Bourg-en-Bresse means 'town in Bresse.' Bresse is a former province in Ain departement (county in English) in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. When I lived there, the city had a population of around 40,000, and is more or less the same figure now. The nearest big city is Lyon about 70 kilometers or 45 miles away. I was in Lyon many times to catch international flights out of France.

In its own way, Bourg-en-Bresse is a charming little city. There are many attractions in and around the city. I would say the city's landmark is the Brou cathedral which was built in the early 16th century. Incidentally, I lived quite close to this cathedral and could actually walk to it. There is another church downtown called the Notre Dame cathedral (not to be confused with the more famous Notre Dame in Paris), also built in the 16th century.

From my apartment the city center is a little farther away, but still within walking distance, maybe about 15 minutes or so. The main street is Avenue Alsace-Lorraine where a number of banks, restaurants, hotels, stores, travel agencies, etc. are located. The central library and tourist office are also there. I mention the library because I was there so many times to borrow their books. Naturally, most of the books are in French, but they also have a small English section.

The Prefecture is also on Avenue Alsace-Lorraine. I should explain that the Prefecture is a government office where people in France go to apply for their passports, driving licenses, ID cards, permits, etc. Every town and city in the country has a Prefecture or Sous (Sub) Prefecture as it is the main government administrative bureau. Needless to say, I was there a number of times during my stay in France. I was told that the Prefecture in Bourg-en-Bresse was used as the Gestapo headquarters during the German occupation of France during World War 2, and I have often wondered if any wartime ghosts still walked the hallways at night!

During the summer months all the chairs and tables are put outside by the restaurants in town, and these sidewalk cafes are always packed with customers. It is said that this is the favorite pastime of French people (socializing in outdoor cafes) especially in summertime, and I must say that I enjoyed the times I sat out there having a beer or some other refreshments.

As most people know, the French are very proud of their cuisine, and more so in the vicinity of Bourg-en-Bresse which is famous for its 'poulet de Bresse,' meaning a quality breed of chicken which originates from this area. It is regarded as a premium product as the chickens are raised by exacting standards in small farms. It is said the demand for this chicken is so high inside the country that they cannot export it. I remember one time when I was in the car with my French friend, and I remarked about the Bresse chicken being the best in France. His young son interjected with, "not only the best in France, but the best in the world!' By the way, this poulet de Bresse is unique among chickens as they have blue feet.

As in other cities and towns across Europe during winter, the center of Bourg en Bresse is mostly quiet and devoid of people due to the short days and long nights. However, the streets become vibrant again as soon as spring breaks. By the time summer hits, usually at the end of May, flowers begin to bloom again and the leaves are back in the trees. There are street musicians, concerts and other festivities all over the town, particularly in 'centre ville' or city center.

A popular recreational spot just ouside the city is 'Parc de loisirs de Bouvent' (Bouvent amusement park) which is a big park where many townspeople go to relax. I avoided going there on weekends and holidays as it was always crowded. It is an ideal place for a family outing as there are a lot of amenities, such as supervised swimming beaches, fishing, sailing, canoeing, picnic areas, play areas for the kids, snack bars and even a golf course.

As mentioned earlier, Bourg-en-Bresse is not far from Lyon which is known for its many fine restaurants and rich history, and the third largest city in France. You can also cross the border into Geneva, Switzerland by car and it takes only about an hour and half at most. Or take a leisurely train journey which is of two hours duration. I personally rank Geneva high among the most beautiful cities of Europe. Several of my friends and family visited me when I lived in Bourg-en-Bresse and I have always taken them to Geneva.

Be sure to come to Bourg-en-Bresse during spring or summer as winters there tend to be bleak and gloomy. Stop first at the tourist office on Avenue Alsace Lorraine. The helpful staff there speak English, German and Spanish, and will provide you with a lot of information, plus free brochures and maps, about the city and its environs.

All in all, I have fond memories of Bourg-en-Bresse, and as I reminisce about it, I would also like to urge those who are planning to visit France, to make a side trip and spend some time in this little corner of the world.

Vive la France!