Which villages are favoured by the French and which are beloved of the Brits? Ruth Wood investigates
The French and British vote for their favourite French village
Sometimes you can barely round a bend in France without stumbling upon a heart-stoppingly beautiful village. Here a square of colourful half-timbered houses proudly frames a Norman church, dripping geraniums and supporting hollyhocks. There a cobbled street, barely changed since the Crusades, spirals up a rocky hilltop or snakes along a river where homes morph into limestone cliffs.
You might think the French would be blasé about this embarrassment of riches. Mais non. They have an official list of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (155 and counting) immortalised in a Michelin map. And every June for the past six years, millions have tuned into a TV show to vote for the nation’s favourite village: Le Village Préféré des Français.
“Happiness is a village,” wrote its presenter Stéphane Bern in 2013. “At a time when globalisation threatens to crush all that is unique and special, I believe in the importance of the village as an anchor of our identity.”
Of course, Le Village Préféré des Français would be an extremely long programme if it showcased every single beautiful village in France. So the producers whittle down the contenders to an annual shortlist, with each of the 13 regions represented by one commune.
Here we look at the participating villages of 2017 and find out which won the hearts of the French viewers – and whether or not our British readers agreed with them! Novellist Terri Hale is not surprised that Kaysersberg vaulted to a resounding victory in the French viewer vote.
She first stumbled upon the Alsatian village of some 2,700 souls while on a family holiday 15 years ago and immediately fell in love with its quaint cobbled streets and colourful half-timbered houses.
“It’s a magical place,” says Terri, who hails from Texas. “You feel like you’re in a fairytale because of the medieval buildings and the flowers and the ringing of bells and the smell of croissants and chocolate and sweets wafting up to your room from the bakeries below.”
Terri and her husband rent an apartment in the village when they are in the area as part of their work for a youth organisation; and Kaysersberg was the inspiration for Terri’s second novel, a medieval fantasy for young adult readers.
She particularly loves the setting of the village, 45 minutes from the German border and at a similar latitude to central Brittany,
though slightly milder and drier thanks to its sheltered position.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said the writer, whose first novel The Stone Manor is set in Scotland and the United States. “You are surrounded by vineyards and on the edge of the Vosges mountains.”
Because Alsace has alternated between French and German control over the centuries, the people of Kaysersberg are completely at ease speaking French, German and their own dialect Alsatian, and Terri says she hears more German voices than Anglophone. “They are just such wonderful, delightful people,” she says. “I feel like we have made friends there that we’ll have forever.” Average house price – €1,859/m2
Author Terri Hale has made friends for life in Kaysersberg
Our poll revealed our British followers preferred La Garde-adhémar