The Dombes or Les Dombes ?

La Dombes Vue Du CielVol au dessus des étangs avec vue sur les deux observatoires de l'étang Chapelier

Do you say La Dombes or Les Dombes?
Why is Dombes spelled with an S?
If we say La Dombes, then why Villars-LES-Dombes?
What does Dombes mean?

Here are the answers to all your questions!

The Dombes or Les Dombes

This question has divided the French for decades.
Imagine a situation almost as divisive as the Dreyfus affair: family dinners that end in arguments, couples who break up and childhood friends who no longer speak to each other.


Supporters of the plural form rely on three points: the “s” at the end of the word, which is said to be an indicator of the plural, the name of the town of Villars-les-Dombes, and the name of several establishments that bear the name “des Dombes” (Example: Le Fumet des Dombes). Adherents of the singular also point to the names of towns like Saint-Marcel-en-Dombes (singular), the fact that the names of regions are mostly singular, like Bresse or Bugey, and finally the administration designates this region as singular.

Administration often has the last word:

So we do say LA Dombes.

Why Villars-LES-Dombes?

If we say La Dombes, then why do we say Villars-Les-Dombes?

The “les” in Villars-les-Dombes is not a plural marker but a preposition meaning “near“.

Generally it is written “lès“. It’s this confusion that means many people speak “des Dombes” and many restaurants or businesses are called “x des Dombes”.

The “lès” is found in the names of many communes, such as Saint Denis lès Bourg, meaning Saint Denis près de Bourg.


Why is Dombes spelled with an S?

The S at the end of the word makes it sound like a plural, but it’s a remnant of the Latin word “Pagus Dombesis”, the country of Dombes.

The origin of the word Dombes

While it’s fairly easy to answer the question of singular or plural, this isn’t the case for the origin of the name. Several hypotheses have been put forward, some more plausible than others.

The Latin origin seems the most relevant. The word Dombes would be a term derived from the word “dominus” meaning lord, to indicate that this was the property of a simple lord and not that of a count, duke or other noble. The term could also refer to geographical location: “dominum bassum”, meaning low (or flat) seigneury, as opposed to neighboring countries like Bugey and Beaujolais, more mountainous countries. Others see a connection with the term“dumus”, coppice, hence a country covered in coppice.

Possible but less likely are the origins of other languages such as Celtic, Germanic or Slavic. We can make a connection with the German term Tümpel, which designates a pond.

There are other explanations, but they have no historical basis. The origin of Dumba could be the name of a lady who owned the land, or the name of a castle, or even the name of a people who inhabited the region and then fell into oblivion…

To sum up

We say La Dombes in the singular and this is the spelling used.

The origin of the name remains obscure. Free to choose your preferred explanation. That way, you’ll have the last word if, once again, your family meal turns into a squabble over the name Dombes.


The opinion of the Académie de la Dombes

“When first transcribed, Dombes appears in the singular; then comes the plural. This is how the ambiguity arose: should we say la Dombes or les Dombes? Until the 19th century, both forms were used. In the 19th century, Councillor Mantelier, asked by the Bishop of Belley to name the Plantay Abbey, wrote a letter in which he analyzed the appropriateness of using the plural versus the singular. He concludes with the use of the plural. This is how the Cistercian abbey came to be known as “Notre Dame des Dombes”.

Today, usage has retained the appellation “La Dombes”. Historians and lovers of this terroir conform to it, without difficulty. When referring to the Dombes entity, the singular is the order of the day. Indeed, there is only one Dombes, just as there is only one Bugey or one Bresse, close neighbors! Its soil is unique! The cultivation of its soil is unique! Its history is unique! Just like its habits and customs.”

Georges FAFOURNOUX, Academic of the Dombes

La Dombes

Why we love it so much ?

Its 1001 ponds and 1001 birds
Nature walks
A heritage to discover
Where are

the observatories

in the Dombes ?

At the moment

in Dombes


Dombes Tourisme

Place du Champ de Foire 01400 Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne

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