The Most Beautiful Villages of France
"The Most Beautiful Villages of France" is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to distinguish, reward, and promote French villages of outstanding architectural and natural beauty as well as superior historical heritage. Such villages must not only be uniquely picturesque, but also small in size and population. As of 2017, out of the 32 thousand small villages that have shaped the French countryside over time, a mere 156 of them have been awarded the prestigious and highly selective title of "Most Beautiful Village of France" or in French "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France".
- To qualify for the title, a village must meet and then maintain a demanding list of no less than 30 criteria.
- The 3 main criteria concern the aspect of the village:
- Its population must not exceed 2,000 inhabitants.
- The village must have a distinctly rural character. It cannot be located in the outskirts of a big city, for example.
- It must boast at least 2 historic monuments or sites that are registered in the French government’s official registrar of National Heritage Sites.
- In addition to the main points highlighted above, the appraisal is based on a chart of 27 objective criteria that measure the extent and value of the village heritage, its architectural, urban and environmental quality, but also the suitability of municipal initiatives in terms of managing and showing off its area (town planning tools, controlling visitor flow, aesthetic developments, etc.).
- The organization oversees new applications and verifies that current member villages continue to adhere to all of the criteria in order to maintain their title. If a village no longer respects one or more of the rules defined by the association, it may be excluded.
- When an application is successful, the village can promote itself as part of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”, for instance by displaying road signs at its entrances.
Benefits for the Villages and the Public:
- The label has gained much prestige and popularity through the years. Because the association is highly selective and the approval process is so rigorous, the title is synonym of superior quality, authenticity, trustworthiness, and of course, great beauty in the eyes of the public.
- Such villages are few and far between. Their number will not multiply, as the association is determined not to water down its stringent qualifying criteria. The association’s goal is to keep the number of awarded villages under 200.
- Villages getting the label can expect a significant rise in the number of visitors, usually between at least 10% and 50% of their annual figure. Family businesses in those villages usually multiply and prosper thanks to the title. They may be restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops, hotels, inns, wineries, food artisans, craftsmen.
- The association aims to avoid certain pitfalls, such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, "theme parks".