In the face of changing agricultural production methods and current debates in agro-politics, and the consequent socio-economic challenges in the countryside, many rural communities everywhere invoke their history, heritage, traditions, local identity and memory to articulate their survival. In industrialized countries, the pressures of industrialization and urbanization restructured rural livelihoods to extinction, leading scholars to examine the "rural residue". As the agrarian landscape disappeared, its rebirth is often mediated through patrimonialization. Multiple labels have emerged branding landscapes as heritage, ranging from the prestigious World Heritage designation to localized labels. This research investigates the complex and multi-scaled processes by which vernacular places are classified and constructed as <italic>heritage</italic> and analyzes the impact at the local level by stepping behind such a label. Fieldwork centers on a case study in France where, based on specific heritage and development assessment criteria, the <italic>Association of the Most Beautiful Villages</italic> has granted its coveted label in rural areas for the last thirty years in response to communities' mobilization and engagement in the valorization of their heritage resources. This comprehensive ethnography explores the ways in which the renowned organization shapes place-based development that is grounded in local architectural patrimony, sense of place, community involvement and vernacular culture to foster tourism and socio-economic rehabilitation. Photo-elicitation and interviews conducted in member-villages with institutional actors, mayors and residents provide insight into what ensues in places tagged as heritage sites. After reviewing the administrative and cultural context of heritage preservation in France, the study highlights how residents relate to place, perceive changes occurring in the heritage landscape they inhabit, and participate in heritage management and landscape design. Conclusions suggest that a development model based on using local heritage as a resource results in the reconfiguration of residents' gaze and rescaling of insider-outsider and public-private dichotomies at the same time as place labelization is integrated in local governance. The model also advances a normative view of the rural heritage-scape that transcends the local through the network's national dimension and diffusion abroad. Understanding how heritage preservation reshapes French villages gives important cues for rural localities around the world contemplating similar development paths.