20 Must-Visit Places in the French Countryside

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by Rina Bernardo

Vineyards in the French countryside town of Riquewihr
Photo by Dirk Scheuble on Unsplash

The French countryside is the perfect respite for anyone wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. While the City of Love may offer quintessential tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, nothing beats the view of rolling hills, lavender fields, and vineyards. Its breathtaking landscape also has served as an inspiration for many artists, poets, and writers, captivated by its beauty and simplicity. Certainly, the countryside is one of the country’s many charms.

 

Offering miles and miles of rustic and charming sights, here’s a list of the must-visit places if you want to explore the French countryside.

1. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

View of Saint Cirque Lapopie perched on a limestone cliff

Photo by Eric Huybrechts on Flickr

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie sits on the edge of rugged limestone cliffs that overlook the Lot Valley and the Lot River. This medieval village was voted by locals as one of the most beautiful villages in France, with artists like André Breton settling in the village.

 

At Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, feel as if you’ve traveled back in time as you navigate through its narrow streets surrounded by half-timbered houses. Cruise along the Lot River and discover fascinating cave dwellings and paths that date back to the 14th century. Back on the land, head to the castle ruins for a panoramic view of the town then visit the Rignault Museum.

2. Honfleur

View of Honfleur's iconic harbor

Photo by edmondlafoto on Pixabay

Located within a three-hour drive from Paris is the French countryside town of Honfleur. Its lively port, lined with fishing boards and slate-roofed houses, has been immortalized in several paintings by famous artists like Claude Monet. Moreover, its abundance of museums, chapels, and colorful houses make it one of the French countryside towns.

 

Discover Honfleur’s rich nautical history by visiting the Musée de la Marine, housed in a 14th-century church. After that, discover the whimsical rooms at Maisons Satie and say a prayer at Saint Catherine Church, the largest wooden church in France. End your tour of Honfleur at the iconic Vieux Bassin and have a meal at one of the restaurants along the harbor.

3. Chinon

Chateau de Chinon as seen from the water

Photo by Trevor Huxham on Flickr

In the heart of the Loire Valley is Chinon, a commune that has served as a getaway for both French and English royalty and nobles. It was also where Joan of Arc once resided. You’ll be transported to a different time in this medieval town, with buildings dating back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era.

 

Learn about the tumultuous history of Château de Chinon, one of the many castles in France that is part of the UNESCO-listed Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Aside from its historical sites, Chinon is also a popular destination for its Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Then, visit a winery and learn how the city’s famous bottles are produced as you sample some of their best wines.

4. Roussillon

Ochre cliffs and orange-hued houses in Roussillon at the French countryside

Photo by Manosainz on Pixabay

Nestled between the Luberon hills and Monts du Vaucluse is the clifftop village of Roussillon. Its ochre quarries and warm-hued houses form an eye-catching contrast with the greens of the forest surrounding it. Add the blue skies of Provence and you get one of the most uniquely beautiful villages in the French countryside.

 

To truly admire the marvels of ochre, walk along the Ochre Trail to see fiery hues blaze amongst the deep green of the pine trees. The gorgeous warm palette of ochre can also be seen in the walls of its houses. Explore the streets to find quirky artisan boutiques selling all sorts of trinkets and handmade goods. For the best views of Luberon and the surrounding mountains, visit the orientation table, the town’s highest point.

5. Cassel

Flemish-Gothic buildings in Cassel

Photo by Patrick on Flickr

Cassel combines the beauty of Flemish and French country architecture thanks to its strategic location near the border between France and Belgium. Three hours away from Paris, this unique town stands out among the cozy cottages and lavender fields in other towns with its Flemish-Gothic houses and cobbled town squares. 

 

Explore the quaint streets of Cassel and find out why it was hailed as France’s Favourite Village in 2018. Savor local specialties like Flemish beef stew paired with a glass of French wine. Then, indulge in a sightseeing tour around Collegiale Notre Dame De La Crypte, Flanders Museum, and the town’s picturesque streets. For a different way of exploring Cassel, rent a bike and pedal across the hilly slopes of Mont Cassel.

6. Colmar

Colorful half-timbered houses scattered around Colmar

Photo by Ben_Kerckx on Pixabay

The capital of the Alsatian Wine Route, Colmar is also a favorite destination for wine lovers. But the true charm of this commune lies in its architectural landmarks and buildings that look straight out of a Disney film. In fact, the Venetian canals and colorful half-timbered houses are said to be the original inspiration for Belle’s village in Beauty and The Beast!

 

Bring your cameras and enjoy plenty of photo ops around the colorful town of Colmar. While it is a popular destination from spring to summer, spending the holidays here is a memorable experience. Its pastel-hued houses and cobblestone streets are decked with festive ornaments and its lively markets make it one of the best places to spend Christmas in Europe.

7. Lourmarin

Panoramic view of Lourmarin and the French countryside

Photo by villlamania on Wikimedia Commons

Just an hour from Avignon is Lourmarin, hailed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is surrounded by vineyards, almond trees, and olive groves and contains a medley of Mediterranean and French architecture. Additionally, dozens of cafes and even some Michelin-starred restaurants spill out onto the cobbled streets along the town center.

 

Meander around Lourmarin’s picturesque streets lined with honey-colored buildings and beautiful churches. Then, visit the Renaissance Château de Lourmarin, once a fortress and now one of the remainders of the town’s history. At the weekly Lourmarin Market, shop for locally-made goods, fresh produce, and souvenirs to take home.

8. Chamonix

Chamonix with a view of the French Alps

Photo by Jonathan Fors on Unsplash

Chamonix is without a doubt one of the best places to go skiing in France. Its snow-frosted peaks along the French Alps have been a playground for many skiers, hikers, and adventure seekers. Furthermore, Chamonix serves as a gateway to the towering peaks of Mont Blanc, providing jaw-dropping views no matter the season.

 

But Chamonix is more than its ski slopes and winter activities! Get a taste of life in the Alps at Chamonix Village, teeming with stores selling local cheese, honey, and other specialties. Then go on a wintry hike or if you prefer, ride the Mont Blanc Tramway up the mountains. Afterward, see Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France. And finally, cap off your tour by having a sumptuous meal at one of the gourmet restaurants back in the village.

9. Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint Michel as seen during the low tide

Photo by Aldo Loya on Unsplash

Perched atop a rocky islet is Mont-Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that welcomes millions of visitors every year. During the high tide, the water mirroring the tidal island gives it an otherworldly glow. Meanwhile, the low tide allows visitors to wander around and see it from a different perspective. Past its medieval walls, Mont Saint-Michel houses several historical and religious sites.

 

See the gorgeous Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, a Gothic-Romanesque masterpiece towering 155 meters above the sea. Walk around the ramparts and learn about its role during the Hundred Years War. At Grand Rue, find souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, and a few interesting museums like the Museum of the Sea and Ecology. Before leaving, grab a bite and have a savory or sweet omelet at La Mère Poulard.

10. Kaysersberg

River Weiss flowing through Kaysersberg in the French countryside

Photo by Aswathy N on Unsplash

Kaysersberg is a small village along the famed Alsace Wine Route. With its half-timbered houses, cobblestone-laden streets, and colorful buildings, every corner of this town in the French countryside is picture-perfect. Between the houses, the River Weiss flows through, creating a dreamy fairytale-like setting both children and adults will appreciate.

 

Explore this quaint town and discover what makes it a favorite even among locals. The ancient fortified bridge across the river, for one, is one of the most iconic structures in Kaysersberg. Make sure to stop by the Château de Kaysersberg, a ruined castle surrounded by vineyards that offer gorgeous views of the town.  During the winter months, don’t miss the lively Christmas markets where you can shop for handmade gifts and try out Kaysersberg’s yuletide snacks and treats.

11. Sault

Fragrant lavender fields in Sault

Photo by Alessandro Vecchi on Wikimedia Commons

Not that far from the medieval capital of Avignon is Sault, known for having one of the best lavender fields in France. The small commune is set on a rocky outcrop and overlooks the golden wheat fields and the vibrant purple of the lavender fields. It also holds one of the most popular lavender festivals, normally held every 15th of August during the blooming season.

 

Head to the French countryside and frolic around the mesmerizing lavender fields. Then, bring out your cameras and strike a pose for that picture-perfect shot. During the much anticipated lavender festival, get a chance to pick and take home a fresh bouquet of lavender for free! Take home a piece of Sault and purchase various lavender-themed items like lavender oil, soap, and honey.

12. Giverny

Gardens at Monet's house in Giverny

Photo by DanielSjostrand on Pixabay

Giverny earned its claim to fame through its idyllic villages, cottages, and most notably the garden and home of the painter Claude Monet. Monet spent more than 40 years in his Giverny home and created several artworks of his gardens, including the famous water lilies and Japanese bridge.

 

As you explore Giverny, be enchanted by this town in the French countryside. Embark on a nature hike and admire the wildflowers dotting the romantic walking paths. Then, take a tour of Money’s home and garden and be in awe of the blooming flowers and plants surrounding it. Walk past weeping willows and dramatic arches that lead you to the infamous lily pond and Japanese bridge.

13. Megève

Snow-capped houses and buildings in Megeve during winter

Photo by Bernard Blanc on Flickr

Tourists looking for some winter action shouldn’t miss the town of Megève. Like Chamonix, it offers thrilling downhill slopes, cross-country trails, and beautiful ski resorts. Its location along the French Alps made it a favorite winter destination for French aristocrats, evident in the luxury chalets and designer boutiques in the medieval town center.

 

If you’re looking for a luxurious getaway in the French countryside, travel to Megève. Shop at the many designer boutiques in the village or enjoy a taste of Haute Savoie cuisine at a fine dining restaurant. But for the ultimate Megève experience, stay at a five-star hotel! From traditional hunting lodges, Alpine chalets, and high-end resort complexes, feel like an A-lister as you spend the weekend here.

14. Cluny

View of Cluny Abbey's complex in the French countryside

Photo by Olivier Duquesne on Flickr

Located in the Burgundy region, Cluny gives off a quaint country vibe with its rolling hills and a unique blend of Roman and French countryside architecture. It became a significant town after Duke William I of Aquitaine founded Cluny Abbey. Before the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, it was the largest church in Christendom.

 

Find your inner peace as you walk through Cluny Abbey’s halls and gardens, admiring its Romanesque architecture. You can also take a live-guided or audio-guided tour of the abbey for a more in-depth exploration of the abbey. Then, meet the horses at the National Stud and catch panoramic views of Cluny atop the Cheese Tower, once a part of the wall surrounding Cluny Abbey.

15. Saint-Émilion

Panoramic view of Saint Emilion's stone-tile houses

Photo by JordyMeow on Pixabay

For wine lovers, visiting Saint-Émilion is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux, popular for its Merlot and Cabernet Franc wines. Additionally, it is one of the few towns in the French countryside declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its Romanesque churches, ruins, and other underground sites.

 

But even if you’re not a huge fan of wines, you can enjoy a day trip to this beautiful commune. Walk around its winding streets and visit the Monolithic Church of Saint-Emilion, one of the largest underground churches in Europe, and climb up the bell tower for scenic views of the town. Of course, don’t miss the chance to explore a winery and sample their best wines! Before departing Saint-Émilion, bring home a bottle of wine as a souvenir.

16. Riquewihr

Pastel-colored houses and cobbled streets in Riquewihr

Photo by Pug Girl on Flickr

In the heart of the Alsatian wine route is Riquewihr, a fairytale town in the French countryside. With its pastel-colored houses, terraces brimming with flowers, and idyllic courtyards, every corner is nothing short of picture-perfect. Coupled with its famous white wine scene, you might start thinking you’re a character in a Disney film after a couple of tipples.

 

Have your cameras ready and snap photos of the colorful half-timbered houses and charming alleyways. Then learn a bit of history at the Thieves Tower Museum and the Museum of the Dolder. Wine enthusiasts definitely shouldn’t miss the wineries and wine hikes around the vast vineyards. At night, the lights give the village an ethereal glow, even more, when the city is decorated with festive lights and ornaments at Christmas!

17. Bayeux

Canals and stone houses in Bayeux in the French countryside

Photo by Veronica Reverse on Unsplash

If you’re looking for a place that has both history and incredible sights, visit Bayeux. Its charm lies in its medieval structures and stone buildings that survived battles and conquests. However, the commune’s main draw is the UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry, a 68-meter tapestry that details the events leading up to the Norman invasion of England.

 

But aside from its 11th-century tapestry, Bayeux offers plenty more sights to see! There’s the Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Bayeux Cathedral, the weeping beech at the Bayeux Botanical Garden, and the giant tanks of the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. On top of that visitors can also see the Aure River flowing through the town from different vantage points.

18. Gordes

View of Gordes on a cliffside in the French countryside

Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

Gordes is another village in Provence with a postcard-perfect scenery. Find light-colored stone houses, courtyards, and an imposing Renaissance castle at the hilltop. Like Honfleur, Gordes had its fair share of painters and photographers who found inspiration in its landscape.

 

Because of its location, Gordes prides itself on being one of the most beautiful villages in France. Fall in love with its breathtaking sights: from the stone houses, water mills, and the Luberon massif. If you’re visiting from June to August, make sure to drop by the lavender fields of Sénanque Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery.

19. Vézelay

French countryside town of Vezelay and the UNESCO-listed Vézelay Abbey

Photo by Gérard CORRET on Flickr

In north-central France, Vézelay is another hilltop village worth seeing. After all, its abbey and town center are both designated World Heritage Sites. Additionally, its wineries produce some of the region’s best Chardonnay and Pinot noir bottles.

 

Take a day trip to Vézelay and soak up its rustic charm. Go on a guided walking tour and learn about its history and significance in the Middle Ages. Then, visit the Vézelay Abbey, a Burgundian Romanesque masterpiece, and marvel at the intricate detailing of the tympanum. Outside the abbey, catch scenic views of the surrounding French countryside.

20. Pérouges

Place du Tilleul in Pérouges in the French countryside

Photo by Marilou Perino on Wikimedia Commons

The town of Pérouges rounds up the list of must-visit villages and towns in the French countryside. In just less than an hour from Lyon, step into the past in this ancient walled town. One of the most stunning medieval villages in the country, its narrow streets are flanked by well-preserved timber-framed houses and fortified churches.

 

A true relic of the past, this fairytale town cobbled streets are extremely uneven (comfortable walking shoes are a must!). Explore the cobbly streets of its main square and spot the 200-year old Tree of Liberty. At one of the local eateries, try a slice of Galette de Pérouges, a type of pie made of brioche pastry, sugar, and butter, best paired with cream or drizzled with fruit coulis.

Discover the Beauty of the French Countryside

Unravel another side of France as you explore the towns along the French countryside. They offer a much-needed escape from the hustle and bustle of the metro through the unspoiled hills, fragrant lavender fields, and well-preserved historical sites. So if you’ve had your fill of Paris’s fast-paced life, visit one of the countryside villages and embark on a memorable adventure!