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Search results for 'Villes et Villages Fleuris'

No. 222-223: Sundays on the Seine (and Marne) and Créteil

One of my very favorite things about living in Paris is spending Sundays on the Seine and Marne.


Every Sunday if we are both in town and the weather is even marginally nice, Superman and I jump on the Vélibs and head down to the Seine. The former mayor of Paris made it a priority to make the Seine accessible to families sharing a Sunday stroll and fitness enthusiasts alike. Since we fall into both of those categories (plus do not own a car), we are huge fans of ex-Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and his progressive policies to improve the quality of life in Paris. We are especially grateful for all he did to make it so easy to jump on the path (and closed roads) along the Seine and explore life beyond Paris.


After almost three years, we have discovered all sorts of chemins, quaint streets and hamlets, and peaceful riverside breaks. We are now very familiar with the point where the Seine and the Marne split, or merge, depending on how you look at it.

We have discovered that the farther you get from the city centre, the more easily the folk smile and dit “Bonjour”. We have come across a few places we would love to live, and admired some striking river front property.


Our latest fascination is the suburb of Créteil (12km southeast of Paris and part of Val-de-Marne). When you arrive by métro it seems like a gray, university suburb with highrises and little character, but when you arrive by bike along the Marne, it is a whole different story. For two decades, Créteil has been one of France’s “four-flower” Villes et Villages Fleuris. The city flowerbeds, particularly at this time of the year, dazzle.

There are over 70 different species of trees in the “town”, numerous fountains, and even a lake. There is some great architecture, including the Château des Mèches, and gorgeous canal and riverside homes. The residents seem pretty focused on outdoor activities. Families dig in community vegetable gardens and race miniature boats on the canals. We checked in with a kayaking club last week learning to roll. We have come across groups rock climbing and canoeing, fisher people, and of course multitudes of cyclists, runners, and strollers.


Sundays may be a day of rest, but for us it is definitely worth the two-wheeling effort to escape from the city and enjoy the Seine and Marne and a little bit of the “country life”.


chemins: paths, trails

dit “Bonjour”: say “Hello”


No. 315-316: Cute Little French Towns and Half-Timbered Houses

France is sprinkled with cute little French towns. Well actually it is more than sprinkled, I think “slathered” might be a bit more accurate. It seems like once you leave Paris, the cuteness-factor goes up by about 100. The French do an outstanding job of flowering their hamlets, and as I have mentioned before, compete for the designation of les Villes et Villages Fleuris (Towns and Villages in Bloom) and the title of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France). They are also quite keen to preserve and present the history of their centres-villes anciens.


In 2013 the Huffington Post published their list of France’s 10 most charming towns. So far I have only visited two of their top-10, which thankfully gives me plenty of undiscovered villages to look forward to in the coming years. Les Plus Beaux Villages Association also provides their annual list, which you can find here—this year there are 157.

While I can’t say that I have been anywhere close to 150 French villages, I have been to my own fair share of small enchanting towns, and every time I turn a corner on my bike or by foot, I find myself smack dab in the middle of another one. And, it just tickles me pink.

Lately the half-timbered houses that add to the image of these fairytale towns have especially charmed my socks off. As these split-lumber dwellings seem to be everywhere I turn, I decided to do a little bit of research and find out how they are built.

It appears that French examples of these houses-of-charm dates all the way back to the twelfth century. Although the country was blessed with an abundant supply of oak, it was still an expensive building material, so most could only afford to use it for framing. According to medieval historians the term “half-timbering” refers to the fact that the logs were halved, or a least cut down to a square inner section. The fact that they used oak so long ago is an added bonus for us; its durability explains why so many medieval half-timbered houses are still standing.

While in modern framed buildings we installed the walls on the outside and inside of the frame, in the ancient half-timbered houses the walls were filled in between the structural timbers. What were they filled with? Why, wattle-and-daub, of course. In case this term is new to you, as it was to me, it was a mixture of different lengths of branches woven together and covered by muddy clay or bricks and sometimes plaster. (The best translation I could find for wattle-and-daub was clayonnage et torchis en français—ça marche? Native French speakers aidez-moi!)


These days most of the surviving structures are extremely narrow and surprisingly tall, and packed together like sardines. This has to do with the taxing structure of the time where buildings were taxes on the amount of street front they took up. As time went on and living conditions improved, faux half-timbers were added as decorations to improve the facades of newer houses. The wobbly and slanting timbers and windows we see nowadays on the ancient buildings are not due to shoddy workmanship of the time, but simply victims of the passage of time and the expected buckling of aged wood.

So there you have it, a brief history lesson on the half-timbering that makes these little towns so darn adorable. C’est très charmant, n’est-ce pas?

No. 97-98: Flowers and Plants of Martinique

logo-villes-et-villages-fleurisMartinique is bursting with flowers and most of their cities are designated villes fleuries. I think they should go one step further and designate the whole of Martinique as a “flower and plant island”. The diversity of flower and plant life on this tiny island knocks my socks off. Take a look (and hold on to your socks).




villes fleuries:  literally flowered villages/cities; a designation given by the French government (since the 1950s) to cities and towns in France that foster not only beautiful flowers, but also improve the quality of city life and make newcomers feel welcome; the designation is based on a four flower rating system.