When we think of France, the dazzling allure of Paris often makes it a first destination. But beyond the bustling capital lies a tapestry of small towns that with tales of history, beautiful landscapes, and undeniable charm. From the sun-kissed towns of the South to the windswept shores of Brittany, these hidden gems offer a glimpse into the heart of France. Embark on a journey with us as we uncover the best small towns in the hexagon, where time seems to stand still and quintissential French experience awaits travelers.
While its hard not to include one-hundred or more amazing towns, this is our shortlist of favorites we think you'll love too. If you decide to visit, the good news is there are HomeExchanges hosts in each. If you're not already familiar with HomeExchange, find out more before planning your trip to the best small towns to visit in France.Discover How HomeExchange Works
The Best Small Towns in France Near Paris
The picturesque small town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, with its quaint cobbled streets and charming atmosphere, offers a delightful escape from Paris's hustle and bustle. Just a stone's throw from the capital, this small town is steeped in rich heritage and renowned for its magnificent Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which was once a residence of French kings.
After wandering through its regal gardens, explore the rest of the town where you'll encounter elegant boutiques, inviting cafés, and a vibrant market square that pulsates with life. Take a leisurely stroll through the expansive Parc de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a verdant oasis with breathtaking views of the Seine River Valley and the distant Paris skyline. Thanks to its historical significance, serene landscapes, and a charming ambiance, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a chic suburb and one of the best small towns in France near Paris beckoning visit from curious travelers.See homes in Saint-Germain-En-Laye
Chartres is a small town nestled in the picturesque region of Normandy but just a quick train ride from Paris. It holds a timeless allure that makes it one of the best small towns in France near Paris. Renowned for its awe-inspiring Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has architectural splendor and spiritual significance. You'll see its medieval charm in its winding streets, lined with half-timbered houses and cute cafés. The town's rich history comes alive as you venture through its enchanting alleyways.
Chartres also has a vibrant cultural scene, with art galleries, museums, and lively festivals that celebrate its artistic heritage. Don't miss the opportunity to sample the local gastronomy, indulging in traditional delicacies and savoring the flavors of the region. Whether you're drawn to its architectural marvels, cultural richness, or simply the undeniable charm of a small French town, Chartres is popular destination that will leave a lasting impression.See homes in Chartres
Nestled amidst the lush forest of Fontainebleau, this town by the same name is known as a chic suburb of Paris just and accessible via a short ride on the RER from central Paris. Fontainebleau exudes a regal charm thanks to the Château de Fontainebleau, a UNESCO World Heritage site that showcases centuries of French history and opulence. Wander through this lavish palace, once a hunting lodge for the kings of France.
But beyond the château, Fontainebleau offers natural wonders to explore. The vast local forest is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts to indulge in hiking, rock climbing, or simply immersing oneself in the beauty of nature. The town center has a quaint charm, with small streets, local markets, and cute cafés. Fontainebleau's allure lies in its harmonious blend of history, nature, and a relaxed ambiance that captures the essence of French joie de vivre. If you visit Fontainebleau, you'll quickly see why it's one of the best small towns to in France near Paris.See homes in Fontainebleau
Tucked away in the idyllic countryside of Normandy not far from Paris, Giverny is a small town with artistic beauty and natural tranquility. Revered as the home and muse of the renowned Impressionist painter Claude Monet, Giverny has over the years become a haven for art enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Step into Monet's world as you explore the enchanting gardens that inspired his iconic Water Lilies series, with its vibrant blooms and serene ponds. Nearby, fields of sunflowers and gently rolling hills create a tapestry of colors.
In the town itself, the picturesque streets of Giverny are adorned with traditional timber-framed houses and blooming flower boxes. The town's art scene is thriving, with galleries showcasing local talent and exhibitions that pay homage to Monet's legacy. Giverny's undeniable allure lies in its ability to transport visitors to a world where art and nature harmoniously intertwine. It is this enchanting blend that makes Giverny one of the best small towns in France, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of all who pass through.See homes in Giverny
Nestled on the shores of a picturesque lake just a short distance from Paris, one would hardly expect to stumble across a place like Enghien-les-Bains. As one of the best towns to visit in France near Paris, it's a serene escape from the bustling city. It's renowned for its thermal baths and their healing properties since the 18th century, with the town offering spa treatments in a lakeside setting.
This small town's streets are lined with beautiful Belle Époque architecture, boutique shops, and stylish cafés. Take a leisurely stroll along the lake promenade, soaking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. Enghien-les-Bains also offers a vibrant cultural scene, with a renowned casino, a theater, and a variety of events and festivals throughout the year. Whether you seek relaxation, cultural enrichment, or simply a serene retreat, Enghien-les-Bains stands as one of the best small towns in France, inviting visitors to unwind and embrace the tranquil beauty that surrounds them.See homes in Enghien-les-Bains
The Best Small Towns in the South of France
Nestled on a hilltop overlooking the French Riviera, Mougins is a small town that offering history, art, and gastronomy to all who visit. This picturesque place has long attracted artists, drawn to its quintessential French beauty. The town's history is evident in its medieval architecture, with the ancient walls and narrow alleyways adding to its timeless allure.
Come and stroll its charming streets lined with stone houses covered in bright bougainvillea, and explore its art-filled gardens and tranquil squares. You'll also discover art galleries showcasing works by local and international talents. When it comes to the culinary attributes of Mougins, there's an array of Michelin-starred restaurants and charming bistros to savor the flavors of Provence. With a bit of Riviera allure throw in, Mougins stands as one of the best small towns to visit in France.See homes in Mougins
Just down the road from Mougins, also perched atop a hill here in this sun-kissed region of Provence is Saint-Paul-de-Vence – a small town that exudes timeless charm one would expect in France. Come and wander its ancient cobblestone streets and be transported to a bygone era, where the spirit of artists and poets lingers in the air. Saint-Paul-de-Vence has long been a haven for creatives, attracting the likes of Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse. Today, their legacies live on in the numerous art galleries and studios that dot the town, offering a glimpse into the vibrant artistic tapestry that defines this enchanting place.
The town's fortified walls, adorned with wisteria and bougainvillea, create a certain romance that brings so many to the South of France. Step into hidden courtyards here, discover charming boutiques, and find respite in inviting cafés. You can even place a round of Pétanque in front of one of the most inviting ones at the entrance of the town while you sip on pastis or local wines. The panoramic views from Saint-Paul-de-Vence's vantage point are nothing short of breathtaking, with the azure Mediterranean Sea embracing the horizon. Saint-Paul-de-Vence's irresistible blend of history, art, and natural beauty make it one of the best small towns to visit in the south of France where every corner reveals a new source of inspiration for artists and ordinary travelers alike.See homes in Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Tucked away on the picturesque Mediterranean coast, Cassis's coastal charm is world famous. Known for its breathtaking calanques, Cassis offers a unique blend of rugged cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and pristine beaches. Come and explore the dramatic limestone formations that line the coast, and get lost in the tranquility of these hidden coves. Cassis also boasts a bustling harbor, where colorful fishing boats sway in the breeze and waterfront cafés are the perfect place to sit down and savor the catch of the day.
The town's narrow streets are adorned with pastel-colored houses, cute boutiques, and inviting terrace restaurants that tempt you with Provençal delicacies and local wines. Whether you embark on a boat trip to discover the calanques, hike along the coastal trails, or simply bask in the Mediterranean sun on the beach, Cassis will make you fall in love with the south of France. Its unspoiled beauty, vibrant atmosphere, and Mediterranean charm make Cassis one of the best small towns to visit in the south of France, leaving visitors captivated and yearning for more of its coastal enchantment.See homes in Cassis
Perched majestically on a hilltop in the heart of the Provençal region of the Luberon, Gordes is a small town that embodies the essence of timeless beauty and captivating charm. Its stone houses, winding streets, and jaw dropping views create a postcard-perfect setting that makes it one of the best small towns in the South of France. Gordes' medieval architecture and rich history are evident at every turn, with its imposing castle, ancient churches, and quaint squares that exude a sense of serenity and tranquility. The town's artistic spirit is celebrated through its numerous galleries and art studios, showcasing works inspired by the region's natural splendor.
As you explore the surrounding countryside, you'll encounter lavender fields, olive groves, and vineyards, each contributing to the distinctive charm of the landscape. Back in Gordes, you can purchase these local goods in the town's shops, cafés, and weekly open-air markets. Gordes almost seems to good to be true, like a town suspended in time showcasing all the best aspects of Provençal life. It's even been featured in iconic films like A Good Year with Russel Crowe, and will leave an indelible mark on the hearts of all who visit.See homes in Gordes
Found in the heart of the Languedoc region, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is a small town that embodies the essence of medieval charm. Hidden in a scenic valley, this UNESCO World Heritage site delights visitors with its well-preserved medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, and enchanting squares. The town's centerpiece is the stunning Abbey of Gellone, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture that is an emblem of the town's religious significance. As you wander through the narrow alleys, you'll discover workshops, boutiques, and cafés.
The surrounding landscape is also a big draw for travelers, with the dramatic Gorges de l'Hérault and the Pont du Diable (Devil's Bridge) and the verdant forests of the Cévennes National Park beckoning adventurers and nature enthusiasts. Whether you're exploring the town's historical treasures, hiking along scenic trails, or simply soaking in the idyllic ambiance, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert will quickly convince you it's one of the best small towns in the south of France.See homes in Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert
The Best Small Towns in Brittany, France
Along the rugged coastline of Brittany you'll find one of the best small towns in France for anyone searching for a coastal delight. Dinard's seaside splendor has Belle Époque elegance and a vibrant cultural scene. It's known as the "Pearl of the Emerald Coast," with pretty pristine sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and crystal-clear waters. The town's architecture features grand mansions, seaside villas, and Art Deco buildings, reminiscent of its glamorous past as a fashionable resort destination.
Dinard is animated year round with festivals, concerts, and the prestigious Dinard Film Festival, attracting artists and film buffs from around the world. The town's casino and luxury hotels also offer some glamour. Whether you're basking in the sun on the beach, strolling along the promenade, or immersing yourself in the town's happenings, Dinard will seduce you. Its coastal beauty, architectural splendor, and animated atmosphere make it one of the best small towns to visit in France, and leaves visitors longing to return to its seaside allure.See homes in Dinard
Île-Tudy is a hidden gem that captures the coastal charm of Brittany. This small town, located on a picturesque island at the mouth of the Loctudy River, offers a serene escape from the bustling world. As you step onto the island, you'll be greeted by sandy beaches, inviting turquoise waters, and a sense of timeless simplicity. Île-Tudy's streets are lined with traditional fishermen's cottages complete with colorful shutters and blooming flowers. The charming harbor, where fishing boats come and go with the tides also has seafood restaurants serving up the daily catch.
The island's natural beauty extends beyond its shores, with scenic walking and cycling paths that lead you through dunes and salt marshes. Île-Tudy's intimate size and peaceful ambiance make it an ideal destination for relaxation, reflection, and a chance to reconnect with nature. Its unspoiled beauty, authentic charm, and coastal calm make it one of the best small towns to visit in France, leaving visitors with a renewed sense of peace, many of whom return to its idyllic shores whenever in need of a tranquil retreat.See homes in Île-Tudy
Dinan is a charming small town nestled along the banks of the River Rance in the picturesque region of Brittany. It's timber-frame houses are a tell-tale sign of it medieval architecture. The town's centerpiece is the imposing Château de Dinan, a fortress that offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. As you stroll through the town's cobblestone streets you can pop into its many boutiques, galleries, and cafés.
Dinan's history is palpable, with ancient ramparts, a bustling river port, and other historical landmarks, such as the Basilica of St. Sauveur and the Clock Tower. The town's vibrant cultural scene comes alive each year with its festivals, music performances, and traditional Breton dances, offering a taste of local traditions and folklore. One of the most famous is the water jousting in summer. For nature enthusiasts, the nearby banks of the River Rance provide opportunities for scenic walks and boat trips. For all this and more, Dinan is one of the best small towns in France to visit in Brittany.See homes in Dinan
Should you find yourself traveling through Brittany, another of the best small towns in France found here is Josselin. At its center stands the magnificent Josselin Castle, an architectural masterpiece that dates back over nine centuries. This imposing fortress, with its towers and turrets, overlooks the picturesque Nantes-Brest Canal, adding to the town's romantic allure. You can also see the town's medieval heritage at the Basilica Notre-Dame-du-Roncier, a stunning Gothic masterpiece that showcases intricate stained glass windows and ornate stone carvings.
Josselin is also known for its annual medieval festival bringing the town to life with jousting tournaments, music, and vibrant costumes. Nature lovers will appreciate the lush greenery that surrounds Josselin, including the nearby Brocéliande Forest, steeped in Arthurian legends and mystical beauty. Whether you're exploring the castle, uncovering the town's historical treasures, or simply immersing yourself in the peaceful ambiance, Josselin offers a fabulously French experience for the curious traveler.See homes in Josselin
Nestled on the southern coast of Brittany, Vannes enchants visitors with its beautifully preserved ramparts, half-timbered houses, and winding cobblestone streets. As you explore the town's historical center, you'll encounter the majestic Cathedral of St. Peter, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, and the Place des Lices, a bustling square adorned with cafés and markets.
You can see the town's maritime heritage in the bustling harbor, where colorful fishing boats bob in the waves, and waterfront promenades are perfect for leisurely strolls. Nature lovers will be delighted by the stunning Gulf of Morbihan herer, a natural paradise of emerald waters, picturesque islands, and serene beaches begging to be explored.See homes in Vannes
Explore the Best Small Towns in France with HomeExchange
From the sun-kissed towns of the south to the windswept shores of Brittany, France is filled to the brim with amazing small towns just waiting to be discovered. This is just the beginning of all the charm that awaits travelers in the best small towns in France. Across the country, you can find HomeExchange hosts that capture the essence of the towns where you'll find them, offering a true local's experience for all who hope to experience the French way of life, so join the community and begin exploring today for a bon voyage exploring the best smalls towns in France...