Last Updated on 25th December 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Few countries in the World can claim to have as much medieval architecture or as many quaint timber-framed houses than France. From Beauty and the Beast locations to seaside escapes, here’s a quick guide to fairytale towns in France you won’t believe actually exist!
Picture perfect Dinan can be found in the North of France in the windswept region of Brittany. Filled with timber-framed houses and well-preserved medieval ramparts, a wander through the town can feel akin to stepping back in time.
Some of the top highlights of Dinan including munching on a local pastry (be sure to try a Kouignn-Amann, a delightful mix of butter and sugar) and strolling down the medieval high street. The Rue du Jerzual is cobbled and dates back to the Middle Ages- many of the 15th-century houses remain intact and so be sure to bring your camera along!
Read more: Is Dinan the prettiest town in France?
Pretty as a postcard with fantastic weather to match, Provence is one of the most popular destinations in France. And for good reason! The wine flows easily, the villages are like something out of a storybook, and the region is home to both rugged coastline and rocky mountains.
Elsewhere in the region, there are even ancient castles to explore, as well as lavender fields to meander through. Cassis itself truly is a jewel in the crown of Provence. What was once a Roman trading port has since become a quintessentially French fishing port which has retained all of its sweet charms despite becoming more touristic in more recent years.
The town also happens to be the gateway to the Calanques de Cassis, a stunning National Park known for its limestone inlets and tough hiking trails. While in Cassis, be sure to sample some local ice cream, particularly the lavender flavour- a traditional speciality!
With medieval architecture and a Gothic Cathedral that was once the tallest building in the world, no trip to Normandy would be complete without a venture through Rouen. Final resting place of Rollo the Viking and where Joan of Arc was allegedly burned at the stake, Rouen is full of locations which relate to some of the most important events in French history.
Today, you could easily spend a long weekend getting to know the city on a more local level and take day trips into the local French countryside. In Rouen itself, some of the best things to do include wandering the cobbled lanes and visiting the Jardin des Plantes.
Chevreuse, Île de France
Located within the Île de France region (i.e. the same area as Paris), Chevreuse is the kind of place you wouldn’t have thought still existed. And yet it does. Home to meandering rivers and founded in the 11th-century, the fairytale town is even home to its own ruinous castle, the Château de la Madeleine.
Other highlights of Chevreuse include snapping photos of the Yvette River (and all the picturesque houses and numerous bridges surrounding the water), and donning your hiking boots to go walking in the Parc Naturel régional de la Haute vallée de Chevreuse.
Just as the UK has the white cliffs of Dover, so too does France in the form of Étretat. A pretty resort town with shingle beaches and chalky sea stacks, Etretat once inspired some of the greatest French painters; Monet and Renoir to name but a few. Located along the rugged coastline of Normandy, a trip to Etretat can easily be combined with a visit to the pretty village of Yport, as well as the substantial city of Le Havre.
Read more: How to spend one day in Étretat
Situated in a place between land and sea, the walled city of Saint-Malo has long been regarded as one of the best fairytale towns in France. The motto of the town has long been “Ni Français ni Breton, Malouin suis” (I am neither French, nor Breton, I am Malouin). And this phrase may well account for why St Malo has long maintained plenty of independence from the rest of France.
Some of the very best things to do in Saint-Malo include discovering all of the local food on offer (think pastries galore, mussels, and all of the best crepes France has to offer) and relaxing on sandy golden beaches should the weather allow for it. Saint-Malo also happens to be where Jacques Cartier, the man who claimed Canada for France, came from.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful cathedral city in the former Languedoc-Roussillon region. While I visited on a whim (booking each of my stops during my solo trip in the South of France the night before arrival), Narbonne was a city which soon surprised and enchanted me.
After all, what started as a Roman port city now lies some 15 kilometres from the sea owing to a built up of sand and silt in the River Aude during the past two millennia. Should you wish to visit the beach today, you’ll need to visit the small settlement at Narbonne-Plage.
Secluded, quiet, and off the beaten tourist track, Narbonne is now home to one of the more unusual cathedrals in France (only the choir was ever actually built), as well as one of the best food markets in Occitanie (think fresh seafood, local wine, traditional bread). Other highlights of Narbonne include several pieces of medieval architecture and a number of fascinating museums.
Provins, Île de France
Ancient and medieval, the historic city of Provins was once one of the most important towns in l’Hexagon, leading to its well-deserved place within this list about the best fairytale towns in France. Home to tunnels dating back to the Middle Ages, well-preserved medieval ramparts, and a 12th-century watchtower known locally as ‘Tour Cesar’, this town should totally be on your day trips from Paris bucket list!
Read more: An easy day trip from Paris to Provins
Colmar, the Alsace
Though the charming Alsace city may be often overlooked in favour of its much more famous neighbour, i.e. the political city of Alsace, there’s certainly no denying the beauty of this French town. After all, between charming cobbled lanes and timber-framed houses, there’s also a myriad of independent coffee houses to discover, as well as several millennia worth of history.
It’s also worth noting that one of the best times to visit Colmar is during the winter, when the Christmas Markets are in full swing (there are around half a dozen or so markets hosted in the Alsatian town on an annual basis). And if you’re looking for one of the most breathtaking spots in Eastern France, then you simply must head to La Petite Venise (Little Venice)!
Niedermorschwihr, the Alsace
Tucked away amongst swathes of vineyards and hidden beneath the shadow of the Vosges mountains, the tiny settlement of Niedermorschihr has little by way of attractions, but instead is a timber-framed delight of colourful houses and cobbled lanes. But perhaps the main unusual thing to see in town is the twisted spire of the main parish church, an example of less than 100 such versions across Europe.
Clisson, Pays de la Loire
Situated in Western France, away from the tourist hot spots and as the gateway to the Loire Valley, an area of l’Hexagone famed for its magnificent Châteaux, Clisson is a fairytale French town that misses out on much of the press it deserves in favour of more famous destinations.
However, head to Clisson (less than a half hour train ride away from the city of Nantes) and you’ll soon discover that there are Château ruins to explore, many country hiking trails to be meandered along, and the kind of friendly ambiance that is seldom found nowadays.
Read more: How to visit the beautiful town of Clisson