Avoid the crowds: Calmer alternatives to popular French sites to visit

Swap queues and traffic for peace and quiet at these close-but-calmer options

This summer why not try alternatives like Marcilhac-sur-Célé, Souillac, and Alvignac (top-left, top-right, and bottom-right) instead of the super-crowded usuals like Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (bottom-left)?
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Are you planning some spring and summer days out in France but would like to find a way to avoid the crowds? Try some of these great alternatives to the busiest tourist hotspots, for beauty and culture without the crush.

The high season for French tourism is considered to be from July 14 to August 20, and some of the country’s most stunning villages in Aveyron, Lot and Dordogne are always on the must-see list.

But with limited space and infrastructure, these small towns can soon become overrun, turning a pleasant day out into a stressful scramble for car parking spaces and long waits outside restaurants. 

For a calmer and more original experience, Le Figaro has helpfully compiled some recommended alternatives in the same area, but further off the beaten track. Do you have any to add?

Read more: These are the French villages most searched on Google 

Like Collonges-la-Rouge? Try Meyssac


Meyssac has similar red-bricked buildings to Collonges-la-Rouge (above), but is far quieter

Meyssac has similar red-bricked buildings to Collonges-la-Rouge (above), but is far quieter

Collonges-la-Rouge is a beautiful brick village in Corrèze but with just 500 full-time residents its single main street no match for the 700,000 tourists who descend every year to sample the many ice cream parlours and leather shops (despite leather not being a particularly Corrézien specialty).

Escape the throng and try Meyssac. Just 2km away, it has very similar streets and traditional red houses, with almost as many restaurants, and (bonus) locals who are not yet fed up with visitors.

Read more: MAP: France’s most welcoming towns and villages

Like Rocamadour? Try Alvignac


Rocamadour is stunning, but residents cling to sanity just as the houses cling to rocks

Leoks / Pack-Shot / Shutterstock Rocamadour (above) is stunning, but residents cling to sanity just as the houses cling to rocks

Rocamadour holds near-legendary status in this part of France (Lot), with its impressive peaks, history, and chateau. It attracts a massive 1 million to 1.3 million visitors per year, most of them in summer. 

Such is its popularity that some restaurants have even opted for self-service, to avoid the staff from having to suffer tired (and grumpy) tourists who underestimate the challenging terrain. Residents even reportedly pray to keep visitors away.

Instead, try Alvignac. Just 7 km away, this former spa town has almost as much history, with an art deco building, church, and chateau (although this is not open to the public). There are a few restaurants, but most importantly: far, far fewer people.

Like Sarlat? Try Souillac


Sarlat is classically French, but Souillac (above) has far fewer visitors

If you thought Rocamadour was busy with 1 million visitors, spare a thought for Sarlat-la-Canéda (Dordogne), which attracts more than two million tourists annually, most of them in summer. With a protected historical centre, and popularity among the French, Brits, and Dutch, it is in high demand.

But this means crowds. Midweek and on Saturday, traffic can take two hours to get to the otherwise-picturesque village, and parking is near-impossible.

Escape to Souillac. Around 27 km away from Sarlat and far less busy, it still has serious charm: its abbey (Sainte-Marie, pictured above, right) is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the region, plus the Dordogne river runs straight through town, so you can even take a dip on the warmest days.

Like Saint-Cirq-Lapopie? Try Marcilhac-sur-Célé


A view of Marcilhac-sur-Célé in a valley in Occitania, with water in front
Marcilhac-sur-Célé (above) is an excellent alternative to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

It’s easy to see why this village is so popular, perched as it is on a cliff overlooking the River Lot, and made cool by surrealist poet André Breton, who had a house here. And despite the steep streets and car park 20 minutes’ walk from the centre, 400,000 people flock here every summer.

Stay cool by visiting Marcilhac-sur-Célé instead. Around 24 km away, the village is built around historic religious buildings on limestone cliffs, and set next to the Célé, a languid tributary of the Lot river.

Read more: Two more villages awarded prestigious ‘most beautiful in France’ title

Like Conques? Try Muret-le-Château


Conques (above) is iconic but has many nearby villages that are just as charming

As one of the main stopping points along the French part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route (which crosses from France to Spain later via Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Orisson, and Roncesvalles), many of Conques’ 600,000 visitors at least come on foot rather than car.

However, with its rich heritage, greenery, and narrow streets, it still gets crowded in summer.

Instead, you may prefer to explore Muret-le-Château. One of many charming villages around Conques, it is just 2km away and full of its own history, but far more peaceful and calm.

Read more: SEE: The medieval 'bastide' villages of south-west France

Do you have any suggestions for great alternatives to too-busy villages in France? Let us know at news@connexionfrance.com.