When someone thinks about France the country, the mind usually brings up images of romantic evenings in Paris and the Eiffel Tower. But France is a very large country with an incredibly diverse population and history. Traveling from the north of France to the south of France is almost like entering a different country. As such the French countryside offers an enriching experience to the traveler willing to explore outside of France’s traditional tourist hotspots
How We Rate the Best French Countryside Locations on This List
Since rating French countryside locations is a somewhat subjective process (one person may prefer a quaint village of a larger city), we try to be objective about it. When rating a location on this list, we look at three principal
areas: the overall attractiveness, the notable sites and amount of activities you can do. For each of these sections, we ask a distinct series of questions. Based on the answers to these question when then give the village a rating out of five stars.
Top Sixteen Best French Countryside Locations For Visiting
Cluny is at the top of our list because it has a bit of everything for the aspiring French tourist. The atmosphere of a quiet country town combined with the historical significance of a relished landmark site. Undoubtedly Cluny’s most famous spot is Cluny Abbey, a national monument that people built in the 10th century. In addition to history and arts located inside the well-known museums, visit the cute village, shop at the market and visit fields where farmers raise horses.
Mâcon is a village founded on the Saone. It is known principally as the first Mediterranean-like town you encounter when traveling south in France. Since the city lies well situated as a town for trade, Mâcon has some of the best local and imported wines around. Not to mention the gorgeous sites you can see: the Old Cathedral of Saint-Vincent, the Church of Saint-Pierre and the Quai Lamartine. If you like history and art, then make sure you check out the Museum of the Ursulines and the Memorial Citoyen.
Vienne is a prime example of how one part of France can feel so wholly different from another. The city, located near the Rhone River, is a standing vestige of classical antiquity. The city, once ruled by Romans, still retains the remnants of their architecture. In the town, you can visit the familiar looking temple of Augustus with the distinct pillars and open-air design. Or, if you are feeling theatrical, you can visit the large outdoor amphitheater.
In addition to the stunning architecture, there are also city tours with historical guides, breathtaking cathedrals and plenty of art and history museums. Overall it has an incredibly rich history. Music fans will also enjoy the annual jazz festival, which takes place in July.
The city of Cassel, located near Dunkirk, is another historical relic of the middle ages which survives today. With the vast amount of ancient churches, art museums, and structures, it is easy to see why the city remains a favorite holiday location for many people. If you chance upon the right season, then you can also hear bagpipe music and being played at flea markets, folk dancing balls and impromptu outdoor music concerts. Remember also to take a look at the famous windmill.
Champagne lovers rejoice, Hautvillers is the birthplace on the sparkly, bubbly drink. A winemaker by the name of Dom Pérignon discovered the process in the 1700s and ever since the region, found in the Reims Mountain vineyard, has been a focal point for wine development. Champagne enthusiasts, nature lovers and anyone who enjoys a beautiful view will love what Hautvillers offers. During August a music festival takes place in the streets, as well as a comics festival in Spring.
If you crave comfortable houses, shops, and restaurants, then the town of Chinon is for you. Thanks to a historical preservation law the city looks almost like it is a snapshot of its medieval past. When you get tired of spending time in the local clothing, chocolate, and music shops, you can visit the castle and take guided tours of the city. Fans of Richard the Lionheart and Joan of Arc will find a considerable amount of history in this once central French city.
If you grow tired of the medieval-style architecture of some towns, then the wood framed houses will transport you a bit further in time to the Renaissance. This picturesque town in the Alsace countryside features a beautiful city with a genuinely unique bridge and castle ruins which you can explore. This location rates unusually high on our beauty rating — so make sure you bring a good camera. Christmas lovers will enjoy the authentic Christmas market set up around December.
History buffs will enjoy the old 13th century-era walls that surround the small town of Aigues-Mortes. The military structure is considered one of the oldest historically specific structures. You can roam around town following the mazes of streets and check out the shops and restaurants. Make sure you visit the Tower of Constance which was once a prison during the Protestant Reformation. If you want to explore the countryside outside of the city, you will find beautiful marshland next to horse and bull farms.
Near Lyon in the eastern region of France lies the commune Bourg-en-Bresse. In the city, you can check out the Royal Monastery, a French national monument, or the Musee de Brou — the principal art museum in the town. Foodies will find a lot of delicious dining options in the surrounding restaurants and farms. The region boasts a proud history of gastronomy and poultry-related dishes. Check out the many different museums or on a hot summer day visit the local swim spot.
Lovers of Irish culture will not be surprised to find this old Celtic city in the Brittany region of France. Since the founders were influenced by to the Irish way of life, there are ancient standing relics of Catholicism like the St. Ronan church as well as the Place de l’Eglise are significant points of interests that everyone should check out. When you walk around you can check out the coast or the old-style architecture complex with stone paths and buildings. The Locronan indeed has a sacred feel to it, so it is worth seeing, at least for a day.
Manosque is another French city that ranks high on the beauty scale. From the top of the hilly town, you can see the very beginning of the Alpine mountain range. You can check out the usual plethora of churches, shops, and restaurants. There are also a lot more activities for more active people. For example, you can go hiking, swimming, golfing, horseback riding, fishing, movie watching, or tennis playing. For lodging, you can camp or stay in a beautiful bed and breakfast.
Lourmarin is another good contended for beauty. In addition to the magnificent views, people also know the town for its delicious wine, almonds, and olives. As you might guess they form the chief products, this French countryside town has Astron Mediterranean vibe. For sites, you can check out the deleting ruins of a fifteenth-century castle. Literary buffs will be interested to know that Albert Camus lived in Lourmarin for quite some time and wrote some of his Nobel winning work there.
Another historically-inclined town located in a sea of green fields, the Riquewihr prides itself as another region that holds some of the most world-famous vineyards and wines in France. While you are in town, you should check the many historical sites and museums like the Thieve’s Tower, the Dolder TOwer, The Alice's Museum of Communication and the Winemaker’s House. If you come in spring, then you will find the town decorated in flowers. If you arrive in December, then you will see a beautifully lit town celebrating its annual Christmas tradition.
The skiers and snowboarders out there will love the commune of Megève. In addition to featuring excellent slopes for winter activities, it also holds one of the strongest gastronomy honors of the area with numerous Michelin star restaurants in its presence. This achievement is thanks in part to the forty-five different local farms that the restaurants have access to for menu items. The village itself also maintains a distinct culture legacy and remains one of the most popular spots for polo in France.
Pérouges is another popular medieval location located near Lyons. It scored lower on our list because there is not much to do besides visiting the quaint shops, churches, and houses. There is a notable landmark people should check out though: the Tree of Liberty, planted during the French Revolution. For food, you can dine at The Hostellerie du Vieux Pérouges where delicious food is served to you by waitresses in traditional garments.
The town of Roussillon will automatically evoke images of the south of France with its thick orchard forests and its sharp red cliffs. At the top of these cliffs lie the beautiful architecture and homes. While there is not much to do here, the beauty of the city and the surrounding French countryside is t least worth a day trip. The bright, brilliant colors of the town and foliage have been inspiring countless artists since people started living there. While you are there, you can also visit some of their art galleries and studios if you want.
Visitor’s Guide: French Countryside Locations
The best French countryside locations depend primarily on your interests. If you are interested in history, then we would recommend going to Cluny, Aigues-Mortes, Vienne, Cassel, Chinon, Locronan, or Pérouges. If you prefer good wine and good food, then you should check out Bourg-en-Bresse, Mâcon, Hautvillers, or Riquewihr. Or, if you want outdoor activities, then consider going to Kaysersberg, Lourmarin, Manosque, or Megève.
While many of these areas offer a mix of selection, many of them have a specialty or a different site. Make sure you find out what it is and check it out. Unless
you want to explore one area thoroughly, we recommend hitting two or three of these cities at a time. That way, you get a good sampling of the food and activities of the region, and you do not get tired or bored with the environment. Plus, if you discover a location you genuinely love, then you can come back in the future.
We hope this article was helpful during your vacation planning process. As you can see, the French countryside has a lot to offer the curious traveler and its nearly impossible to absorb it all in one trip. So make a plan based off this list and see all that you can. There will be time for more trips in the future. Safe travels!