France’s most medieval towns are ready to take you back in time

France is a land of many wonders: the exciting seaside adventures of Saint-Tropez and Nice, the twinkling lights of Paris and the beautiful cobblestones of Lyon have long drawn visitors from all over the world – but even its provincial sites hold the most wonders. history-loving adventurers would love to find out.

France‘s roots go back to the Franco-Germanic kingdom of Francia, the heart of the Carolingian Empire in the 4th century. Throughout the Middle Ages, France was a powerful, albeit divided, territory surviving and even thriving through complicated times like the Hundred Years’ War with England and even the Black Death.

Although many cities, notably Paris, had their thorny winding medieval roads for a 19th century cityscape, many towns and villages spread across the country retain their medieval roots intact.

To visit some of these medieval French relics is to step back in time and gain insight into a time in human history that was, despite common belief, a vibrant time, with many interesting developments – and what may be most relevant to us today, beautiful architecture and cities.

8 Carcassonne

Built around 890 AD, Carcassonne is located in the French Pyrenees, near Toulouse. Carcassonne is divided into two parts, the lower town, known as Bastide de Saint-Louis, and the citadel, called Cité de Carcassonne, located on the hill. The citadel was named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 due to its exceptional preservation of the medieval structure.

Visiting the Gothic churches of Carcassonne or strolling through the Romanesque castle that was the fort of the city, visitors will truly feel transported back in time.

7 Provinces

A small town in Seine-et-Marne, Provins was an economic center in medieval times, favoring the Champagne Fairs, trading and economic growth.

A 12th century tower, the César tower, overlooks the village in all its medieval architectural splendor. Provins has a rose garden with many types of fragrant roses, a town staple that also regularly finds its way into its unique local food scene – a marriage of medieval recipes and modern inventiveness. For adventurers, a popular visit is the “Underground Provins”, a maze of ancient underground galleries with various purposes and marks of its centuries of history.

6 The Mont Saint Michel

A semi-isolated town on a floating island in Normandy, Le Mont-Saint-Michel has been the stronghold of many lords since the 6th century, including an active prison during the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution.

Surely one of the smallest towns in France, Mont-Saint-Michel had 30 inhabitants in 2017, but receives up to 3 million visitors each year, attracted by its unique aspect – a fortress island in the middle of a bay. of dark water, its history intensifies for visitors in historic walkways, light shows and dining experiences.

Related: Everything you need to know when visiting the fairytale town of Alsace

5 Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, so named because it was uninhabited for periods during its history, is located on the Camino de Santiago, part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The town’s history is deeply steeped in religion, even by medieval standards, as it was built around its abbey.

The medieval abbey and historic centers are, of course, the main attractions to see when visiting, but the town is also surrounded by forests and bustling lakes and is a favorite spot for kayaking.

4 Moncontour

Moncontour, also known as the Moncontour of Brittany, is as picturesque as a medieval town can get (today), but it was the site of many battles during the long and bloody centuries of the Middle Ages. Due to its many battles, only parts and ruins of the old fortress and castle can be visited.

The Church of Saint Mathurin, a vestige of several centuries, which overlooks the whole town from the hill is a magnificent site. Theatrical reenactments of its medieval history are part of the life of Moncontour, as it has a museum of the Revolution and the Theater des Costumes, a house of history and costumes. Businesses in the town also have medieval plaques reproducing their artisanal past.

Related: Visit nine centuries of history at the Tower of London

3 Avignon

Avignon is on the Côte d’Azur, in the south-east of France, on the Rhone. One of the most impressive medieval cities, Avignon was a papacy in the 14th century – the massive Gothic architecture of the Palais des Papes still trumps the ancient city – and had its own University of Avignon, inaugurated in 1303.

Also preserved are the protective walls of the old town – one of the few towns in France to still have them and to have inhabitants living inside the closed town -, the cathedral of Avignon and the old bridge. The bridge of Avignon.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people travel to Avignon to take part in the Avignon Theater, Culture and Arts Festival.

2 Window

Famous since the 16th century for its cultural richness, Vitré in Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany is a unique destination of its kind.

1 half-timbered

The half-timbered houses with colorful flags lining the stone walkways really make visitors feel like they are walking through living history, even on ordinary streets. Vitré has a beautifully well-preserved chateau, extensive gardens and even their own Gothic marvel of a Notre-Dame Cathedral.

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