We can’t travel yet, read about it. The Michelin Guide The most beautiful villages in France, for example. Travel journalist Hans Adventure was inspired and made his own selection.
Le Bois, Savoie
In Champagny-en-Vanoise, the valley ends and it looks like the buildings are ending. But a narrow road will take you even further. The asphalt climbs almost perpendicularly and wriggles through a gorge until a plateau looms with in the middle of the hamlet of Le Bois. One hundred years ago, this was a thriving farming community with hameaux, groups of houses of wood and stone inhabited by large families. Some of the buildings are in disrepair, part beautifully refurbished and in use as a holiday home in the summer. In Le Bois, original façades – sometimes the old advertisement of a café or shop are still visible – recall the vivid past. The place is peacefully on the edge of the Parc Nationale de la Vanoise
“Come here,” Henri Matisse wrote to his friend and fellow painter André Derain in 1905. Immediately after arriving at collioure station, he had fallen in love with the light, the village and the languid life on the coast. That summer, the fate of the fishing village of Collioure changed and – according to the experts – that of painting. Matisse and Derain had the colours popping on their canvas and the village became a popular destination for painters and art lovers. Beautiful it is still there with pastel-coloured houses, a robust castle, traditional fishing boats and a spectacular rock coast. In bar Les Templiers there are reproductions of works with which artists paid their bills. Among them also Picasso, Chagall and Dalí.
Balazuc balances on a steep rock face above the fast-flowing Ardèche. Every time the wind in the valley stirs up, the houses seem to be blown into the abyss. Yet they have held out for centuries. The town of Balazuc almost still looks like it did hundreds of years ago, when the Seigneurs ruled the Balazuc there with a strict hand, controlled the region and went on a crusade. The Rue Publique was the main street of the village in the Middle Ages. When you walk through it, you’re constantly surprised. Due to a beautiful water source, a special façade or an alley that hides under old vaults. Take a wall at the edge of the village and wait for the sun to drop behind the mountains across the water. Pure magic!
Cassel, Le Nord
Cassel’s appeal is in the unique atmosphere. It feels like France, but the village looks like Flanders. Including a Grand Place that is invariably the centre of a city or village in Belgium. Cassel is located in the heart of Frans Vlaanderen, surrounded by places with names like Boeschepe and Bollezele. After a series of wars and borders, these originally Flemish villages finally ended up in France at the beginning of the 18th century. For a long time people stuck to their West Flemish dialect, but nowadays there are hardly any inhabitants who speak it. Cassel is the ideal starting point for a visit to this region full of buildings that are more Flemish than French.
They are characteristic of the hinterland of the Côte d’Azur: the villages perchés, high-altitude villages overlooking a landscape of olive trees, vineyards and undulating hillland. Many sun worshippers take a trip from the beach to top performers such as Gourdon, Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Claviers is just a little further away from the main tourist concentrations and has remained authentic. The village has a small medieval core with creep-by-sneak-through streets, which used to bustle with activity including cobblers, basket braiders, tailors, olive mills and potters.
A stone’s throw from the famous fortress town of Saint-Malo is the village of Cancale. Cosy centre, beautiful waterfront location, charming harbour. But above all, Cancale is the capital of oyster farming and culi fans come from far and wide to eat oysters here or buy them directly from the producer at the market. Some growers have opened their business to visitors, including a tasting and peek at the oyster banks in the sea. From the higher cliffs there is beautiful views of the hundreds of oyster fields that fall dry at low tide.
Bonneval-sur-Arc is a small human bastion in the wild mountain world of Haute-Savoie. It consists of a relatively modern centre with some hotels and apartments and an authentic part that belongs to Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, a club of beautiful villages with strict admission requirements. The old part has hardly changed in hundreds of years. The houses are built of wood and grey stones, with slate roofs and small windows. The village, located 1800 metres high, is located at the foot of the Col de l’Iseran, known for the Tour de France. A short walk leads to the abandoned hamlet of L’Écot, which is listed on the list of monuments and feels like the end of the world.
Le Poët-Laval, Drôme
The ancient part of Le Poët-Laval consists of ruins that stimulate the imagination and refurbished streets through which you can walk pleasantly. It is as if you are visiting a village that has slept for a hundred years and has recently been pulled from under the ivy and thorn bushes. At the top is the donjon, the fortified tower, with the remains of a castle. Below it is a terrace among the olive trees from which you look out over the Drôme. Writer Gerard Reve lived in the lower part of Le Poët-Laval. His house – La Grace – is still there, opposite the bakery. He also had his ‘Secret Estate’, hidden somewhere high in the hills. Reve was happy with his surroundings, but less enthusiastic about village life. ‘At least you still have real rights in Schiedam, I’m just talking about nothing with the neighbours. However, it is formidably beautiful again’, he wrote to his partner Joop Schafthuizen in 1977.
About 400 protected art nouveau buildings make Mers-les-Bains one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Europe. The promenade is a succession of colourful facades with wooden balconies, bay windows, ornaments and decorations of mosaic and tilework. The town became popular when the end of the 19th century a railway link with Paris and le tout Paris wanted a holiday home there. As if a miracle, the historic centre has almost endured the Second World War. From Mers, as the place is called in short, you definitely have to discover the coastline. It is spectacular with steep cliffs and wide beaches, where wind and waves have free reign. On foot you can also visit the town of Le Tréport, which is across the estuary. A cog wheel takes you to a viewpoint and a World War II bunker.
Many Dutch French visitors literally leave the Jura on their way south. Not warm enough for the sun worshippers, not high enough for mountain lovers. But the region is beautiful and full of surprises. Take the village of Arbois, which is surrounded by hills and vineyards. The compact centre is full of houses in earth tones with colored shutters. In the narrow streets you will find shops with products from the region, with the emphasis of course on wine. Arbois is also known thanks to Louis Pasteur, the man who in vented the theory in the 19th century that many diseases are caused by tiny small lives. In addition, he discovers a vaccine against rabies. His statue stands in a small park on the main road through the village and his former home is now museum.