When you think of the architecture of France, we won’t blame you if your thoughts naturally drift to The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum and other Parisian triumphs. Gorgeous and iconic, these are some of the most beautiful buildings on the planet, never mind just France or Europe.

However, to think that beautiful architecture exists solely in Paris would be criminal. Rather, Marseilles, Albi and many other French cities and towns have their own gems to boast of. See our top ten below:

1. Château de Chambord

Location: CHAMBORD

Château de Chambord

The royal Château de Chambord in Chambord, Loir-et- Cher was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I and so the purpose of the distinctly French architecture was not defence, but rather decoration. Surprisingly, this beautiful building remains incomplete despite being open to the public. Unsurprisingly, it received over 700,000 visitors in 2007 and continues to be one of the most popular tourist destinations outside Paris.

2. Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia

Location: ALBI

Alby

Also known as the Albi Cathedral, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia is the largest brick building in the world. Unlike King Francis’s chateaux, this was a beautifully gothic building meant for defence and not just admiration. In the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade, the cathedral was no less than a statement of strength and a practical fortress.

3. Château de Chenonceau

Location: LOIRE VALLEY

Château de Chenonceau

Like something out of a fairy tale, the Château de Chenonceau is a swoon-worthy combination of gothic and French renaissance architecture. Also known as the “ladies’ chateau”, for the many women who influenced and inspired its design, it is furnished and one of the most popular attractions in the Loire Valley.

4. Maison Carrée

Location: NIMES

maison carree

It’s no surprise which ancient world rulers commissioned this temple to be built. Marcus Agrippa of the Roman Empire had the Maison Carrée erected around 19BC and dedicated it to sons, and it remains the only completely preserved temple in the ancient world.

5. Château d’If

Location: MARSEILLE

If you love legend and literature, Château d’If is a must-see spot. Originally built as a fortress by King Francis I, and later converted into a state prison for mostly religious and political offenders, it featured in Alexander Duma’s Count of Monte Cristo and became the subject of public interest. It was opened to the public in 1890 and remains a popular attraction to this day.

6. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

Location: LYON

 Notre Dames

Nicknamed the “upside down elephant” because of its four main towers and belltower, Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is the most iconic sight in Lyon. It features two churches, a crypt of Saint Joseph and most notably a gilded statue of Virgin Mary on its roof. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is said to have saved the city from a number of disasters including the Black Death in 1643 and Prussian invasion in 1870.

7. Kammerzell House

Location: STRASBOURG

Not only can you visit this beautiful building, but you can dine and sleep in it as well. Modernised to accommodate nine contemporary hotel rooms and a restaurant, with frescoes and spiral staircases which echo with its colourful past, Kammerzell House is a perfect blend of the now and then.

8. Palais de l’Isle

Location: ANNECY

Annecy

Situated in the “Venice of the Alps”, Annecy, this picturesque building was may be reminiscent of tales of Rapunzel. Originally built as a fortified house in the 12th century, the Palais de l’Isle has acted as a prison, courthouse, administrative centre and currently a museum and cultural heritage building.

9. Fondation Vasarely

Location: AIX EN PROVENCE

The most modern building on our list, and also the kookiest, Foundation Vasarely was established in 1966 by Victor Vasarely. Described by its creator as a “laboratory of ideas”, Vasarely believed that art was for everyone, and not just the privileged and wealthy, and hoped his institution would showcase that. Whether or not you pay its interior a visit, anyone can admire its bold, geometric architecture.

10. Hospices de Beaune

Location: BEAUNE

Beaune

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Hospices de Beaune is no longer used as a medical facility, but continues to be admired as an impressive piece of history and architecture. It is now better known for its famous charity wine auction, held every November, which is used to help fund heritage conservation and hospitals. This tradition originates in the fifteenth century, when the Hospices was gifted vineyards for its good works.

* Laura Fulton wrote this article on behalf of olympiclifts.co.uk.
*Image source: pixabay.com & flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/

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