France has an interesting history. Every major event in France‘s history, from the Roman invasions and revolutionary upheavals through the Empire and the subsequent civil wars, has left its mark.
However, some locations are able to preserve their past more successfully than others, with ancient walls, classical cathedrals, and medieval centers all bearing proud witness to the tales and wounds of their long and storied pasts.
Many different types of landscapes may be found in France, but the country is most renowned for its picturesque medieval cities and villages. These locations, with their old architecture and rituals, will transport you to another era. Keep reading if a trip to France is in your future and you’re interested in seeing some outstanding examples of medieval architecture and culture.
Top 6 historic towns and villages in France
What follows is a list of the most beautiful historic towns and villages in France that should not be missed on your vacation to this magical country.
Besançon, the capital of the historical and cultural region of Franche-Comté, can be found in eastern France, close to the Jura Mountains and the border with Switzerland. Its fortress from the 17th century is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and the town has been known as a “Town of Art and History” since 1986. Carcassonne is one of the most beautiful historic towns all over France.
After the French Revolution, when the new government no longer wanted to depend on imports from England and Switzerland, the city also became recognized for its watchmaking. Stop by Auguste-Lucien Vérité’s Astronomical Clock, or L’horloge Astronomique, constructed in the 1850s. There are 30,000 individual parts that together provide information on the current time, date, season, zodiac sign, solar eclipses, moon phases, and more. The clock’s upper face displays biblical themes with revolving figures.
Avignon is another one of France’s most beautiful historic towns that you shouldn’t miss visiting on your trip to the country. The medieval city of Avignon is a sight to see inside its protective walls in the southern French province of Provence, which is known for its pleasant climate, delicious cuisine, and picturesque scenery.
The city’s influence in European history cannot be understated since it provided protection to the Papacy’s bloodline when they left Rome in the 14th century due to the city’s reputation for political corruption. The city’s strong Catholic heritage is reflected in the abundance of magnificent religious structures found across the area.
The Palais des Papes, a magnificent Gothic palace that formerly housed the Papacy in Avignon, is the city’s most famous landmark. Perhaps the most cherished symbol of Avignon is the Pont d’Avignon. Only four of the original bridge’s twenty-two arches survive today; the rest were destroyed by water in the seventeenth century.
Dijon, the Burgundian capital, is an interesting city with many historical tales to tell, and it is one of the best historic towns in the beautiful country of France. In addition to the university, created in 1722, you may see the cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century, and the beautiful tombs of Philip the Bold (1340–1404) and John the Fearless (1371–1419), two (excellently named) dukes of Burgundy.
We recommend exploring the little medieval treasure trove that is Rue de la Chouette, which gets its name from the tiny owl stone sculpture on one of the pillars of Notre Dame Cathedral. Some believe that rubbing an owl with your left hand would bring you luck.
Even though it’s located in the heart of France’s wine country, a visit to Bordeaux won’t be limited to vineyards and tastings. Aside from Paris, this port city has more historical landmarks, making it a prime candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status. The many historical landmarks in the city make it one of the best historical towns all over France.
Located in the heart of Bordeaux lies the city’s crown jewel: the magnificent cathedral. The Cathedral, which was built in the 11th century and afterward reconstructed in a magnificent Gothic style, is the beating heart of Bordeaux.
If you take some time to explore the city’s maze of narrow, cobblestone alleyways, you’ll come across other architectural gems like the Big Bell of Bordeaux, which originally signaled the arrival of medieval residents. Place de la Bourse is Bordeaux’s most famous landmark and a historical microcosm of the city, which is located on the banks of the Garonne River.
Yvoire had a crucial military role in the area during the Middle Ages due to its strategic location on a tiny type of peninsula in Lake Geneva. This small village is another one of France’s best historic towns and villages that you must visit on your trip to this gorgeous country.
Present-day residents take pride in the town’s thriving arts community, its abundant floral offerings (for which the city has garnered several accolades), and its architectural splendor. The gorgeous wooden shutters, balconies, and slanted roofs of the old stone houses are a visual treat.
Saint Pancrace Church is in the center of the village on the Place du Thay. The onion-shaped dome wasn’t added until the 19th century, while the building itself dates back to the 11th. The castle sits above the town and is privately owned, but the Garden of the Five Senses is accessible to the general public. There is also the option of taking a walk around the lakeside and visiting the fishing dock.
The Medieval village of Conques is between two rivers (the Dourdou and the Ouche), and it is considered one of the top historic towns and villages all over France. Large cars are unable to navigate the small, historic alleys, which contributes to the area’s relaxed pace.
The town of Conques is a part of the Aveyron department in southwestern France. Formerly, this region was sought after by travelers hoping for a haven of individual liberty. The Abbey Church, which houses Sainte Foy’s remains, and the Bridge Over the Dourdou are only two examples of the many structures and customs that have survived to the present day. The folklore goes that if you ring a bell on this bridge, the local monks will answer you right away since it is the only way through the jungle.
Final words about France’s most beautiful historic towns and villages
Travelers interested in history can find a wealth of intriguing destinations in France. You may visit any of these wonderful old towns and find tales written in the buildings, or you can just wander where millions of others have gone before you. We’ve listed down some of France’s best and most popular historic towns and villages with a brief profile about them. Have a great time!