Escaping the rush of Paris and the insane summers of the French beaches, rural France is best experienced in its small villages that sprinkle the country. The best are associated under the banner of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Part One explored villages in the south and Alps regions of France while Part Two explored the French villages of Normandy and the Dordogne. A further four villages scattered across France completes this tour of an often ignored aspect of French travel.
Perched majestically above the the Lot River, St-Cirq Lapopie seems lost in time. Small half-timbered and stone houses guarded by town gates front onto narrow alleys named for their crafts practised centuries ago. Today the small village with a population of less than 100 is popular with artists offering pottery, paintings, metalwork and wooden carvings.
In the heart of the world famous wine district of Burgundy, Noyers has a surprisingly untouristy and quiet feel to it. While angled historic half-timbered houses litter the small town, the highlight is the peaceful verdant stroll along the gentle bend of the Surein River and 700 year old village walls.
Like a terraced Asian farm, the houses of the Provence village of Gordes sits upon a hill in layers, crested by a grey-stone chateau and imposing monastery. Some escape from the rampant summer visitors packed into the narrow lanes to visit the nearby Village des Bories, where around 20 ancient pyramid-shaped stone huts exist in an area continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age.
With a tiny population, the aptly named central French village exists entirely of houses, rounded towers, churches, castles and town walls constructed from blood red sandstone. Near the pilgrimage town of Rocamadour and contrasted with the verdant green shrubbery, the streets of the village can be explored in a handful of minutes but warrant the extra time to soak in the history of a small town overflowing with historic and listed buildings.
While France is the most visited country on Earth, too many people fail to escape Paris for part of their break missing the walking delights, rich history and gastronomic pleasures of some of the most beautiful villages of France. Make sure your vacation in France includes at least one small village and vive la difference.