Located north of Lyon, in lesser-known and more authentic France, definitely off the beaten tourist track, Bourg En Bresse is a perfect destination for an autumn getaway and the atmosphere of the Christmas season.
This enchanting historical town also stands out for its gastronomic vocation, linked in particular to the breeding of its tasty poulet, the only chicken in Europe to be awarded a PDO label. The true star of the town, the chicken of Bourg En Bresse is even dedicated a four-day festival in mid-December, complete with markets, competitions, gastronomic stands and music festivals.
Bourg-en-Bresse has a charming medieval old town, made up of small streets, picturesque alleys, pastel-coloured half-timbered houses, Renaissance mansions and Romanesque churches. A little gem to be discovered strictly on foot, lingering in the craft shops, bistros and most characteristic corners.
We recommend you look for the symbol of the famous chicken, which is often depicted with roosters and hens on decorations and house signs. Don’t miss the most famous half-timbered houses: maison Hugon1 in rue Gambetta, Maison Gorrevod2, in rue du Palais, both classified as historical monuments, and the Maison du Vieux Bourg, in rue Jules Migonney.
The Royal Monastery of Brou is a masterpiece of flamboyant Gothic architecture, strongly desired at the beginning of the 16th century by Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy, as a tribute of eternal love for her late husband, Philibert the Fair. This monastic complex, consisting of a church and three cloisters, is an unexpected jewel in such a small and cosy town.
You will be enchanted first by the roof of glazed tiles, inspired by Burgundy, but above all by the triumph of the white stone marbles that stand out in the Gothic forms, embellished with stone lacework in which the crossed letters of the two royal spouses are engraved: P for Philibert and M for Marguerite. A strong energy mixed with refined delicacy is condensed in one building: in fact, the building was at the same time mausoleum, monastery and princely residence.
Bourg-en-Bresse is home to one of the oldest apothecaries in France, the construction of which began in 1782. This imposing building is organised around a vast cloister, surmounted by the dome of the chapel.
But the real treasure is to be found in the south wing: here you can admire the laboratory where the apothecaries prepared the medicinal remedies, the ancient press for the production of oils, juices and syrups, the mortars that were used to reduce the ingredients to fine powders, the stills for distillation, the cast-iron stove for infusions and decoctions. A journey into the medicine of the past.
Just as incredible is a visit to the library with ancient volumes with leather covers and gilded letters: science books, recipes, codices and old encyclopaedias that contained the knowledge for making medicines and remedies for the sick.
Also worth admiring is the wonderful collection of pottery, boxes and verrines displayed on the shelves with 18th century oak panelling surrounding the space. Everything has remained intact: scented balms, dried fruit, cloves, star anise, mysterious ingredients. Seven niches house large pots, reserved for panaceas. The visit lasts about two hours.
Unique in France, the mechanography museum offers a surprising collection of old typewriters and calculators. You will take a leap back in time and discover the machines used in companies, before the appearance of computers and smartphones.
Some absolutely remarkable pieces are on display, such as a typewriter from 1878, a Braille machine or even a Chinese machine with its 3000 signs in Mandarin. These great inventions, developed by true mechanical geniuses, revolutionised writing, accounting and calculation until the arrival of computers in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is one of the oldest monuments in the city: its Gothic arch stands out, testifying to an important religious past as a former Dominican convent.
The church of Notre-Dame rises above the city with its tall, striking white silhouette and is famous for the cult of the Black Madonna, the city’s patron saint.
Bourg En Bresse preserves not only the vestiges of the medieval period but also the splendour of the 18th century, which enlightened the town by building promenades in the greenery and noble residences in stone, sometimes from local quarries. L’Hôtel de Bohan7, l’ Hôtel Cabuchet and l’ H2M - Hôtel Marron de Meillonnas8 are the most sumptuous buildings that tell of the town’s past.
As do the wide Avenue Alsace Lorraine9 and its elegant stone buildings, which have transfigured the narrowness and sinuosity of the medieval city. In fact, this Haussmannian boulevard was opened in 1895 to connect these new districts, Plateau and Bel-Air, to the old city.
A stone’s throw from Bourg-en-Bresse, the forest of Seillon has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, when it belonged to the monks of the Charterhouse of Notre-Dame-de-Seillon.
This immense green lung stretches over 600 hectares on the outskirts of the city, with hundred-year-old trees and a plant composition that becomes marvellous in the bright colours of autumn. There are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities here: from enchanting walks to trails for young explorers, from bike trails to fishing lakes and playgrounds designed for families with children.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Bourg En Bresse is located a short distance from Lyon and is easily accessible in several ways, either by train or by plane.
A TGV station is located in the city centre, connecting Bourg-en-Bresse with Paris in 1 hour 50 minutes and Geneva in 1 hour.
If you wish to reach the city by plane, the nearest airports areLyon Saint-Exupéry at 80 km and Geneva Cointrin at 115 km.
Once in Lyon, the Lys Shuttles company offers daily connections to the city centre.
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Bourg En Bresse, in the heart of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps region, is about 109 km from Geneva and 80 km from Lyon.