Friday, December 18, 2015

Discovering the small villages of France on the Web

The French village of Beynac-et-Cazenac rises above the Dordogne River in France  (wikipedia)
FRANCE Moviegoers who saw the 2000 film Chocolat may recall the tiny fictional village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes where the story takes place. In fact, two real French villages were used Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy and Beynac-et-Cazenac on the Dordogne River in Dordogne.

Both places are members of an organization called “The Most Beautiful Villages in France.”

Fortified gateway to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain  (wikipedia)
Travelers will be delighted to discover there are more than 150 other “undiscovered” villages throughout France that are now part of an internet site called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

This site traces its roots to 1981 when Charles Ceyrac, the mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, found a book published by Reader’s Digest which had the same title as the current name of his organization, Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Ceyrac had long been an advocate of promoting tourism to exceptional villages throughout France that were largely unknown, yet possessed a prominent cultural heritage. With inexhaustible energy and a keen desire to protect the heritage of these communities, Ceyrac passionately undertook the task of forming an association with rigid standards to create greater awareness for visitors.
Le Bec Hellouin in Normandy is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France  (wikipedia)
Several categories for inclusion were established ranging from history to art, handicrafts, culinary excellence, romantic environment, wellness and nature.

St. Benoit du Sault beckons just beyond its arch (wikipedia)
By March of 1982, an organization of 66 mayors had united with Ceyrac to establish a method of preserving the legacy of each town. Its purpose was “to avoid certain pitfalls such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, ‘theme parks.’ Our well-reasoned and passionate 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.”

In an effort to regulate a high level of quality so that visitors would be guaranteed to enjoy the type of traveling experience they were seeking, Les Plus Beaux Villages de France follows a strict set of guidelines during its selection process.

Membership is granted only after a community has completed four phases of application.
St. Cirq Lapopie still thrives behind its ancient city walls  (wikipedia)
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. Prior to the “tour” of the town, the mayor, and any associates he chooses, are interviewed and are requested to present required documents for evaluation along with any support materials.

The outskirts of Peyre, a small village in France (wikipedia)
The association then follows an appraisal chart consisting of 27 criteria that rate the village according to the various categories necessary to participate.

Phase three consists of a decision handed down by the Quality Committee which has complete authority in accepting or rejecting an application. The Quality Committee meets twice each year, and it has the option of making four rulings ranging from immediate recognition as a participating member to total rejection.

If approved, the final step is signing an official charter. Once granted, the village may then promote its new designation to inhabitants, local authorities and the media as being officially regarded as one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France.
Quite street in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain which was used in the movie Chocolat  (wikipedia)
Today there are more than 157 villages in 21 regions of the country.

“Discovering France” has never been easier or more enjoyable thanks to Les Plus Beaux Villages de France