Dombes travel guide

Photo of Dombes

Visit Dombes (Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, France)

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The Dombes is a plateau in the Ain department (Rhone-Alpes region) north-east of Lyon and south-west of Bourg-en-Bresse, centred around Villars-les-Dombes, Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne and Marlieux.

At around 300 metres above sea level the Dombes plateau is an extensive flat area (more than 500 square kilometres) that is covered with small lakes and villages and a good number of historical monuments and castles - a unique environment in France.

Exploring the Dombes

The region is especially renowned as a bird-watching and fishing region - there is an enormous diversity of birdlife to be seen and apparently more than 130 species of bird nest here. The more than 1000 lakes here are man made, dug for the large part by monks wishing to use the clay (the French word étang better describes the environment than lake, because it describes small man-made lakes).

Abbey of Notre-Dame in the Dombes

The Ain tourist department propose several different routes to follow when exploring that start either from Chatillon-sur Chalaronne (the north and west circuits) or Villars-les-Dombes if you are exploring the southern part of the region.

You can see full details of the suggested routes by visiting Ain Tourist Routes and selecting North Circuit, South Circuit or West Circuit at the top of the map. Many of the towns and villages along the suggested routes are also starting points for walks and nature trails in the surounding countryside, have unique monuments to visit, or feature birdwatching facilities nearby.

The 'west circuit' is the shortest at 60 kilometres so is also ideal as a bike route, and the other two are around 100 kilometres long.

Note that the Dombes plateau can have 'unpredictable' weather, and rain, fog and low-lying cloud are not unknown.


Towns, villages and sights

The most important town within the Dombes region is the historical town of Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne, although many of the other smaller towns and villages will also capture your attention.

The main towns to visit on the edge of the Dombes region are Lyon itself, which reaches as far as the south-western limit of the Dombes plateau, also Trevoux and the very picturesque village at Perouges (one of our favourite villages in France) to the east, and Bourg-en-Bresse to the north.

The bird park at Villars-sur-Dombes is a great introduction to the birdlife of the region for both adults and children alike.

The 15th century frescoes in the Chapel Notre-Dame de Beaumont at La Chapelle-du-Chatelard are one of the most interesting historical sights in the region.

Tavernost Castle in the Dombes

Note: photos above show one of the many lakes in the Dombes; the Abbey of Notre-Dame-des-Dombes at Plantay, and Tavernost Castle.

You can find more travel ideas in the Ain guide and the Rhone-Alpes guide.

See also: 

Arrange a visit to Dombes

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Hotels in Dombes best prices


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Map of Dombes and places nearby


Visit near Dombes with France This Way reviews



The hillside walled town of perouges is among our favourite villages to be found in France

Perouges guide


The quiet town of Trevoux in Ain has several historical monuments paying testament to its past importance

Trevoux guide


Not an important tourist town, Belleville does have a couple of sites of interest if you are nearby

Belleville guide


The quiet town of Anse retains some Roman remains that hint at its importance 2000 years ago

Anse guide


As well as exploring the cathedral and town centre of Bourg-en-Bresse, allow time to visit th nearby Royal Monastery of Brou

Bourg-en-Bresse guide
Lyon Presqu'ile

Lyon Presqu'ile

The Presqu'ile region of Lyon is characterised by 19th century architecture and upmarket shops

Lyon Presqu'ile guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Ain

Address: Villars-les-Dombes, Bourg-en-Bresse, Rhone-Alpes, 13300, France || GPS coordinates: latitude 46, longitude 5

Plan your visit to Dombes, Ain

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne: recommended detour (14 km)
  • Perouges: most beautiful village (17 km)
  • Trevoux: recommended detour (19 km)
  • Grand parc de Miribel-Jonage: site of natural beauty (22 km)
  • Parc du château de Laye: remarkable garden (23 km)
  • Vonnas: ville fleurie 4* (24 km)
  • Jardins du Château de Saint-Bernard: remarkable garden (25 km)
  • Laboratoire d’écologie des hydrosystèmes naturels et anthropisés: site of natural beauty (26 km)
  • Parc de la Tête d'Or: remarkable garden (27 km)
  • Jardin zoologique de la ville de Lyon: zoo or wildlife park (27 km)
  • Lyon: secteur sauvegarde (29 km)
  • Brou Royal Monastery: national monument (29 km)

Market days in Dombes, France

Regular market(s) are held in Dombes each Tuesday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Dombes (Francais)