Though France’s major cities are renowned for their world-class art and architecture, the country’s scenic towns and villages are packed full of beauty and cultural splendor. The towns also act as gateways into rural France, bringing majestic landscapes and scenery to your doorstep. With a car rental in France, you’re able to take the less traveled routes, finding many hidden gems along the way to explore. While every region in France has a number of provincial destinations not to be missed, we’ve chosen 5 of our favorites from across the country.
1. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Languedoc
Nestled in a stunning valley in the Occitanie region, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is a medieval village situated on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route. The Gellone River has sliced out impressive gorges around the village and is crossed by a series of beautiful bridges such as the Pont du Diable. A remote idyll for walkers, the village is built around the Abbey of Gellone, an incredible example of Romanesque architecture that is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
2. Cassis, Côte d’Azur
While the infamous St. Tropez pulls in more visitors on the Côte d’Azur coastline, the Mediterranean fishing port of Cassis trumps it with astounding scenery and colorful charm. To the east the towering red rock of the Cap Canaille dominates the landscape, it is the highest sea cliff in Europe. Below it lush green vineyards spread up to the outskirts of the town; make sure you sample the local wine in Cassis’ wine bars and restaurants. From Cassis, you can take incredible coastal walks and boat trips to visit the idyllic Calanques that dot the coastline all the way to Marseille and offer stunning bathing points.
3. Troyes, Champagne
The former capital of Champagne, Troyes is a short drive from Paris and has a jaw-dropping medieval old town. It’s 16th Century timber houses form a mazelike network of alleyways that beg to be explored and Gothic churches seem to be on every corner. The historic Troyes Cathedral is the jewel of the old town and features detailed masonry and stunning stained-glass windows. From Troyes, you can easily get to the 136-mile long Champagne route. This is a beautiful scenic road trip that ideally involves plenty of Champagne tasting.
4. Colmar, Alsace
Set in the vineyards of Alsace, Colmar delights visitors with its traditional architecture and charming canals. Colorful murals and ornate woodwork make for enchanting strolls through the town while the architecture also reflects its complicated and fascinating history involving German Renaissance, Baroque and French Classicism and Neo-Baroque styles. Along with its fountains, churches, and monuments, the town also has a great collection of museums. One of the most important is the Unterlinden Museum featuring the remarkable Isenheim Altarpiece; a must see!
5. Rochefort-en-Terre, Morbihan
Now we go all the way to the northwest to feature one of Brittany’s most beautiful towns: Rochefort-en-Terre. A small city of immense character, Rochefort-en-Terre is designated as a “Petite Cité de Caractére” or small city of character. The town is a beautiful mix of half-timbered and Renaissance stone houses and has become a haven for artisans and craftspeople. The best times to visit are in spring and summer when almost every house puts an immense effort into dressing their dwelling in flowers. Visit the town’s castle for its stunning location, and sci-fi fans will be thrilled by the attached Naia Museum of the Imaginary Arts.