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Best French Villages to Visit

February 9, 2014 @ 8:08 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Famed chef Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers

Hilltop and valley villages anoint the French countryside like little pearls strung lazily across the landscape. Each, it seems, is centered on a petite chapel, and many claim riverfront privileges with ancient stone bridges and willow-protected river banks. While there are hundreds of scenic and historic villages in France, we have to begin somewhere! Enjoy a glimpse of two of our favorites.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie

At the western end of the striking Gorges du Verdun, Moustiers Sainte-Marie is a remarkably beautiful village in the Emerald Valley. Moustiers is home to just 600 residents but host to thousands of visitors, many who come for the valued “faience” pottery produced here.

The traditional pottery village straddles a small rocky canyon and a stream that splits the village and adds the pleasant sounds of rushing water to the overall charm of the town. High above the village a semi circle of rocky cliffs are linked by a forged iron chain, from which the golden star of one of the knights of the Crusades is suspended. It’s quite a striking sight and symbol. Under the protective star, the village unfolds with narrow streets and passages and welcoming shops and cafes. Everywhere the views upwards and outwards prompt you to stop, look and listen.

At the village center, the 12th-century Notre-Dame church, with its four-level Romanesque bell tower, is watched over by the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, high above the village and beneath the gold star. You gain a sense of how “young” we are, in that the chapel was built on the same spot as a Marial temple that dates to 470 A.D. You will definitely want to carve out some time to wander through faience stores, before finding that perfect umbrella-covered table for a delightful lunch.

Roussillon

Roussillon’s main square

On the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse, Rousillon is an ochre-red village that is small enough to easily explore but filled with charm and color. Wandering along her narrow streets takes you through a maze of bright colors – coral buildings with bright blue shutters, vivid yellow with green accents, deep earth colors and red tile roofs. One of the 141 villages in France rated as a Plus Beaux Village (Most Beautiful Village of France), Roussillon’s color stems, in part, from the former ochre mines at the base of the village. In fact, there is evidence of Roman occupation, when the mines were operating.

The village square was one of our favorites, lively with outdoor cafes, the Mairie’s (Mayor’s) handsome building and the 19th-century clock, bell tower and sundials of the church. Stretching out from the square are charming boutiques with pottery that reflects the joyous colors of the area.  We simply stopped to listen to the chanteuse, who entertained from the middle of the village square – magnifique!

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