As our travelers discover, France is so much more than its iconic Eiffel Tower or the romantic streets of Paris. Spread across the country are beautiful French towns and villages that serve as the true heartbeat of our culture and history. 

From Brittany's striking rocky landscapes to the aromatic lavender fields of Provence, each village offers a unique and authentic experience of France. 

In this article, we will take you through some of the most charming villages of the French countryside, where narrow cobblestone streets have remained the same for centuries and where passionate artisans keep local traditions alive.

Keep reading to immerse yourself in the authentic charm of the ‘real’ France!

Rocamadour, a hillside village in Dordogne

Rodeo Media

Provins, Île-de-France

Just 60 miles south-east of Paris lies the picturesque village of Provins, a haven of French countryside charm. A short trip from Paris, Provins takes visitors back to medieval times. Its fortified gates, underground tunnels, and charming marketplaces highlight its UNESCO World Heritage status, and the annual medieval festival brings the town's history to life.

This town, with its ancient ramparts, fortified gates, and medieval festival in June, provides a delightful snapshot into France's rich history. As you wander through the quaint cobbled streets of Provins' upper town, the idyllic beauty will transport you to bygone eras, capturing the essence of the tranquil French countryside. Just imagine the bustling medieval trading fairs that once brought together traders from afar, creating a tapestry of stories and traditions!

Today, visitors can ascend the Tour César, a 12th-century keep, for lovely panoramic views, or find solace in the serene ambiance of the Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church. You may also like to explore Provins’ network of underground tunnels (Les Souterrains de Provins), which date back to the 10th century. These were used for defense purposes during times of attack and to store food and wine.  

This countryside gem offers a blend of beauty, history, and charm, with today's town built right into the medieval structures. It’s an ideal stop for travelers seeking a timeless French village experience on their driving tour of France.

Ville-Dommange, Champagne

A quiet refuge in Champagne, Ville-Dommange is a perfect escape. Overlooking vineyards, the Saint Lié Church offers moments of tranquility. Wine lovers will appreciate local vineyard tours and tastings.

Ville-Dommange is one of the closest towns to Reims. You may park at the southern end of the village and enjoy a walk in the vineyards. You can make it a very short or longer walk - it’s very easy to get oriented between the plots, so you won’t need a map. Please do note however that it’s not permitted to touch the vines or grapes.

We like Champagne Florent Bergeronneau-Marion, a small family independent Champagne house. The owner will welcome you and invite you to taste her wines. If you don’t buy anything you’ll pay a few euros for the tasting, which is waived if you buy a bottle or two. They have a very large range of Champagnes from the 100% Pinot Meunier to the vintages which are usually a blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. They also have a delicious Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) vinified in oak barrels.

If you would like to tour the Champagne region of France, Browse our Champagne itineraries to see some sample tours, all of which can be customized to your preferences.

Vézelay, Burgundy

Perched gracefully atop a hill, Vézelay's basilica is a monumental sight. The village is steeped in religious history, with its stunning Romanesque art and relics and its streets echoing tales of pilgrims who once passed through on their way to Santiago de Compostela.  Today, if you're lucky, you may be joined in the village by groups of scouts on pilgrimage, bringing a young and modern vibe to this historic place. The surrounding Burgundy region provides ample wine tasting opportunities.

Beyond the spiritual allure, Vézelay sits nestled in the heart of the Burgundy region, renowned for its exquisite wines. Wander through the surrounding vineyards and we recommend taking the opportunity to enjoy a wine-tasting. We will recommend some of our favorite wineries if you book with us! 

For people interested in witnessing the serene beauty of the French countryside, Vézelay is a lovely stop on your self-drive tour.

 A distant view of the village of Vézelay in Burgundy with a field of poppies in the foreground
The village of Vézelay in Burgundy

Office de Tourisme de Vézelay - CC-BY SA 4.0

Giverny, Normandy

The famous house and gardens are awash with vibrant colors inside and out, reflecting the inspiration for Monet's renowned water lily paintings. A visit here feels like stepping into one of his canvases.

Just an hour's drive from Paris, Giverny, Normandy's most visited village, captivates with Claude Monet's picturesque pink-walled house. Although his original artworks reside in Paris museums, the real spectacle here is in the beauty of his garden, which inspired many of Monet’s most famous paintings. The Japanese garden is a living canvas, with its iconic water lilies and bridge.

To enhance your visit, we offer skip-the-line tickets and recommend a nearby Bed & Breakfast for early morning or evening strolls through the garden, to help you avoid the peak tourist times.

The garden is absolutely beautiful between May and October, and ever-changing as different varieties of flower come into bloom each month. The busiest months will be from May through August.

If you book one of our self-guided tours of Normandy and you enjoy visiting gardens, we will include a stop in Giverny in your itinerary.

The water lily pond in Monet's garden in Giverny, Normandy
The water lily pond in Monet's garden in Giverny, Normandy

Ben & Jane Lintott

Locronan, Brittany

In the Finistère region, Locronan radiates undeniable charm and impeccable preservation, earning its title as a "Petite Cité de Caractère" or "Small City of Character." This acclaim is partly due to its stunning Renaissance residences and the medieval church that hails from the 1400s. You’ll see that many of the town's structures were constructed from the granite that is so characteristic of this region, topped with classic slate roofs.

A wonderful spot to commence your village journey is the cobblestone-laden Place de l'Eglise. Encircled by centuries-old buildings, the square has a historically significant church and an age-old well located at its heart.

Next to the square, you’ll find quaint shops and cafes. The village center unfurls from this point, with roads stretching out in every direction. To the church's left, the combined paths of Rue des Charrettes and Rue du Four form a loop. Directly across, the narrow road, Venelle Toul Prichen, is pleasant to stroll along.

The Locronan tourist office offers a recommended walking route, or, if you're booking a driving tour of Brittany with us, we'll tell you our favorite places to visit and walking routes.

Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

In the Morbihan department of Brittany, Rochefort-en-Terre is a charming, off-the-beaten-path village, with its château, cobblestoned paths, and flowery homes. It’s been included among the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’ and is a ‘Village Fleuris’ (Flowery Village) because of the beautiful flowers all over the town.

Here you’ll be able to explore multiple art studios with the artists at work on their creations, browse local antiques stores, and sample some traditional Breton crepes. We guarantee you’ll be able to find a lovely authentic souvenir from your tour of Brittany.

The village of Rochefort-en-Terre - stone houses around a square with lots of flowers
The village of Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany

Calips, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY SA 3.0

Montrésor, Loire Valley

Montrésor, set along the tranquil Indrois River, offers visitors an authentic experience of our charming French countryside. The village's charming castle and beautifully preserved Renaissance homes provide a picturesque backdrop that captivates at every turn. As you stroll along the river walkway, you’ll enjoy a peaceful break and lovely views of the small river with its multiple bridges and lovely views up to the castle. 

Art lovers will appreciate the frequent exhibitions that showcase local and international talent, and throughout the year, Montrésor also comes alive with its festivals and events. For example, in July and August, the village enjoys the Nuits solaires de Montrésor, where locals and visitors may gather to stargaze and enjoy telescope viewings.

Browse our sample Loire Valley tours, and let us know if you would like to include a visit to Montrésor in your itinerary!

Riquewihr, Alsace

In the heart of Alsace in eastern France, surrounded by vineyards and gentle rolling hills, Riquewihr stands out as a quintessential French countryside village, celebrated for its top-tier Riesling wine. The prominent Dolder Tower, dating back to the 13th century, invites you into the village's historic center, and you’ll capture some beautiful photos of the village’s vibrant half-timbered houses. Look out for the 16th-century Thieves’ Tower and the Winegrowers' House, which are fantastic examples of Renaissance architecture.

If you're there in the winter, Riquewihr's traditional Christmas market offers a delightful, fairy-tale blend of festivity and local tradition.

We can include a visit to Riquewihr in any of our Alsace tours.

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Pyrenees

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is situated in the heart of the Pyrenees, and is a picturesque village that really captures the essence of of regional pride that can only be found in the French countryside. 

As you make your way through its cobbled streets, you'll notice the distinctive Basque houses, reflecting the village's cultural heritage. The historic Rue de la Citadelle will guide you to the fortified church of Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont. For stunning views of the village and the Pyrenees mountains, you may want to try the steep, uphill climb to the Citadel of Mendiguren, a 17th century fortress at the highest point in the town. 

You may notice many pilgrims or tourists who are in town to embark upon the Camino de Santiago Frances, as Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is one of the main starting points for the French Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. The town also offers less demanding hiking routes for modern-day explorers!

With the majestic Pyrenees backdrop, serene river settings, and inviting local cafes, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port offers a wonderful blend of nature and history. We highly recommend a stop there if you’ve booked one of our Basque Country tours.

Travelers Mita and Bip in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Basque Country
Travelers Mita and Bip in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Basque Country

Mita & Bip from the USA

Gordes, Provence

Poised above the Luberon Valley, Gordes is a striking hilltop village crafted from local stone, radiating an authentic Provencal charm. The maze-like alleys reveal art galleries, boutiques, and terraced cafes offering panoramic views that stretch across the verdant valley. 

Every Tuesday from around 8am through 12.30pm, the heart of the village is bustling with activity during its weekly market. Here, you can indulge in fresh, aromatic herbs, artisanal cheeses, and handcrafted souvenirs. 

Not far from Gordes, you may like to visit the lovely uninhabited Village des Bories. Its traditional dry-stone huts were built without mortar, and offer an insight into the region's architectural past, and the way of life of some of the peasants in this region.

Also very nearby is the 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque, an exquisite example of Cistercian architecture, particularly captivating when the surrounding lavender fields are in full bloom.

We highly recommend a stop in beautiful Gordes to our travelers who book one of our Provence tours.

Ploumanac’h, Brittany

Another gem on the rocky and rugged coast of Brittany in western France, we love Ploumanac’h for its distinctive pink granite cliffs and the chaotically yet poetically places huge boulders . In 2015, it was voted the French people’s favorite village, and it’s easy to see why. The village's natural harbor is a serene backdrop for leisurely strolls, with boats gently bobbing in the sea, and the iconic Ploumanac’h Lighthouse, constructed from the same pink granite, offers a picturesque vantage point for sweeping sea views. 

At the end of the day, we recommend sampling the local fare at one of the waterfront restaurants. With a plate of fresh seafood, perhaps some locally sourced oysters or a bowl of traditional Breton fish soup, you'll truly savor the essence of this charming coastal enclave.

Ploumanac'h is a very beautiful place to go hiking too, and if you enjoy walking, we'll recommend our favorite routes.

For our top Brittany self guided tours, we invite you to browse our sample itineraries.

Ainhoa, Basque Country

In the heart of Basque Country, Ainhoa's distinct Basque architecture stands out with white facades and colorful beams. As you walk along the main street, notice the symmetry of its traditional Basque homes, an architectural style that has endured through the centuries. 

But there's more to Ainhoa than its striking appearance. Throughout the year, it plays host to an array of traditional festivals, each celebrating the rich tapestry of Basque heritage. If you’re a gourmet enthusiast, Ainhoa won't disappoint. Its restaurants and local markets are the ideal place to taste the region's world-famous gastronomy, from Basque cake to pintxos.

If you’re curious about the unique Basque culture and cuisine away from the city, Ainhoa will be the perfect stop on your tour of the Basque Country.

Flavigny, Burgundy

Visitors to Flavigny often notice the sweet scent of aniseed candy in the air, which has been produced here for centuries. It’s actually an ideal souvenir to take away from the village!

The narrow, winding streets will guide you through the village, leading to an ancient abbey. Scattered throughout the village you’ll be able to browse artisanal shops selling local handicrafts and gourmet delights. Flavigny offers a genuine taste of rural Burgundy and its traditions.

We would be very happy to include a stop in Flavigny in any of our tours of Burgundy France.

Conques, Aveyron

Conques is tucked away in Aveyron, and you may pass through it on your way from Dordogne to Carcassonne and the south west of France. Historically significant as a pilgrimage destination, the village is anchored by its breathtaking abbey, an architectural marvel. 

The cobbled streets of Conques wind through the village, flanked by half-timbered houses that echo the area's architectural legacy. Whether you're drawn by its spiritual significance or its unspoiled charm, Conques is a beautiful representation of Aveyron's captivating blend of history and rustic beauty.

Conques, Aveyron
Conques, Aveyron

France Just For You

Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy

Amidst the lush meadows of Normandy's prized dairy region, Beuvron-en-Auge's half-timbered homes,  cider houses, and pretty, picturesque streets adorned with vibrant hanging flower pots epitomize the region's charm. 

With its tiny population of just 194 residents as of 2015, the village offers an unfiltered glimpse into traditional French countryside living. 

This is a lovely place to stop and stretch your legs and go for a stroll during your driving tour of Normandy. It’s a great place to stop for a snack or lunch too. We love La Colomb'auge Crêperie located on Place Michel Vermughen. It's not just a treat for the taste buds, but also a reflection of the region's culinary heritage. 

And of course, local delicacies like Camembert cheese and cider are must-tries. A very authentic French countryside village experience to have if you're on one of our self guided tours of Normandy!

Villefranche-sur-Mer, French Riviera

The French Riviera is renowned for its glitz and glamor, but just along the coast from Nice is Villefranche-sur-Mer, which has retained its village character and has a very pretty port. Just a 25-minute drive or a 15-minute train ride from Nice, this lovely seaside town is the ideal place to go for dinner and to enjoy the sunset if you want to escape the bustling crowds of Nice. You may also enjoy taking a peek at the Cocteau chapelle there.

In the old town, there are many charming restaurants and boutiques waiting to be explored, each showcasing local craftsmanship and culinary traditions. It’s an ideal place to spend a few hours or an evening during your self drive tour of the French Riviera.

Beynac-et-Cazenac, Dordogne

If you want to experience life in the Dordogne countryside, we highly recommend spending half a day to a day in Beynac-et-Cazenac. Dominating the landscape, the medieval Beynac Castle is a stunning sight, and from there you can enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of the landscape below.

The village itself is notable for its honey-colored stone houses adorned with flower boxes and its cobblestone paths and winding alleyways, which hint at the rich history of this region. As you stroll, you might be able to imagine what it was like there at a time when life moved at the gentle pace of the Dordogne River, which flows alongside the village.

If you decide to do a canoe trip along the river, you’ll have beautiful views of this stunning village and the surrounding limestone cliffs. You might decide to stop at a traditional restaurant in the village for a taste of the local flavors, from a delicious duck confit to sweet walnut wine.

If you book a tour with France Just For You, we would be happy to include a visit to Beynac in your Dordogne self drive tour.

Beynac Castle in Dordogne surrounded by green landscape with the Dordogne bridge flowing through it. There's a bridge over the river.
Beynac Castle in Dordogne

Pxhere CC0

Castelnou, Languedoc-Roussillon

Situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Castelnou’s terracotta-roofed houses, set against the backdrop of rolling hills and vineyards, create a picturesque panorama reminiscent of a classic French postcard.

The medieval fortress Château de Castelnou is the centerpiece of this village. If you decide to climb its towers, you’ll marvel at the expansive views of the green valleys below and the Pyrenees mountains in the distance.

Get a sense of what it means to be a local in this town by visiting the local market. You’ll feel the lively ambiance that is characteristic of southern France, as you browse the market stalls brimming with ripe olives, aromatic herbs, handcrafted pottery, and textiles. The scent of freshly baked bread, seasoned tapenades, and the region's renowned wines fill the air, taking you on an unforgettable culinary journey.

Castelnou’s blend of flavors, history, and serene landscapes makes it a lovely stop if you’re driving through southern France.

Montsoreau, Loire Valley

Located at the junction of the Loire and Vienne rivers, the picturesque village of Montsoreau in the Loire Valley is one of France's Most Beautiful Villages. 

One of the main attractions is the beautiful Montsoreau Castle, which is crafted from white tufa stone. This Renaissance marvel featured prominently in Alexandre Dumas' "The Lady of Montsoreau". There are often art exhibitions at the castle’s Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also a great antique market the first Sunday of each month along the river.

The village itself is very pleasant to stroll through, with its flower-lined lanes. You may include a visit to Montsoreau in any of our Loire Valley driving itineraries.

Gourdon, Provence

Gourdon is a small village above the Gorge du Loup in beautiful Provence. It has some spectacular scenery. The road that leads from Tourrettes-Sur-Loup to Gourdon has some particularly breath-taking views, ideal for photo-stops along the way. 

There are lots of cute boutiques, perfume stores, and flowery patios to explore in the town. The more adventurous traveler may like to try canyoning in the Gorge du Loup. There are experiences for all levels of confidence and skill, so it can be a very fun outdoor activity for friends or family groups if you're visiting Provence.

The hilltop village of Gourdon in Provence
The village of Gourdon in Provence

Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, CC-BY SA 3.0

If you want to visit France but want to avoid the rigidity of an organized group tour, a self-drive tour of France is a wonderful option. We’ll plan your itinerary (based on your preferences), book your premium B&B and boutique hotel accommodation across France, and arrange your car hire. We’ll also be available 24/7 in case you need advice on your trip or in case of emergency. 

Browse our self-drive France tour packages to see some of our sample itineraries. Any of these can be customized to suit your preferences.

France Just For You

Experts in self-drive tours in France

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We enjoy drive yourself travel and located Emilie's France Just For You online. How fortunate we were. In September and early October we traveled 17 days in Loire, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Carcassonne and Provence. All the accommodations were in historic B&Bs. Our hosts were invariably gracious and helpful. At every stop Emilie included a home cooked …
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