France can be mapped in wine or cheese—or drinking water, if you know where to go. Some of the world’s most renowned brands of bottled water point back to unassuming spa towns tucked away in the deep folds of the French countryside. Like the unique flavor and properties of each brand of mineral water, these five French towns preserve their own special place in the landscape—places where you can still drink the waters straight from the earth.
Available on supermarket shelves in 140 countries, the original Perrier still bubbles up from a single spring outside the tiny village of Vergèze. This is the Occitan—the deep south of France, with its own patois and a longstanding fondness for the naturally-carbonated water. Today, the bottling plant is a worthy tourist attraction with a small museum and a 19th-century beaux-arts gazebo where visitors can still drink freely from the source.
Tucked away in the alpine foothills near the Rhône River, the tiny town of Saint-Galmier is home to Badoit—the preferred sparkling water of Parisian café tables today. The green pastoral idyll above ground hides the special granite bedrock and underground bubbles of carbon dioxide that tumble up from the ground. The thermal spring dates back to Roman times, which became a popular destination for soaking cures in the 19th century.
The special soft water taste of pure glacial melt flows out of the French Alps, on the edge of Lake Geneva. Once the favorite holiday spot of Marcel Proust, the town of Evian-les-bains remains a busy spa town, with amazing treatments. You can also visit the Evian bottling plant, as well as the original source.
The rounded mountains of the Massif Central allow the “six layers of volcanic filtration” that sets Volvic apart as one of the “purest” mineral waters in France. Visitors to the extinct volcano enter through an impressive grotto and drink from natural subterranean water falls—you can also tour the bottling plant. (To see Volvic's suggestions on how to explore its home region of Auvergne, click here.)
Nestled in the province of Lorraine (not far from another famous French spring, Contrex), Vittel is incredibly soft. The official drinking water of the London Marathon, the original source dates back to 1854 when this town was a popular Victorian spa.
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