The most beautiful walled cities in France have, in most cases, been well preserved and are dotted all over the country. With over 2,000 years of history, France retains an important historical heritage that allows you to travel back in time thanks to these ancient fixtures. 

    You'll find various cities in France surrounded by fortifications, ramparts and ancient gates, each one with its own tale to tell. These remains from the past add to the heritage and beauty of the country, one which already ranks among the most visited in the world. Discover the French fortified cities that you should visit; some of them are obvious and famous – Carcassonne for instance – but you've probably never heard of Laon or Neuf-Brisach, right? 



    One of the most visited historic cities in France

    Located in the southwest of France, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the medieval citadel of Carcassonne is one of the most visited walled cities in France. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the city erected its fortifications between the 5th and 17th centuries, and then renovated them mid-19th century. Take a walk through the winding narrow lanes of Carcassonne Old Town. You'll find plenty of small boutiques and eating places perfectly in phase with the timeless atmosphere of the area. Accommodation wise, Old Town hotels offer a more peaceful ambience. 

    Location: Southwest of France, between Toulouse and Narbonne


    photo by Chensiyuan (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified



    Discover the former City of the Pope

    The city of Avignon dates back to the antiquity, but its famous ramparts and most of its historical buildings – including the Palace of the Popes – were built during the 14th century. Established on the south bank of the Rhône River, the entire Avignon Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pedestrian historic centre hosts a great choice of restaurants serving Provençal food and wines. The excellent preservation of Avignon makes it a must-visit if you’re passionate about history and appreciate the talent and skill of bygone artisans.

    Location: Southwest of France, between Montpellier and Marseille



    Walk in the footsteps of famous French seafarers and corsairs

    Nicknamed the ‘City of Corsairs’, Saint-Malo sits on the rocky coastline of Brittany, 70 km north of Rennes. Sheltered behind tall ramparts, the Old Town is a lively witness of the past eminence of a port city which gave birth to famous seafarers such as Jacques Cartier, the man who discovered Canada. Amble through the cobblestoned alleyways of the pedestrian Old Saint-Malo centre, walk on the ramparts, indulge yourself with fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants at hand, Saint-Malo offers you a pleasant journey back to the 15th century.

    Location: On the coast of Brittany, 70 km north of Rennes



    Visit an impressive walled city sitting on the flat marshes of the Camargue

    A holiday in Aigues-Mortes allows you to stay in a well-preserved Medieval town dating back to the 13th century, a short distance from some of the most attractive beaches on the southern coast of France. Surrounded by the marshes of the Camargues, Aigues-Mortes Old Town covers an area of 160,000 sq m hidden behind imposing 11-metre-high stone walls. During your meander through the Old Town, do not miss the opportunity to sample nougat, one of the local specialities. For hotels in the area, you'll find an offering of chic accommodation in Aigues-Mortes.

    Location: 30 km east of Montpellier in the south of France



    Old stones and Fleur de Sel (salt flower)

    Located in the south of Brittany, Guérande is a multi-faceted attractive city. Surrounded by thick stone walls erected during the 14th century, this small town is famous for the Salt Marshes that lie just south, and for the Brière Regional Natural Park that stretches out to the northeast. Lined with arts and crafts galleries, quaint bars and crêperies (restaurants serving crepes, a local speciality), the paved narrow streets of the Medieval town are really pleasant to explore.

    Location: South of Brittany, 70 km west of Nantes


    photo by Andrea Corsica (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified



    Meander in an Old Town far from the tourists beaten track

    Besançon is the capital city of Franche-Comté in the east of France, near the borders with Switzerland and Germany. Nestled in a sharp curve of the Doubs River, the city features fortifications and a citadel conceived by Vauban, a well-known French military engineer during the 18th century. Curiously, Besançon is often overlooked by tourists, giving you the opportunity to have the Old Town almost to yourself. Browse the hotel options in Besançon Old Town. From Saint-Jean Cathedral to Victor Hugo’s birthplace to the excellent choice of restaurants serving local specialities, Besançon is a charming place to visit.

    Location: In the east of France, near the borders with Switzerland and Germany



    Over 80 listed historical buildings and monuments to discover

    Situated in the northeast of France, about 60 km of the Belgian border, Laon is a city famed for the 7 km of ramparts that flank it. Built between the 12th and 18th centuries, Laon Old Town hosts a stunning Gothic cathedral and many buildings and monument listed as historical monuments. Get to Laon in June to attend the yearly Medieval Festival. If you’re a cheese lover, do not miss to sample the Maroilles, a strong and tasty local cheese.

    Location: In the northeast of France, between Paris and Charleroi in Belgium


    photo by Uoaei1 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified



    Wander around Vauban’s masterpiece

    Viewed from above, Neuf-Brisach Old Town is shaped like a perfect octagon criss-crossed by perpendicular streets. The impressive geometrical design of this fortified town near the border with Germany dates back to the 18th century. It was conceived, once again, by Vauban, and is considered to be his masterpiece. Despite the fact it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Neuf-Brisach is not very well publicised. This means you can wander around this stunning fortified town in relative peace and quiet.

    Location: In the east of France, 15 km southeast of Colmar in Alsace



    Visit one of the best preserved Medieval towns in Brittany

    Sitting between Rennes and Saint-Malo, Dinan is often considered one of the most charming small towns in Brittany. From the Old Port on the Rance River to the spectacular 40-metre-high viaduct and the ramparts that run for several kilometres, Dinan retains its Medieval vibes. The cobblestoned alleyways teem with half-timbered houses, arts and crafts boutiques, and quaint venues offering hearty French food and drinks. Stay in Dinan Old Town to enjoy it all for yourself. Get to the top of the Tour de l’Horloge (the Clock Tower) to take in a great view of Dinan and the surrounding area. On clear days, you can even spot the Mont Saint-Michel in the distance.

    Location: Between Rennes and Saint-Malo, in the northwest of France



    Visit the Town of Art and History in the east of France

    Langres is a stronghold of significant historical importance located 90 km northwest of Besançon, a one-hour’s drive of the borders with Switzerland and Germany. Langres walkable fortified wall encloses the Old Town on 3.5 km. It’s especially worth a visit due to the fact that elements from different periods of time – from antiquity to Middle Ages and from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, all can be spotted in the city. The latest of them being a Vauban citadel added during the 19th century.

    Location: In the east of France, 90 km northwest of Besançon

    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveller

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