Let’s discover together the most beautiful villages of Savoie, from the north to the south of the province. From the flowery villages on the shores of Lake Geneva and Lake Annecy to the hamlets perched in the Alps.
What is a village?
The word village derives from the Gallo-Roman villa “rural estate” and the Latin villa rustica “large rural estate”. In medieval Latin, it appeared in the 11th century in the form villagium “group of rural dwellings”.
To understand the difference between a hamlet, a village, a town and a city, we can base ourselves on the population.
- The INSEE (French National Institute of Statistics) has delimited rural and urban communes by a threshold of 2,000 inhabitants.
- However, the Association of Rural Mayors of France (AMRF) applies a threshold of 3,500 inhabitants.
The problem arises when a municipality with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants is part of an urban agglomeration. Can we still speak of a village?
To continue this article, I will not reinvent the wheel. I will take as a basis the INSEE threshold, i.e. a municipality of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants.
Why are the villages of Savoie among the most beautiful in France?
In the mountains of Savoie, where the worst constraints exist for man, the villages and their hamlets are composed of massive houses, in a single block with a minimum of openings.
These human groupings are often installed on the side of the mountain, on the adret slope – that is to say the sunniest slope.
The houses are arranged in espaliers, facing the sun. They are tightly packed around the bell tower, which is usually bulbous. In many places, the interior of the church houses a beautiful altarpiece in the baroque style.
The villages of Savoie are sometimes deserted by their inhabitants, and sometimes classified thanks to their rich heritage.
Let’s discover now some of the most beautiful ones… in my opinion!
The most beautiful villages of Savoie
The association “Les plus beaux villages de France” was created in 1982. With 159 member villages (in 2020), it is a mark of quality and recognition for tourists.
Indeed, the association is doubled by a certification mark.
In order to join the club, municipalities must meet a certain number of criteria:
- Have less than 2,000 inhabitants.
- At least two sites or buildings must be officially protected (e.g., classified as historical monuments).
- The villagers must also show a “collective motivation” to adhere to the association’s quality charter, i.e. an affirmative deliberation by the municipal council.
Not surprisingly, the economic benefits are sometimes considerable.
Not everyone who wants to become a “most beautiful village in France” has to have the means to do so!
Also, only 2 beautiful villages in Savoie have joined the association:
- Yvoire (in Haute-Savoie – 74)
- Bonneval-sur-Arc (in Savoie – 73)
- Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval (in Haute-Savoie – 74) was part of it until 2018
This picturesque flowery village of Yvoire benefits from an exceptional location on the shores of Lake Geneva, between the small and the large lake. A 14th-century rampart still surrounds it, pierced by two fortified gates.
In the village of Yvoire, there are still many well-kept and flowery medieval houses.
Don’t miss going down to the port. From the end of the pier, a beautiful view of the castle of Yvoire and its massive square keep.
We can see the Swiss shore and the mountains of the Chablais (Dent d’Oche, Pic de Mémise).
Here we are in the highest village of the Maurienne (1835 m), located at the bottom of the Arc valley.
Bonneval is the last village of the long valley before the ascent of the mythical Iseran pass.
Its old stone houses covered with roofing stones surround the church and its spire.
The small village of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval was born in 1144 when Ponce de Faucigny founded an abbey.
The abbey church (13th-century nave) is surrounded by old houses.
In the heart of the Haut-Giffre massif, the commune of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is made up of a string of hamlets linked to the main town by small mountain roads. It is the second-largest commune in Haute-Savoie after Chamonix.
There is the famous Rouget waterfall and the incredible natural site of the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval, dominated by the Tenneverge peak (2989 m).
The favourite villages of the French
Le Village préféré des Français is a television show presented by Stéphane Bern since 2012. At first broadcast on France 2, it changed for French TV channel France 3 in 2019.
What is the principle of the show?
Each year, a village represents each of the 13 regions of France (22 before 2016).
The villages in contention are submitted to the public vote on the website of the show in winter and until early spring.
Then, before the summer, a big TV party reveals the ranking to the viewers.
In 2016, the show adopted the limits of the new regions. From 22, the participants are now only 13 to compete. Savoie, included in the Rhône-Alpes region, is now part of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
To date, no village in the region has reached first place. Only two villages from Savoie have represented their region since 2012
The ranking of the 2012-2021 editions
- 2012 – 5th place (out of 22): Yvoire (on the shores of Lake Geneva)
- 2015 – 6th place (out of 22): Bonneval-sur-Arc (in Maurienne)
Note that these two villages are members of the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
The most flowered villages in Savoie
Contrary to popular belief, Savoie is not only a province with austere and mineral mountains. Its villages are often very flowery in summer, adding to the charm of the wooden or stone chalets.
Note the presence of two “big” cities of more than 30,000 inhabitants (Aix-les-Bains and Annecy).
Moreover, it is interesting to note that only one of these towns is a member of the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France: Yvoire.
My list of the most beautiful villages of Savoie
Fortunately, the title of ‘most beautiful villages of Savoie’ does not apply only to the labelled villages… especially when we consider that only two localities of Savoie are members of the association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France!
Even if there is no question of questioning the beauty of the two villages of Yvoire and Bonneval-sur-Arc, I can’t help mentioning other sites that would have deserved the coveted appellation as much.
So, here is my little list of my favourite villages of Savoie… and I am sure you have your own (which may differ from mine). Leave me in the comments the names of YOUR favourite villages…
You can’t be more chauvinistic since I used to live there! Granier is a typical Tarentaise village, perched above the valley at 1,250 m altitude.
Pralognan-la-Vanoise is lost at the end of a valley of the Vanoise (pra-lognan derives from pré éloigné – remote meadow). If the centre of the village is not the richest in architectural heritage, the site is therefore breathtaking.
Indeed, the superb escarpments of Grand Marchet set the tone! We are here in the only mountaineering resort of the Vanoise massif. This seems to be confirmed by the site of this “remote meadow”.
Pralognan is one of the gates of the Vanoise National Park, and the starting point of the hike to the Vanoise pass, via the ford across the Lac des Vaches.
The medieval city of Conflans is located at the confluence of the Arly and Isère rivers. Gateway to the Tarentaise, the village perched above Albertville is a popular tourist site.
The hamlet of Boudin belongs to the commune of Beaufort. It is one of the most beautiful, if not the most typical, villages of the French Alps with its houses arranged in espaliers. The slope is so steep that it is said that the dogs have to sit down before barking!
On the right bank of Lake Annecy, Duingt is a popular stopover for its romantic waterfront castle.
The old core of the village has kept its Savoyard rusticity intact. It is composed of small houses with outside stairs, decorated with trellises.
On the left bank of Lake Annecy, Talloires is one of the most luxurious resorts in Savoie… and one of the high places of French gastronomy!
The quays of the marina, facing the castle of Duingt, the view on the snow-covered Alps… all this makes Talloires a site that is often described as “divine”!
Cordon is a charming village in the Sallanches region, leaning against the Aravis mountain range and nestled in the cherry and walnut trees. Cordon is nicknamed the “balcony of Mont Blanc“. The view of the Alps is indeed magnificent.
Its church, recognisable by its beautiful bulbous bell tower, dates from 1781. It is a masterpiece of baroque art in Savoy with its painted decoration and its altarpiece with twisted columns.
The most beautiful detours in Savoie
In parallel with the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, a similar initiative aims to promote small towns of character, often located off the main roads… Or at least, localities whose architectural and historical heritage is often unknown.
In Savoie, the label concerns 2 small towns:
The ancient city of La Roche-sur-Foron is strategically located above the Arve valley, guarding the road passage between Annecy, Geneva and Cluses.
The tower of the counts of Geneva is a vestige of its former castle. Must-see sites are the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church and its 19th-century organ, the arcades of the streets of the old centre, and the Plain-Château district which ends with a magnificent viewpoint on the Arve valley.
Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is the historical capital of the Maurienne Valley, the long valley where the Arc river flows. It has long prospered thanks to its role as an episcopal city, the seat of the ancient diocese of Maurienne.
Must-see sites: the cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste (11th-15th), its beautiful stalls of 1498 and its cloister of the 15th century.
The city centre is composed of old houses with colourful facades and porticos typical of Sardinian architecture.
To know more about the villages of Savoie
Sites of reference
- Read this article in French on our blog Mon Grand-Est
- The cultural and historical region of Savoie on the blog
- The fabulous onion dome steeples of Savoy on the blog
- The article on the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France on Wikipedia [in French]
- The website of the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France [in French]
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What are your favourite villages of Savoie – maybe yours are not mentioned in this article? Tell me all about it in the comments below 🙂