10 Beautiful Towns To Visit In France

A guide to 10 of the prettiest small towns in France

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There are countless towns to visit in France that pack in more wow factor per square metre than most cities. We’re talking atmospheric time capsules, gastronomic hotbeds, and picturesque towns nestled in areas of natural beauty that showcase French culture without the big city noise. 

To fire wanderlusts and tease the imagination of French language learners, we’re embarking on a whistlestop tour of 10 irresistibly charming towns to visit in France. The kind of destinations locals check off their must-visit lists on spare weekends from all 6 corners of l’hexagon.

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Honfleur is a contender for one of the prettiest coastal towns to visit in France

Honfleur – Calvados, Normandy

Honfleur is an estuary town famed for its patchwork of multi-story, multicoloured homes overlooking the old port. The picturesque scene is a favourite of artists, including Normandy native Claude Monet.

On the banks of the Seine, just a few kilometres from where the artery empties into the English Channel, Honfleur also caught the eye of English armies in the Hundred Years War before getting rich during the Maritime Age. Poetically, British troops liberated Honfleur after the Normandy landings in 1944.

Monet was not alone in capturing the timelessness of the quirky slate-covered houses in the Vieux Bassin (Old Basin). Landscape painter Eugène Boudin was born there, while several other noted artists spent time in the town. Today, you will see a few easels in the port, perhaps with the next Monet sitting at one.

Normandy – home to Mont Saint Michel, WWII landing beaches, and the Bayeux Tapestry (ooh, plus camembert and calvados) – can boast several of the prettiest towns to visit in France. But none that captured the imagination of artists quite like Honfleur.

Dinan is one of the best-preserved medieval towns to visit in France

Dinan – Côtes-d’Armor, Normandy

Brittany, the former Celtic nation on the nose of France, is home to several storybook towns to visit in France. Dinan is among the most atmospheric, with an old town unchanged since Brittany was ruled by Dukes    

The medieval time capsule rested safe and snug behind nearly 3 km of still-standing ramparts. Overlooking the Rance River and defended by a sturdy 14th-century castle, the town got rich from the tolls from passing traders. This wealth is seen in the comparatively luxurious half-timbered houses lining the cobblestones of Rue du Jerzual, a street frozen in time.  

Large sections of the ramparts can be walked as Breton soldiers once did. Local rules ensure that listed buildings, many of which are lived in or serve as shops and restaurants, are perfectly restored.

There are numerous towns to visit in France that appear frozen in time; Dinan has been in deep freeze since the Middle Ages. When the streetlights dim after a night of crepes and cider, you could forget what century it is.

Antibes is one of several picturesque towns along the French Riviera

Antibes – Alpes-Maritimes (Côte d’Azur)

Antibes balances life on the glitzy French Riviera with being one of the more laidback towns to visit in France. Endlessly sunny, the port town on the Cap d’Antibes contrasts starkly with the rainy ports of northern France.

The sizeable town (population: 75,000) feels less flashy than nearby Cannes, yet is home to some of Europe’s swankiest hotels and its largest yachting harbour, offroad parking for the billionaires. 

Antibes started life as an ancient Greek colony, then gained infamy in 1815 when Napoleon landed on its beaches for one last doomed dice roll after escaping exile.

Traces of Antibes’ fascinating past are revealed in Roman aqueducts and landmarks like Fort Carré and Château Grimaldi (now a Picasso museum). But the town is better known for its Mediterranean climate and 48 gorgeous beaches.

The Côte d’Azur is home to some of the dreamiest and most exclusive towns to visit in France. Antibes is the unassuming gem, the place to go for French Riviera vibes without the pretensions of more glamourous resorts nearby.  

The alpine tranquil of Annecy places it among the prettiest towns to visit in France

Annecy – Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Annecy, a town with an inimitable Alpine character on the Swiss border, illustrates the sheer diversity of good-looking towns to visit in France.   

Nestled on the tip of Lake Annecy close to Geneva, Annecy encompasses several communities and today has a population of 132,000. But the original Annecy town retains the character of a smaller town that hit the architectural jackpot, blessed with a gorgeous setting and a breathtakingly beautiful old town.

Canals wind through the ‘Venice of the Alps’ past monuments like the Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century island castle, and Château d’Annecy, once home to the Counts of Geneva.

Hit mountain trails, nip into Switzerland, or grow your waistline with regional delights that include several of France’s favourite dishes (raclette, tartiflette, and others with industrial quantities of cheese). It’s easy to see why Annecy is frequently named and voted one of France’s best places to live. Unless you’re recovering from a cheese addiction…

Beaune, capital of Burgundy, is one of the prettiest wine towns to visit in France

Beaune – Côte-d’Or, Burgundy

Nestled behind city walls that protected the historic wine cellars and surrounded by the rolling Côte d’Or vineyards, Beaune is known as the “Capital of Burgundy wines”. One of the most charming wine towns to visit in France, it is the ultimate base for exploring Burgundy, a dream region for oenophiles.

Major wine auctions occur at the town’s most recognisable landmark, the Hospices de Beaune, a 15th-century almshouse distinguished by eye-catching geometric roof tiles.

The gastronomic map reveals plenty of intriguing towns to visit in France, including thousands of French wineries open to the public. The Grands Vins de Beaune will delight wine connoisseurs, while an old town oozing character will please anyone looking for the most attractive towns to visit in France.  

The intact medieval character of Troyes makes it a top town to visit in France and accessible on a daytrip from Paris

Troyes – Aube, Grand Est

The medieval jewels of Strasbourg and Colmar top tourist itineraries in the Grand Est. Less visited is Troyes, another medieval jewel of the region far from the German border.

The fading pastel hues of countless half-timbered houses and claustrophobic alleyways make Troyes another of those towns to visit in France where time stood still.

The poetically pointless Treaty of Troyes was signed here in 1420, and there are parts of the city the signatory kings of France and England would still recognise today.

Troyes is also the capital of champagne country and can be reached on a day trip from Paris. However, you might want to set aside more time to visit champagne houses, with several absorbing museums and gothic churches to fill the time between tastings.

Chantilly is the aristocratic home of France's leading stables

Chantilly – Oise, Hauts-de-France

A recipe book would be a rich source of compelling towns to visit in France. Wikipedia lists 31 fromage/towns alone, although Chantilly will intrigue sweet tooth travellers.      

Chantilly is a small town just a 30-minute train journey outside Paris. The town gave its name to a lace and the vanilla-scented cream that may have first garnished a dessert at the Château de Chantilly.

Chantilly is also known as an aristocratic playground centred on the illustrious château and surrounding forest. The chateau, built for the influential House of Montmorency, is now home to the acclaimed Musée Condé. Within the grounds are France’s most prestigious stables and a leading racecourse that opened in 1834, home to one of France’s five classics, the Prix du Jockey Club.

There are plenty of towns to visit in France offering more to see and do. But not many with a royal pedigree like Chantilly, which offers a glimpse of an aristocratic France that survived the Revolution.  

Chartres cathedral is one of several reasons why the pilgrimage destination is one of the most compelling towns to visit in France

Chartres – Eure-et-Loir, Centre-Val de Loire

Romanesque churches, top-heavy timbered houses, and medieval character are part of Chartre’s enduring romance. But the headline act is undoubtedly Our Lady of Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO site and Gothic masterpiece completed in 1220.

Christian pilgrims have trekked to Chartres ever since, drawn to a relic from the Virgin Mary’s tunic. The majestic church crowned the first Bourbon King of France (Henry IV), and its intricate stained-glass windows survived fires, revolutionary mobs, and artillery bombardments.

The River Eure gently threads through dripping old-time character, elevating the Chartres to one of the most captivating towns to visit in France on a day trip from Paris (around 90-120 minutes by train).

Amboise is a jewel of a town in the Loire Valley

Amboise – Indre-et-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire

The Loire Valley is graced with some of the most romantic villages and towns to visit in France. Amboise, a laidback town with a jaw-dropping chateau, might be the most charming.

Amboise Castle dominates the skyline, but the architectural wonders spill into a town that hugs the castle and the riverbank. With lively cafes and classy bistros, it’s a microcosm of what makes the Loire Valley so magical.

The Château Clos Lucé, adjacent to the royal chateau, was where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years. Parts of Amboise have remained unchanged since that day, making it a storybook base for exploring the fabled chateaux and vineyards of the region.   

The Dordogne is home to several of the prettiest towns to visit in France, and Perigueux is one of the most rounded.

Périgueux – Dordogne, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Périgueux, the capital of Dordogne (formerly Perigord), is overshadowed by big and boisterous Bordeaux nearby. But just as charming with fewer crowds.  

The medium-sized town was founded by Gauls and settled by Romans. It is now the gateway to a region synonymous with gastronomy and natural beauty. You could happily lose time in Périgueux, too.

The town is renowned for its summer street parties that bring together food trucks from local farms and communal diners on traffic-free streets. Local landmarks include the cathedral (a waypoint on the Routes of Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route) and a Roman amphitheatre, while the cave paintings of Lascaux and numerous medieval castles are a short drive away.

Add it all up, and Périgueux is one of the more fascinating towns to visit in France. An absorbing place to set up camp to visit some of the most beautiful villages in France and explore the endless natural and gourmet pleasures of the Perigord.

There are dozens of other enchanting towns to visit in France. We’ve picked out 10 stacked with history and culture. If you’re looking for fresh travel ideas, our pick of destinations where the French love holidaying reveals a few more tourist gems off the beaten path.

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