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Les Plus Beaux Villages de France--most beautiful villages in France

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Les Plus Beaux Villages de France--most beautiful villages in France

Old Sep 9th, 2016, 05:45 AM
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Les Plus Beaux Villages de France--most beautiful villages in France

This will be our 6th or 8th trip to France, and I am wondering about this designation. In the past we've tried to include these in our itinerary when feasible.

Now I am wondering if these truly are exceptionally different and beautiful places, or if they are places that are just doing a better job of marketing than other small towns that might be similarly beautiful or interesting. Is the selection process truly competitive, or is this one of those things where if the town gets its act together and submits its entry and pays a fee it will be included on the list? Does anyone have any insights?

I guess I should add in that in the area we plan to visit --la Rochelle and vicinity to Bordeaux and vicinity--there are only four villages that meet this designation. Ars en Re, la Flotte, Mornac sur Seudre, and Talmont sur Gironde are all in the Charente Maritime. There are no villages around Bordeaux at all, and the next nearest cluster is in the Lot and Dordogne. Does this sound about right?

Thanks.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 06:36 AM
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Herre's an interesting summary of the program and criteria:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_...ages_de_France

We lived in the Midi-Pyrénnés region of France for six years. I didn't make a concerted effort to see them all but we lived about 15 miles from St. Lizier so often took visitors there. Of those I've visited, at least in our region, many were memorable for the views from the village.

So, wasn't really disappointed with them but never had an interest in checking them off a list, in fact, I didn't know for several years that St. Lizier or Najac had the designation.

I would read other write-ups about the villages to help decide whether or not you want to track them down.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 07:22 AM
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It's always seemed to me that putting a village on the list of "les plus beaux" is the death knell for what may have been an otherwise interesting place to visit. If it wasn't on the tour bus map before, it now will be and there must certainly be others 5% less beaux that will be 500% more worthwhile to visit. Of course it's then up to us to find them before they, too, go on the list. But I think more fun to do than accept & cooperate with what seems to me to be a marketing ploy.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 08:20 AM
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It's always seemed to me that putting a village on the list of "les plus beaux" is the death knell for what may have been an otherwise interesting place to visit.

I agree that the villages often become embalmed by the designation, but they, as well as those who do not make the list, have generally lost their original function and the activities that depended on it. For example, the hamlet where we had our house in the Dordogne was an agricultural village when the house was originally constructed in 1971. Principally a dairy, cattle and sheep growing area. But eventually the dairy function disappeared with only a cattle (i.e. beef) raising left and one retired farmer kept a flock of sheep. When we originally came to the village, it had the smell and visuals of its agricultural function, what with the dairy cows going down the main and only street twice a day. Eventually that was banned. Field animals had to go from the barn to the fields without going through the main street, and apparently that was a generally imposed rule. Over time, the the hamlet has become a retirement/vacation location--the farmers retired and their children come back for the holidays to stay in the renovated farm houses and barns. There are only a couple of farmers left in the area who either lease the fields for hay and their beef cattle or cut the grass of the fields on an even exchange as was the case for the land around our house--he cut the grass for free and kept it for himself.

The only way for the villages to survive is to attract tourists, especially if the village is too small to have the facilities for things like retirement/nursing homes that are part of the transformation of some larger towns.

But there are some nice architectural towns within that designation which are not overwhelmed by tourism like St. Cirq-la-Popie or Collonges-la-rouge. Michelin has a map with the plus beaux villages as its highlights (http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-d...carte-routiere ) which is helpful in traveling on France's smaller roads.

Here is an example https://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca...7623877915948/ and subsequent pictures.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 08:32 AM
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Very interesting, Michael.

Now it seems you live in the city of my birth, also once a lovely place to live and now so expensive and changed (as many are, that's "progress") I cannot bring myself to drive the couple of hours it would take me to get there.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 09:04 AM
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Very interesting information! I knew I'd get some thoughtful answers here. Thanks much!
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 09:05 AM
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Another thing to look at: the winners of the Villages Fleuris competition, held annually. Villages and towns compete for which has done the best job of displaying gardens and flowers, some of which are spectacular. You can find the site at

http://www.villes-et-villages-fleuris.com/
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 09:48 AM
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Then there's the US version of same, http://www.americainbloom.org/
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 03:47 PM
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It depends on which Plus Beaux Villages you are visiting. There are some where the tourist hoards seem to flock to, notably in the Dordogne and Provence, and others that you can visit in the middle of high tourist season in July and August where tourist crowds are thin or in some cases practically non-existent. But there are many towns that are just as charming that have no such designation anywhere. I find that if a village receives this designation it is probably worth a visit even if only from an aesthetically appealing viewpoint, disregarding any "authenticity" it may have as a functioning village that can rely on its inhabitants for economic vitality.

I find that if you are open to picking up a Michelin map and driving around randomly and getting lost that you will inevitably find loads of actual "authentic" villages that are as aesthetically appealing as some of the Plus Beaux Villages but have received no tourist worthy designation. Although they are usually beautiful and full of touristy charm (despite the lack of tourists) there usually isn't that much to do because these places are geared to serving the locals. But stopping for a drink at the local bar tabac in one of these out of the way places, or having a bite to eat at a restaurant, almost always yields a memorable personal encounter with the locals so there is always that to look forward to.

Michael - I was in Collonges-la-Rouge a couple of years ago and it was absolutely heaving with tourists, yet lovely nearby places like Carrenac, Martel, Curemont, Autoire, Loubressac and several other nearby Plus Beaux Villages had few or almost no tourists, and this was mid August.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 04:20 PM
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I think it just becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Everyone has heard of the Dordogne and Provence, so everyone flocks to those places. Fewer people have heard of, for example, Poitou-Charentes or Aquitaine which are areas we are planning to visit next month, and which according to what I have read also have some absolutely lovely and intriguing places/towns. Thus, because they aren't familiar names those places don't get visited.

FMT--Good point about there being nothing for tourists to do in the towns without the tourist designations even if they are charming and lovely.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 04:32 PM
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"...nothing for tourists to do in the towns without the tourist designations..."

That isn't what I got from FMT's post. It seems to me that he describes an experience of another kind, not no experience.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 04:41 PM
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I think you've both got a point, which was my double point too. There's nothing to do in these places from a tourist perspective but there are other experiences to be had beyond tourism.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 05:35 PM
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BTW, the Plus Beaux Villages website has a page (or more) that explains by what criteria a village can receive this designation (in French only I think):

http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-d...ages-de-france

http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-d...TE_QUALITE.pdf

While we're on the subject of touristy vs. non-touristy places to visit I'll admit I'm a fan of visiting both kinds of locations. If I go someplace where there is a huge tourist attraction that qualifies as "must see" I'll go see it. And when I visit such places I set my frame of mind right and prepare myself to be a tourist and enjoy the tourist crowds. But my favorite is to do no research before I go vacationing anywhere in France and make it up as I go once I arrive. I love being surprised and doing no research beforehand means I have no preconceived ideas about where to go and what to see and do.

Although I don't consider myself a France expert I've seen quite a bit of the country but the current vacation I'm taking best exemplifies how I still get surprised by doing no research. I'm in the Cotentin region of Normandy, an area I rarely, if ever, hear discussed on travel forums and an area I must admit I knew nothing about before showing up here two weeks ago. Well, if anyone is interested the Cotentin has just become my favorite part of Normandy (and I've seen a good bit of the touristy and non-touristy bits of Normandy).

So on the topic of the Cotentin and how it relates to the discussion, there is only one Plus Beaux Villages in the region, which is Barfleur. I visited Barfleur a few days ago and it merits the designation. However, it is important to keep in mind that getting the Plus Beaux Villages designation means you can't have a population greater than 2,000 inhabitants. And really, what village of only 2,000 inhabitants can be a thriving hub of action that might offer a plethora of boulangeries and patisseries and restaurants and other things to do that might attract tourists? Because once tourist season is over those people relying on tourist income will have to find something else to do and I don't know that if you run a bakery or pastry store or restaurant that you can just close up shop for 9 months and find something else to employ yourself. Anyway, just down the coast from Barfleur is Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. Well, according to wiki Saint-Vaast has a population of 2,083 (2006 census) so can't qualify as a Plus Beaux Villages but IMO it was more charming than Barfleur and not only that it had many places to eat (several boulangeries, patisseries, charcuteries, restaurants etc.) and not only that but there weren't many tourists there either. So the Plus Beaux Villages designation is not something to be relied on exclusively.

Interestingly (to me anyway) Saint-Vaast was one of those rare places people on travel forums seek when they post the question "I want to spend my vacation in a small village that is totally charming and has loads of restaurants and foodie places and hotels and museums and things to see and do but isn't touristy." Yeah, you've all seen that question before.

I've forgotten what my point was because I've been drinking a good amount of the locally produced alcoholic beverage Pommeau (almost a whole bottle) while posting my response but I'll conclude by saying that the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy is amazing and one of my favorite regions I've visited in France. I can't recall how many beautiful villages I've seen that merit the Plus Beaux Villages designation but it is well over a few dozen. So I guess that relates to the original topic. Oh, and some of the landscapes are right out of an impressionist painting. The ocean temp where I'm swimming every day (Barneville-Carteret) is nothing short of perfect (thank you Gulf Stream) and the coastal scenery is nothing short of stunning. But forget I said that because then you'll all come here and the secret will be ruined.
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Old Sep 9th, 2016, 07:41 PM
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Colllonges-la-rouge is exceptional because of its red stone. But it is overrun with tourists. I believe that it was a mayor of this town who began the plus beau village designation.
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Old Sep 10th, 2016, 12:21 AM
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I have been to St-Cirq-Lapopie and Collonges-la-Rouge several times each, and they were both jam-packed with tourists. Martel, however, and Loubressac and Carennac are rarely overrun.

I don't think FMT said there was nothing for tourists to do in those sorts of towns. And there are plenty of tourists who do a lot more than flock to les plus beaux villages. There is almost always something to discover and enjoy in a French village, whether it appears in the guidebooks or not.
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