by Laura Crotet, Senior Trip Planner for France Just For You
Because medieval times go back long before Columbus set his feet on American soil, there is always a feeling of wonder and romance when I am in medieval towns. There are many medieval towns and villages across France, and Europe. Carcassonne is probably the diamond in the crown, followed closely by Sarlat. But I would like to share a few of my personal, lesser-known favorite medieval towns and villages that feel like a real fairytale, and definitely are worth a detour.
Located about 60 miles south-east of Paris, Provins upper town is the oldest part and is surrounded by ramparts and two fortified gates built between the 11th and 14th centuries. The town is filled with historic and architectural gems, and is a UNESCO site.
Provins hosted an important annual trading fair during the medieval times, attracting traders from northern Europe to the Mediterranean. Today, in the summer is a medieval festival that lasts a weekend.
In addition to the ramparts, don’t miss the Tour César, a 12th century keep with a nice view over the town, and the underground galleries with scrawling on the walls telling the history of those who worked and lived here (please be warned that both are somewhat claustrophobic). You can also visit the Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church, where Joan of Arc attended mass.
The ominous Tour César in Provins, © Needpix
This tiny walled village is near Lyon. After marrying Jean-François, we lived very near here and always took our family and friends who visited us. They all fell under its charm.
Medieval Pérouges, ©Pixabay
It is believed that the town was founded in the mid-12th century and housed many craftsmen and a booming textile industry through to the end of the 18th century.
After entering through the 13th century gate, you can get lost in the maze of cobbled streets. But you will eventually find the main square, the Place du Tilleul, with its 200-year-old tree. As you explore, get a slice of Galette Perugienne, a thin brioche covered with butter, lemon, and sugar.
The fortified church was actually destroyed by the inhabitants of the village during a siege in 1468 in order to use the stones to reinforce the ramparts, which allowed the village to withstand the attack. The church was then rebuilt and terminated in 1479.
The house of the Princes of Savoy is also a nice visit. It houses a museum about Pérouges and has a recreation of a 13th century garden.
Yvoire is located on Lake Geneva on a small sort of peninsula in the lake, which gave it an important military role in the region throughout the middle ages.
Charming Yvoire on Lake Geneva, ©Wikimedia Commons
Today, the town is filled with local artisans, tons of flowers (the town has won tons of awards for this), and beautiful architecture. The medieval stone buildings have lovely wooden balconies and shutters and steep roofs.
One the main square, the Place du Thay, is the village church of Saint Pancrace. It dates back to the 11th century, but has been rebuilt and altered, and have an onion shaped dome that was added in the 19th century. The castle dominates the town, and although it is private, its Garden of Five Senses is open to the public.
You can also visit the fishing port and stroll along the lake.
Much lesser known and visited amongst the famous sites and castles of the Loire Valley is Loches. It is a royal city because Charles VII shared his time between Loches and Chinon. It is here that, after liberating Orléans from the English, Joan of Arc came to convince Charles to be crowned King of France in Reims. Later, Charles would install his mistress, Agnès Sorel, in Loches, and Anne of Brittany also spent long periods of time in the castle. A lot of history for such a little-known place!
The oldest part is the citadel, which is surrounded by 12th century ramparts. Within this area is the Logis Royal, the donjon, and the church containing Agnès Sorel’s tomb. For the visit, you will receive a tablet that shows you how each room or place look liked back in medieval times.
The home of landscape painter Emmanuel Lansyer is also located here, and the collection contains over 100 of his paintings, as well as works by Doré, Hugo, Corot, and Delacroix.
Outside of the citadel is the “newer” town, with shops and restaurants, as well as some lovely Renaissance architecture, such as the Tour Saint Antoine, the town hall, and the Hotel Nau.
Vaison is one of my favorite villages in France. It is divided into two historical halves – the Roman city on the northern side of the Ouvèze river, and the medieval part across the river. I will only talk about the medieval part here, but the Roman ruins are worth a visit.
The medieval part of Vaison is topped by the ruins of a 12th century castle, and the sinewy cobbled streets lead up to it. The views from here are wonderful and are worth the effort to climb the sometimes steep streets.
The medieval side of Vaison-la-Romaine, ©OT Vaison Ventoux
During your stroll, you will come across many little squares with fountains, narrow and winding streets, and lovely doorways – a photographer’s paradise.
If your legs are not too tired, you can hike in the nearby beautiful Dentelles de Montmirail.
A short drive from Beaune, Châteauneuf-en-Auxois watches over the rolling hills and valleys of Burgundy.
The fortified castle played an important role in defending the road that leads to Autun and is a good place to start your visit. The original castle dates from 1132. During the Hundred Years War, defensive walls and towers were added. Then, in the 15th century, living accommodations were added to make the castle more pleasant for its inhabitants. This makes visiting the castle interesting as each addition is visible.
The fortified castle of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, ©Emilie Thyebaut
The village developed around the castle, and many wealthy merchants built houses which are still intact today.
There are so many more charming medieval towns and villages to discover in France. If you would like to explore some of my favorites, or other medieval towns, contact us to help build some into your French trip itinerary.