The countryside of France is littered with ancient villages. Each one is centered around a centuries-old stone church. Some of them have an ancient open-sided marketplace. Nearly every city and village in France has a town hall (called a “mairie”) and many villages have at least one small restaurant or inn. History lives in these tiny hamlets but in most of them there are few full-time residents.
In the early 1980s, in an effort to encourage preservation of the best of these places, an association was formed. In French it is called “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (the most beautiful villages of France). That organization has been very successful. Today there are 154 member villages located across France, from the mountains of the east to the beaches of the southwest, from Brittany in the northwest corner to Provence in the south. A visit to any one of them is a journey back in time.
A village’s admission to the association is not easily acquired. In addition to being exceptionally beautiful and representative of its part of France each village must have fewer than 2000 residents and be the location of a least two recognized historic sites. Upon applying to join the association, a village is studied carefully before its membership is approved. Once admitted to the association, a village must continue to meet the high standards of the association.
I love to visit these villages. I have been to a dozen of them and hope to go to many more. Here are a few photos of some of the villages I’ve seen. In the days ahead I will tell you about four or five of my favorites. (Last year I wrote about the one I like best, Noyers sur Serein.)
If you have a favorite village in France I hope you’ll tell us about it in the “Comments” section below.