There’s a very good chance you could draw up an itinerary covering the most visited cities in France without even looking at a map. From Marseille with its youthful vibe to Paris with its classic charm, France is blessed with an array of big-name cities that draw people in from far and wide. French towns, meanwhile, offer something totally different, with quiet cobbled streets and sunny seafronts often taking the place of urban glamour. But when you start to turn away from the cities in favour of smaller destinations, you’ll quickly realise there are a lot of very appealing options to narrow down. And we mean a lot. To make things a bit easier for you, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favourite French towns below.
St-Tropez, Côte d’Azur
Let’s begin with an oldie, but a goodie. The French Riviera is one of the most visited regions of France, and St. Tropez remains its most iconic town. Decades on from its heyday as a celebrity hotspot in the 1960s, this simply beautiful coastal resort town is as irresistible as it ever was. Think quaint winding lanes, warm sea, and upscale dining options galore.
Way up to the north, on the other side of the country, sits another seaside town with a very different character. The distinctive pinkish granite that forms the coastline casts a rosy glow over everything, creating a striking contrast with the deep turquoise of the sea. The beaches here are far quieter than the buzzing stretches of sand in St. Tropez, and abundant wildlife can be spotted on walks in the surrounding countryside. Days in this utterly tranquil little town are likely to be filled with café lounging, relaxed strolls along the sand and possibly a bit of birdwatching.
Corsica is the largest French island and, despite its perennial popularity as a family tourist destination, it still tends to feel less busy than some of the holiday destinations on the mainland. Bonifacio is one of the most prominent towns here and is a must-see on any trip to the south of this sunny French island. Its dramatic position on a cliff overlooking the sea makes for incredible photos, while there’s plenty of history to be uncovered amid its narrow streets and imposing 9th-century citadel.
A regular on lists of the most picturesque French towns, this golden-toned town on the Dordogne River is known for having both manmade and natural beauty in spades. Its historic buildings have been carefully preserved, and its location means breath-taking views of the Dordogne Valley abound. There’s more to this destination than just good looks, though; one of its most fascinating features is its network of underground caves, which are now open to visitors.
This medieval village on Lake Geneva has a few unusual qualities that set it apart from the many others historic French towns with equal aesthetic appeal. First of all, the local devotion to flowers knows no bounds, and as a result the place comes alive in a riot of colour each summer. The town also offers a wide range of unique local produce, such as milk jam (exactly what it sounds like). Steamboat tours are among the other highlights of the town. Climb aboard and steam all the way to Switzerland.
The past can be keenly felt in every corner of this wonderful medieval village. With ruggedly beautiful cliffs and forests on all sides and a plethora of historic attractions, including the impressive Abbaye de Gellone, it’s no wonder that this place is protected by UNESCO.
Unlike many of the other French towns that make this list, Riquewihr doesn’t have access to the sea or any other major body of water. That means it has to get by on its own charms. Fortunately, they’re extremely plentiful. The streets here are lined with half-timbered houses, some dating from as early as the 15th century, and most of them ornamented with trailing vines and window boxes full of bright flowers. What really makes this town so picture-perfect, though, is the fact that the buildings are painted in a rainbow of colours. Some homeowners have opted for ice cream tones, while others have gone bold with deep blues and reds.
Normandy is one of the best-loved regions of France, and Honfleur is one of the best-loved towns within it. This port town and former trading hub is now perhaps best known for its association with the Impressionists, who flocked here to paint these scenic streets and beaches. Their legacy can be felt throughout the town, especially in its many museums and its vibrant art scene. Although the wealthy are by no means the only people who holiday here, the town does attract a large number of well-heeled visitors, and is a popular base for sailing.
Back to Alsace again, this time to explore a very special canal town. Photogenic waterways criss-cross this almost implausibly lovely town, which is so perfect it looks like a film set. The brightly painted half-timbered houses here have been well maintained, despite being centuries old. Flowers spill from the windows, and from the boats that bob along the canals. And of course, as with any town in Alsace, you’ll never want for an excellent glass of wine here.
If you’re looking for a destination with all-year-round appeal, Chamonix could be the town for you. Although it’s primarily known as a skiing destination, it’s worth visiting even in the warmer months. The surrounding hills are paradise for hikers and winter sports enthusiasts alike; but even if you prefer a more sedate holiday, the all-seasons beauty of the place and its welcoming atmosphere are hard to resist.