Hidden Gems in France: 13 Secret Places to Visit in 2023
Written by Nadia
Every year, millions of tourists descend onto “La Belle” France, vying for a clear view of the Eiffel Tower and romanticizing the French Riviera. But what about the less visited regions and villages? France is beautiful and so different, not to mention the history and amazing food!
If you are looking for a destination that offers something special about France and its off-the-beaten-path sights, read on for the top 13 hidden gems in 2023.
- Brittany and Bordeaux. There is always something new to visit.
- The Verdon Gorge and Avignon/Arles/Nimes triangle are must-sees if you visit southern France.
- Explore Rouen if you want to trace the history of Joan of Arc.
- Giverny for the gardens and impressionist art.
- Saint-Émilion/Reims for the wine and champagne.
The best hidden treasures in France
1. Collioure, Languedoc-Roussillon
- Relatively small town.
- Fort on a hill facing beachfront.
- Famous for its anchovies, wine, and gorgeous scenery.
- Looks like a town from Wes Anderson’s movie.
Collioure, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, is a hidden gem in France that should not be missed.
This charming seaside village on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in southern France has a wealth of history. This is because of its role as an artists’ colony in the early 20th century.
There are plenty of sights to see in the village, including the Château Royal de Collioure and the Notre-Dame-des-Anges church.
Even if you are not a history buff, you will still enjoy plenty of outdoor activities such as swimming, sailing, and even dancing in the central square.
Collioure also has plenty of fantastic restaurants with fresh seafood.
2. La Baule, Brittany
- Big sandy beaches.
- Ideal for sailing adventures.
- Perfect for honeymoons.
La Baule has been rated as one of France’s most beautiful hidden gems, mainly because of its gorgeous bay and the longest European beach.
This town is definitely heralded for the beach, but once you hit the streets, there is also plenty to see and do. The town’s architecture features Art Deco houses and buildings, many of which house amazing seafood restaurants.
La Baule is perfect for those wanting to try their hand at sailing. The horizon is dotted with yachts, and you can indulge in some sailing lessons or boat trips.
3. Aigues-Mortes, Provence
- A very cool fortified town in southern France
- Explore the town
- Take the ramparts tour
- See red salt flats
Aigues-Mortes in southern France is one of the best hidden gems for those looking to explore a medieval village. Although this area of France has developed a lot due to the salt flats, the fortified walls of the ancient town still stand.
History is further brought into the modern age thanks to the remaining ancient towers which once protected this settlement.
Inside these walls, you will find two chapels, the Chapelle des Pénitents Gris and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs. These chapels were constructed by the Grey Penitents and the White Penitents, religious brotherhoods dating back to the middle ages.
The salt flats are certainly the most prominent attraction here, and you can cycle, walk or take a train ride (le petit train) across the flats. For a bit more excitement, you can book a boat trip on the beautiful Camargue waterways surrounding this hidden gem.
4. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Midi-Pyrenees
- A quiet medieval town
- Don’t forget to wear good footwear
This medieval village on a cliffside is more than just a photogenic spot. It is right on top of a rock with views across the Lot Valley, making it one of those hidden gems in France you don’t want to miss.
This village is unique because it is located within Parc Naturel régional des Causses du Quercy, a UNESCO Global Geopark. It is no surprise that this hidden gem of a village has been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France!
The Gothic church, stone houses with tiled roofs, and location perched on a rock make this village the perfect place to relax, stroll, and appreciate the wonderful nature surrounding you.
You can start in the upper section and walk through this sleepy town’s alleys and cobbled streets. The homes on these narrow streets date back to the 14th century!
The Saint-Cirq Church is worth a see, or history buffs can visit the ruins of a castle that also offers impressive views of the village’s limestone plateaus.
The Célé Valley is a 45-minute drive to the northeast and offers visitors amazing hiking and walking trails.
If you are looking for another remarkable hilltop village in France, Saint Paul de Vence in south-eastern France is also worth visiting.
5. Nevers, Burgundy
- A charming city in central France with stunning architecture
An easy ride on the blue line that goes around town will let you see many of the sites and architectural gems that make this city so unique. It’s renowned for its medieval architecture, including the Ducal Palace (Duke’s Palace). This palace was considered one of the first castles in the Loire Valley. You can also visit St. Juliette and St. Cyr Cathedral and marvel at the stained glass windows.
Nevers is one of those hidden gems in France that just keeps giving. You can learn about the history of ceramic art (and visit traditional workshops) and marvel at the churches in the city (of note are the Chapelle St. Marie, the Church of St. Etienne, and the Church of St. Bernadette du Banlay).
You will also find the final resting place of Bernadette du Banlay in Nevers. This peasant girl claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary appear before her. Pilgrims still visit her burial site to pray before her body.
For those that aren’t religious, the Museum of Fine Arts showcases some of the best local artworks and ceramics. The restaurants in the city also offer delicious food, specializing in the use of Burgundy wines.
6. Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
- A relatively small town with a direct train from Bordeaux.
- Nice way to make a day trip to slow down a bit.
- Very inviting for wine tourism.
- Schedule your wine tastings in advance, otherwise you will only go to wine shops (which is not the best experience even if they offer tasting sessions).
Saint-Emilion is one of those hidden gems that specifically target wine lovers! The Bordeaux region of France is well-known for its wine-tasting opportunities, and this historic village is no exception.
It may not be the most visited town in Bordeaux, but that is where its attraction lies! This town dates back more than 2,000 years, when the Romans decided to plant some vines…however, the city’s history goes even further back.
During the 8th century, a Monk named Emilion settled in a cave near the town’s current location, where he lived from 750 to 767 AD. Today this cave is still a popular destination for pilgrims.
When you visit this small town, you will enter through one of the seven gates that form part of the ancient walls and fortifications. Inside these imposing walls, you will find breathtaking architecture and open squares.
Of note in the largest square is the Monolithic Church which appears to be part of the rock face.
Wine aficionados can visit the many Châteaus in the region to sample local wine – the red wine is outstanding in Saint-Emilion!
If you want to get out of the village for a day and explore some more hidden gems, the Lascaux II Caves (1.5 hours to the east) are worth visiting. A hot air balloon ride is also a great way to appreciate the village and its magnificent vineyards.
7. Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany
- Do not mix up Rochefort and Roquefort cheese!
- One the most flowered villages in France
- The architecture reminds of Scotland
- Looks like a village from a fairy tale!
Rochefort-en-Terre is one of those hidden gems in France that only a few people know about. It was the favorite village of the French in 2016, but it somehow remains a secret to many tourists.
When you imagine the perfect French village, a picture of Rochefort-en-Terre in northern France comes to mind. This picturesque village will blow your mind! It is located on a hilltop with views across the Valley of Arz, and is dotted with ancient architecture, art galleries, and restaurants.
If you need help figuring out where to start, you can head to the tourist office in the heart of the town. The friendly staff recommends that you head to the Castle of Rochefort-en-Terre, which is now a museum. You can also visit the two churches in the town, or visit the amazing art galleries.
8. Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Alsace
- Magnificent castle on a steep hill.
- You should definitely take a guided tour to the castle.
France is filled with castles, but when it comes to hidden gems in France, Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle might be one of the best-kept secrets!
The very first record of Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle is from 1147. Back then, it was called Castrum Estuphin. This fortress was ideally located above the Alsace plain to observe the trade routes. The castle’s name was changed to Hohkoenigsbourg, which translates to “High Royal Castle,” in 1157.
Unfortunately, the castle faced desolation and destruction but was rebuilt in 1462. It was built stronger than before, withstanding most artillery shells. But, the Swedish artillery bested the castle during the Thirty Years of War. The castle was burnt down in 1633, and the ruins were abandoned.
In 1862, the ruins were listed as a historical monument. A few years later, the town of Sélestat purchased the ruins, and an intensive restoration plan was developed. Due to a shortage of funds, restoration work never got off the ground. But in 1899, after Germany annexed the region, Sélestat offered the ruins to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Kaiser Wilhelm was eager to prove his prowess in the Alsace region of northern France. As such, he completely restored the castle between 1900 and 1908.
With the signing of the treaty of Versailles in 1919, Haut-Kœnigsbourg was returned to the French government. The completely restored castle was classified as a historical monument in 1993.
It remains astounding how Haut-Kœnigsbourg remains one of the hidden gems in France when it has such a rich history! When you visit this remarkable castle, you can marvel at the historic decor or wander around the medieval garden. The castle is surrounded by forested woodland where you can walk.
There are also several Alsatian villages around the castle, with plenty of restaurants if you get a bit peckish after touring the ornate halls and marveling at medieval weaponry.
9. Monet’s Garden, Giverny – Normandy
- If you like Claude Monet: Imagine walkings in his paintings!
- Go early in the day to avoid the crowds.
- See Monet’s lily pond and visit his house
The House of Claude Monet in Giverny, northern France, is a popular tourist destination. Still, many people miss Monet’s Garden, also called Giverny Gardens.
I also mentioned this place as one of the day trips from Paris.
The famed painter had to leave Paris without a penny and moved into this home in Normandy. He spent his time landscaping the gardens, creating the pond, and building greenhouses. After being a tenant in the home for 7 years, Claude Monet finally acquired the house and garden. It is rumored that the amazing gardens inspired many of his most famous paintings, including Les Nymphéas (The Water Lilies).
This house (and its garden!) is one of France’s best hidden gems for art lovers!
You can walk around the gardens, read a book in the shade, or visit the old town of Giverny (another one of the best hidden gems close in northern France!). You can also explore the free Mechanical Museum or visit the grave of Claude Monet at the Eglise Sainte-Radegonde churchyard.
Helpful tip Monet’s house and gardens close for the winter.
10. Annecy, Haute-Savoie
- One of the best little villages in the country
- Swim in the lake, do a “zip-line adventure”, visit old castles
- Explore the lovely old town and walk down the Pont des Amours.
Annecy is the capital of the Haute-Savoie region, near the eastern Alps. It might not be one of the best hidden gems in the entire country, but those who make a beeline for Paris may miss The City of Art.
Walking around the old town is a treat for the eyes. The historic houses are charming, as many are painted with colorful frontages. There are also plenty of bridges to marvel at, and the town is crisscrossed with canals and pedestrian streets. I loved walking along Sainte-Claire Street for the most beautiful houses in the town.
In the center of the town, you will find the former prison now called Ile Palace. The Palais de Justice (court of law) is also home to the Annecy History Museum.
The village lies in the shadow of the Castle Museum, which was once home to the dukes of Genevois-Nemours and the counts of Geneva.
Annecy is not just about history and art. The town lies on the shores of Annecy Lake, which simply cannot be missed. Here you can go for a hike or swim, as the lake has many beautiful beaches along the shore. The best way to explore the lake is to book a boat tour or rent a pedal boat or motor boat and see the hidden gems and nature around the shoreline.
11. Le Touquet, Pas-de-Calais
- A charming city by the sea.
- Its French architecture that looks nothing like you might think.
- Accessible by train.
Le Touquet may just seem like a small, old town at face value, but this little town in northern France has a lot to offer.
This commune has just more than 4,000 permanent residents living there, but a quarter of a million tourists descend on this seaside village during summer.
This usually sleepy village has been nicknamed the “The Garden of The English Channel” and “The Pearl of the Opal Coast” because of its prime location on the shoreline of the English Channel.
Despite the many years since the war, Le Touquet still bares many WWII scars. Fortunately, despite the many mines that were hidden around the town and the bombarding of the Atlantic Wall during the German withdrawal, a lot of the ancient architecture of this town has remained perfectly intact.
Plenty of villas that remind us of the roaring 20s have remained preserved on the coastline. Although the town is now seemingly filled with modern 1950s and 60s Art Deco architecture, there are also buildings from Anglo-Norman times that have been perfectly maintained.
12. Rouen, Normandy
- A 2-hour bus ride from Paris
- Visit the Jeanne d’Arc museum: An exceptionally well done exhibition
- See Cathedrals and stop by the bakery
- Get lost in the streets and feel its United Kingdom vibes
Rouen is another hidden gem in Normandy. The city is located right on the River Seine and is the capital of Normandy – for good reason: Here you will find culture, history, art, cuisine, and modernity all in one place!
Although art lovers flock to Rouen Cathedral thanks to the artworks of Monet that perfectly capture its beauty, there is much more to see here. Of note is the oldest Inn in France, La Couronne. There are also plenty of museums, the church of Joan of Arc and the Gros Horloge Clock Tower.
Rouen is a city steeped in medieval history. Not only will you find medieval castles in and around the capital, but William the Conqueror actually held court here! Other notable historic occurrences include the crowning of Richard the Lionheart as the Duke of Normandy and Joan of Arc being burned at stake here.
Joan of Arc’s killing resulted from her successful fight against the English in the Loire Valley. She was eventually captured and sold to the English, where she was burned in 1431 on a funeral pyre in Rouen after being tried.
During the medieval era, the wealthy lords constructed massive keeps for themselves but also commissioned the construction of a great many religious buildings and churches. Thanks to that trend, Rouen has plenty of hidden religious gems to discover!
Because of this plethora of churches and chapels, Victor Hugo described this noteworthy city in northern France as The City Of A Hundred Spires.
13. The Ardèche Gorges, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
- European Grand Canyon, an 18-mile stretch of gorges in the river.
- The best place to dive into nature.
- Visit Pont Saint Esprit, do kayaking, see the Pont d’Arc, and hike along the river.
- Can be quite crowded in summer!
The Ardèche Gorges in Ardèche are probably the best hidden gems in France for nature!
Over millions of years, waters from the Ardèche river carved a deep canyon into the earth, which today features dozens of gorgeous gorges. Some of these limestone cliffs and valleys can exceed 900 feet (300 m) in height, and in between, it all lays a wilderness paradise.
The Pont d’Arc is the perfect starting point to explore the gorges. You can hike along the Ardèche river, hop in a kayak, and paddle along the bottom of the canyon. For a more relaxing experience, sunbathe on the white sand beaches at the foot of the Pont d’Arc.
There are incredible views along the tourist route that flows along the river. You can marvel at the Belvedere Serre de Toure, explore the Chauvet Cave, spot the spires of la Cathédral, or go rock climbing on one of the many cliff faces.
The map of hidden gems in France
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the prettiest village in France?
IMO, Rochefort-en-Terre. This little town is the single most beautiful village in all of France, with picturesque houses, flowers on the streets, and incredible vibes.
When is the best time to visit France?
The best time to visit France is spring. During this time, the weather at all the French destinations is lovely – not too hot or cold – and you will miss some of the summer crowds.
How long should I plan to travel through France?
Two weeks in France will give you enough time to uncover plenty of secret gems this country offers!
With so many of the best hidden gems listed, it can be challenging decide on your French itinerary. France may be the most visited country in Europe. Still, many of us miss the real beauty of the country that only those who seek out hidden spots can uncover.
For something unique that skips the tourist traps, I highly recommend exploring these hidden gems that I have found across France. Let me know in the comments below, how was your experience!