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Tips and Advise for visiting France by Road to Travel Inc.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The most beautiful villages in France

Many stunning villages are scattered across France but if you are trying to find crème de la crème of the French countryside check out the villages that are part of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages in France) association, which includes 153 locations across the country and two in Corsica. Here is our pick of just a few of them to give you a flavour of rural France’s beauty.

Castelnaud-La-Chapelle, Dordogne

Home to the magnificent Chateau de Castelnaud, the village is full of meticulously preserved stone arches, half-timber houses and medieval towers combined with spectacular views of the Dordogne countryside. Visit the castle and, afterwards, sit in the charming village’s café to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and watch the locals unhurriedly going on their daily business. 

Pradelles, Auvergne 

Perched on high on a hill, the old fortified village of Pradelles boasts spectacular views of the Upper Allier valley. There is a beautiful 17th-century church, Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pradelles, the Chapel des Penitents, an ancient watchtower (Tour de Rochely) and two medieval gateways into the historic centre. 

Locronan, Brittany

Going back almost 2000 years ago when the village was a sacred Celts’ site, Locronan is steeped in history. In the village’s old centre, you can admire traditional well-preserved stone houses, beautiful medieval squares, 15th-century Church of Saint Ronan with a tall bell tower, the stunning ancient Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, which has a picturesque pond. There is an interesting Museum of Art and History of Locronan and several charming cafes, restaurants and artisan boutiques.

Church of Saint Hilaire in Semur-en-Brionnais
Semur-en-Brionnais, Burgundy

Despite its size, the village has many architectural treasures: the stunning town hall, Saint-Hugues Priory, an ancient public washhouse (lavoir), many grand townhouses dating back to the 16th-18th centuries. Many visitors come to Semur-en-Brionnais to see the famous 12th century roman-style Church of Saint Hilaire, the remains of the 11th century Chateau de Saint-Hugues and soak up the laid-back atmosphere of this charming village.

Photos via Flickr by: Marc Lacoste, Claude Valette, Holly Hayes.

The International Cheese and Wine Fair in Coulommiers 

The French take cheese seriously and organize many festivals in its honour throughout the country. The International Cheese and Wine Fair that takes place every March in the small town of Coulommiers, an hour drive from Paris, is one the most interesting. The event attracts over 60,000 visitors who come to Coulommiers to sample some of the best cheeses from the area sold by 350 farmers and artisan producers.

Coulommiers cheese
Coulommiers cheese is similar to the more famous French classic Brie that is also made in the area. Produced with raw cow’s milk, Coulommiers cheese is matured for 4-8 weeks and has a rich nutty flavour with creamy supple texture. When it is made with pasteurized using industrial method, its taste is more simple and generic, so it is always better to try artisan varieties.

Coulommiers is abuzz during the International Cheese and Wine Fair. You can go to local product tastings, visit a big exhibition of livestock, see various competitions such brie contest or the farm fresh dairy produce contest. One of the most popular events is where the visitors have to guess how much the cow Marguerite weighs, which is open to the public. Contestants submit their guesses and the closest guess wins a prize. 

The historic town itself is a delightful little gem with medieval buildings, charming cobbled streets decorated with bright flowerpots and romantic tiny cafes. In the Parc des Capucins, you can see ruins of once spectacular château de Gonzagues et de Clèves. The Capucins Museum of Coulommiers tells the town’s history and has a fascinating collection of artefacts from the past. At the top of the town, stands the majestic 12th-century Commandery of the Knights Templar, one of the best preserved ones of the Ile-de-France region, which takes visitors through the history of the soldier monks.

Photos via Flickr by: Frédéric Bisson, Daniel Marinaud.

Blois: the royal castle and magic Houdin

Take a short train ride from Paris to reach the beautiful town of Blois to admire the famous castle and stunning views of the Loire Valley.

Clustered around the Chateau, Blois is one of the best preserved historic towns in France. As you stroll along the beautiful old streets towards the medieval centre, you can see the stunning noble palaces and churches, charming cafes, tiny artisan shops and restaurants. 

Once home to a succession of seven kings and ten queens, the magnificent Chateau de Blois is open to the public. The opulent apartments will take you through 400 years of royal life and daily life of the Court. The castle also houses a national museum of fine arts with a collection of sculptures, French and Flemish tapestries and paintings from the 16th – 19th centuries. In summer, the chateau hosts special exhibitions, concerts and events.

Chateau de Blois
Near the castle is another famous attraction - The House of Magic (Maison de la Magie) devoted to the French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin who is often called the father of modern magic. Born in Blois in 1805, Houdin was famous for his bullet catching trick, the levitation and electromagnetic light and heavy chest illusions. In the museum you can see some of the equipment he used and enjoy daily magic shows in the summer season.

Maison de la Magie
There are many other historic buildings around the castle but make sure to check the Puits Chatel district with its stunning Renaissance town houses, the western part of the city near the Church of Saint Nicolas where once an old abbey stood, the Cathedral of Saint-Louis, Town Hall with its beautiful gardens and Halle aux Grains, where an old market used to be. Walk across the river to admire spectacular views of Blois and the castle and see the lovely Saint-Saturnin Church, once an important pilgrimage site.

On Rue du Commerce you will find some delightful shops selling local delicacies. Blois has a long chocolate making tradition, so make sure to sample at Patissier-chocolatier Stephan Buret or Eric Saguez.

Photos via Flickr by: Niko Kaptur, Jean-Claude MOUTON, Emilio del Prado.