10 picturesque, off-the-beaten-path towns to explore in northern France
Northern France is not just about Paris or Bordeaux. Wander off the tourist track and visit these top 10 scenic towns to experience the beauty of France's northern countryside.
France certainly doesn't have a short supply of incredible cities and towns. In fact, it’s almost unheard of for anyone to come back from anywhere in the country, especially Northern France, without being well and truly blown away by wherever it was they decided to stay.
That being said, however, there’s so much to discover outside the usual tourist trail. Paris is fantastic and Bordeaux is beautiful, but it's not until you come across some hidden gems that you understand just how quaint and picturesque the north of France can really be.
Due to its short distance from the UK and with regular cross channel ferry services from Brittany Ferries, it’s easy to see all Northern France has to offer. So if you’re considering heading to France this year for a short break or an extended holiday, consider checking out one of the following towns for a taste of the France you may not have realised even existed.
Slowly but surely, Ars-en-Ré's reputation is spreading and it won't stay a secret for much longer. A picture-perfect French seaside town where bicycles are the order of the day, it looks and feels absolutely nothing like anywhere else you’ve ever been. Many centuries ago, it was an important trading spot for sailors. Today, however, it represents a dreamy weekend and summer holiday destination for those truly in the know.
Boasting a variety of buildings and cobbled streets, which in many cases haven’t been touched in over eight centuries, Dinan presents visitors with an unspoiled snapshot of the region’s past. There is no more satisfying way of spending a day here than aimlessly wandering the streets, finding a charming café terrace and simply watching the world go by.
A postcard-perfect glimpse of Brittany at its finest, Locronan is considered by locals and travellers as a frontrunner for the most stunning village in the country. It’s another prime example of a place that has been beautifully preserved and spared the trappings of the modern age. Though generally visited as day-trip location, book yourself into one of the charming local guest houses for an extended stay and chances are you’ll see why local pride here reaches legendary level. Brittany Ferries run regular ferries from Plymouth to Roscoff – only 60 miles from Locronan.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Domfront represents the perfect base for a trip of deep exploration around the surrounding countryside. Lose yourself — but not literally! — in the Andaines Forest, stroll around the Charles Leander Museum and leave as much time as necessary to lap up the local delicacies back in town. There are also some amazing horse riding opportunities nearby, if you’re into the equestrian way of life.
Flanked by a stunning ancient forest and with a truly enchanting waterfront setting, Paimpont represents a truly delightful daytrip for the whole family. Legend has it that the forest of Brocéliande was once the home of Merlin the Wizard and King Arthur — making Paimpont a true land of fantasy and mystery. Each of the seasons brings something uniquely stunning to the landscape, though for obvious reasons, it is best enjoyed in the warmer spring and summer months.
Famed the world over for its prehistoric aligned megaliths, which are thought to date back to the same kind of era as Stonehenge, you really don’t have to be a history buff to get a kick out of Carnac. The whole place has an unmistaken air of mystery and history in equal measures, while the Quiberon Bay seaside resort promises more family fun than you’ll ever need while in town.
Charming, charming and charming once again — that’s the only realistic way of describing Auray. It’s the quintessential postcard snapshot of a wonderfully traditional way of living, with cobbled streets and the historic port bringing to life generations of local history. Auray also has a reputation for being home to some of the most decadent dining in the region. There’s even an annual oyster festival, which is definitely worth stopping by for!
A place that has been inspiring artists for generations, Pont-Aven is a fantastically pretty and vibrant town where you can spend a day or two. Things really burst into life in August in particular, where the famed flower festival sees these already stunning streets transformed into a scene fresh from the pages of a fairy tale. Pont-Aven is tiny enough to be explored in an afternoon, though it's worth considering spending a night or two to soak everything up.
No longer a matter of personal opinion, Rochefort-en-Terre has won the official accolade of being one of the most stunning villages in France. The town’s tradition of prominently and lavishly displaying flowers at all times dates back to the turn of the 20th century and is still vigorously followed to this day. The combination of medieval architecture and stunning floral displays paints a picture that is simply breathtaking.
Last but not least, Roscoff is a stunning little French seaside town that occupies a prime plot on the Morlaix Bay peninsular. It is also another town on this list that is easily accessed via the ferry. Brittany Ferries run ferries direct from Plymouth into Roscoff.
Known across the country as one of the most distinct and character-filled villages in France, it is an absolute hit with locals and knowledgeable international visitors alike. There’s a lovely harbour, fabulous beaches and a perfectly preserved old town centre with many buildings that haven’t changed in over 400 years. Taking the relaxing boat ride to the nearby Île de Batz is also highly recommended.
Contributed by Brittany Ferries
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.