•Pyrénées-Orientales (66500) • Population: 238 • Altitude: 432 m
This 11th-century medieval village in the eastern Pyrenees was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century, and retains its ancient character and compact interior. Villefranche-de-Conflent is surrounded by steep, forested mountains, and is watched over by the Fort Liberia, a fortress also built by Vaubin. Villefranche-de-Conflent is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) of France and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The walled aspect of Villefranche-de-Conflent is obvious and impressive when you arrive, and even more obvious when viewed from above (from the Vauban fortress, for example).
Inside the walled village, the tourist influence unfortunately overwhelms the Medieval aspect. The narrow, cobblestone Medieval streets are lined with tourist shops, in endless rows, side-by-side, through the village. Even more numerous than the shops are the tourists, filling the narrow streets.
They (or we) are all there, though, because it's such an impressive old village, and with its history so obvious. The shops are all the obvious ones: souvenirs, arts and crafts (many with a Medieval flavor), art galleries and such. Because of the popularity of Villefranche-de-Conflent and the heat of the summer, we strongly suggest visiting early in the day, if possible.
Fort Liberia Visit
Tickets for visiting the Vauban fortress, Fort Liberia, at the top of the mountain can be purchased from a shop inside the old village, from a ticket-taker at the bottom entrance or at the fortress entrance at the top. This means that if you're going up from the railway station, you don't have to worry about going into the village to get a ticket ahead of time.
Discover more in ProvenceBeyond
There are many cafés and restaurants inside the old village. I don't think you'll be finding any "stars" here, but most seem to be pretty good, with fair prices and decent service. We did have a mildly disagreeable experience at terrace café at the bottom of the village. They weren't up to taking even drink orders at lunchtime, let alone lunch orders, and they weren't anywhere near full. Better service higher in the village made up for it though.