Travelers to France can immerse themselves in more than 150 “undiscovered” villages throughout the country thanks to Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The Most Beautiful Villages of France”).
In 1981, Charles Ceyrac, mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, found a book published by Reader’s Digest that had the same title as the current name of his organization .
Ceyrac had long advocated promoting exceptional villages in France that were largely unknown – yet which possessed a prominent cultural heritage. With inexhaustible energy to preserve the heritage of these communities, Ceyrac undertook the task of forming an association with rigid standards to create greater awareness for visitors.
Several categories for inclusion were established, ranging from history to art, handicrafts, culinary excellence, romantic environment, wellness and nature.
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By March 1982, some 66 mayors had joined Ceyrac with the goal “to avoid certain pitfalls by turning our villages into soulless museums. Our ambition is to reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred-year-old lime and plane trees.”
Membership is granted only after a community has completed four phases of application.
Initially a village must meet three basic requirements: the population must not exceed 2,000 people, it must have at least two protected sites or monuments in the area, and it must show written proof that there is majority support from the town council.
Once approved, an on-site evaluation is conducted between a member of the association and the mayor of the village. The association then follows an appraisal chart consisting of 27 criteria to rate the village.
Phase three consists of a decision by the quality committee which has complete authority in accepting or rejecting an application. The committee meets twice a year with the option of making four rulings ranging from immediate recognition to total rejection.
The final step is signing an official charter. Once granted, the village may then promote its new designation as one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.”
Today there are more than 157 villages in 21 regions throughout the country.
See the list at www.france-beautiful-villages.org/en.