Be instantly transported back in time when you visit the French medieval town of Pérouges. Perched high on a hill overlooking the Dombes Plateau, about 40km from Lyon, it remains preserved as it has been for hundreds of years. As you stroll through the walled town’s cobbled streets, past its fortress church, towers, medieval stone houses, and Renaissance residences, you are exposed to an exceptional architectural heritage built on the back of craftsmanship, hemp growing and weaving. It’s no wonder it’s been officially listed as one of France’s most beautiful villages.
This article is part of our series on French villages, each with its own unique history and culture. Odyssey Traveller visits these villages on our various tours of France, each taking you on a journey through different periods in history and exploring the rich tapestry of these places and the people who have lived there. On each tour, we examine the various cultures and economies that have shaped these villages, including their agriculture, trade, and merchant activity. In doing so, we delve into the wealth and philanthropy that has come out of these places, represented today in the art of their museums and galleries, as well as the palaces and homes built in these periods. Each village we visit will offer a unique snapshot of the past, showcasing the lives of the people who lived there and how they created vibrant and thriving communities. Join us on a journey through time to discover the beauty and history of these enchanting French villages.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a day trip guided tour of Perouges as part of our 23-day Provincial France Small Group Tour. This program explores French villages throughout the country’s remote mountain plateaus, perched villages, dramatic gorges, and Mediterranean coastline, with a key focus on history. It is designed specifically for mature-aged and senior travellers – whether travelling solo or with a companion – who prefer small group travel with an educational focus
This article explores the history, medieval architecture, and attractions of Pérouges as background reading for your private tour. Much of the information is extracted from Stéphane Bern’s The Best Loved Villages of France.
History of Pérouges
Pérouges owes its name to the Italian city of Perugia. Its from there that the village’s founders – a Gallic colony – originally came from. They moved to the site of Pérouges in the early 12th century, establishing their settlement on a well defended hill on the fringes of the Dombes plateau, dominating the Ain plain and on the crossroads of major trade routes. Due to its position, craftsmanship and trade in the region would flourish. Its elevated position, meanwhile, would help safeguard it from the fevers that devastated this country of lakes and ponds before the development of effective medicines.
As early as 1236, the town was granted charters of franchise, becoming autonomous. Its main inhabitants at this point were craftsmen, primarily winemakers, linen weavers, and farmers.
In 1601, the town officially became French. This began a prosperous and famous period for the local craftsmen and merchants on the road between Lyon and Geneva. They concentrated on growing hemp and flax crops and on weaving. The population grew steadily, peaking at nearly 1,500 residents by the end of the 18th century.
The Industrial Revolution, however, put an abrupt end to the booming textile industry. By the early 19th century, roads and railroads had been rerouted to bypass the town. And so much of the population deserted the old citadel, numbers dropping to just ninety people. By the early 20th century only one family remained, most having left for jobs in textile factories close to the railway.
Decrepit and abandoned, the town was sadly scheduled to be demolished in 1909. A group of old families of Pérouges, however, banded together, creating the Comité de Défense et de Conservation du Vieux Pérouges to save it. They recruited the help of Éduard Herriot, mayor of Leon (and future Prime Minister of France), to chair the committee and lead the town’s restoration. The group took over the old Maison des Princes and turned into an eclectic museum displaying furniture, textiles, tools, documents, and other salvaged novelties to exhibit medieval life in the village. They also opened the Hostellerie for tourists’ accommodation.
The town was eventually restored to its medieval glory, providing the groundwork for its future as a major tourist attraction. Its atmosphere today is such that you half expect to come across authentic monks, lawyers, nobles, bourgeoisie, or peasants in chainmail or surcoats at every turn. Unsurprisingly a number of directors have chosen to use Pérouges as a set for authentic period films, such as “The Three Musketeers” (1961), “Monsieur Vincent” (1947) and “The Advocate” (1993).
Pérouges today remains medieval. Thanks to the restoration efforts, it is one of the best-preserved towns in France. It is set between two medieval gates – the “Porte d’en Haut” (upper gate) and “Porte d’en Bas” (lower gate). You can begin a tour at the upper gate, built of large impenetrable stone. This is the last remaining vestige of walls which surrounded the city as an important fortress in the 14th and 15th centuries. Perched on a hill, the fortress town provided refuge from pillaging troops in the region.
The upper gate’s wall forms part of the town’s church, built in the 15th century, which also served as a fortress. Enhancements of the church, including thick walls and narrow slitted windows, provided defence for the inhabitants of Pérouges, who took refuge here when the town was under attack.
Once inside the gate, you find yourself walking on tetes de chat. These ‘cat’s heads’ are pebbles from the plain of the Ain River that have been used as cobbles since the Middle Ages. They form uneven cobblestone streets winding through narrow alleys and streets. Completely pedestrianised, the streets make it easy for one to meander slowly and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.
They’ll take you past highly distinctive half-timbered frontages of beautiful stone houses, filled with mullioned windows. The Rue des Contreforts contains the Maison des Dimes (where the tithe was collected) and the Maison du pressoir. Elsewhere you’ll find the Maison Thubaut, the house of the sergeant of justice and the old salt store.
You’ll notice the houses aren’t all the same. The homes of linen merchants and wine makers differed noticeably in medieval times, due to their function. Wine maker’s homes included lower levels to facilitate storage, while linen-makers needed natural light through their windows to aide their weaving. Windows in their houses therefore were placed higher to catch the sun’s rays.
Pérouges’ main street is the Rue des Rondes, running in a circle around the centre of the village. Along this street you’ll pass the 33 metres deep well and the Maison du Sergent de Justice, complete with an impressive round tower.
The medieval highlight of the town is the Rue des Princes, formerly the main merchant street. It consists of houses dating back to the 1400s, with wide bay windows, which would have historically displayed goods, folding out into the street. The street’s highlight is the Maison du Prince, the former homes of the Dukes of Savoy, the town’s feudal lords. Today it consists of a museum dedicated to the history of Pérouges. The house also contains a watchtower which you can climb for splendid views over the village’s surroundings.
The Place du Tileul (Tilleul Square) is the historic centre of Pérouges. For more than six centuries it served as the town’s main market square and gathering place. Its highlight is a fine lime tree planted during the French Revolution, today providing shade for the square. You’ll also find here the Maison du Petit-Saint-Georges, the Musée du Vieux Pérouges (Museum of old Pérouges), and the Hostellerie du Vieux Pérouges, one of the oldest inns in France, as well as several beautiful medieval houses.
Pérouges also has several craft artisan shops, souvenir stores, cafes, bakeries, wineries, restaurants, and other small shops. Be sure to taste the great local speciality – the galette, a kind of sweet tart made of brioche pastry in a preparation based on sugar and butter. It’s best served with cream and accompanied by a glass of Cerdon wine or a hot drink.
Pérouges is a lively town, hosting several events such as art exhibitions, musical events, historical re-enactments, markets, guided tours and more. Most famously, it is home to two big festivals each year. The Printemps de Pérouges music festival in May-June showcases a range of musical acts from Barboque to jazz. And the Medieval Festival transports you back in time as people dressed in costumes of knights, fair maidens, princesses, and more descend on the town to partake in shows, a market, demonstrations, and a parade. Whatever you fancy, there’s always something to see and do in Pérouges.
Tour of Provincial France
Odyssey Traveller visits Pérouges as part of our 23-day Provincial France Small Group Tour for mature and senior travellers. On this small group tour exploring provincial France, drift through Alsace, Burgundy, Provence and the stunning Jura Mountains on the byways and waterways of France. With a key focus on the region’s history, our French foray commences in Alsatian wine country and concludes in Paris, after detouring through the south of France. This tour is fully escorted, accompanied by an Odyssey Program Leader and local guides.
The regions of France can further be explored during our 25-day Secret France Small Group Tour and our 24-day Rural France Tour. Escape France’s bustling cities to visit the country’s beautiful rural towns and picturesque medieval villages, basking in the fairy-tale natural beauty, Roman and Imperial heritage, and World Heritage Sites.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations designed for mature and senior travellers. We specialise in offering small group tours partnering with a local tour guide at each destination to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours consist of small groups of between 6 and 12 people and are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about France published by Odyssey Traveller.
The following list of articles, represents some of the articles published by Odyssey Traveller for mature aged and senior travellers to maximise their knowledge and enjoyment of France when visiting;
- Exploring France by rail some tips.
- Ten of the best travel books on France
- Ten things to do in France when you visit
- Designing Paris
- The elegant arcades of Paris.
- Questions about France
External articles to assist you plan your visit to France.
23 daysSep, May
Provincial France | Small Group Tour for Seniors
Visiting France, Switzerland
This small group program explores the remote mountain plateaux, perched villages and dramatic gorges as well as the Mediterranean coastline.Travel with like-minded people on this tour especially designed for the mature traveller. The villages of Alsace provide an introduction to the diversity which is France. In Burgundy we explore the local villages. Then onto the Jura Mountains, a region rarely visited by tourists. Finally, Provence and the Côte d’Azur, regions of inspiration for artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso.
From A$15,650 AUDView Tour
24 daysApr, Sep
Rural France | Small Group Tour for Seniors
On this small group Rural France tour, we spend 24 days exploring France beyond its bustling cities, travelling off the beaten track. We will explore the pastoral and provincial splendour of French rural towns which have resisted the dual siege of the automobile and the property developer. Our small group will visit many of France’s beautiful towns where within their walls the villagers conduct their daily lives much as they have done since Napoleonic times.
From A$18,250 AUDView Tour
25 daysSep, May
Secret France | Small group tours France | Places of cultural interest for seniors
Our small group tour designed with the mature traveller in mind, gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breathtaking architecture and admiring beautiful scenery. From Zurich the tour will move south towards Sare before returning north to Paris where the tour finishes, for a significant part of our journey we will be following old pilgrim pathways, taking the group deep into the villages, valleys, shrines and ski resorts.
From A$17,215 AUDView Tour
21 daysJun, Sep, Jul
France on Foot | Small Group Walking Tours France
From A$19,345 AUDView Tour
21 daysMay, Oct
History of France by Rail | Escorted Small Group Tour for Seniors
From A$17,595 AUDView Tour
La Belle France Small Group Short Tour
From A$11,295 AUDView Tour
24 daysSep, Apr
La Belle France small group escorted history tours for seniors
Travelling with like minded people on this small group we visit several culturally significant and picturesque regions of France, including Provence, Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux regions, where we sample wine and learn more about the tradition of wine-making. We also visit the Loire Valley to see its many castles. Finally, we travel to Bayeux, from where we we visit Mont St Michel and spend time up on the Normandy landing beaches with local guides.
From A$18,150 AUDView Tour
11 daysOct, May
French History by Rail European small group short tour
Odyssey's small group tour offers travellers the unique opportunity to live for 10 days as a local Parisian in one of central arrondissements of Paris. The tour is based on tour is based on Ina Caro’s book of the same name, we stay in charming apartments as a base, and explore the city and surrounding areas using train and metro.
From A$10,500 AUDView Tour
Romans in France small group specialist history tours for seniors
Visiting France, Switzerland
From A$15,450 AUDView Tour
22 daysAug, May
Normandy and Brittany escorted history tours for small mature grups
This small group tour for couples and solo travellers is centred on the North West corner of France: Normandy, where the peaceful landscape belies a turbulent past; Brittany, where a strongly separate Celtic culture is still evident; Poitou, famous for its rich farmlands and historic ports; and the Loire Valley, replete with royal châteaux.
From A$14,450 AUDView Tour
22 daysMar, Oct, Apr
Paris-Bordeaux-Provence By Train
For Odyssey Traveller this is one of our unique small group journeys in France, travelling by train from Paris to Bordeaux to Provence and back. Local guides support the tour leader with knowledge about destinations visited over the course of 20 days. There is a single supplement for solo travellers charged.
From A$14,750 AUDView Tour
Southwest France: Along the Canal du Midi
From A$14,995 AUDView Tour
Exploring France's Saint-Malo
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Provence in the South of France is a popular region to explore for travellers and live in. This article introduces you to one of the villages full of the regions charm. An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983 with small group educational tours for senior couples and mature solo travellers.
The French Baguette
The French baguette in 2022 achieved UNSECO world heritage status as a cultural icon. Odyssey offers a range of tours into France and has a collection of Articles to learn more about this leading European country. An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983 with small group educational tours for senior couples and mature solo travellers.