28 towns in France that are straight out of a storybook
It’s not surprising that the fairy tale genre was invented in France—the country is brimming with picturesque landscapes and charming villages. “While most travelers in France see only Paris, there is so much more to this country,” said traveler Josef. “The castles, the churches, the green countryside, the Medieval towns with their narrow streets and architecture, the food, the wine, and the people were a wonderful experience.”
From the historical to the spellbinding, there are dozens of storybook towns in France just waiting to be discovered when you step off the beaten path.
Browse our tours of France and experience the magic for yourself!
With its cobblestone streets and Medieval stone buildings draped in flowering vines, walking through the village of Pérouges feels like stepping back in time. The perfectly preserved town is so authentic that it’s been the site of several film locations, including The Three Musketeers. Even the local delicacies feel like treats fit for a lord’s banquet. While you’re there, sample some pastries and sip some hypocras, a honeyed wine flavored with ginger, cinnamon, and spices.
Explore it on the Medieval Village of Pérouges excursion, offered on our Grand Tour of France →
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the oldest villages on the French Riviera. Once a Medieval fortress, the walled village became a haven for Impressionist painters in the 1920s. Follow the road around the ramparts and snap a photo in front of the Place de la Grande Fontaine, the town’s large historic fountain. Originally used as a source for drinking water and washing, the fountain now stands as a central meeting place within the village.
Tour the village on the Medieval Saint-Paul-de-Vence excursion, offered on our Grand Tour of France →
Arles is an art and history lover’s dream. The first thing you’ll notice when meandering down the Provençal city’s sun-kissed streets are the bright houses and cheerful cafes straight out of a Van Gogh painting. The artist lived and worked in Arles for several years, creating some of his most famous pieces—such as The Yellow House and Bedroom in Arles. Pay a visit to the city’s old hospital, where Van Gogh painted the gardens while undergoing treatment for his mental health. Then, head to the Arles Arena: a two-story Roman amphitheater that dates back to the 1st century B.C.E.
Discover the art and history of this beautiful village on one of our Arles tours, or on the optional A Day in Arles excursion, offered on our Provence, the Riviera & Tuscany tour →
A sunny, Roman-influenced city near the Mediterranean Sea, Aix-en-Provence was the hometown of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Follow in the artist’s footsteps on one of our trips to Provence and visit his birthplace, his school, and the studio where he painted many of his most famous works. “I really enjoyed our visit to Aix-en-Provence and the visit to Paul Cézanne's studio. As a photographer, I was totally fascinated that in his time, Cézanne painted his studio walls and ceiling in the color of ‘neutral gray’ to control the illumination on his canvases,” said traveler Gerhard.
Visit the town on the Aix-en-Provence: Sights, Wines & Dinner excursion—offered on our A Week in France: The Riviera, Provence & Paris tour—and end your day with a wine tasting and a meal seasoned with local herbs.
The walled fortress of Carcassonne is one of the largest citadels in Europe—an imposing city of stone ramparts, winding alleys, and dramatic turrets. The focal point of the Medieval city (which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site) is Château Comtal, one of the structures that inspired the castle for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Take a walking tour of the city and live out your Medieval dreams on our Grand Tour of France or our Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera tour →
6. La Rochelle
Known as “the White City,” La Rochelle’s limestone buildings come right up to the Bay of Biscay. Its historic harbor and Medieval towers are straight out of an adventure novel. In fact, Alexandre Dumas used the real-life siege of La Rochelle as a pivotal scene in his novel, The Three Musketeers. “If I had been traveling on my own, Montpellier, Bordeaux, or La Rochelle might not have been on the top of my list, but each turned out to be eye-opening, distinctive, and worthwhile,” said traveler Gerhard.
Visit La Rochelle on our Grand Tour of France and climb one of the harbor’s three towers for a bird’s-eye view of the port below.
One of the most awe-inspiring small towns in France, Mont-Saint-Michel is home to the stunning 8th-century abbey that inspired Rapunzel’s castle in Disney’s Tangled. The UNESCO World Heritage site sits atop a rock and is entirely surrounded by the bay at high tide.
Spend some time taking in views of the island on our Grand Tour of France or our London, Normandy & Paris tour →
The small town of Giverny is best known as the site of Claude Monet’s former home and garden. You can visit the picturesque grounds on the optional Monet & the Landscapes of Giverny excursion, offered on one of our tours of Normandy, and stand on the bridge above his waterlily garden.
Avignon is a small, lively city on the bank of the Rhône river. Here you’ll find green sycamore trees, Renaissance mansions, Medieval ramparts, and charming footbridges over shaded canals. While visiting, stroll past the Pont Saint-Bénézet, the bridge that was immortalized in the folk song On the Bridge of Avignon. The bridge once spanned the width of the Rhône, but now only four of the original 12 arches remain, crowned by the quaint Chapel of Saint Nicholas. After snapping a photo on the bridge, make your way to the Papal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest examples of Medieval Gothic architecture in Europe.
Sing your heart out on the Pont Saint-Bénézet on one of our Avignon tours →
An inviting little fishing village populated with delightful shops and pastel-colored houses, Cassis is one of the best small towns in France to visit if you’re a nature buff. The town itself is nestled between the Cap Canaille—France’s highest sea cliff—and calanques, narrow inlets carved through the soaring limestone cliffs that rise from the sea. Hop aboard a boat in the harbor and explore them from sea level while journeying down the coastline.
Marvel at the calanques on one of our Cassis tours or the optional Coastal Cassis: Calanques Cruise & Walk excursion offered on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour →
It’s impossible to visit Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat without dreaming of a lavish, leisurely life in the sun. Lush greenery, dramatic cliffs, and pristine beaches surround this tranquil resort town on the French Riviera. Take a tour of the stunning Villa Ephrussi—built by the Rothschild family in the early 1900s and filled with thousands of works of art—and fantasize about what it was like to live in this carnation pink mansion surrounded by immaculate, themed gardens.
Tour Villa Ephrussi and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour or Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera tour, or book the optional A Day on the French Riviera: Cape Ferrat & Nice excursion offered on our Provence, the Riviera & Tuscany tour →
Juan-les-Pins is a resort town between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera that oozes 1920s charm. A popular vacation and inspiration spot for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the town’s beautiful beaches are almost overshadowed by its Art Deco architecture, lavish boutiques, and lively casinos.
Spend an evening basking in the glamor of Juan-les-Pins on our Provence, the Riviera & Tuscany tour →
The village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built into the side of a limestone cliff in Provence. The town is perched near the stunning Verdon Gorge—France’s Grand Canyon—and is dramatically divided by a ravine crossed by ancient arched bridges. Grab some lunch outside at a shaded cafe before meandering up winding streets and through vaulted passages on your way to the 12th-century Notre Dame de Beauvoir Chapel, which looks down on the village from its vantage between two cliffs. A golden star hangs above the chapel from an iron chain suspended between the cliff faces: One legend says that the star was placed there by the knight Blacas upon his safe return from the crusades as a tribute to the Virgin Mary.
Travel Tip: The village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is known for its tin-glazed pottery and earthenware. Save some space in your luggage for souvenirs.
You can explore Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and the Verdon Gorge on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour →
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Roussillon is one of the most unique, must-see towns in France. It sits in the heart of one of the world’s largest ochre deposits, and the town’s buildings are awash with the red clay’s seemingly infinite spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows, which flare against the surrounding green pines and vast azure sky. Take a tour of one of the town’s open-air quarries and be inspired by the painterly palette of nature.
Travel Tip: Red dust from the ochre mines may stain your clothes and shoes. Dress accordingly when visiting Roussillon, and consider packing an extra outfit.
Book our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour, which includes a trip to Roussillon and a guided tour of the ochre mines.
In a countryside full of charming villages, Uzès is a hidden gem among hidden gems. On our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour, you’ll have the opportunity to stroll through the vaulted arcades of the Place aux Herbes, the town’s main square, while shopping for souvenirs or enjoying a refreshing glace (French ice cream).
Gordes is one of the most beautiful towns in France. The charming village is set on a hilltop in Provence and features winding cobblestone streets and breathtaking views. Visit the nearby Sénanque Abbey in June or July for a chance to see its surrounding fields of lavender awash in color. The monks of Sénanque cultivate the lavender and use it in products they sell to support their local community.
Explore Gordes on our Provence, the Riviera & Tuscany tour →
Visiting Provence? Check out 5 of the prettiest places to visit in Provence, France →
Tucked between a turquoise lake and the snow-capped Alps, Annecy is one of the most romantic towns in France. Often called “the Venice of the Alps,” Annecy’s web of railing-lined canals is bedecked with flowers in the warmer months. Be sure to visit one of the town’s most stunning landmarks, the Palais de l’Île—a castle that sits in the middle of a canal. The stronghold is reminiscent of the bow of a ship and has formerly been used as a prison, coin mint, private residence, and courthouse. Today, it stands as a historic site and museum.
You can visit Annecy on either our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour or our Jewels of Alpine Europe tour →
Nestled in the heart of the Alps at the foot of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s tallest mountain, lies Chamonix. This alpine village looks like something out of a fairy tale, with sparkling chalets and mountain views that will leave you breathless. Chamonix is a skier's paradise, but there are many ways for everyone to enjoy this beautiful town. Ride on the Montenvers cog railway to admire France’s largest glacier, the Mer de Glace, and explore its ice caves. Alternatively, take a cable car up the side of a snow-capped mountain before settling in for some hot chocolate or fondue.
You can visit Chamonix on our Jewels of Alpine Europe tour or as an optional extension on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour →
Stepping into the village of Vaulx is like wandering into a dream. Get lost in the town’s mélange of interwoven secret gardens—each one feels like the setting of its own fairy tale. You can visit Vaulx on the optional Haute-Savoie: Gorges du Fier & Château de Menthon excursion available on the French Alps extension offered on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour. As a bonus, you’ll also visit the nearby Menthon-Saint-Bernard Castle, another enchanting inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the Disney film.
Rouen should be on any Medieval history lover’s list of French towns to discover. Located on the bank of the Seine river in Normandy, the town is steeped in history—particularly of Anglo-French politics. The former King of England and Duke of Normandy, Richard the Lionheart, had his heart buried here after his death. While in Rouen, you can pay a visit to the Old Market Square, where Joan of Arc was executed; a nearby museum, Historial Jeanne d’Arc, honors her legacy. If wartime politics isn’t your cup of tea, visit the Gros-Horloge, a golden 14th-century astronomical clock with a single hand that indicates the hour on a 24-hour cycle.
Learn more about the city’s history on one of our Rouen tours →
The whimsical port of Honfleur might be one of the most photogenic French towns. The pristine harbor is lined with softly tinted half-timber houses that change colors with the shifting daylight and were a favorite subject of Impressionist painters. On one side of the harbor, you’ll find Saint Catherine’s Church—the oldest surviving wooden church in France—while on the other rests a vintage carousel, which is open daily from May through October. If you have some time between cheese tastings and calvados samplings, spend an hour or two meandering through the town’s large public garden.
Discover Normandy’s dazzling harbor town on one of our Honfleur tours →
Nicknamed the Corsair City, Saint-Malo is best known as a former hub for pirates and smugglers. It’s also the setting of Anthony Doerr's 2014 novel All the Light We Cannot See.
Walk along the Medieval ramparts and enjoy the salty sea air before turning back to meander through narrow passageways between gleaming granite homes. Be sure to save time for some refreshment—the old town is full of vibrant restaurants and bars fit for a pirate.
Discover the adventure that awaits in Saint-Malo on our Paris, Normandy, Brittany Coast & the Loire Valley tour or our London, Normandy & Paris tour →
Cancale is the ultimate sleepy fishing village. If you’re looking for a romantic locale away from all the hustle and bustle, you’re in luck—especially if you happen to be an oyster lover. The town is France’s oyster capital, and the mollusks can be found across the village, in restaurants, and at a daily market by the pier.
You won’t need more than a day to explore the town, but you can sample some of the world’s freshest oysters (paired with local wine, of course) on the Brittany's Emerald Coast & Cancale Lunch excursion offered on our Paris, Normandy, Brittany Coast & the Loire Valley tour.
You can also visit on our London, Normandy & Paris tour →
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It’s impossible to talk about Saint-Émilion without mentioning the region’s celebrated wines, but the village has so much more to offer adventurers than the libations they produce (though we wouldn’t say no to a glass after a long day of exploration!) Much of the Medieval town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, exists as a web of underground caverns and passageways. Although many of the tunnels are now gated and locked, you can still explore the eerie Monolithic Church, so named because it was carved from a single rock set in a hillside. Once you're done, take a tour of one of the village’s underground cellars and try their acclaimed Grand Cru wine.
Explore Saint-Émilion and sample the region’s most famous export on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Bordeaux & Burgundy tour →
The settlement of Périgueux can be traced back to the Neolithic era, and a walk through the town will reveal Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and Byzantine architecture. Make your way to the village’s old town to sample local produce and sweet white wines at one of many outdoor markets.
Visit Périgueux on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Bordeaux & Burgundy tour and enjoy the local cuisine at one of the town’s welcoming restaurants.
When film studios need to film scenes set in Medieval France, they often look to Sarlat-la-Canéda—Ever After: A Cinderella Story was filmed here, as were scenes from Chocolat. The enchanting Medieval town is so perfectly preserved that you’ll expect to find knights patrolling its (mainly pedestrian) cobblestone streets. On the Sarlat & Lascaux Caves with Lunch excursion offered on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Bordeaux & Burgundy tour, you can spend the day sampling local cheese and produce before heading to a replica of the nearby Lascaux caves. The original underground labyrinth is famous for its prehistoric paintings of horses and other large animals.
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If you’ve ever dreamed of riding a bike through the sun-soaked vineyards surrounding a quaint French village, make Beaune a stop on your travels. This ancient walled town in the heart of Burgundy is best known for its Hospices de Beaune, a 15th-century hospital and stunning example of period architecture. Take a tour of the building, which now houses a museum, and stroll through its sunny courtyard before setting off on a bike trail to explore wine country at your leisure.
Cap your day in Beaune with a wine tasting and local meal on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Bordeaux & Burgundy tour →
You don’t need to be a history buff or francophile to appreciate the majesty of Reims, the unofficial capital of the Champagne region—but if you are, visiting this town should be at the top of your list. Every French king was crowned at the Reims Cathedral, a UNESCO-recognized site and awe-inspiring example of Gothic architecture.