Visit Ain, France
Stretching from Lyon to Geneva and the border with Switzerland, the Ain department has a very wide range of attractions from the mountain scenery of the Jura to the bird-spotters paradise of the Dombes plateau - and a great deal in between!
Ain sights and places to visit
The Ain department is situated to the north-west of the Rhone-Alps region of south-east France and takes its name from the River Ain. There are four distinctive regions within the department: Bresse, Bugey, Dombes and the Pays de Gex each with their own characteristics.
Although we focus on the villages, towns and monuments it is also the beautiful countryside, especially in the Jura, that is a highlight of your visit so be sure to allow time for hiking or cycling!
The western part of Ain is much flatter and includes the Dombes plateau and Bresse regions, while moving east it becomes more hilly, then mountainous as the Bugey and Pays de Gex regions reach the Jura mountains to the north-east of Ain.
La Dombes (south-west Ain)
Dombes is a short distance north-east of the important French city of Lyon. The Dombes plateau north of Perouges and Trevoux is a predominantly flat region with hundreds of (man-made) lakes, that is a very popular destination for bird-watchers.
Perouges itself is a very lovely medieval town that is classified among the 'most beautiful villages of France', and Trevoux also has several sights of interest. For a less visited village we suggest Montluel, to the south-west of Perouges.
You should also visit the village of Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne (to the north of the Dombes), officially listed as a 'recommended detour' and with several attractive medieval colombage houses and a substantial medieval market hall.
The Parc des Oiseaux, in the heart of this region at Villars-les-Dombes, is a very extensive bird park that contains thousands of different species of bird from around the world and is the most visited attraction in the Ain.
The most imposing religious monument in this region is the 19th century Abbey of Notre-Dame des-Dombes at Plantay.
La Bresse (north-west Ain)
Bresse is an extensive region of small lakes, rivers and marshes, open green landscapes and traditional agriculture, mostly flat until it reaches the Revermont region, with lots of small unspoiled villages and hamlets to discover.
The town of Bourg-en-Bresse is best known for its historical centre and the nearby Brou Royal Monastery, while the most visited historical site in the region is the basilica d'Ars at Ars-sur-Formans to the west.
Among the villages we recommend to the west are Treffort Cuisiat and Meillonnas, while to the north at Saint-Trivier-de-Courtes you can see an ensemble of especially scenic medieval farms and buildings.
A good way to learn of the traditions and history of the Ain department is to visit Revermont Museum (at Cuisiat to the west of the Bresse region), which has exhibitions and period recreations to help recall the region in the past, as well as a well maintained gardens with lots of interesting plants.
Le Bugey (south-east Ain)
Bugey has a 'pre-mountain' landscape with tree covered hills interspersed with vineyards and small villages, a quiet region to explore and discover.
The town of Belley is in the Bugey region, and Hauteville-Lompnes is another popular centre for exploring the Bugey region which also has access to the ski slopes in winter.
Close to Belley at Izieu you can visit the Maison des enfants d'Izieu, now a tribute to a colony of Jewish children from Languedoc-Roussillon who found refuge here during the Second World War, under the protection of a Polish family. After successfully being concealed for two years the Gestapo eventually found and captured the children, who were sent to the extermination camps.
One of the most charming religious monuments in Ain is the Abbey of Notre-Dame d'Ambronay, with a history dating back to the 8th century and a particularly notable cloisters.
We also enjoyed an afternoon at the Glandieu Lake, at Bregnier-Cordon to the south of this region, which is an (artificial) lake with a beach and in a pleasant setting. The village at Saint-Sorlin-en-Bugey, further to the west in Le Bugey and overlooked by the ruins of an old castle, was also very pleasant to explore on a summer day.
Tour de France enthusiasts will want to head to the east of the region to cycle the Col du Grand Colombier at Culoz, a very difficult cycle route (or quite an easy walk from the car park if you prefer!) - hard work but the views from the top are exceptional.
Le Pays de Gex (north-east Ain) and the High-Jura mountains
The natural environment of the Pays de Gex, squeezed between France and Switzerland, is known equally for the chance to enjoy some very attractive scenery and as a winter ski destination.
Part of this region falls within the Regional Natural Park of Haut-Jura.
It is here that you will find the most picturesque lakes and mountains, including the Nantua Lake with its many leisure and boating activities, and the much smaller but very picturesque Genin Lake.
The Valserine Valley offers a picturesque alternative to the higher parts of the Pays de Gex region.
The spa town of Divonne-les-Bains is found here in the Pays de Gex and as well as the attractions of the thermal waters the town makes a popular base for exploring the region, including a stroll around the nearby village at Vesancy.
The Fort l'Ecluse castle at Léaz is particularly recommended for its dramatic position below a cliff face (and for the views from the fort across the river valley below, especially if you climb the stairs to the upper fort) while enthusiasts of the writer and philosopher Voltaire will be interested to visit the Voltaire Chateau, where he lived for 20 years, at Ferney-Voltaire.
Although it is predominantly a summer destination for visitors, the ski stations of the Jura mountains also attract visitors here during the winter, in particular around the Monts-Jura Station.
Places to Visit
Selected places to visit in Ain
Market towns & days in Ain
all markets in morning unless otherwise statedAmberieu-en-Bugey: Wednesday
Bellegarde-sur-Valserine: Thursday all day
Bourg-en-Bresse: Wednesday & Sunday & Saturday
Divonne-les-Bains: Sunday & Friday
Oyonnax: Thursday & Saturday & Monday
Selected tourist destinations in the Ain
The following sites have received official "tourist classifications"...
4* Towns in Bloom
Sites of Natural Beauty
Col de la Faucille
Listed 'Remarkable Gardens'
Jardins du Château de Saint-Bernard
towns classified as Recommended Detours
Brou Royal Monastery
Villages classified as "most beautiful villages"
French version: Ain (Francais)