorcières (Witches’ House) tells a story of the victims and their trials. Today this Alsatian village is like a movie set, ringed by medieval walls. You can walk the perimeter along a one-hour walking trail called the “Circuit des remparts,” which connects the nine towers of Bergheim. Another path, complete with educational signs, takes you on a stroll through the vineyards.

Mary Winston Nicklin is a writer/editor based in Paris and Virginia.
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