Five of France’s best UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are recognised globally as a mark of excellence, importance and historical significance: with landmarks, towns and regions around the world having been awarded the accolade according to strict criteria for over 30 years. France is home to a wealth of culturally and historically important sites, with 41 currently spread out across the country – a mixture of both man-made marvels and natural wonders which have helped create the tapestry of the French landscape.

With so many options, picking which to visit on your trip can seem a little daunting. To help you out we’ve selected five of our absolute favourites; we’re sure you’ll find them as awe-inspiring as we do!

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

Perhaps one of France’s most popular tourist spots outside of Paris, Mont Saint-Michel is a famous abbey perched atop a rocky island, cut off from the mainland just slightly by the tides. Once an important aspect of the region’s defence, a monastery was built here in the 8th century – a Gothic building with dramatic spires which dominates the skyline as you look out across the sea from mainland Normandy. There are several ways to explore the island, from walking tours to views from above offered by luxury helicopter tours.

The Roman city of Arles, Provence

Arles is one of the most delightful cities in the south of France, offering a trip back in time with its several illustrious buildings remaining from the Roman age lining the banks of the Rhone. Following the Roman invasion, Arles became a thriving trading town, as well as the capital of Gaul, with its prosper displayed in well-preserved buildings such as the Amphitheatre, the largest Roman building in Gaul. Buildings such as the 12th century Cathedrale St-Trophime also show how the city enjoyed another golden age during the medieval period, following the departure of the Romans.

The Loire Valley

One of France’s most popular holiday regions, the charms of the Loire valley are characterised by its fertile valleys and rolling vineyards, decorated with pretty villages and stunning chateaux. The World Heritage Site encompasses a vast region of the valley, taking in towns such as Orleans, Tours and Angers, as well as over a thousand years of architectural, artistic and natural treasures. Historically a location for several royal strongholds, the region today still remains as a place fit for any king or queen – a region of splendour from end to end.

Episcopal city of Albi, Midi-Pyrenees

Located north-east of Toulouse, Albi is characterised by its buildings made from red bricks and is home to some of the finest architecture in France. Several of the city’s landmarks have helped to ensure the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the Saint-Cecile Cathedral, the only cathedral in the world to be built entirely from bricks, the lavish Berbie Palace, which is also home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, and the oldest bridge in France, which dates back to 1040.

Chartres Cathedral, Centre-Val de Loire

Located just 90km from Paris, Chartres Cathedral is one of Europe’s greatest examples of a Gothic cathedral, towering above the surrounding flat countryside. First built in 1154, the cathedral is an enduring landmark of French history, with its most famous attraction being its stained glass windows, which date from the 12th and 13th centuries, though it also has an abundance of other notable features, such as the spires, flying buttresses and the decorative sculptures in its three façades.

Where to stay?

From enchanting chateaus to quaint village B&Bs: our collection of boutique accommodation in France is unrivaled in variety and quality.

Image: Zoltan Voros, available under Creative Commons

Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.