France is the country of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. It is therefore not surprising that this beautiful country of old Europe is full of enchanting and picturesque sites. Here are my top 10 fairy tale destinations in France to make you dream.
About French fairy tales
Before revealing my list of the most beautiful fairy tale destinations in France, let’s ask ourselves a crucial question:
What is a fairy tale?
The fairy tale generally describes a legendary or wonderful story, featuring fantastic beings or events. The fairy tale is often inspired by popular folklore.
For many children across the world, European and French fairy tales have played an important role in their childhood.
This definition explains why the countries of Europe are, due to their long and ancient traditions, a favourable ground for the making of fairy tales.
When did fairy tales first appear in France?
If the literature of the Middle Ages is very marked by elements belonging to the fantastic, the fairy tale as we know it nowadays really appeared in the 17th century with authors like the famous Charles Perrault.
However, most of the fairy tales were written by women who found in the social salons a form of emancipation and the possibility to prove their intelligence: Madame d’Aulnoy, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villandon or Henriette-Julie de Castelnau de Murat.
As for Charles Perrault, he gave his tales a form quite different from that of worldly tales with a refined language. Thus, the Contes de ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Tales) was a phenomenal success.
This is partly because Perrault portrayed passive women, whereas tales written by women were rather subversive and frowned upon.
These authors brought out this desire to (re)introduce the fantastic and the irrational into society at the same time as the rationalising philosophical thought of the Enlightenment began to appear.
The most famous French fairy tales
The history of many fairy tales goes back to ancient times, to Antiquity. However, French authors such as Perrault is presented as the father of several now-famous fairy tales, many of which were made into movies by Walt Disney. We can cite:
- Cendrillon (Cinderella)
- La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty)
- La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast)
- Peau d’âne (Donkey Skin)
- Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood)
- Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)
- Le Petit Poucet (Hop-o’-My-Thumb)
Where is the castle of Sleeping Beauty in France?
Several castles in Europe claim the title of “Castle of Sleeping Beauty”. The most famous of them is the Neuschwanstein in Bavaria which inspired Walt Disney.
Talking about it, there is also the castle in Disneyland Paris, which was created more recently.
In particular, the artistic style of Disney’s film is based on the illuminations of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry), one of the most famous Gothic manuscripts illuminations on display in Chantilly, another fairy-tale castle.
However, you have to go back to the 17th century to find THE fairy tale castle of Sleeping Beauty. It is located in the Loire Valley, in Ussé.
The reason is quite simple. The author of fairy tales, Charles Perrault stayed in the castle several times. It is said that he was inspired by this castle for the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Today, the castle pays tribute to its illustrious guest with a staging of the fairy tale where a set of wax statues tells the magical story along the chemin de ronde.
You can read the different French versions of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale on Wikisource.
Must-read French fairy tale books
Did you know that French fairy tales traditionally begin with the phrase: il était une fois… (once upon a time)?
Among the fairy tale books that have enchanted the childhood of many French children, there is the one by Comtesse de Ségur: Nouveaux Contes de Fées.
The forest of Lilacs? What a wonderful name for a dreadful place! Alas, when she enters the forest, the pretty princess Blondine does not suspect that she will not be able to get out… What will she find there? Discover also in this collection the adventures of Good Little Henry, the story of Princess Rosette, the mischief of the Little Grey Mouse and the setbacks of Ourson…
My fairy tale destinations in France
To design the list of my 10 favourite fairy tale destinations in France, I analysed dozens of sites according to three criteria:
- a castle – the site must have a castle or fortress,
- an old centre – it can be a village or a town with an old centre dating back to the Middle Ages, and
- a picturesque site – the locality must have character and invite to dream.
Yes, these are sites that could very well please the great Walt Disney… and where it would not be surprising to see fairies, princesses and knights appear – at least in dreams!
If you know of any other fairy tale destinations in France that meet all three criteria listed above, let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
Kaysersberg is one of my favourite places in Alsace. The medieval-looking city is actually home to magnificent half-timbered houses dating from the Renaissance. You can admire them all along the high street (rue du Général de Gaulle).
Then, a fortified bridge, unique in the region, links the lower town to the upper town.
Finally, the ruins of the powerful Schlossberg castle dominate the village and the vineyard.
Kaysersberg is a place to discover at any time of the year, during the beautiful sunny days of summer with an exceptional flowering, but also during the Christmas period.
Amboise, Loire Valley
Located halfway between Orléans and Tours, the little town of Amboise has played a great part in French history, particularly during the Renaissance era. The magnificent castle of Amboise is one of the many chateaux bordering the Loire river, all listed in the UNESCO World Heritage.
Amboise lies on the eastern borders of the Touraine province which symbolises for many a “douceur de vivre” and the Garden of France. The vines are also part of the specific landscape of the region and they enjoy the unusual light known by many painters in the Loire Valley.
Here, food and wine are part of an “art de vivre” (art of living) faithful to a long tradition, portrayed by poets, writers, novelists, painters and thinkers: Ronsard, Rabelais, Du Bellay, Balzac, … without forgetting the royalty of the Loire Valley – the former Kings and Queens of France –, and the famous Leonardo da Vinci, called by the French Léonard de Vinci.
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in Amboise
- 🏰 Get your entrance ticket to the Renaissance Castle of Amboise
- ℹ️ Find out more about Amboise on the blog…
Lake Annecy, Savoy
The city of Annecy is a tourist mecca with its old centre through which the Thiou river flows. Picturesque as one could wish, it has been given the nickname of “Venice of the Alps”.
The city and its suburbs stretch all around the lake. Many charming villages invite you to discover: Veyrier, Menthon-Saint-Bernard, Talloires, Duingt…
The magnificent castle of Menthon seems to come straight from a fairy tale. Legend has it that Walt Disney while staying at the castle, was inspired by it in the design of the castles in his films.
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in the region of Lake Annecy
- ℹ️ Find out more about Lake Annecy on the blog…
The old village of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois dominates the surrounding countryside of Burgundy in a picturesque setting. The village, which is part of the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, has kept the powerful castle flanked by massive towers.
At the top of the hill, the castle defends the attractive village which was once surrounded by walls.
Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is intimately linked to the presence of the castle. The village is laid out in a regular plan around the Grande Rue and the rue du Centre whose houses date from the 14th to the 18th century.
The prosperity of Châteauneuf peaked from the second half of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century.
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in the region of Châteauneuf
- ℹ️ Find out more about Châteauneuf-en-Auxois on the blog…
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, the walled town perched on a spur above the River Aude is a dramatic representation of medieval architecture. A not-to-miss place when you’re exploring the South of France!
On the warm night of summer, the sight of the glowing fairy-tale walled city of Carcassonne beautifully illuminated is an unforgettable experience.
The Cité (the fortified medieval town) is impressively large. It includes:
- a castle (the Château Comtal),
- a basilica (the Basilica of St. Nazaire),
- three kilometres of a double line of ramparts,
- fifty-two towers, and
- several dwellings that house some 100 people.
The old town is crisscrossed by narrow winding streets and shady squares of medieval appearance. Some of them are really interesting to explore, but the best time is to go there early in the morning when the crowd of tourists have not made it yet to the site!
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in the region of Carcassonne
- 🏰 Get your entrance tickets for the castle (including the Remparts Tour)
- ℹ️ Find out more about Carcassonne on the blog…
- 🎲 Take the Carcassonne Quiz!
Provins, Ile de France
To the east of Paris, well into the countryside lies the medieval town of Provins. It does look like your charming little ‘provincial’ town (that is outside of Paris!) with cute little houses, church bell towers and fields and forest in the distance.
Who would have guessed that this very town was once France’s largest city after Paris and Rouen? For a great part, the fame of Provins was due to its activity of merchant fairs. For Provins held one of the greatest fairs in the kingdom along with Troyes. Known as the Fairs of Champagne, there enjoyed great renown and were the meeting places of merchants from Northern and Southern Europe.
This prosperous time ended a very long time ago and today the commune of Provins has a population of around 12,160 – that is far less than during medieval times. However thanks to its historic fame, Unesco awarded Provins the prestigious label of World Heritage Site in December 2001.
One of the major landmarks is the mighty Tour César, a superb medieval octagonal keep, the only one of its kind.
Fougères in Britanny is an impressive granite fortress that dominates the city on its schist spur. As soon as you arrive, you quickly become aware of the incredible medieval heritage bequeathed by the Middle Ages.
First of all, there is the old town, which is called the “bourg Vieil“, which has kept its old style. Nestled at the foot of one of the largest fortresses in Europe, the half-timbered houses and cobbled streets have lost none of their charms.
Fougères owes its fame to its medieval castle founded in 1020. Flanked by 13 towers, it covers an area of 2 hectares. Its fortifications, formerly surrounded by water, have been entirely restored and are open to the public. One can indeed take the walkway which offers a beautiful panorama of the ramparts and the gardens of the city.
Grignan, Drôme Provençale
Sitting on its rocky promontory, the castle of Grignan appears like a majestic mirage in the countryside of the Drôme provençale. It is the largest Renaissance castle in southeastern France.
To get there, you have to go through steep alleys, which wind up to the top.
Grignan was made famous by the correspondence of the Marquise de Sévigné to her daughter.
From its terrace, an incredible view of the region awaits the visitor: the village of Grignan, the Drôme and Provence, the Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail!
The village of Najac is an incredible site. The unique street lined with houses with lauze roofs stretches along a rocky ridge above the gorges of the Aveyron. At the end of the street stands the fortress once coveted by the Kings of France and England.
The fortress of Najac, one of the most famous castles in the South-West, was built to defend Rouergue when the Counts of Toulouse chose Najac as the capital of Bas Rouergue.
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in the region of Najac
- ℹ️ Find out more about the Rouergue province on the blog…
The small village of Hautefort in the Périgord province is home to one of the most prestigious castles in southwest France.
Before going up to the castle, you should take the time to discover the charming little village where Eugène le Roy, the author of Jacquou le Croquant, was born.
Located on a rocky spur, the castle of Hautefort is an old medieval fortress transformed in the 17th century by the marquis of Hautefort into a pleasure house.
The French gardens and the English park are open to the visit and seem to transport us to the heart of the Loire Valley.
It is here that the 1998 romantic drama Ever After was filmed. The storyline was inspired by the “Cinderella” tale, with the château portraying the character Prince Henry’s castle. The film stars Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott and Jeanne Moreau.
- 🛏 Book your accommodation in the region of Hautefort
- ℹ️ Find out more about the Périgord province on the blog…
Other fairy tale destinations in France
You can imagine that my selection is unfairly short. To complete the selection, here are some additional sites that may interest you.
- Aubigny-sur-Nère, Berry
- Beynac, Périgord
- Bourbon-l’Archambault, Bourbonnais
- Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Périgord
- Cordes-sur-Ciel, Occitania
- Eguisheim, Alsace
- Gordes, Provence
- Hérisson, Bourbonnais
- Josselin, Britanny
- Montbrun-les-Bains, Drôme Provençale
- Montréal, Burgundy
- Montrésor, Loire Valley
- Sancerre, Loire Valley
- Turenne, Limousin
- Uzerche, Limousin