A rich history, revered monuments, stately homes, a penchant for baroque and an affinity for the gothic make France a must-visit for fans of architecture. To help kickstart your exploration, these are France's five best architectural destinations, according to international travellers.*
Baroque squares in Arras, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Flemish-baroque style wooden townhouses in Arras
Matthias of Arras was one of the Arras’s best-known inhabitants and is credited with working on much of Prague’s papal architecture, including the Karlstein Castle and Saint Vitus Cathedral. Arras itself, however, is known for it’s unusual Flemish-baroque style wooden townhouses. These buildings were damaged during the First World War and later rebuilt from bricks, although all other architectural details were kept intact and the houses are just as pretty today as they were during the 17th century. La Grand' Place and La Place des Héros are townhouses that surround the Baroque city squares and visitors hoping to stay in this picturesque part of town are recommended to check into Livin Arras.
Gothic gargoyles in Bordeaux, Aquitaine
The Cathédrale Saint-André in Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s spider-like Cathédrale Saint-André is recognisable by the steel girders that arch down from the highest point of the cathedral, almost as if part of the building were about to get up and scuttle away. The effect is impressive, and matched by the Gothic and gargoyled Tour Pey-Berland. This imposing bell tower was built separately to the cathedral, in order not to place undue strain on the structure. There is some confusion over exactly how many steps the tower has, but whatever the number, the climb is worth it for the unparalleled panoramic views on offer. You won’t even need to squint to spot L'Hôtel Particulier, a tranquil 19th-century townhouse within a few minutes walk of Bordeaux’s architectural highlights.
Timber houses in Troyes, Champagne - Ardenne
The intricate timber houses in Troyes
The timber houses of Troyes are a whimsical kaleidoscope of colour, with owners painting the timber frames anything from forest green and egg-yolk yellow, through to pale blue and faded umber. Despite the well-preserved nature of Troyes’ streets, contemporary travellers were almost deprived of this sight by a fire that nearly consumed the entire town in 1524. The Medieval and Renaissance houses that survived are complemented by cobbled streets and wrought-iron lamp posts, adding to the timeless atmosphere of this northern town. Speaking of atmosphere, guests checking into the Le Chat De La Cathédrale will find their own timber house, complete with a courtyard covered in climbing-wisteria.
Contemporary design in Nancy, Lorraine
Quai Ouest by the River Meurthe. Shot by Anne Démians-JP Porcher
Nancy is known for its historical baroque and Art Nouveau buildings (the cathedral is a highlight) but it’s the city’s contemporary architecture that has captured the imagination of so many travellers. Perched on the banks of the River Meurthe, the Quai Ouest has over 640 horizontal oval windows and, from a distance, looks rather like a cheese-grater that’s fallen from a passing UFO. The buildings inner courtyard is a communal space, designed to maximise collaboration and leisure while still giving visitors easy access to the various onsite restaurants, offices and studios. Travellers hoping to explore Nancy’s past are recommended to check into La Villa 1901, a restored townhouse surrounded by ancient trees.
Norman architecture in Le Mont Saint Michel, Lower Normandy
The bridge leading to Le Mont Saint Michel
For first-time visitors, it’s hard to believe that Le Mont Saint Michel didn’t descend from the skies or rise from the sea. Despite the near-ethereal beauty of the island’s Norman and Gothic architecture, contemporary developments are just as interesting. A recent addition of a light bridge allows Le Mont Saint Michel to be reached by foot and at certain hours you can feel the bridge rise and fall below you, mimicking the waves. It might sound terrifying but the bridge has been certified as completely safe and it really is a marvel of modern design. For a room with a view, stay at La Jacotière, a renovated farmhouse with a shuttle service to the island.
**These destinations were the most highly rated in France by Booking.com customers for ‘architecture’.