The Most Beautiful Villages of France
Definition: This official title distinguishes French villages that boast outstanding beauty and historical heritage. As of 2017, out of a whopping 32 thousand small villages that dot the countryside all over France, a mere 156 of them have been awarded the prestigious and highly selective title of “Most Beautiful Villages of France” or in French “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”.
Title Criteria: The independent, non-profit organization that oversees this concept upholds a demanding list of no less than 30 criteria, all of which must be met and sustained over time in order for villages to receive and maintain the coveted title. 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. The three most important criteria are:
- Size: the village population cannot exceed 2,000 inhabitants (by French standards, a community of more than 2,000 residents is no longer a village but a town or urban center).
- Heritage: it is not enough that most of its houses and buildings be historic (after all this is the case for the vast majority of French villages). The village must also boast at least two officially registered national heritage sites that make it stand out.
- Pastoral appeal: the village must be located in outstanding natural settings. The laureates tend to be located deep within the countryside in beautiful remote areas away from urban centers. They cannot be located in the outskirts of a big city, for example. This rustic quality explains in large part why such villages haven’t changed much over the centuries and have escaped modernization.
- In addition to the main points highlighted above, the appraisal is based on a chart of 27 other 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.).
- When an application is successful, the village can promote itself as part of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”, for instance by displaying the association’s iconic road signs at its entrances.
- 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. The association is carful to avoid certain pitfalls, such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, “theme parks”.
Benefits for the Villages and the Public: The outcomes of getting the title are three-fold for the fortunate villages that qualify for it.
- Embellishment: They usually undergo a beautification process. Past aesthetics are restored to their former glory. It indeed becomes essential to maintain or revive the architectural unity or unique character of a given place, which may have traditionally used a particular local tile on its roofs or a uniform color on its facades, for example. Cobblestone pavements are repaired or extended to cover the entire village streets, as they used to be in the past. The village becomes a pedestrian heaven. In short, a beautiful place becomes picture perfect.
- Reputation: 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 a seal of superior quality, authenticity, trustworthiness, charm, and of course, great beauty in the eyes of the French public. Therefore, the title functions as a guarantee for a meaningful visit and a special day of discovery. Many French people seek out villages that bear the title and go out of their way to see them, in spite of their remoteness.
- Publicity: Thanks to the title, villages are featured on websites, appear in magazines and guidebooks, or are featured on television.
- Prosperity: The “Most Beautiful Villages of France” title is a boon for local tourism as it bestows prestige and attractiveness to the lucky few that earn it, in turn making them tourist destinations. 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. As a result, the village economy thrives and in some cases enjoys a rebirth as the influx of visitors makes local family businesses in those villages prosper and multiply. Such villages usually feature an usual number of attractive businesses and specialty shops of all kinds that visitors love to patronize, ranging from cafés, local food shops, wineries, arts and crafts boutiques, souvenir shops, inns, ect...
Sojourner Tours' Focus: The “Most Beautiful Villages of France” is one of the distinctive signatures of Sojourner Tours as we pride ourselves in showing our guests the best of what France has to offer. Such wonderful locations rank high on our list of must-do-things because they are a guarantee of quality, but also because they are usually not on American visitors’ radar due to their remote locations and to the fact that this great French concept isn't well known outside of France. In addition to incredible towns featured on our tours, such as Collioure, Sarlat, or Montreux, the “Most Beautiful Villages of France” where we take guests include Les Baux-de-Provence, Castelnou, Château-Châlon, Baume-les-Messieurs, Gordes, Montbrun-les-Bains, Ménerbes, Lourmarin, Collonge-la-Rouge, Turenne, Carennac, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Domme, Laroque-Gageac and Roussillon.