A stopover village, what is it? It is a town located less than 5 kilometers from a highway or a national, but not always a village, sometimes a small town of less than 5,000 inhabitants. The stopover villages (which can be found in the Villages Stopovers of the Routard guide, Hachette, 160 pages, 9.90 euros) must offer shops and activities capable of welcoming travelers with dignity. There are currently 73, in 9 regions, 31 departments and on 36 roads.

In Moûtiers (Savoie), beaufort and street art

You can love “at the same time” Beaufort and street art. The proof in Moûtiers, who did not wait for the creation of the Village Stage label in 1992 to see travelers pass by, since the (small) capital of the Tarentaise valley was already an important stage on the Roman road which linked Milan to Vienna two millennia ago. Today, we discover a course of monumental frescoes whose colors enchant the walls of the houses. About forty works with evocative titles: Le Jam in the Carrefour car park, or Le Touriste, place de la Gare. A free app – St’art – and a leaflet available at the tourist office list them all. Appetite by this urban hike, we head to the Moûtiers dairy cooperative, for a free visit with a presentation of a multitude of local products and, at the end, a cheese tasting.

In Saint-Brice-en-Coglès (Ille-et-Vilaine), the other “Downton Abbey”

Did Nicolas Peyrac refer to the village of his childhood when writing his hit So Far Away From L.A.? Possible because, to be honest, Saint-Brice-en-Coglès – we just say “cogle” – is quite far… from everything! It is the gateway to Brittany for those who enter it from the north, passing through Coglais, a region relatively unknown to the Bretons themselves. However, between Fougères and Mont-Saint-Michel, Saint-Brice-en-Coglès is worth a stop. In particular to discover the splendid castle of Rocher-Portail and its admirable gardens, on the edge of a pond and the Echelles stream. Massive, the granite building was built between 1596 and 1617 on elegant square plans. This private property can be visited and has a “je-ne-sais-quoi” of the famous house from the Downton Abbey series. The most enthusiastic may decide to stay for the night, when the castle is unveiled by candlelight, before a musical performance and the final fireworks.

In Jarnac (Charente), Mitterrand and Cognac

Jarnac owes him his notoriety: François Mitterrand, the child of the country who became President of the Republic in 1981, was born there in 1916, and he has been resting there since 1996. His birthplace can be visited, coupled with a museum where the gifts received at the time of the Elysée. The tomb in the Grand’Maisons cemetery will attract the curious and political pilgrims. Beyond this nostalgia, Jarnac reveals itself as a small town full of charm, nicely nestled along the right bank of the Charente. The town of Cognac is 15 kilometers downstream, but large trading houses are located in Jarnac, including Courvoisier, Hine or Delamain. At Courvoisier, you can visit the cellar and discover the secrets of cognac making before moving on to the tasting, which of course is forbidden to anyone driving!

In Rocroi (Ardennes), a star signed Vauban

On the way to Northern Europe (we are at the gates of Belgium), Rocroi shines above all for its military past. It is the only city fortified by Vauban, the brilliant engineer and military architect of Louis XIV, which has kept its original plan: a ten-pointed star, with a splendid parade ground in its center, which has just subject to useful repair. From the bastion of Montmorency to the powder keg that has become a media library, passing by rue de Bourgogne where the old guardhouse has been transformed into the Museum of the Battle of Rocroy, the walk reveals charming alleys. In the museum, the evocation of the Thirty Years’ War and the battle of May 19, 1643 is poignant. In large dioramas, more than 2,000 toy soldiers freeze the scenes of a crucial victory for the history of France and Europe.

In Lapalisse (Allier), on the mythical National 7

The most symbolic road of the holidays, the national 7, sung by Charles Trenet, has been diverted and no longer crosses Lapalisse, to the delight of its inhabitants. But this pretty little town and its castle are always worth a stop. On the terrace of the Le Moulin Marin hotel restaurant or for a picnic, the banks of the river, the Besbre, are soothing. The visit of the castle, built in the 12th and 15th centuries, is really worth it: original furniture, guided tour by Jacques de Chabannes, the owner (he is also the mayor of the town), and above all a “golden salon” beautiful. This is an opportunity to do justice to another Jacques de Chabannes, lord of La Palice and second of the name, who died in battle in Pavia, Italy, in 1525, who did not break open doors. The story goes that during the repatriation of his body, the soldiers sang, “Alas, La Palice is dead!” He died before Pavia. Alas, if he hadn’t died, he would still be the envy…” But over time, the last line became: “He would still be alive. Hence the truisms.