A July 1988 trip
to Limousin by MichaelJM
Quote: Limousin is a great French district to explore and relax in. We spent a superb 3 weeks in this lush landscape.
Limousin is one of the lushest regions of France, carpeted with trees and watered by the mighty rivers of the Creuse, the Vienne, and the Dordogne.
The Cascades de Gimel is a great place to visit on a hot summer’s day. The total "drop" of the waterfalls on this stretch of the Rivière La Montane is 470 feet, with the tallest drop of 197 feet. There is an admission fee to the Parc Vuillier, but it's well worth the fee to wander through the woodland and take in the three magnificent waterfalls. Although the walk is not strenuous, there are plenty of stairs to climb and descend, but the tantalising views of the fast flowing water and the echo around the gorge makes it worth the struggle.
As this is a "watery" landscape we have fond memories of hot summery days at the side of a "public lake." Here we sunbathed, relaxed with a good book, enjoyed swimming in the waters of the natural lake (although it could be a bit cold on first entry!), and on the weekend enjoyed the company of locals who tried to do a bit of wind-surfing.
The towns in Limousin are full of local craft work and pottery, enamelware and tapestries are the preferred work of the locality. Of course, no visit to France is complete without visiting a local market or two. As we were self-catering we happily roamed the small streets of the market towns, mingling with the local people to find good quality fruit and vegetables, locally made cheese (there were so many to choose from we just had to sample the product from the stall before buying), pate, and of course fancy patisserie. The buzz in a French market is second to none, and even if we weren’t buying it was great to take in the atmosphere. The scenery of the region is in places breathtaking, and there are so many small unspoilt villages to explore. This was a region at one point favoured by Monet, and if you’re familiar with his work perhaps you might spot the painter’s vantage points!
Some of the publicity on the Limousin region says you "can easily become attached to the restful, seductive Limousin" – and they’re not wrong!
France is well geared for tourists, and most towns and large villages have good tourist information centres. We always "hit them first" so that we could sit down at the campsite and plan our next few moves. The Internet helps to plan in advance of your journey, and we found that if there wasn’t enough detail on a town’s website they usually sent "hard copies" on an e-mail request. We always find the French to be helpful and considerate and were very impressed with their desire to help us as tourists. Having a splattering of French helps, but we generally found that having made the effort they would respond in our mother tongue. That was usually a relief!The bulk of our holiday was spent in a Gîte – a rural house offering a real sense of the local culture. They tend to offer good quality (not "flash") accommodation, in the heart of a village or town community, and I reckon it’s the best way to feel that you’re in France. There are several companies offering accredited Gîte accommodation, and although there are some variation in price, the main differences will be the area / villages that they offer holiday homes. It’s worth checking them all out so that you optimise the best deal.
We felt most comfortable crossing the channel and driving down to Limousin in our own car, after a few miles (kilometres in France) I was used to driving on the "wrong side of the road" in a right-hand drive car. Check the mirrors frequently, and remember the important codes of conduct for driving in France: only use the outside lane of the motorway when overtaking (don’t hog that lane); in towns, more often than not, you need to give way to traffic joining the main road from side roads; many roundabout give priority to traffic joining the roundabout. Soon driving became relaxing and pleasurable, as we drove through some stunning countryside. Of course hiring a vehicle in France is dead easy and the advantage is that you’ll have a left-hand drive vehicle, which makes for "plus facile" motoring. If you are intent on a touring holiday, the hiring of a motor home is another possibility. I reckon that preferable to towing a caravan, but you will need to remember to "mark you’re camping spot" when you go out exploring for the day, or frequenting one of the many superb restaurants that are dotted around the countryside.Although it’s "not my bag," I’m aware that many people enjoy the freedom of biking, and France truly lends itself for that kind of holiday. Indeed friends of ours regularly clamber onto their powerful motorbikes, travel light, and head for France. The alternative, if you’re feeling very energetic is to hire a bicycle – these are available for hire from most of the larger towns in the region. Although we never did it, Limousin lends itself to holidays on the rivers and canals, and if you want this option you’ll need to book your transport well in advance with one of the many specialist operators in France.
Check out the Département des Armes Anciennes (showing a large variety of early locally manufactured firearms), and the Musée Département de la Résistance. Certainly it’s an education to read into the struggle of the local resistance, and an eye-opener to realise that almost 100 local inhabitants were killed in "reprisal murders" in 1944. That’s a chilling part of Tulle’s history.Not far from Tulle, in the small community of Clergoux, is the impressive chateau de Sedieires (it featured on French postage stamps at one point). It’s a classic chateau, with turrets and large windows set in magnificent grounds. We made it up onto the roof, and from here there are great views of the surrounding countryside and a chance to check out the architecture. Whilst we were there we watched a marionette presentation with locally crafted figures. I’m not sure if this is a regular feature, but if it is it’s worth hanging around for. But for probably the best views in the vicinity, go to Egletons. It’s not a huge village but it’s worth checking out the fountain in the Place du Marchadial, pausing to look at the stone carvings on some of the older houses, and climbing to the highest point of the village to take in what is probably the best panoramic view of the vicinity. From here you can truly appreciate the lushness of the region. The village produces some fairly decent wine and we couldn’t resist, after a tasting, to buy a bottle to accompany our evening meal.Brive-la-Gaillarde is not worth making a detour for, but as we were in the vicinity we had a quick look. It has some charming buildings on the narrow lanes of the old quarter, and if you want to experience café culture then you won’t go far wrong here.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 22, 2006
Rocamadeur became an important centre for pilgrims after an undecayed body was found in a grave in 1166. The body was said to be that of Saint Armadour, an early Christian hermit. At this very time, there was a run of miracles "overseen" by the black virgin in the chapel of Notre Dame and confirmed by the tolling of the church bell. It’s really interesting to wander through the narrow streets (many of them pedestrianised) and climb the "grand stairway" to the town square. We imagine the scene a few centuries ago when pilgrims would have clambered up this flight of stairs on their knees, chanting prayers as they made their painful way to the seven chapels. It is possible to visit the chapels, with a local guide, but the queues were horrendous and we decided to give it a miss. Perhaps we should have visited Rocamadeur outside of the summer season!
Collonges-la-Rouge is a pretty and a fairly unique commune and I guess must have been a real treat before being overrun by tourists. Nowadays you have to park the other side of the main road, as there is no vehicular access to the village. All the houses in the old town are built out of sandstone, and initially this is quite a bewildering sight. We were fortunate as we got there early and the busloads hadn’t arrived. The sun was shining brightly, and this gave a sensational hue as the rays reflected off the red buildings. Although the village was formed in the 8th century, many of the properties, particularly the outrageously ornate follies, were built well into the 16th century. However, the fortified church, with its contrasting white limestone arch, was constructed in the 11th century. Take a peek at its carvings, as they depict contemporary village life – including the use of bear baiting. In the market square is a communal bread oven – never seen one of those before! If you’re wanting local crafts or souvenirs, there is no shortage of small shops just waiting to relieve you of your cash. Collonges-la-Rouge is now quite a tourist trap!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 22, 2006
If you want to check out a history of Limoges heritage (i.e. enamelware and porcelain) there are a couple of really good museums: "Adrian-Dubouché," and Musee Municipal De L’Evêché, the latter showing off over 500 pieces of enamelware – both colourful and intricate. I think it’s possible to see enamellers at work, and would advise that the Office de Tourisme is the best bet to check that out. Don’t leave Limoges before checking out the extravagant Gothic architecture of the gate of Saint-Jean, and strolling across the stone river bridge. As Limoges has a daily market, you’ll always be able to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the local traders at work!
Travellling south on the N20 we next visited the much more attractive, as far as we were concerned, town of Uzerche. This is a medieval town that has claim that it has never surrendered whilst under siege. Indeed, a nice story that we heard was that after a 7-year battle in the 700s, the townsfolk sent out a lavish meal for the enemy, who immediately presumed that they had food a plenty and packed up their weapons, leaving the townsfolk of Uzerche with their freedom.
The town, with its mass of turrets, bell-towers, yellow bricks, and grey tiled roofs, overlooks the River Vezere. It dominates the landscape as it sits on a hill and rising from the top of the hill is the impressive Church of St. Pierre. We wandered through the narrowest of streets, through building arches, and climbed the steepest of unevenly constructed steps and had no problem in imagining the bustle of life in medieval days. I reckon Uzerche would be even better to visit on a Saturday when the market is in full force, but we didn’t make that.The nearby village of Naves is worth a trip if only to view the fantastic, 17th-century Retable in the local church. Don’t be fooled by the simpleness of the church (it's nothing special from the outside) but the altar carving is immense, intricate and incredibly beautiful. This is a must-see in my view.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 23, 2006
Nowadays the river drifts at a leisurely pace and some of the houses with their foundations reaching below the riverbank, paint an idyllic picture with their reflections in the calm waters of the River Dordogne. In the heavily cobbled streets and squares of this picturesque town there’s a lot of evidence of its reliance on the river, with an ancient anchor set up as a sundial and a re-constructed barge on the Quay, detailing the height of Argentat’s boat building in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of Argentat’s riverside cottages still have the traditional schist rock roofing tiles – memories of a bygone age. By good fortune we visited on a Thursday and were able to explore the popular market town when the market was in full swing (Markets are also held on Tuesdays). It was a bit crammed but that all added to the ambiance.Heading through Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, a pretty village, with great views along the river, a nicely preserved quarter and the well-sculptured church of Saint Pierre we carried on to the town of Saint Cere. This medieval town (market on a Wednesday) merited a lightening tour where we saw more ancient houses (Limousin is awash with decently preserved villages) and gazed at the mighty towers of Saint Laurent (most of what remains of the original fortification).But our next stop was the icing on the cake! The Gouffre de Padirac is a superb visit and if you’re in the locality at definite "must-see". The huge crater (115 feet wide by 340 feet deep) was formed by the collapse of a cave and has attracted visitors since its discovery back in the 1880s. There’s a fair descent to the bottom (almost 500 steps) but if you don’t fancy the walk a lift is available, and then you take a boat trip along the underground waterway to the Lac de la Pluie. The sights are truly fantastic with huge stalactites hanging over the lake casting spooky shadows over the huge chamber. After the boat trip there's a gentle upwards walk to explore a number of the other linked chambers and the various niches around the complex. Clever lighting enhances the caves appearance giving magical fairy-like images. There's the usual "what can you see in this rock" question and of course poetic license results in some amazing interpretations. A great experience!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 23, 2006
A tour around Argentat