Some of France’s best-loved towns, villages and cities have provided the setting for our favourite films. Catriona Burns puts the spotlight on four locations and finds that they’re even better in real life
Cover story As Cannes rolls out the red carpet, we explore the French locations behind four big-screen hits
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‘It’s like something out of a film’ is an expression said on repeat around the medieval village of Locronan in west Finistère in Brittany, but when it comes to this particular plus beau village, it rings true. Remaining, in many ways, unchanged since the mid-18th century, the village is a favourite for films set in times gone by, including Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s First World War picture, A Very Long Engagement starring Audrey Tautou. The film tells the story of a young couple torn apart by war, and Locronan provides the picture-perfect backdrop for the idyllic beginning of the pair’s relationship.
It is not only the village’s lack of telephone poles and electricity wires that makes the film feel and look so authentic. Chocolate-box shops, thatched roof cottages and granite stone buildings also add to the feel of another time. And, while these idyllic features may look too good to be true, they are very much a part of the residents’ dreamy day-to-day life.
A central meet-up point for the locals is the Place de l’Église in the village centre; a cobbled square bordered by traditional boulangeries, cafés, crêperies and the 15th-century Église St-Ronan. In addition to churchgoers, the chapel is quietly busy with people coming to see the beautiful stained-glass windows and discover the story of Saint Ronan that is carved in the wooden pulpit.
There’s more craftsmanship to be found along the village’s medieval lanes with shops selling crafts that the modern world has seemingly forgotten: artisans making handmade pens, knives, jewellery, glasswork and musical instruments add to the home-grown feel that Locronan champions. Markets often take place along Place de la Mairie adding to the community’s ethos of keeping it local, while the enchanting Christmas market in December and the summertime marché aux étoiles craft market bring a whole new lease of life to the village.
Largely cut off to traffic, you can stroll around without a care in the world in Locronan. Get a coffee and a slice of the traditional kouign-amann cake and park yourself on one of the benches around the village that are surrounded by pink and purple hydrangeas.
For more peace and quiet, the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Nouvelle never fails to deliver. You’ll rarely find a soul about this humble church squirreled away at the edge of Le Bois du Névet forest, but candles eternally flicker and there are always fresh flowers surrounding the religious statues.
Although it has under a thousand residents, Locronan welcomes lots of tourists, especially when it hosts special events. A particular highlight is La Petite Troménie procession, a religious parade and one of Brittany’s oldest pardons showcasing traditional Breton costumes, music and culture. If you do want to access bigger towns there is a daily bus service to Douarnenez and Quimper from Monday to Saturday, with a route that also travels to the spectacular natural site of Pointe du Raz.