The organization known as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France was founded back in 1982 by the then mayor (Charles Ceyrac) of Collonges-la-Rouge in the Corrèzedépartment of France. This village became the first ever designated ‘Most Beautiful Village’. The aim of the founders was to protect some of the smaller villages of France that tended to be somewhat off the beaten track. Membership of the movement helps to protect the heritage of these small communities. There are certain criteria that these villages must adhere to. For example, the population must not exceed 2000 inhabitants and the village/hamlet must have at least 2 sites or protected monuments.
At the moment there are 155 villages in the scheme (see a complete listing here), with 152 in mainland France, 2 in Corsica and one on the Island of La Réunion in Dom-Tom.
However, the organisation works in a similar way to the prestigious Michelin restaurant rating system in that new villages can be added or removed. Existing villages are closely monitored to make sure that they continue to adhere to the movements strict principles, based on their intrinsic architecture, heritage and beauty. In fact, since France For Families first compiled this section, 3 villages have lost their status and 9 new villages have been added – the most recent being Capdenhac-le-Haut in the Lot, Montcontour in Cotes d’Armor and Sainte-Suzanne in Mayenne.
Les Plus Beaux villages de France’ (translated as France’s most beautiful villages) really do live up to their name. They are all very unspoilt and are a joy to wander around.
Some have ‘capitalized’ on their special status and are host to small artisan shops and workrooms that give the tourist something else to browse. However these in no way detract from the individual beauty of the villages. Others have remained totally removed from any form of commercialism and seem to have stayed in a different time warp. In fact, Collonges-la-Rouge (the founding village) has even gone so far as to remove all telegraph poles and services from the village so there is no distraction from its unique red sandstone buildings – several sporting magnificent pepper-pot towers.
Website: Official Les Plus Beaux Villages de France website.
Read more about our favourites in France: