Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011: Pérouges - Back in Time, Meximieux

Today I took a day trip to the nearby medieval village of Pérouges, which is really well-preserved - any modernization such as power cables has been buried underground, so you really do feel like you're back in time (except for the odd car parked here and there). It was a merchant's village of mostly weavers and was fairly independent of any higher nobility, so one of the unique things is that the housing is fairly uniform throughout - no major class distinctions. I'm wondering if Ken Follett got some inspiration from it for "Pillars of Stone"? It has an interesting overall appearance, with the cobbled streets and the walls of most of the buildings made from the same round river rocks, in a palette of pale pinks, yellows and blue-ish grays - a muted pastel harmony.

Over time the traditional industries faded, the train tracks were routed through Meximieux,  and Pérouges was falling into disrepair. At its lowest point it only had 8 residents left. Then, in the 1990s, a campaign was started to rescue it, and now it's promoted as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It's also gained a second life as a convenient movie set for medieval films - there's almost nothing modern that has to be covered up or removed.

I'd planned on splurging on lunch while there, and it's a good thing I did - le "pique-nique" is forbidden inside the town walls! My déjeuner de campagne at Auberge de Coq was quite lovely: the medieval aperitif "hypocras" (red wine, spices, honey), a salad (like my salad at Tain, with an assortment of vegetables, cold meats, and a thin slice of delicious quiche), roast chicken with creamed spinach, pommes de terre gratinées, and endive, and for desert the prototypical Pérougian desert, the galette (kind of a cross between a pizza crust and a crêpe de sucre, with a raspberry liqueur/sauce on the side). The Pérougian streets are called "galet", so perhaps the names are related (is it because the town is a circle, with curving streets like the circular galettes?).

Pérouges is a popular destination with tour buses - essentially there was no one in town but streets filled with tourists, and not much commerce besides restaurants, which is unfortunate - it does have a bit of an aspect of a ghost town. I finished my visit too early (the museum wasn't open - something about Easter) and there was really nowhere to sit and draw comfortably (there's a shortage of grass and benches in this all-stone town). So I walked back down to Meximieux hoping for an earlier train, but no luck.

Poor Meximieux must feel like the ugly cousin next to Pérouges - on its own it's a perfectly nice small French town with its own unique history, but after Pérouges all the aspects of modernity like parking lots and traffic lights felt like harsh intrusions. I wandered through town for an hour and a half, stopping in at the local tourism office, where a friendly English-speaking man gave me several brochures and a couple of walking tours of town pointing out historical sites. The most interesting was the series of "laveries" - communal laundry-washing edifices.

Pérouges, from below

Fields of tulips on the walk to Pérouges

The view from Pérouges to the countryside below

Classic cobblestoned street (challenging to walk on such rounded stones!)

Picnicking forbidden! (You have to go out beyond the village walls)

An abandoned house in Pérouges, with wild plants filling the courtyard

This door has a tiny sign saying "chat méchant" (wicked cat)!

View of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen, which was more important to the town as a fortress than as a place of worship

The tree in the central square - one of the few large trees anywhere in this all-stone town

Call me crazy, but I think someone built this round stone half-pillar just to support the growing wisteria!

The town well

A flag flies over the town

The interior of the church - it was noted that it doesn't follow a very straight line at all, because it was more important to shape it to serve as a fortification of the town's wall

Sunlight streaming in through the deep windows

I love how the interior walls of the church are built with the very same rounded river stone construction as all the town's buildings and streets

And at last - Meximieux gets its moment in the spotlight. Coloured light cast on a pillar in its church.


  1. Weird that picnics are prohibited within the wall - would it be ok on those areas shown on your first 3 pictures? Is that "outside" of town? How far is the walk from Meximeux? Seems a little cheaper to stay there than "in town. Thanks!

    1. Hi André,
      It would be pretty easy to walk outside the walls and find a spot for a picnic. The walk from Meximeux was about 20 minutes - it's a bit uphill and no shade, so not pleasant, but manageable. The second time I went to Pérouges with my mother I booked a taxi in advance to pick us up at the train station, and to return for us a couple of hours later. It was very reasonable - I think only 6 euros one way. If you didn't want to stay right in Pérouges, I'd suggest you'd be better off staying in Lyon and taking the train in - more things to do there than Meximeux, and the train ride was reasonably priced and not too long. I think unless there's a festival, Pérouges is really only a half-day trip.