There’s no shortage of beauty among the vineyards and lavender-scented fields of rural France. From Normandy to Provence, and from Aquitaine across to the shores of Lake Geneva, the countryside is packed with charming villages where the pace of life is delightfully slow and the vibe authentically French.

Since 1982, there has even been an official list of the most beautiful villages of France.

This association – called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – was formed by a group of mayors to celebrate the beauty of their villages and to encourage tourism, and it’s now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

How does a village qualify?

The qualifying criteria is strict: villages must have two national heritage sites, fewer than 2,000 inhabitants and the application must have support from the local council before villages will be eligible for an on-site evaluation.

In addition, villages should have a notable history and of course, a well-preserved and beautiful setting. The initial 66 villages listed 40 years ago now number 164, a relatively slow growth rate that shows the difficulties of making this prestigious list.

In return, once on the list, villages can display their award prominently – you’ll spot the red and green emblem as you drive into each village – and feature in the association’s annual guidebook. The association says it can increase tourism by up to 50%.

“I’m not sure that having the label actually adds value directly to a property as such,” says Tim Swannie, Director of estate agency Home Hunts. “But I would guess that it does indirectly because villages with this label naturally attract more visitors.

“Villages are awarded the distinction due to their beauty, but also because of their facilities and how clean and well-kept they are. Most villages in the association are already fairly popular, but it certainly gives them a boost and means that they have to maintain their standard which in turn brings in more tourists and allows local businesses to thrive. New shops and restaurants open and they village becomes a more popular place to live,” he adds.

Villages for home-buyers to watch

Some of Les Plus Beaux Villages will be familiar to Francophiles: Cordes-sur-Ciel, a fortified village in the Tarn for example, and Lourmarin in Provence. Others are less widely known: Vogüe in the Ardèche or Mittelbergheim in the Alsace wine region.

Tim Swannie’s personal favourites include Gordes, Gassin, Seillans and Les-Baux-de-Provence.

Rob Longley, CEO and Founder of Beaux Villages Immobilier  agrees that the award is indeed a draw. “These villages comprise an exclusive club of some of the most desirable places to live in France,” he adds. “The judging criteria is strict. Only the very best make it and it’s not a given that they keep it.”

Rob highlights Tournon d’Agenais in Lot et Garonne, a relatively recent addition to the list where there has been, he says, a noticeable uptick in property sales and visitor numbers since the award.

“The application and eventual award can be credited in large part to a very passionate mayor and his committee,” says Rob. “Of course he needed the raw materials as well and hilltop Tournon boasts several features of renown including spectacular 360-degree views, a circular walk around the ramparts and a unique lunar clock.”

Other notable villages include Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in the Charente with the largest underground church in Europe, Talmont-sur-Gironde in Charente Maritime, Mortemart in Haute Vienne and Lagrasse in Aude.

Keen to explore? Here are some properties for sale, all officially located in one of “the most beautiful villages of France”.

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