Bourg-en-Bresse: City guide and history (France)

Get the guide to the town of Bourg-en-Bresse in central France. From its history, top attractions, where to stay, and more.
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Bourg-en-Bresse is a charming town located in central France, known for its rich history, architecture, and gastronomy. Situated in the Ain department, it is part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

The town has a long history dating back to Roman times. In the Middle Ages, Bourg-en-Bresse became a prosperous trading town, eventually becoming the capital of the historic region of Bresse under the Dukes of Savoy.

After much conflict, the town became a part of France after the Franco-Savoyard treaty was signed in Lyon in 1601, marking the return of Bresse to France. The old ramparts and citadel of the city were demolished in 1644, so that the city would be fully under French rule.

The historic center of Bourg-en-Bresse today is a picturesque area with narrow streets, colorful buildings, and charming shops and cafes. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the town, admiring the architecture and soaking up the atmosphere.

Things to do in Bourg-en-Bresse

1. Royal Monastery of Brou

The Royal Monastery of Brou is a large religious complex built on the edge of Bourg-en-Bresse city center in the 16th century.

Royal Monastery of Brou

It was built by Margaret of Austria, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Margaret was betrothed to the future King Charles VIII of France for political reasons. However, he renounced the treaty in the autumn of 1491 and forcibly married Margaret’s former stepmother the heiress Anne, Duchess of Brittany.

Margaret would eventually marry Philibert II, Duke of Savoy and was devastated when he died. Both Margaret and Philibert are buried at the Royal Monastery of Brou.

This magnificent Gothic monastery is one of the town’s most iconic landmarks and is a must-see for any visitor. The monastery is known for its stunning architecture, intricate carvings, and beautiful gardens that you can wander through.

2. Bourg-en-Bresse Cathedral

Known as Co-cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation de Bourg-en-Bresse, this Roman Catholic dates back to the 16th century.

Bourg-en-Bresse Cathedral

It is a major landmark in the city, immediately attracting attention. Legend has it that a local shepherd discovered an image of the Virgin Mary in the trunk of a willow treeand brought it back to the church.

An alternative version says that a statue of the Black Madonna was being carved in the wood of the tree. Both an image of the Virgin Mary and statue of the Black Madonna can be seen inside the Cathedral.

3. Apothicairerie

One of the more quirky tourist attractions in Bourg-en-Bresse is a historic apothecary shop that was a former hospital pharmacy selling herbs and other medicinal plants.

It is located footsteps away from the Royal monastery of Brou, inside the old stone walls of the Hôtel-Dieu. You can walk through and see the old laboratory as well as the pots and jars holding ancient medicines.

It was transferred here at the end of the 18th century, with the apothecary shop closing down in 1963. Today, it is managed by the Bourg-en-Bresse Tourist Office to keep its historic heritage.

4. Market days

There are several outdoor markets held in Bourg-en-Bresse including Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Place du champ de foire and in the town center.

farmers market in France

There is also market on Sunday mornings from 8 a.m. to 1 the Vennes neighborhood. There is a bit of everything from farmers’ produce, local souvenirs, charcuterie, cheeses, and much more.

5. Wine and local specialties

One of the big-names in French wines is the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region. It has the highest number of officially recognized appellations (AOCs) in France, with no less than 37 Grand Crus.

There are 5 main areas in Burgundy including Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâcon.

Burgundy wine region
Map of Burgundy wine region in France

Chablis (white wine) is the most famous name we tend to hear from Burgundy, and but Côte de Beaune also has an equivalent 7 white grand crus in the area. For reds, Côte de Nuits has 24 grand crus, mostly pinot noir reds that are some of the most expensive wines in the world.

Some of the best Burgundy wines in the world are:

You can read more about Burgundy wines and how to read a French wine label here.

In addition there are several local Burgundian dishes like the Boeuf Bourguignon, fondue bourguigonon, gougères, etc. that are local to the area.

Bourg-en-Bresse also famous for its bresse breed of chicken, which is a “Protected Designation of Origin” under EU law. The nearby capital of Burgundy is the city of Dijon, which is famous for its dijon mustard.

Varieties of Dijon Mustard
Varieties of Dijon Mustard

The area is also famous for its cheeses such as Mont d’Or, Comté, and more. You can purchase some of these specialties in the shops around Bourg-en-Bresse, and even get some as souvenirs to take home.

Historic restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse

How to get to Bourg-en-Bresse?

Bourg-en-Bresse is easily accessible from Paris, being about 265 miles (425 km) away. It takes about 4 hours to drive, and there is also a direct TER train from the Paris Gare de Lyon station to Bourg-en-Bresse which takes about 2 hours. The capital of Burgundy, the city of Dijon is about 1h20 by car.

How easy is it getting around?

The town center of Bourg-en-Bresse is quite walkable as it is quite small and flat. The center is not usually pedestrianized so you can drive around as well (although parking can be an issue).

There is a small parking lot that is in between the Royal Monastery of Brou and the town center (about 5 minutes walk), next to the Parc des Baudières.

How many days should you spend?

It takes about a day to explore Bourg-en-Bresse, which you can do as a day trip from Dijon or stay overnight to enjoy the bars and restaurants in the area. You can also coordinate your visit to Bourg-en-Bresse along with visits to nearby towns like Maçon, Auxerre, and Avallon.

Where should you stay?

There are a couple of lovely hotels in the center of Bourg-en-Bresse that you can stay at such as:


If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about top tourist attractions around France. A bientôt!

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