Simply put, France is a stunning country. Exploring its profound history, diverse cuisine and incredible landscape makes for the perfect baby boomer travel adventure.
Of course, for anyone planning a trip through France, exploring the picturesque countryside and off-the-beaten-path villages is a must. And we’ve introduced you to plenty of French finds.
But we believe the best travel moments are the unplanned ones. Guest writer Jan Ross, from Wanderlust Wonder, tells us how pure and simple serendipity led to her exploring the little-known medieval village of Perouges. Viking River Cruises provided this experience.
Exploring Perouges, France on an unexpected cruise itinerary change
Visiting Perouges was actually an unexpected surprise on our recent trip to France. My husband and I were on a cruise of southern France with Viking River Cruises.
Because the Rhone was overfilled with the run-off from melted snow in the Alps, our beautiful Viking Delling longship had to berth in Lyon. We were then bussed to locations we would have normally cruised to.
Perouges is not usually on this itinerary but, because we had been so inconvenienced by not having the cruise experience we had planned, along with going out of their way to make sure we enjoyed the experience we were having instead, Viking added a visit to this medieval walled city. We were delighted with the addition.
Perouges is a tiny village northeast of Lyon which is perched on a small hill overlooking the plain of the Ain River. Considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, it has quite a lovely view of the surrounding area.
Probably founded in the early 1100’s by a Gallic colony, the town has always been inhabited by craftsmen, mainly farmers, linen weavers, and wine makers. Perouges officially became French in 1601.
The textile industry boomed until the early 19th century when roads and railroads were re-routed. This bypassed the town resulting in a population drop from well over 1,000 to 90.
In the early 1900’s, the town was restored to its medieval appearance, houses and other residences were saved, and Perouges became a popular tourist destination. Because of this authentic, medieval appearance, it’s often used in movie sets for historical epics like The Three Musketeers.
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A guided walking tour in Perouges
We had already been to several French towns by the time we made it to Perouges, but from the moment we saw the entrance gate, we knew this place was totally unique.
After strolling through the upper gate, Porte d’en Haut, our group walked along the cobblestone lanes to see centuries old, medieval homes lining the narrow way.
The guide pointed out the difference between the homes that had been built and owned by linen merchants and those of wine makers. The wine making homes all had lower levels to store wine and were easy to pick out.
We were surprised when a door to an ancient and charming home opened, allowing us a quick peek inside to see modern furnishings, complete with a large, flat-screen television!
The homeowner also explained the sealed up windows and doors on many of the homes—ghosts were expected to leave via those exits, then they were sealed up so they couldn’t return!
Although Perouges only has about 100 inhabitants, there are numerous artisans with shops as well as several restaurants and hotels in the town and surrounding areas. From handmade paper to a fresh bakery, you can purchase several items to take home.
Guided tours of Perouges are a good idea to help you understand the history of the area.
After our tour, we ended up in the large, central square, La Place de la Halle, where there are several small shops and restaurants with the requisite open-air dining so popular in France. Situated close by, Hostellerie du Vieux Perouges, one of the oldest inns in France, looked like a wonderful place to stay when visiting.
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A delicious Perouge surprise: Galette Perugienne
We were tired after navigating the narrow, cobblestone streets so our group divided, each finding shady, comfortable seating at one of the restaurants where we all ordered cool drinks. Mia, our Viking River Cruises program director, brought us all a very special treat.
Galette Perugienne a la Crème (literally, “pancake of Perouges) looks like a simple cheese pizza until you inspect closer to realize that’s not cheese but butter, sugar, and lemon. It was the perfect, delicious, and unique snack to end our visit to this fascinating village in France.
Disclosure: Jan’s trip was provided by Viking River Cruises.
How to visit Perouges if you’re not on a cruise excursion
Perouge is an easy day trip by train or car from Lyon. It’s a 20-minute walk from the train station to the historic city center so wear comfortable walking shoes.
If possible, avoid summer when the cobblestone streets are crowded with tourists. Booking a private tour from Lyon is another option.
Geneva, Switzerland, is only a 90-minute drive away. So consider including Perouges as a one or two-night stop on a road trip through the Rhone-Alpes region. Be sure to read our tips for planning a European road trip!