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;
External articles to assist you plan your visit to France.