Between the busy metropolises of Lyon and Geneva lies one of the most beautiful villages in France: Perouges. Sitting high on a hilltop, this medieval city dominates the surrounding Dombes plain and was once an important wine-making and weaving center. It managed to stay independent throughout centuries of history and has never been owned by a particular lord or family, although the Prince of Savoy’s house with its 13th century garden is pretty fine.
The narrow, uneven cobbled streets and hilltop location which we prize today when we visit Perouges were the very things that nearly destroyed it. 19th-century industrialization took away the town’s functions and roads and railways bypassed it; the population fell from 1500 to 8. In the early 20th century the town was slated for demolition but a preservation committee saved it and from 1911 the buildings began to be preserved.
Today the population is around 800. To enter the city you pass through one of the two original gates of the city walls: Porte d’en Haut (Upper Gate) which forms part of the 15th century L’Englise Fortresse or Fortress Church, or Porte d’en Bas (Lower Gate) which was virtually destroyed in the 15th century during a battle of independence. Circling the town is the Rue des Rondes, the main street with a high side for the wealthier to walk and keep their feet dry. At the center of town is the Place du Tilleul and here stands the 200 year old tree of liberty. In the nearby Rue de Princes, the main merchant street of town, is the Ostellerie, a 13th century house (which now houses a restaurant) and opposite a small museum of the town’s artifacts.