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The Middle Ages, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th century) and the Renaissance in the 15th century, were a remarkable period in Europe’s history. In France, these were the times of the expansion of royal control by the House of Capet, crusades, and wars against the English or Flanders. Also, these were the times when Romanesque and Gothic arts were born.
Want to have a travel in time? There is no lack of French medieval towns that managed to retain the charm of medieval architecture, elements, and flair. Every one of them is a photographer’s paradise of snaking alleys, frenetically stacked houses, and unique personality worth discovering.
For this article, we asked some travel experts to help us with the list of the best medieval towns in France. If you are interested in this fascinating period of history or simply wish to stroll around cobbled streets lost in time, these stunning French medieval towns might be just what you are looking for.
Best French Medieval Towns
Here’s the list of our favorite medieval towns in France, spread all over the country. Some of these French medieval towns are easy day trips from the best French cities, while others are best explored on longer French road trips.
Èze medieval village is one of the best places to visit in the French Riviera. This vulture’s nest perched 429 meters above the sea between Nice and Monaco surprises with its beauty and stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the most beautiful medieval towns in France, Èze Village is like a step back in time. Get lost in this labyrinth of cobblestone streets, and enjoy its particular atmosphere. The village is very tiny, but every corner is worth a stop for taking a picture or two.
Thanks to its microclimate, the place has aphrodisiac plants in fantastic colors. Don’t miss the Exotic Garden, essential to understand this town’s traditions and observe its plants. Then, the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Church and the Chapel of the White Penitents are worth visiting.
Chinon (Indre et Loire)
Chinon’s imposing fortress is a medieval masterpiece with its keep and towers. The view of the Royal Fortress of Chinon from the bridge over the Vienne will take your breath away.
The town is a truly charming and sublime place to visit, and it is a wonder to wander through Chinon’s medieval streets with its pretty half-timbered houses and old dwellings. Among them are the Maison Rouge, one of the oldest in the city, the former Bailiwick’s Palace, and the Hôtel des Etats Généraux, a mansion now housing the Museum of Old Chinon.
Chinon also has beautiful religious buildings such as the Chapel of St. Radegund. Built in a Romanesque, semi-troglodyte style, its mural paintings from the end of the 12th century depict the Plantagenets.
Riquewihr (Haut Rhin)
Riquewihr is one of the most beautiful Alsace villages along the Alsace Wine Route, if not the most beautiful! Located in the Haut-Rhin department, between mountains and vineyards, Riquewihr will likely steal your heart too.
Riquewihr exists since Roman times. Over the centuries, the town prospered by trading its reputed white wine all over Europe. In the 16th century, this prosperity with the Riquewihr wine enabled the village to build the magnificent houses that you can see today.
Riquewihr is surrounded by a double fortification wall. The first ramparts were built in the 13th century, while the second ramparts were built in the 16th century when Riquewihr was a rich town. Don’t miss the Dolder – the 13th-century belfry tower at the end of Rue Charles de Gaulle – and the pretty shops selling souvenirs, local delicacies, and wines.
This beautiful medieval town is also famous for hosting one of the most wonderful Christmas Markets in Alsace. The market takes place every weekend from mid-November to Christmas.
Yvoire (Haute Savoie)
Yvoire is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the French Alps in the summer. This unique fortified village located on the French shore of the Lac Léman is listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.
This stunning French medieval town with more than 700 years of history has all the ingredients to make you travel back to Medieval times: ramparts, fortified gates, picturesque cobbled streets, and a 14th-century castle.
Don’t miss the Jardin des 5 Sens, in the heart of the village, listed as a remarkable garden by the Ministry of Culture. There are many pretty shops to buy souvenirs and regional products too.
Moret-sur-Loing (Seine et Marne)
Moret-sur-Loing was a royal city of the Capetian dynasty, located at the border with the Duchy of Burgundy. The kings Louis VI, Louis VII, and Philippe Auguste fortified it in the 12th century and built beautiful constructions.
The current town plan is still strongly marked by this medieval period. Visitors can still see part of the ramparts and three fortified gates built between the 12th and the 15th centuries.
One of the town’s main accesses is through a beautiful medieval bridge that crosses the river Loing. Inside the fortified town, don’t miss the Church of Notre Dame, built between the 12th and 14th centuries in Gothic style, and the keep of the medieval castle (12th century), which was partially destroyed during the French Revolution.
Suggested by Norbert | World in Paris
The picturesque medieval town of Pérouges, in the Ain department, is one of the best day trips from Lyon. This ancient town, surrounded by a double-walled enclosure, has a well-preserved architecture and an authentic historic atmosphere.
Start at the Place du Tilleul, in the heart of the town. Here, you will find the 13th-century Hostellerie du Vieux Pérouges – one of the oldest inns in France –, and the Museum of Old Pérouges. Then, the winding cobblestone streets and pretty squares will transport you back to the Middle Ages, when Pérouges excelled at hemp growing and weaving.
Also, visit the Sainte-Madelaine Church – a rare church fortress built in the 15th century –, the Porte d’En-Haut, and the Princes’ House, which was the former residence of the Dukes of Savoy.
Last but not least, don’t miss Pérouges’ gourmet specialty: la galette de Pérouges: plain or with pralines, the galette will make you happy!
Châteauneuf-en-Axois (Côte d’Or)
Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is one of the most interesting medieval towns in France to visit. Standing on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by a medieval fortress, Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a superb example of 14th-century Burgundian military architecture.
In Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, the towers and curtains bear witness to the defense policy undertaken during the Hundred Years War to defend the plains of Auxois. The village has a beautiful architecture of bourgeois residences from the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, built during the town’s commercial prosperity. Don’t’ miss the 16th-century château, a superb example of medieval military architecture.
Conques is a charming medieval town located at the foot of the Dourdou river, in the Aveyron (Occitanie). During the 11th and 12th centuries, Conques was an important place of pilgrimage on the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. From this period is also the construction of the Abbey of Sainte-Foy, which hosts the relics of this young woman martyred in the 4th century. This abbey is considered a masterpiece of Romanesque art from southern France and is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
Conques’ maze of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses will transport you directly to the Middle Ages, and the residents of the area will tell you this place conceals a thousand treasures.
During your wanderings in Conques, look for the public stone fountains. Built in the Romanesque period, they allowed pilgrims to quench their thirst. Today, they bring authenticity to the village.
The picturesque medieval town of Saint-Émilion is heaven for French food and wine enthusiasts. Named after a French monk, this charming fortress village is filled with historic buildings and surrounded by stunning landscapes of rolling hills and grapevines.
Strolling through the quaint cobbled stone streets offers beautiful views of the town and the local wineries called chateaus. Saint-Émilion is one of the world’s best wine regions for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Some of the wine shops in town offer opportunities to taste the local wines, but if you have the time, visiting the local chateaus is the best way to experience Saint-Émilion.
Some of the chateaus also have lodging and restaurants. However, the town itself boasts eateries for every budget, from small cafes to Michelin-starred. And you can dine outdoors at one of the bistros in the main square for a good meal and even better people watching.
Suggested by Denise | Chef Denise
Ribeauvillé (Haut Rhin)
Ribeauvillé is one of the picturesque French medieval towns that lie on the Alsace Wine Route. Ribeauvillé has a population of just under 5,000 people and is highly popular with travelers exploring the Alsace. Located just 16 kilometers from Colmar, Ribeauvillé is an easy day trip from Colmar or Strasbourg.
The village is surrounded by fields of vineyards stretching all the way to neighboring towns. The main cobblestoned-lined street is filled with restaurants, bakeries, and cellar doors. On the hill directly behind the town, you will find Castle Saint-Ulrich, Castle Girsberg, and Haut-Ribeaupierre. There is a popular walking trail from the center of town that takes in historical sites.
If you want to experience Ribeauvillé like a local, head off the main streets and find some local establishments such as Gorman Drinks, where the locals drink and eat. Also, you should definitely try the local wine from Cave de Ribeauvillé, the oldest wine co-op in France. A visit and stay in Ribeauville is a must.
Suggested by Mark| Wyld Family Travel
The medieval town of Rocamadour is nestled in the wooded crags of the Lot and has been a go-to destination for pilgrims and tourists alike since the 12th century. Ranging across the steep hills of the Alzou Canyon in the Causses du Quercy Nature Park, this sacred village is packed with honeyed stone houses, pointed towers, and narrow cobbled streets, perfect for wandering and a great stop on a motorhome tour of France.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is built on three levels, dominated by the incomparable Citadel of Faith, an important stop on the Way of St James for centuries. You can climb from the charming narrow streets at the lowest level, through the four stone arches to the Gothic monastic buildings and chapels, and the castle beyond.
Suggested by Izzy | The Gap Decaders
Gordes is one of the prettiest medieval towns in France. It’s situated in Provence in the South of France. Gordes is actually on the official list of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France,’ so it totally deserves a visit!
Gordes was built in the 11th century around a fortified medieval castle. It was a fortress in the Middle Ages, also acting as a real shelter for populations fleeing invasions and religious wars.
Gordes has a lot of assets. First of all, because it’s located on top of a hill, it has a very privileged position. It offers some stunning views of the Luberon mountain and the Calavon Valley! Also, the architecture of Gordes is quite characteristic with its white and grey stones.
Aside from the medieval castle, Gordes features two abbeys, several ancient windmills, and fountains. Last but not least, this typical provincial village has many traditions, and many exhibitions and a cultural festival are organized here.
Suggested by Ophelie | Limitless Secrets
Sarlat-la-Canéda is a medieval walled town in the Dordogne in South-West France. Sarlat is a market town known for its walnuts, foie gras, and fresh produce. On the main square, you will find a huge Saturday market, with producers selling everything from cèpe mushrooms to handcrafts, walnut liquor to clothing. Try one of the tasting menus at the surrounding restaurants – Sarlat is a food paradise.
Famed architect Jean Nouvel, has transformed the Sainte-Marie church on the main square into incredible covered markets with a glass elevator that offers views out over Sarlat. Explore the crooked cobblestone streets and find cute boutiques, crêpe shops, and fine examples of medieval architecture. Be sure to stop at one of the cafés and watch the world go by over an aperitif of walnut wine.
This medieval town in France is a great base for exploring the wider Dordogne region too, where you can see castles and fortified towns along the Dordogne River.
Suggested by Hannah | HH Lifestyle Travel
So there you have it, our list of best medieval towns in France worth visiting. Which French medieval towns would you like to explore during your next holiday in France?