What does UNESCO mean?
The UNESCO World Heritage List was created in 1972 by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) to preserve and protect places of important cultural and natural heritage around the world. UNESCO sites are places of cultural and natural significance and some of the best UNESCO sites can be found in Europe. There are plenty of unmissable world heritage sites across France including many in western France…
Unmissable heritage sites in France
In Normandy, you'll discover the stunning bay of Mont St Michel with its incredible tidal island topped off by a majestic abbey. Our port city of Le Havre is also on the list, for the architecture of the 'concrete poet' Auguste Perret who orchestrated the reconstruction of the city after the devastation of WW2.
Stretching along the Atlantic Coast of France lies Aquitaine, home of the famous wine regions where both the city of Bordeaux and the vineyards around the village of Saint Émilion are listed by UNESCO.
In the Loire Valley, the magnificent chateaux and the beautiful natural environment along the stretch of the Loire river between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes are protected. The cathedrals at Bourges and Chartres also make the list as masterpieces of Gothic religious architecture. There is plenty of France’s beauty, history and culture to explore across the sites in our list below!
The best UNESCO sites in Western France to visit
Bordeaux, largest urban UNESCO site in the world
Known as the Port of the Moon because of its crescent-shaped harbour, Bordeaux is a beautiful city with lots of stunning architecture. In fact, it has more protected historic buildings than any other French city except Paris.
Its UNESCO-protected area covers a large section of the city - making it the largest urban UNESCO site in the world. Stretching along the riverfront, much of Bordeaux's historic centre dates from the Age of Enlightenment with streets full of richly-decorated, neo-classical buildings.
Founded by the Romans, Bordeaux also has a long history of exporting wine in Europe. So as well as touring the UNESCO site of Bordeaux, a tour of some vineyards can’t be missed too!
Le Havre, UNESCO port city
Le Havre was severely bombed during WW2 and much of the city was destroyed. Auguste Perret headed a team who reconstructed the city in the war's aftermath and was a pioneer in concrete architecture.
Visit the Appartement Téimon to see what a new French apartment was like after the war and don't miss the stunning Eglise St Joseph, Perret's masterpiece. This port city is also one of our ferry destinations, you can easily sail to Le Havre from Portsmouth!
Mont Saint Michel, UNESCO-protected and unmissable
One of France's most famous sights, the Mont St Michel is remarkable not just for the beauty of its religious architecture but also the technicalities of building such a magnificent structure in such an unusual spot.
Built up over the centuries from one church to the striking abbey we see now, the Mont sits in a stunning bay, which is also protected by UNESCO.
Saint Émilion, UNESCO-protected and full of history
A wine-growing region since the Romans, the jurisdiction of Saint Émilion is a landscape that has developed over centuries of winemaking.
As well as vineyards and wineries all across the area, there are also lots of stunning churches and monasteries which sprang up during the Middle Ages when pilgrims regularly travelled through the town on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
5. Bourges cathedral
An outstanding example of the cultural and financial power of Christianity during medieval France, the cathedral at Bourges is an incredible work of Gothic architecture and one of the most striking cathedrals in the country.
This World Heritage Site was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the stained glass and sculptures inside the cathedral are particularly beautiful and look out for the exquisite typanum over the entrance.
6. Chartres cathedral
Another stunning, UNESCO-protected, Gothic cathedral in the Loire Valley, Chartres cathedral is a masterpiece of French Gothic art. The cathedral has long been a major pilgrimage destination and contains the Sancta Camisa, the tunic said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus.
The stained glass windows are astounding and most are the originals from when the cathedral was built.
7. Château de Chambord
The stretch of the Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes is a UNESCO-protected site and the Château de Chambord is one of the most magnificent chateau to be found here.
Formerly a Royal hunting lodge, this gorgeous Renaissance chateau is renowned not just for the architecture but for its grounds - in fact, at nearly 5,500 hectares, it is the largest walled forest park in Europe.
8. Château de Blois
Also in the Loire Valley, the Château de Blois is an unusual mix of styles showcasing the evolution of French architectural styles from medieval times to the 17th century.
With Gothic flamboyance and Renaissance elegance side by side, it is a picturesque sight and the chateau also has historical importance - Joan of Arc was blessed here by the Archbishop of Reims before setting out for battle.
9. Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
Undoubtedly one of the most tranquil views in all of France, the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau is a charming little chateau situated on an island in the River Indre.
Its distinctive L-shape and Renaissance style have made it one of the most famous and recognisable chateaux in France and its serene setting with the chateau mirrored in the water is a sight you will not forget.
Les Jardins de Villandry
Whilst the Château de Villandry is beautiful in its own right, it is the chateau's gardens that have made it famous. Restored to their Renaissance glory by Joachim Carvallo in the early 20th century, the gardens have been improved and expanded by his descendants.
Spend the day wandering through the various themed gardens and there's even a maze.
These are just some of the amazing UNESCO sites across France! Travelling to France with your car on a ferry makes exploring all these unmissable sites even easier! Feel inspired? Holiday with confidence with Brittany Ferries. Our 2021 selection of ferry-inclusive holidays come with free Covid-19 cover and free amendments too.