8 Fairytale French Villages You Won’t Want to Miss 

Whether you’re basing your French holiday in Paris and looking for interesting day trips, or are on a self-drive holiday through the country, these beautiful French villages are the storybook idylls you seek. Some are hidden in plain sight in larger cities, while others are set off by themselves in the countryside. Here are our favorites:

Beaune: A Burgundian Jewel

Nestled in Burgundy, Beaune is a charming town known for its wine and Gothic architecture. Visit local wineries, including the famous Hospices de Beaune, or admire stunning examples of Gothic design like the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune and the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame. Take a leisurely stroll or bike ride along the Canal de Bourgogne, or simply soak up the town's quaint atmosphere and warm hospitality. Don't miss out on discovering this enchanting French gem.

Moret-sur-Loing: Sisley’s Muse 

With its picturesque medieval gates, an ancient bridge spanning a gentle stream and a historic watermill, Moret-sur-Loing is as pretty as its name is to say. It’s an easy day trip from Paris, so there’s really no excuse not to fit it in if you find yourself with extra time. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of the City of Light, Moret-sur-Loing sits at the edge of the Fontainebleau Forest and exudes a welcome sense of serenity. Follow in painter Sisley’s footsteps on a private walking tour to see the scenes that so inspired his works of art.

La Petite France: A Village within a City 

Delve deeper into Strasbourg, already known for its holiday cheer, and find La Petite France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is as beguiling all year round as it is at Christmas. Find the historic quarter by the River Ill, where you’ll start to feel its medieval roots as you wander through tightly packed half-timbered homes set along narrow lanes and beside tiny squares. If it’s Christmas, you’ll smell mulled wine, chocolate, sauerkraut and sausages on the breeze, as you shop the idyllic market for trinkets and treasures. 

Saint-Germain-en-Laye: Shop the Market Like a Local 

This is an easy add-on to a Paris stay, sitting just across the Seine from the city (just a 20-minute train ride). The views of Paris are fabulous from the community’s hilltop perch. Come ready to shop the market, where every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, you’ll find stalls laden with local, fresh food and produce. A charming blend of nature, art and history, the town is presided over by an impressive Renaissance castle - today it houses the Musée d'Archéologie National, where you’ll find objects, tools, artwork and more spanning the Paleolithic period to the Early Middle Ages. Architecture buffs won’t want to miss the Gothic-style Chapelle Saint-Louis, either. 

The Saint-Louis Quarter: Another Side of Versailles

Charming as can be, the Saint-Louis Quarter of Versailles is less imposing in its grandeur and not as medieval in history, but a definite must when you’re visiting. The village-like feel comes alive through quiet squares lined with small, colorful buildings constructed under Louis XV, where today you’ll find tidy shops, artisan workshops, cafes and art galleries. Check out the Saint-Louis Cathedral, with its period paintings and the King’s Kitchen Garden, which was originally created to feed the Palace’s large population.

Dijon: More than Mustard

Of course, part of Dijon’s appeal is that you can come home with a suitcase full of unique mustards, and yet there is much more that makes the town so inviting. Shop the Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté for arts and crafts, sold in approximately 60 delightful chalets. Pop into a locally run restaurant for some beef bourguignon. If it’s Christmas, the little corners of the town, with their crooked, half-timbered house, morph into holiday markets - we particularly love the charming Place Francois Rude. Don’t miss the market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel. 

Reims: Champagne and Surprises 

Toast your French holiday in the capital of the country’s Champagne region - Reims. Go ahead and taste all your favorites (Mumm, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, Tattinger and Ruinart, and more) to your heart’s content, but be sure to take time to further explore this storybook town. History-minded travelers will want to see the Cathedral, where every French king from 987 to the 19th century (with Charles X) was crowned. Other highlights include the Musée des Beaux-Arts with paintings by Renoir, Matisse, Monet and Charles Le Brun, and an art deco library donated by Andrew Carnegie. 

Montmartre: Jewel Box of Paris

Don’t have time to stray far from Paris, but craving a small village ambiance? Head to the cobbled streets of hilltop Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. Explore interesting museums, take in the view from the city atop the Sacré-Cœur, shop for artwork along the Place du Tertre (sit for a spell at La Mer Catherine, one of the neighborhood’s oldest restaurants) and, at the holidays, wander through the atmospheric Christmas market at Place des Abbesses. 

Ready for a fairytale French holiday? Let’s chat about your vacation plans and how to work one or more of these idyllic villages and small towns into your itinerary. You can find my contact details here: card.penguins2polarbears.com

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