Your nose will be your guide into the tiny medieval town of Pèrouges, about 20 miles north of Lyon. As you stroll around, loaves of freshly baked bread are being set out on the window sill, drawing your further into the labyrinth of small alleys and cobblestone lanes. Next to them, Galettes de Pèrouges, crepe-like pastries made with sugar, cream, and syrup, sit on white lacy paper doilies, tempting you to stop and sample them. This magical little town, dating to the early Middle Ages, on a small hill overlooking the Ain River, is now preserved for future generations. It is also a favorite location for filmmakers. You might remember Michael York as D’Artagnan, together with the other Musketeers, wielding his sword through the streets of Pèrouges.
Founded by a group of craftsmen (farmers and line weavers) returning from Perugia, Italy (after which it is named), the village flourished until the textile industry foundered and the railway was diverted elsewhere. Thereafter, the village almost died until it was resurrected and turned into a tourist site in the early 1900s when Marie Thibaut, a school teacher from Lyon, began efforts to save the village, a perfect example of how one person can make a difference.
Enter through the thick, high walls of this fortified town at the Port d’en Haut (The Upper Gate). The Port d’En Bas (Lower Gate) which was almost completely destroyed in 1466 provided a second entrance to the village. All that remains today is an inscription in Latin boasting about how the Dauphin, who tried to take the town from the Savoyards, was only able to take the door with its locks and hinges. The inscription concludes, tauntingly, “May the Devil take them!”
Through the Porte d’en Haut, the Rue du Ronde, paved with large pebbles, leads you around the center of the village to the main square, the Place Tilleul. A large linden tree (tilleul in French), planted in 1792 to mark the French Revolution, provides shade and a meeting point. A number of exquisitely preserved buildings, some with stained glass windows, most with geranium-filled window boxes surround the square. Look for an intricate sundial on the side of a building on the north of the square. In addition to the signs of the zodiac, the face is decorated with a dragon in the red circle which is the coat of arms of Pèrouges, as well as the coat of arms of Dombes (the region).
One of the most beautiful buildings is the Ostellerie on Rue des Princes and Place Tilleul. This 15th century two-storied cantilevered house has many medieval features including vertical and horizontal beams, a huge walk-in fireplace, stained glass windows. It still houses an inn and restaurant.
For a great view of the village, climb to the turret of the tiny museum (Musée de Vieux Pèrouges) on Place Tilleul. It has an interesting collection of exhibits showcasing the history of the town. You can spend an entire day walking around this little community, a sure way to make you hungry and a perfect excuse to have another Galette.
IF YOU GO
Pèrouges is located about 20 miles from Lyon. If you are driving take the N84 or the A42 to Exit 7. You can also take a train from Lyon to Meximieux and walk up the hill to the village (20 minutes. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. The galets (stones collected from the riverbanks) which “pave” the alleys are hard to walk on.