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In Bourg-en-Bresse itself, the ***Royal Monastery of Brou is a religious complex made out of monastic buildings in addition to a church, they were built at the beginning of the 16th century by Margaret of Austria. The complex was designed as a dynastic burial place. The church was built between 1506 and 1532 in a lavishly elaborate Flamboyant Gothic style, with some classicizing Renaissance aspects. The tall roof is covered in coloured, glazed tiles. Margaret, her second husband Philibert II, Duke of Savoy, and his mother, Margaret of Bourbon, are all buried in tombs by Conrad Meit within the church, which have avoided the destruction that most royal tombs in France have suffered. It’s really lovely and pristine. Interesting background and a worthwhile architectural stop.

This is a big dining town. Our list so far –

L’Auberge BressaneThe most formal dining we’ve experienced in the area, with prices to match. The staff wear tuxedos, the menus are heavy on classics of the region, and the interior is classic fine-dining circa 1960, well lots of Bresse chicken art. It doesn’t quite deserve one star (it’s not bad at all), but for the price I wanted something better than typical, and it’s quite middle of the pack.*
La Bigoudène“The Crepe Place.” In a very old building downtown, run by what appears to be a husband and wife couple. Popular; call in advance, rarely allows walk-ups. I’d like to give this a higher rating, but on the crepe-o-meter it’s definitely just average.*
Food Hall Le Beau MarchéNewer and very hip – a mix of food stalls and bars, with a range of cuisines. It’s not huge, but has a good range of options and would be fun for a casual outing.**
La BuvetteOur latest favorite – a surprisingly great wine shop with an impressive collection and very friendly and helpful staff. Big natural wine selection. The food is good too – salads, burgers, fish and chips.**
L’Entractea popular summer spot with outdoor dining (very limited inside). It’s a bit “hippy,” with shabby-chic mismatched decor and a crunchy clientele. It’s fine, affordable, good for a casual meal.**
Le FrançaisThe most popular restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse (or so the locals claim), this is a very festive brasserie with indoor/outdoor dining, good food, professional staff. Fun!**
Place Bernard (a Georges Blanc restaurant)In the centre-ville, unfortunately rather disappointing. It’s definitely not bad, but it’s not great in an area filled with great options, definitely feeling old, and it’s quite expensive.*
Pulcinella 01Pulcinella 01 was voted best pizza in France in 2021 and 2023, and took the world record in Las Vegas in 2023. That’s a hard label to live up to, but for a very unassuming, rather casual hidden spot, it’s impressive – the pizza is very good.**
ScratchReally good – very creative, well-executed, and interesting menus with wine pairings (and quite affordable for the quality). The owners are a very cute husband and wife duo, and they make you feel very welcome. Based on our experience, this is the nicest restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse at the moment. Book well in advance (we were told two months in advance is typical for availability).**
Le ZinGLe ZinG is next door to L’Entracte, another popular lunch spot with outdoor dining, lots of locals. Fairly broad menu, not especially unique, but good enough and something to please most.**

Belley Arrondissement

Ambérieu-en-Bugey

*Lac Bleu is an odd little destination, an old (perhaps man-made?) unusually blue small pond above a watermill and long narrow valley of houses. Honestly, I didn’t quite get it, but it appears very popular with the locals.  

Ambronay

**Auberge De L’abbaye has one star, is very small, and serves delicious, carefully considered food. It’s not a fast meal, but for a special date night, it’s a good choice.

A hidden country spot, Restaurant Le Pressoir is just outside of town, with a big outdoor patio. The menu is quite broad, including pizza, salads, and traditional foods of the region. Service can be a little spotty. We had it as a two star, but dropped it after two sub-par meals in a row. Ambronay itself is cute and sleepy, with a large (historically important) cathedral converted to a performing arts space.

Pérouges

Perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in the Ain, Pérouges is a well preserved (or perhaps more accurately, well restored) hilltop medieval walled town. It was quite crowded with tourists on our visit on a coldish early April day, and I imagine it can be a zoo in summer. It is pretty, though, and with a good meal booked is a nice stop. I’d give the town 20 minutes (it is really small). We really enjoyed our meal at **Auberge Du Coq Pérouges, which I suspect tries a little harder given a side-street location.


Bourg-en-Bresse Arrondissement

*Bâgé-le-Châtel

Often mentioned as a ‘village’ of character in the region. It’s quite close to Macon, and has several nice restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, aside from an impressive church, it’s still a ‘driving town’ and there’s very little to see or explore. I’d skip it on your travels, aside from a drive-by of the very pretty church (though note it’s rarely open, typically once or twice a month at most).

The village has been occupied since Gallo-Roman times. In the Middle Ages, three parishes were formed on the territory of the lords of Bâgé: Bâgé-le-Châtel around its castle, Saint-André where the sires had built their church (“one of the finest Roman monuments of the department of Ain”) and Bâgé-la-Ville, the most important parish by its population. Until 1272, Bâgé was the capital of Bresse, when it became Savoyard when Sibylle de Baugé, the only heiress of Guy II of Baugé, brought it as a dowry at his marriage to Amédée of Savoy. In the second half of the following century, the Count of Savoy authorized the Bâgésiens to close their city to defend themselves.

Ceyzériat

A five minute drive, or fifteen minute bike ride from our house, Ceyzériat is a larger village with restaurants, La Poste, and our normal grocery store.

  • **A La Maison: A decent pizza place on the outskirts of town. The menu is simple – pizza, planchette, burgers, salad. On weekdays they have a half-pizza + salad for a very good price. Cocktail menu is extensive. Burgers aren’t amazing, stick with the pizza. It’s popular, book ahead.
  • **Chez Nous Brasserie: a nice modern spot that hasn’t quite found its groove yet. Food is okay, service is okay, we’ll try again.

There’s a gorge running right through the middle of town, though it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. The Cascade de la Vallière is seasonal and rather small, but it makes for a pleasant walk from Revonnas. Just past the Cascade is the Grotte des “compagnons de Jehu” – immortalized, as well as fictionalized by Alexandre Dumas in his novel “Companions of Jehu.” This young armed gang ‘reigned terror’ on the region on behalf of King Louis XVIII. The cave itself was their camp, and site of their battle with the military.

The cave was filled with smoke in which each shot shone like lightning; the two troops joined and attacked each other hand-to-hand: it was the turn of the pistols and daggers. […] This confrontation lasted a quarter of an hour, maybe twenty minutes. Twenty-two corpses were counted. Thirteen belonged to the dragons and gendarmes, nine to Jehu’s companions.

Alexandre Dumas, Companions of Jehu

For Dumas, the base of the northern rock of the valley connected Ceyzériat to the tombs of the church of Brou, by an underground of nearly 10 kilometers. In real life you can walk in perhaps 50 feet. To those who questioned him, Dumas replied: “It doesn’t matter if we violate history as long as we have beautiful children.”

Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne

The charming medieval town of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne is a great Saturday stop in the middle of the Doubs. The downtown features a large collection of timber-framed houses, a functioning 17th-century wooden market hall, the original Saint Vincent de Paul House (Saint Vincent himself worked in the town), and the relics of the old castle. The floral bridges and riverbanks of the Chalaronne are quite pretty in the summer, a major point of pride for the town.

  • The **Traditions and Life Museum, about rural life in Dombes and Bresse in the early 20th century, is now in the Ancien Hôpital de Châtillon, a former hospital (affiliated with the Hôpital in Beaune). Built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, the Ancien Hôpital de Châtillon is organized around the chapel which opens onto the two sick rooms. Its Apothicairerie, renovated in 1814, houses a unique collection of 120 earthenware jars from Meillonnas. In the tisanerie there’s a triptych completed in 1527. It’s not always possible to see everything – we’ve seen the apothicairerie and the rather small but cute rural life section. It’s not a long stop, worth it if you’re in the area.
  • The traditional market full of local produce takes place every Saturday morning in the covered market. It’s a big, traditionally French market packed with rabbits, chicken, veggies, and cheese. The original market house was replaced in 1440 by cathedral-shaped market halls: 80 m long, 20 m wide and 10 high. Destroyed partly in 1670 by a fire, it was rebuilt identically thanks to the generosity of Miss de Montpensier, Countess of Chatillon who allowed the inhabitants to take the necessary wood in the forest of Tanay.
  • The **Miniature Train Museum is great. While including trains, it’s a big landscape spanning Switzerland and France, with highly intricate scenes of daily life. People walking dogs, skiing, riding bikes, dancing, eating, working on construction sights, typing in an office, you name it. It’s charming and impressive.
  • The *Arboretum of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne is a nice place for a picnic, with a large and diverse collection of trees. It’s a little noisy due to road traffic, but otherwise very calm and well maintained.
  • **Le Clos De La Tour Restaurant: very good, very rich food. The hotel looks pretty nice too. Note there are two locations for the tour on opposite sides of town.
  • **La Gourmandine has a nice river-side location. Food leans more for tourists, tasty but not elegantly plated.
  • **Auberge de Montessuy is very good, about a mile outside of town. It’s very classic food of the region, well executed, with reasonably priced menus. Assuming you come via car, this would be my pick of the restaurant options for lunch.

Corveissiat

**Cize-Bolozon Viaduct is an architectural landmark, with high arches overlooking the Ain river. You can still drive over it, in a narrow car.

Hautecourt-Romanèche

The **Site paléontologique – Les empreintes de Dinosaure de Villette, is exactly what it sounds like – Dinosaur footprints! It’s a short drive out a dirt road, followed by a 10 minute walk. The prints themselves are large and very obvious, making for a satisfying visit. We also recently were guided to the second, nearby site that is much more discrete (there’s a sign, but only once you’ve arrived), and has even more tracks! Very cool.

Journans

A pleasant walk from our house in Revonnas, Journans has a historic church, lavoir, and one recently redone and rather cute restaurant, **Restaurant a la Source. While the food wasn’t amazing, it was creative and good enough, and the menu constantly changing. The owners/staff are lovely and it’s a pleasant setting. It’s small and books out, call ahead.

Joyeux

Château de Joyeux is a very high end space to rent for events (weddings, corporate functions), with a nice looking Gite attached. It features a large mass of land, with gardens (and the house) designed by the same architect in the late 1890s. It’s very pretty, in excellent shape. I wouldn’t make a huge effort to seek this place out, but if you are invited to an event there, lucky you!

Meillonnas

Meillonnas is a pretty historic town, with some fame from the castle that was transformed into a notable porcelain factory in 1760 for Baron Brown and his wife Anne Marie Carrelet Loisy. There’s a lovely park, a church with historic frescos, and a very good restaurant: **Au Vieux Meillonnas. Dining is indoors and fairly formal, overlooking a garden with peacocks and an old hound dog. Food is great, with rotating regional menus based on the season.

Montagnat

There’s a surprisingly good restaurant in this little rural town – **Le Pot de Grès. Specializing in frog legs and other ‘fruits of the region,’ it’s a higher end place with very reasonable prices and great service.

Out on the roadway, **Au Comptoir Des Viandes is a traditional roadhouse (complete with neon bull on the exterior). It’s good, with gigantic portions and a very American-country vibe.

A bit smaller than Au Comptoir Des Viandes, but of a similar roadhouse vibe, **Le Petrin has a wide menu, including all the cheese-heavy Savoyard classics, Bresse chicken, pizzas, burgers, and lots of meat. The service is fast and efficient and the food was good, if not remarkable. Extensive bar. Attracts a slightly more family-oriented crowd. Good value for the price.

Pont-d’Ain

A popular camping/fishing destination with a history yet to be unpacked, Pont-d’Ain is one of those places that is packed in the summer yet no one seems to have heard about. We need to spend some more time exploring the food options. 

We walked the north side of the river in a loop to Château de Thol, which is a ruin, very hidden, surrounded by fences, and just barely visible. Stand by, however – they started the renovation/restoration in 2022 with a planned opening of 2027. The surrounding area is rural, wooden, gently rolling – in short, level and accessible for families, very pretty.

Pont-de-Veyle

Originally occupied by Ambarri Celtic, the territory of Pont-de-Veyle was then invaded by the Romans in ancient times. It was an important regional destination in the middle ages, and boasts a range of medieval architecture. The local “castle” is now the Marie, with events space and an onsite plant nursery. There’s a good side garden behind for strolling. We didn’t find it to be particularly remarkable, but if you’re in the area it’s a nice place to stretch your legs.

Revonnas

Our very cute little town. The only business is ***La Cuverie, a winery that has tastings a few evenings a week (check the website), and Saturday mornings. The winemaker hosts many events, including e-bike tours of the vineyards and local countryside (which is great!), and dinners on the first Monday of the month.

Simandre-sur-Suran

The D936 is a great road, heading towards the Ain river gorge. Chartreuse de Selignac is a surprising vista, a very large scale former monastery. It’s looking rather tidy lately and appears to be marketing itself as a retreat center. There are nice hikes in the region, and you can get a good view of the buildings from overhead via a reasonably short hike from nearby Arnans.

Val Revermont

Near the end of the Revermont Valley, Cuisiat is one of three towns that make up the municipal district of Val-Revermont. Historically a wine-making region, it has a small collection of historic buildings and is a pretty lunch stop.

In 1944, the village was partially destroyed, burned by German troops with Eastern Legion auxiliaries during their withdrawal on July 18, 1944, to punish it for its acts of resistance (which were significant; it was one of the more active towns of the region in the resistance).

I wish **Voyages des Sens – Restaurant was better – it’s a cheerful, fairly large, popular local spot. Our meal was very average, but we are not sure if it was an off day and will be back to try again.

The **Revermont Museum is good – high production value, clearly well tended and cared for. Focus on the economy of the region (wine, other agriculture) and children, including the historic school room and a large collection of historic pictures from the area. In the back is an impressive and picturesque heritage garden, dedicated to historic foods of the region.

The nearby village of Treffort is a well-preserved medieval city. The origins of Treffort remain uncertain, but it dates back at least the 10th century. The first mention of Trefortium in a text of 974; the first stronghouse (IXth Manasse III) then of the castle (1220). Small parts of the castle (**Chateau de Treffort) exist today, and the grounds and walls were recently restored and opened to the public (April to November, from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm). It’s a nice destination for kids, great views of the surrounding area, lots of games to play, and a casual canteen with drinks, pizza, and snacks. 

We enjoyed a 2-hr, not incredibly strenuous hike from Treffort around the Tour de Montel, which has good views of the Val Revermont, and almost no traffic. There are lots of cows for company.

From the town website, a rather entertaining account of the “the inexorable Savoyard hegemony”: During the Delphivo-Savoyard War, known as the “Seventy Years’ War” (1282-1355), after a brief return to the County of Burgundy (1283 the Duke of Burgundy ravaged Treffort and the Revermont), the region and the village passed for 3 centuries under the Savoyard tutelage on October 15, 1289. Despite a dark period (the Time of Calamities in the 14th-15th century; Hundred Years’ War 1337-1453; the Plague 1348 destroyed half of the population of Treffort; devastation by the troops of Louis XI in 1468-1478; bad harvests…), Treffort experienced a boom that gives it its current face: the village is fortified, the castle enlarged, attachments to France: because there were two, in 1535 and 1601! At the Treaty of Lyon in 1601, Bresse, Bugey, Pays de Gex were given to France in exchange for the Marquisate of Saluces. Treffort and the Revermont have been French since.

Villars-les-Dombes

A smallish, a bit down-on-its-heels town midway between Lyon and Bourg-en-Bresse, Villars-les-Dombes is best known as the home of the Parc des Oiseaux

This area is reasonably flat and marshy; the Dombes provide the largest source of freshwater fish in France. For tourists, this is prime fishing country as well as a major hiking/bike touring region. The area has been occupied for at least two thousand years, evidenced by Roman ruins and some surprisingly grand castles scattered across the landscape.

We had a very good, traditional lunch at **Hostellerie des Dombes – Bresse chicken, grenouilles, white asparagus. It’s just adjacent to the impressive (though private) Château de Bouligneux.The **Park des Oiseaux is impressive – it’s very large, and well situated for migratory birds (storks seem to love it). They do “bird shows” that are well done (various birds flying very close to you), and the exhibits include a wide range of flying creatures as well as a petting zoo, a very cute wallaby area, butterflies, and a huge kid play area. We liked it and would return with children; the exhibits are definitely geared towards entertaining younger visitors.

Vonnas

A small town just outside of Bourg-en-Bresse and famous for the chickens of that name is the home of the ***Village Georges Blanc. While I found the whole experience a bit Disney for my taste, it’s executed with charm and good intent, and the food is excellent. We love their kitchen shop, which is large and packed with chicken-themed decor.

We’ve eaten at two of the three options. Mr. Blanc himself does the rounds (potentially at all restaurants, lunch and dinner?) to greet guests; we’ve seen him twice. It’s a nice touch!

  • **L’Ancienne Auberge: a larger menu with lots of classics, including Bresse Chicken, frog legs, and other ‘fruits of the region.’ Very large spot right in the center of the village.
  • **La Terrasse des Étangs: a smaller set of options, perhaps a total of 10 dishes and well-priced set menus, a short drive out of town. (Also note there’s a hotel on site; our friends gave it a medium ranking, again on the rather disney-esque side.)

Saint-Martin-du-Mont

**La Cour de Récré is a hidden find in a tiny hilltop town. It’s surprisingly formal dining in a patio setting, with sweeping views of the valley and a very local wine list. Go for dinner for sunset views. Reasonable prices, good value.


Nantua Arrondissement

Cerdon

Cerdon is a commune in the Ain department in eastern France, known for pink sparkling wine and copper pots. For a rather petite, run-down village, it packs a lot in if you look below the surface. The town sits at the confluence of three streams that meet to form the Veyron, wedged in a relatively small space surrounded by gorges and high, steep ridges.

The town developed in the Middle Ages when the lord of the region Humbert III granted in 1260 to the inhabitants of franchises and freedoms in exchange for watchtowers (some which exist today). Pre-rail, the town was the midpoint on the post-route between Geneva and Lyon, and saw a surprising amount of traffic. Rail continued the trend into the late 1800s, when more modern lines diverted from the isolated area. Paper, cardboard, and importantly copper smithing took over the area, along with various waves of wine making (taken out by phylloxera in the 1870s, seeing a resurgence in the last 2-3 decades). In WWII Cerdon was the heart of the resistance in the region, taking advantage of the difficult terrain and caves.

**La Vieille Côte (in the center of town) is a real gem – no airs, a rather unassuming facade, wonderful food (menus) and service at shockingly low prices. Make reservations, it’s very small.

From town, we took the excellent, though initially very steep, **Circuit des Vignes in late October – a perfect time for changing leaves. It’s very pretty, not at all crowded, and offers a great vista from the 11th century Eglise de Saint-Alban. Also in town, ***La Cuivrerie de Cerdon is great – while I wouldn’t necessarily rate this the best museum I’ve been to, I would definitely make a major detour to go back again. It’s brand new (as of Oct 2022), thoughtfully tells the story of the town and the copper factory, and sells copper pots made on site (beautiful and quite surprisingly affordable).

The road leaving Cerdon is a beautiful driver’s road, packed with motorcycles and in great condition. **Le Panoramique Restaurant Cerdon is a popular ‘destination restaurant,’ specializing in meat served flaming at your table. Food is great, service is not in a hurry – allow 2-3 hours for your meal on weekends.

The **Grottes du Cerdon is a popular stop above the town and worth a visit for those in good shape (it’s all stairs – you walk down, and then back up). The setting is impressive, I’d recommend it for people who like caves. It’s not as dramatic as the Grottes de Vallorbe in the Jura.On the backroads to Cerdon, you’ll pass through Saint-Alban (not much of a destination, just a small collection of houses). There’s a hidden brewery inside a barn, somewhat confusingly named Brasserie Grange Noire. Call ahead if you want to buy direct (+33.437.61.04.05), it isn’t really a store and they don’t serve food.

Izernore

Izernore is a smallish town with a Roman past – while it’s not really worth a major detour, we found the presence of a temple – **Temple Romain Isarnodurum – rather impressive, right in the middle of a neighborhood of houses and visible from the main roadway. There’s a small local museum as well (haven’t been yet). The (slightly contradictory) descriptions I’ve found online describe the temple as follows – ‘a Gallo-Roman religious complex in ruins… classified as a historical monument by the 1840 list. From the beginning of the 6th century, texts mention the presence of this monument. Tradition attributes this temple to the Roman deity Mercury, on the basis of a votive inscription bearing his name discovered in a position of reuse in the wall of a neighboring presbytery. Others, because of the toponymy of neighboring places, mentioning a Champ de Mars, and on the basis of an inscription discovered in a nearby village, see a temple dedicated to the god of war. Near the temple, excavations revealed a tight network of aqueducts and sewers but also a “water collection chamber”, then in 1863, two hypocausts were discovered. The temple is the only vestige of Izernore’s Gallo-Roman past.’

There are also reports of an ancient Roman bronze hoard consisting of a patera and an oval dish was found in Izernore in 1845, now in the British Museum’s collection.

Nurieux-Volognat

**Bistro Grill le Mornay has been a source of confusion for us – it rarely seems open, though it has a great view of Nantua and the Jura. We finally drove by at the right time and it’s decent, on the fancier side. Not incredibly remarkable, but good if you’re in the area.

The Château De Volognat is a privately owned estate with some parts dating back to 1299, with large parts expanded for defensive purposes during the wars under Philippe le Bon. It’s rarely open, though they have some events throughout the year and during heritage days offer tours. It’s quite hidden, a large property with excellent views of Izernore, and rather sadly in disrepair, though the family (owners since 1880) does use the house occasionally. 

Les Neyrolles

Just off the freeway, **Glacières de Sylans is an easy and rather striking stop. The adjacent lake served as a source of ‘premium ice’ until roughly 1917, operating around the clock to service Lyon, Paris, and points beyond. The factory itself is massive and returning to nature, with trees growing out of the roof. 

Poncin

A small and pretty town beside the Ain river, with well-preserved medieval town walls. A popular summer destination in the region, with a large campground and canoe rentals. The town is on the old road (new roadway just above), which is quite stunning and popular with the driving crowd.

Just north of town, there’s a very impressive castle, Chateau de La Cueille, that is under renovation (as of June 2023, the exteriors/roof look pretty good, but the interiors have a long way to go). Its location made it a strategic place for the control of the river, which once served as a border between the Bresse and the Bugey and which experienced an intense traffic of rafts leading the Bugey and Jura fir trees to Lyon and the Mediterranean.

The castle was mentioned as early as the 13th century, as a fortified house. It’s been through many families and owners, including several important to the region and France. Since 2021, the castle has belonged to the Poret family, which has undertaken its restoration with a view to opening it to the public (in the summer, there are a few open houses you can take advantage of). They open the grounds during heritage days and for occasional town fetes.

Continue on north for another km or so to get to **Guinguette Merpuis Lac de Chambod – a water-side outdoor summer spot. Food was surprisingly good, mostly salads and burgers, with a full bar.

For dining,

  • *Le Poncinois is unremarkable, but does serve all day if you’re dining in a pinch. 
  • Call ahead and get a table at ***AinTimiste (dinner especially) – it’s a very special hidden find, with an excellently creative chef. Reasonably priced menus that change regularly, with interesting wine pairing options.
  • **La Croisée des Terroirs is quite good, especially the burgers. 
  • *Au Faisan Doré is almost a two star, with a nice river-side location. Understaffed, food was uneven (starters fine, mains below average).
 Chateau de La Cueille

Samognat

The **Espace naturel sensible des Gorges de l’Oignin is a pleasant, roughly two hour trail around a wide point of l’Oignin (approaching lake size). While it’s not an incredibly standout location, we’re interested to go back and try the shoreside restaurant, Au Moulin Du Pont. There’s also a small golf course and a rather large campground with a pool. 

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