7 UNESCO Sites in France You Shouldn’t Miss
France has no shortage of impressive, historical sites you can visit- in fact, there are 44 total UNESCO World Heritage sites in France. Explore the sites beyond France’s largest cities and read on to see which made the list of our top 7 you shouldn’t miss.
1. Arles Roman Amphitheatre
The Arles Amphitheatre has had various uses since its construction in 90 AD as a center for entertainment and chariot races. The interior of the amphitheater was transformed from the 5th to the 18thcentury and the original walls served as fortified protection for a town that was constructed within. The addition of the watch towers gave the amphitheater its unique look, and remained when it was reconverted again as a space for entertainment. Today, visitors can attend bull fights, plays, and concerts at the Arles Amphitheatre.
2. Lascaux Caves of Vezere Valley
The Vezere Valley is the site of the famous prehistoric cave paintings, estimated to be from 19,000 years ago. The caves were only discovered in 1940 and allowed visitors until 1963, and though the caves are now closed to the public, travelers can visit the exact replicas in the nearby Lascaux museum. The Snøhetta designed museum goes beyond just showing visitors how the cave paintings look, but also tells an immersive story about how they were discovered.
Carcassonne is a 2500-year-old fortified city that has lived through a number of various empires, crusades, and invasions. The city is most recognized by the double walls and medieval watch towers surrounding it on all sides, and was miraculously restored in the 1800’s after the townspeople protested a government campaign to destroy the fortifications. Today the fortified city is one of southern France’s most historical sites and attracts an average of 3 million visitors every year.
1 hour from Toulouse
4. Fontenay Abbey
The immaculately preserved Abbey in the Bourgogne Franche-Comté region was built in the 1100’s for Cistercian monks and was one of earliest French monuments to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today the well-groomed courtyards and pristine interiors of the Fontenay Abbey are open to visitors, and make for a lovely stop while driving through the eastern regions of France.
The Abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel and the surrounding bay was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and even without the accolades, the stunning views of the island are enough to attract visitors from across the world at any time of year. Visitors can access the site by walking along the newly constructed pedestrian bridge or by taking a shuttle bus. The site is just as magical from within as it is from afar, and many visitors enjoy watching the views of the tides rolling in and out while exploring the church and its many chambers.
6. Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard in Nîmes was built over 2000 years ago and is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Europe. The Pont du Gard was kept in such great condition because even after the Roman empire fell, the aqueduct was used as a toll bridge that was maintained by local authorities until today, where its primary use is as a tourist attraction for travelers visiting the south of France.
7. Loire Valley
A 280km valley along the Loire river between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000 and includes within it the cultural, physical, architectural, and agricultural landscape the Loire river supported. From the number of awe-inspring chateaux you can tour to the award-winning vineyards you can visit, the Loire Valley in an immersive experience and we recommend spending at least a few days here to take it in, taste the wines, and imagine what life would have been like hundreds of years ago.
The best way to explore France at your own pace and on your own schedule is by car. Visit the destinations that public transit can’t reach, and beat the crowds by arriving earlier or staying longer than guided tour buses. Non-EU citizens visiting France can take advantage of Auto France’s Open Europe Program and save considerably on a short-term leased Peugeot direct from the factory. Read more about the Peugeot Open Europe Program or click here to see any of our 14 locations across France.
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