What’s in a Name?
Gordes, Minerve, Les-Beaux-de-Provence…Traveling throughout France is like traveling back in time. After a last bend in the road, you enter a beautiful village, probably dating back to medieval times. And you are in awe before these stones and bricks that stood the test of time. However, the number and the quality of these well-preserved villages is not a mere coincidence. It has to do with that sign on the picture above: “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”.
In 1981, the mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, in the Corrèze, read an article in a Reader’s Digest publication about his small village. Inspired by what he read, he wrote to 100 mayors of other picturesque villages throughout France and in March 1982, “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The most beautiful villages of France) was formed as an association with 60 members.
Today, there are 159 villages to discover in this unique collection. Each participating village must have population of under 2,000 and contribute 3€ per capita to the association. They are inspected annually by the association and must adhere to conditions relating to its Quality Charter. The selection committee will for example consider the number of Heritage Buildings or Sites within the village, the urban and architectural qualities and the efforts made to make the village more attractive (parking facilities, flower beds etc.). The founding principles of the association are the protection of the cultural and historical heritage of the village and the battle against rural exodus, which has decimated the French countryside.
In our département, the Tar, there are four villages which are members of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Lautrec, just 30 mins from Mazamet, is our nearest and a favourite with our guests. The cradle of the Toulouse-Lautrec dynasty is also the starting point of one of our self-drive day tours called the ‘Albigensian Bastides’ and takes in a number of villages including Cordes-sur-Ciel, Castlenau-de-Montmiral, Puycelsi and, in the neighbouring Département of the Tarn-et-Garonne, Bruniquel.
Italy, Spain, Japan & the French-speaking province of Québec (Canada) have since launched similar associations, under the umbrella of Les Plus Beaux Villages de Terre (the most beautiful villages of the world).
In 1998, a new association was formed in France, aimed at promoting larger towns of a population of 2,000-20,000 inhabitants that had historical, gastronomic & cultural importance, called Les Plus Beaux Détours de France (in other words, villages & towns worth a detour to visit). Mazamet is the only town in the Tarn to be a member and this has helped to increase the profile and visitor numbers over the past 10 years.
The website for the association has a complete list of its member villages, which will help when planning your trip to France. In travelling to/from Mazamet, we would be more than happy to help plan your route so that you can visit some of the villages along the way – be that on your journey to us from a regional airport, or travelling to us from another part of France. Bon voyage!