Ambérieu-en-Bugey is a sleepy commune some fifty kilometres north-east of Lyon. Bound by the Rhône to the south and the Jura to the north, the Bugey is a region steeped in history – and the castles perched on the hilltops around Ambérieu-en-Bugey are no exception. In late November, Olivier spontaneously suggested a walk in the Bugey to see some of the region’s castles and the autumnal colours (which, for the most part, had unfortunately been and gone) and I was only too happy to swap the city for the countryside for a day!
Noticing the train we had intended to catch was interminably delayed, we reassessed our options and took a slower, local train to Ambérieu-en-Bugey. (It’s worth noting that the on-board announcements will refer to this town only as “Ambérieu”.) Upon arrival, we walked through the town centre, passing a fresque on the way, and out onto Route du Maquis towards the hills. As it was approximately 6.5km to Les Allymes – a hamlet located between the Château de Luisandre and the Château des Allymes – Olivier suggested that we “faire du stop” (hitchhike) so that we would have more time to explore the castles. A look of utter bewilderment must have flashed across our faces, as it was subsequently decided that Austin would pair up with Olivier’s friend Claire, and Caroline and I would go with Olivier. Eventually, we picked up a ride – from the president of the Association des Amis du Château des Allymes, no less – and were speeding up towards the hilltop hamlet. She was absolutely lovely, and even gave us a handful of complimentary tickets to the Château des Allymes!
Since the Château des Allymes was closed over lunchtime, we headed up to the Château de Luisandre. Initially a primitive structure made from wood and earth, it was rebuilt in stone around 1312. As is all too often the case, time has taken its toll on this stronghold and all that remains atop Mont Luisandre today are some ruins, indicating where the fortifications once stood. From the top, we had clear views across the plain and could even see the Château des Allymes further down the hillside. (For anyone fruitlessly scanning the photo below, it’s not in this one!)
It was pretty blustery, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our picnic lunch; we’d all brought a sandwich and some snacks to share. Austin had brought along the end of a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau (the wine drinkers amongst us concurred it wasn’t too bad that year) and Olivier handed round some papillotes. Thought to have originated in Lyon – specifically the Terreaux area of the city – in the late 18th century, over the years these wrapped chocolates containing slips of paper with amusing quotes, riddles or rebuses on them have become synonymous with the festive season. One of mine read: “une chose facile à avoir en décembre, c’est du sang-froid” – Alphonse Allais. This pun on composure (le sang-froid) and being cold (avoir froid) is probably best appreciated in French!
With the clouds rolling in and the wind making us feel more than a little chilly, we headed back down the hillside to the Château des Allymes. When we arrived, the imposing wooden door was firmly shut. Fortunately, ten or so minutes later it opened and we were ushered inside. The Château des Allymes was built in the same era as the neighbouring Château de Luisandre; at the time, there were many conflicts between the Dauphinés and the Savoyards, and these castles were built in an area of strategic importance. The Château des Allymes was restored during the 19th century, and is the only surviving example of a medieval fortress in the Bugey. Inside, there were models of the castle in its heyday, suits of armour, weaponry and drapes bearing the symbols of the Dauphinés and the Savoyards hanging from the walls.
After a comprehensive tour of the château, we decided to wend our way back to Ambérieu-en-Bugey via the Château de Saint-Germain. We followed the red and white GR markers through the wooded slopes, taking in the last rays of sunshine and autumnal colours. When we emerged from the woodland, we could still see the Château des Allymes in the distance.
Continuing our descent, we stumbled upon a windfall of little apples. After checking them for wriggly inhabitants, we rinsed a few and sampled them – rather tangy, a little like those from the tree in my grandma’s garden. When we reached the Château de Saint-Germain, the sun was bathing the trees in a lovely golden light.
Whilst we had had the other two castles to ourselves, this castle – being nearer to the town – had attracted more visitors. The crumbling walls and vestiges have stood the test of time better than those at the Château de Luisandre, and all in all it was a scenic end to the day.
The sun set as we made our way back into Ambérieu-en-Bugey. As we had just missed a train, we stopped for a hot chocolate at a café by the station before returning to Lyon.
- If you fancy visiting the Château des Allymes, it’s worth consulting their website prior to visiting, as opening hours change throughout the year; an hour is more than sufficient to tour the fortress.
- If you don’t fancy forking out for the IGN 3130E (Ambérieu-en-Bugey) map, you can download this route from Visorando.