When visiting France, most tourists opt for famous tourist destinations such as Paris, the city of light and love or St. Tropez, Nice, or some other luxurious jet-set spot on the French Riviera. However, to experience the true spirit of France, consider visiting villages and small towns off the beaten tourist track. There are a lot of amazing medieval towns that testify about the amazing evolution of European identity. Here are the most magical medieval towns filled with rich stories and intriguing history.
Amazing historical central: Avignon
Avignon is best known by its old unfinished bridge (Pont Saint Bénézet) that gives you nice photo opportunities. A must see in Avignon is the Palace of Popes, nearly 7 centuries old. It’s located in the heart of the city and there are quite a few guided tours you can attend. Don’t miss strolling through the old city and exploring on your own. Another spot you should visit is the Les Halles – incredible indoor market filled with fresh local goods: olive oil, bread, fish, cheese, wines – you name it!
Picturesque treat for wine lovers: Eguisheim
Eguisheim’s cobbled streets and pastel colored fachwerk buildings will make you feel like you’ve traveled through time or stumbled upon some movie set. The most beautiful street in Eguisheim has to be the Rue du Rempart Sud, which is a great starting point for a walking tour. You can make a full circle and wander through the whole medieval center. Make sure to visit the Eguisheim’s castle which is a birthplace of Pope St Leo IX: you’ll be amazed with how well it is preserved! Wine lovers will be delighted to hear that this village is a part of the famous Alsace wine route and there are wine caves on every step. There are at least 33 growers in the village you can visit for some fine wine tasting.
Medieval tourist hot-spot: Rochefort en Terre
Rochefort en Terre is a charming little place located in north-western France, but it is extremely popular among tourists. If you want to avoid the crowds, try not to visit in August and other months during the peak of the season. Filled with medieval stone houses, Rochefort en Terre is a true delight to walk through its streets or enjoy locally produced food at several restaurants. This place is unique so the citizens became aware of the huge tourist potential: beware of tourist traps and always visit several shops when deciding to buy crafts or local foods and drinks. This is that type of town that’s worth visiting just for the sake of its own beauty, although there are a few landmarks you should check out. Take a tour around the medieval chateau and visit the Naia Museum (€5 for a full rate ticket): it lies in the contrast with the rest of the medieval spirit, as you can explore many peculiar pieces of art, mostly focused on fantasy worlds and science-fiction.
Massive fortress town: Carcassonne
The most famous tourist site in the medieval gem Carcassonne surely is the citadel (La Cité) and fortifications located uphill from the city center. It’s best if you explore it through a guided tour in order to learn more about the stories that hide behind the massive walls, such as the legend of Lady Carcas, a fierce woman who battled to save Carcassonne in the 8th century. You can also hear about the restoration works through the centuries and encounter wonderful examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, dating all the way back to 13th and 14th century. There are interesting archeological exhibits you can visit. Many tourists get enchanted by the beauty of the Canal du Midi, so they opt for Anjodi boat trip which gives an opportunity to discover several tourist spots such as magnificent Old Bridge (Pont Vieux).
A must-see hilltop village: Gordes
Located in the south-eastern France, Gordes lies on the hilltop. It surrounds its 16th-century castle, which is the main tourist attraction here. The castle was a silent witness to many historic events and today it houses the town’s hall and a museum with permanent and non-permanent exhibitions (entrance fee around €7, free for children under 10 years old). The interior isn’t as stunning as the outer prominent look, but it does have some of the lovely highlights, such as the fireplace decorating the Hall of Honour – a true historical monument. The castle is a combination of medieval and renaissance architecture and it’s best to explore it through a guided tour.
Fairytale medieval architecture: Colmar
Enjoy Colmar’s canal-side scenery and stroll through the ancient streets to soak in all the history. The Old Town looks as if it fell straight from a fairytale: old colored houses decorated with flowers, cobbled streets, and landscapes in the background are simply breathtaking. Start touring with visiting Place de la Cathédrale, an old gothic church that went through restoration during the 18th century. Continue with visiting the Former Guards House. Visiting the quarter known as the “Little Venice” is a must: start your walk at the beginning of the Rue de la Poissonnerie and continue along the canal. Those who love making a culture visit will be thrilled to hear there are 5 museums open for visits. Also, Wine Fair of Alsace is held in August every year, with a 60-year rich tradition.
These are the top five charming medieval places that you need to put on your bucket list. Get lost through time while enjoying interesting history stories, great wine and lovely sceneries.