In researching good day trip options from Lyon, one stood out from all the rest. A half hour train ride away and named one of France’s most beautiful villages, Perouges is a historic medieval town timelessly preserved. I booked us a 7AM train out of Part Dieu to get us started – an early start for our first full day in Lyon.
Established in the 12th century, the walled city was home to craftsmen largely successful due to the proximity to Lyon and Geneva trade route. While it is a tourist destination, it is without the tchotchke shops and the locals that preserve the town actually live in the town.
We arrived to the Meximieux-Pérouges train station before 8AM and after getting a feel for where we were (we were the only ones that got off the train), we made our way towards Perouges. It was about a twenty minute walk and it was not difficult to navigate (there are many signs) though there is some up hill towards the end as the city center sits up on a hill. It was odd that we did not pass any people but we did pass some sheep along with beautiful vistas of the rolling farm land.
Arriving at the city gates, it was like being transported back in time. I did not know what to expect from a “preserved medieval town” but it was not just stunning but captivating.
We had the entire place to ourselves for over an hour, studying the details on the store fronts, wandering down different alleys, discovering the historical city. It was amazing how preserved and maintained it was – and that people still live there! It was like what medieval times or the renaissance fair tries to achieve but this was the real deal and the authenticity was frozen in time.
Cobblestone on the road was uneven and definitely completed by hand. The stone that created the buildings and the wood shutters gave a romantic and warm feel. The windows and doors were all significantly shorter than modern standards – Kevin would have to duck a little to make it through.
After wandering the winding streets, we came to what we figured was the main square. We learned that the inn, Hostellerie du Vieux Perouges, is one of the oldest inns in France and the tree in the middle was planted in 1792 during the French Revolution – hence giving the square the name “LaPlace du Tilleul” – liberty tree!
It was around 9AM we began to notice locals emerge and vehicles enter the city around but town still remained closed. We ended up seeing the entire town in under an hour’s time, taking hundred of photos (perfect with no other people in them). The church was the only thing open so we sat there for awhile, even though it was kind of creepy to be inside. Puzzled with how to proceed, it felt silly to sit a wait.
Once 9:30AM arrived, we were hoping that at least one store would be open but alas, everything remained quiet. There were cars that came through the town so it was evident that there was a start of “opening” but many stores had 10AM or later. The one thing I had star’ed to go to, Ô Galettes de Sophie, did not open until 11AM and waiting two hours didn’t feel right. Oh, and the crepe place just outside the front gate requires three crepe minimum – at least that is how we translated the sign.
The local specialty I was hoping to try was the Galette de Perouges. Created in 1912 and has remained unchanged since its creation, a Galette looks just like a pizza – even cut in slices like a pizza but it is actually sweet. The dough is a brioche and it is topped with butter and sugar before baking to caramelize the sugar. Sounded to me like a great breakfast treat if someone would open.
With really nothing else to do at this time, we decided to make our way back to the train station hoping for a train in the 10oclock hour that could take us back to Lyon giving up more exploration time. On our way out, we heard quite a bit of activity out of one stand. Galettes! My birthday wish was granted. We got to try them after all before heading back to Lyon. A pretty tasty treat and welcomed breakfast snack.
Overall, I think we should have shifted the time we visited Perouges. While it was awesome to see the town completely empty, even an hour would have made a difference. It would have been fun to see the town in action. If you go, it is definitely worth the visit but depending on why you are going, I would recommend going later in the day to get the most activity.
This was a wonderful and easy day trip from Lyon. I just love this dedication to tradition and the commitment against commercialism. I know that is a challenge this day to keep the tourism stream open by tempting visitors with cartooned and exaggerated versions of the real deal (ie no knights walking around) and it really keeps Perouges so special. I can see why is it continually named one of the most beautiful villages in France – there is nothing else like it!