The highly popular Frenc TV programme “Village préféré des Français” every year anoints a 'best village' based on a public vote. But if the whole country knows about it then where's the fun in that?
The Local asked the folk over at the association of “Les plus beaux villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages in France) to come up with a list they consider to be the crème de la crème of France's hidden treasures.
Without further ado, here are their picks. How many have you been to?
Moncontour is a medieval village in Brittany, north western France, with just shy of 1,000 inhabitants (who are known as the moncontourais). It's position overlooking two valleys is a key ingredient of its rich history, with many a battle being fought nearby. Enjoy the cobble-stoned streets and the stone-walled buildings in this picturesque snapshot of times gone by.
The intricate St-Mathurin church, which dates from the 16th century
Blesle, in the Haute-Loire départment in south-central France, has just 650 residents. It's practically a complete secret. And if you want some history, you've come to the right place. The area was settled with the building of a benedictine monastery in the ninth century, but the site was occupied at least 4,000 years ago. Take a stroll along the timber and stone homes and venture out to see the remnants of the walls that once defended the village.
The Abbey Church of Saint-Peter from the 12th century
This village in central France's Limousin has 350 inhabitants. It was, like Blesle, constructed around a benedictine monastery and is consistently voted among the prettiest villages in France. Be sure to check out the Notre Dame church, and the fortified Saint-Robert church. The village has a big classical music scene too, check here if you want to know more.
The view! Saint-Robert is perched on a hill, and the views are spectacular
In central France, you'll find this stunning village with only 231 inhabitants. You'll no doubt feel right at home from the moment you arrive – and don't forget your camera. There is a medieval fortress complete with towers and a châtelet (a sort of little castle), plus streets covered in flowers. This is another regular on the most beautiful village lists in France – and for good reason.
The fortress, of course (built in the 13th century)
In Alsace, eastern France, lies Mittelbergheim. If you're keen on a tipple, you've come to the right place, as this secluded treasure makes some of the best wine in the country. The guide book recommends checking out the old oil mill from the 18th century, but there's also guided tours and a museum.
The bottom of a glass of Sylvaner wine, made in the region. A votre santé!
Another tiny village – Eus, in southern France's Pyrénées-Orientales, boasts some of the best views of all the villages in this list. Eus belonged to Spain back in the 16th, and the Spanish influence is still distinctly noticeable today, with many of the street names in Spanish.
The Saint Vincent church at the top of the hill.
Head to the Dordogne département for this village, which boasts a heavy influence of Perigord architecture complete with a few traditional stone roofs. The church, as usual, is the biggest and most impressive feature of the area featuring an enormous bell-tower. The church was built eight centuries ago, and renovated in the 19th century.
The hospital with its stone arched gateway
Out on the west coast lies Talmont-sur-Gironde and its 78 inhabitants. Yes, 78. If you arrive with a big family you'd be making a significant increase to the population. There are a few small beaches at the foot of the village's walls, but where you really want to spend your time is walking along the narrow streets among the hollyhock flowers and white walls.
The Church of Sainte-Radegonde, built in the 11th century.
Down on the French Riviera in southern France is Ansouis, a charming little village that's not far from the Durance river. Imagine narrow streets full of boutiques and artists' workshops, with plenty of shade under the plane trees to stop and take it all in. Or why not take a coffee out on one of the charming terraces of the village's cafes?
The 10th century fortress
Down in the Hautes-Alpes département in southeastern France, you'll find Saint-Véran. This is the most elevated village in the whole of France – with an altitude of over 2,000 metres – enough to make it the third most elevated in Europe. In the peak of summer and winter, this place can be a little more popular with tourists, so avoid these times and you'll likely have the place to yourself.
The views, obviously.
All of these villages and many more feature in the newest edition of the Les plus beaux villages de France book.
All photos courtesy of Les plus beaux villages de France.