The Limousin lies on the northwestern edge of the Massif Central, in the geographical center of France, taking in the départements of Creuse (chief town Guéret), Haute-Vienne (Limoges) and Corrèze (Tulle). It is the most thinly populated region in France apart from Corsica, with an area of 16,942 sq.
km/6,541 sq. mi and a population of 737,153. Its capital is Limoges. The Limousin is frequently associated in visitors' minds with the neighboring regions of Périgord to the southwest and Quercy to the southeast. Still rather off the beaten track of tourism, the Limousin has preserved much unspoiled natural beauty. Its ranges of hills, outliers of the Massif Central nowhere exceeding 1,000 m/3,300ft in height, are broken up by plateaus and river valleys, the most important of which is the valley of the Vézère. It is well supplied with rivers, streams and lakes where fishermen and water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of scope.The region's main sources of revenue are agriculture, the manufacture of porcelain and the production of carpets and tapestries. Uranium is worked in the départements of Haute-Vienne and Creuse.The Limousin was one of the territories that developed out of the Roman province of Aquitania from the fifth C. onwards. After the centuries of Visigothic and Frankish rule there came into being within the French kingdom various counties, some of which were later raised to the status of duchies or became appanages of members of the royal family. After intermittent periods of English rule in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries these territories returned to French allegiance between the 13th and 16th C., and in 1607 Henry IV brought the Limousin to the French crown. Then at the end of the 18th C. the provinces which had been formed from the old duchies and counties were divided into the present départements.Like the neighboring region of Périgord, the Limousin has many prehistoric remains like standing stones and megalithic chamber tombs.There was a great emergence of Romanesque art between the 11th and 13th centuries, to such an extent that Gothic made relatively little headway. The 14th C. was a time of trial for the Limousin, with famine, plague, exploitation and plunder; and yet it was during this period, through the efforts of two French Popes, Clement VI (Pierre de Rosiers) and his nephew Gregory XI (Pierre-Roger de Beaufort), that the Limousin gave the Church a dozen patriarchs, 40 cardinals and more than 300 bishops - thus fulfilllling the prophecy by St Martial, who brought Christianity to this region about 250, that this "land of saints" would prove a fertile soil for the church.The manufacture of porcelain, which has won international fame for the Limousin, and for Limoges in particular, was brought to the region from Sèvres about 1770. It was little affected by the Revolution, and after the First Empire centerd increasingly on Limoges, which thus in the course of time acquired a virtual monopoly. The great Impressionist Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) began his artistic career as a porcelain painter in Limoges.The summer climate is relatively mild, but the winter is usually cold and rainy.There are numerous rivers and a number of lakes which offer scope for fishing and sailing. The rivers also offer the possibility of attractive canoe and kayak trips.For cyclists and walkers there are many quiet and sometimes lonely footpaths and tracks running through beautiful scenery. Several of France's waymarked long- distance trails (identified by the letters GR, for grande randonnée, and a number) run through the region.
The Dordogne is one of the longest rivers in the country. It is regulated by a series of dams which have been created to produce hydroelectric power.
Aubusson (pop. 6,000), in the Creuse valley, is a charming little town of narrow streets and lanes. It has been famed for its patterned carpets since the 15th C., when Flemish Protestant incomers brought the craft with them. In the 18th C. Watteau, Boucher and other artists created the designs of Aubusson carpets. The town still has important carpet and tapestry manufactories (which visitors can see round). There is an exhibition of new works every summer in the Town Hall. An old tapestry-weaving workshop can be seen in the Maison du Vieux Tapissier. Aubusson is also a good base from which to explore the beautiful Creuse valley.
The Millevaches plateau, in the southeastern Limousin between the valleys of the Vienne and the Vézère, reaches a height of just under 1,000 m/3,300ft. The name has nothing to do with vaches (cows), but is derived from the Celtic word batz, "spring" - of which there are many in this region. The plateau, sparsely populated, has a number of picturesque artificial lakes formed by dams (Lac de Vassivière, Lac de Faux-la- Montagne, Lac de Viaman, Lac du Chamet), and is at its most beautiful in spring and autumn.
Felletin lies south of Aubusson and, like Aubusson, is a carpet-making town. The Eglise du Martier (12th C., much rebuilt in 15th C.) has a tower with a finely carved keystone.
Uzerche (pop. 3,143) is one of the most attractive little towns in the Limousin, in virtue both of its situation and its buildings. There is a saying that if you have a house in Uzerche you can claim to possess a Château in the Limousin. The town's main features of interest are the Romanesque church of St-Pierre and the Porte Bécharie, once part of the town's circuit of walls. There are fine views from the Esplanade de la Lunade.
Tulle (pop. 16,906), the industrial capital of the Lower Limousin (Bas-Limousin), chief town of the département of Corrèze and the see of a bishop since 1317, lies in the narrow valley of the Corrèze.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Its main attractions are its many handsome Renaissance houses and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (12th-14th C.), a former abbey church, the choir and transepts of which were destroyed in 1793. The 75 m/245ft high tower dates from the 14th C. On the south side of the church is a small cloister, now housing a museum.
Parc Vuillier de Montane
A pleasant excursion from Tulle leads northeast up the valley of the Corrèze by way of the village of Gimel. Near the village, in the Parc Vuillier de Montane, are the magnificent Gimel Falls, which plunge down 143 m/ 470ft in three stages. The return route is via Naves, which has a church with a large 17th C. carved altar.
This month-long festival runs from mid-July to mid-August.
Le Dorat, France
The church of St-Pierre (12th C.) in Le Dorat is one of the finest churches in the Limousin, with a three-story tower on an octagonal plan.
From the summit of Mont Gargan (731 m/2,398ft) there are marvelous panoramic views.
South of Felletin is Meymac, with a 12th C. abbey church which has fine granite capitals. Some of the abbey buildings have been restored. The highest of the beautiful surrounding hills is Mont Bessou, above Meymac. From the Signal d'Audouze (854 m/2,802ft), half way between Felletin and Meymac on D36, there are magnificent panoramic views, extending as far as the volcanic cones of Auvergne. This hill is the watershed between the Loire and the Dordogne. Adjoining the Millevaches plateau are the Monts des Monédières (911 m/2,989ft), from where there are also fantastic views.
Brive la Gaillarde, France
Brive (pop. 51,586), situated on the Corrèze, near the border with Périgord, is called Brive-la-Gaillarde ("sturdy") in recognition of its stubborn resistance during numerous sieges. It has a number of handsome old houses like the Hôtel de Labenche and the 16th C. Tour des Echevins. The Musée Ernest-Rupin, in an elegant building of the time of Louis XIII, displays works of art and documents of regional interest. The Musée Edmond- Michelet is devoted to the French Resistance of the Second World War.
Bellac (pop. 4,576), picturesquely situated on the border with Poitou, was the birthplace of the dramatist Jean Giraudoux (1882- 1944), and has a monument to him. He is commemorated by an annual festival of music and drama at the end of June and beginning of July. Giraudoux celebrated the beauty of the Limousin in his novel "Suzanne et le Pacifique".The church of Notre-Dame has two parallel naves, one Romanesque and the other Gothic, and a 12th C. reliquary.
The beautifully situated little town of Chambon-sur-Voueize (pop. 1,105) has one of the most important Romanesque sacred buildings in the Limousin, the church of Ste- Valérie (12th C.; restored 1850). The rectangular tower dates from the 13th C., and the interior has fine 17th C. paneling.2km/1-1/2mi away is the little spa of Evaux- les-Bains, which was frequented in Roman times, with some 30 springs (14-60 C/57- 140 F). The Romanesque church of St- Pierre-et-St-Paul has a fine tower.
Bourganeuf lies on a hill at the meeting of three valleys. The Tour de Zimzim (so called because of a legend that the brother of a Turkish sultan was imprisoned here), a relic of an ancient castle, is notable for its three story structure of oak beams; there is a fine view from the top. The Town Hall contains late 18th C. Aubusson tapestries.
This little town - Coussac-Bonneval - (pop. 1,600), in a beautiful setting, has a fine 14th C. castle (altered in the 18th and 19th C.). It contains a collection of exhibits telling the extraordinary story of Achmet Pasha, born in 1675 as the son of the seigneur of Bonneval, who went to Constantinople, became a pasha and died there.Le Chalard, near Coussac-Bonneval, has a massive Romanesque church.
St Leonard de Noblat, France
St-Léonard-de-Noblat (pop. 5,300) is a charming little town with picturesque old houses (13th-16th C.), the birthplace of the physicist Gay-Lussac (1778-1850), who discovered the law of volumes. The town, situated on a hill, was a staging-point on the medieval pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela, and has a beautiful Romanesque church (11th C.) with 15th C. choir-stalls; the tower has fine capitals.
St Yrieix-la-Perche, France
The little town St Yrieix la Perche (pop. 7,251), situated in a fertile stock-farming region, had kaolin deposits which gave the first impulse to the manufacture of porcelain in Limoges. The collegiate church known as the Motier (12th-13th C.), with the austere aspect of a fortified church, occupies the site of an abbey founded in the sixth C. The Tour du Plo was once part of the town walls.
The river Creuse, flowing down from the Massif Central, has carved out a picturesque valley, with impressive gorges and the 15km/9mi long artificial lake of Eguzon. At the south end of the lake is Crozant, with the ruins of an important medieval castle. The Creuse flows into the Vienne after a course of 250km/155mi.
La Souterraine, France
La Souterraine (pop. 5,327), on the site of a Gallo-Roman settlement, is another little town of medieval aspect. The Porte St-Jean, a town gate dating from the 14th-15th C., has two turrets. The church (12th-13th C.) is built over an early 11th C. crypt.
Oradour sur Glane
This little town - Oradour sur Glane - acquired tragic fame on June 10 1944, when its 642 inhabitants were massacred by 160 SS men. The ruins of the village have been preserved as they were, along with the cemetery, which contains a memorial. A new village with the same name has been built nearby.
Pompadour is famous for the Château which Louis XV presented to his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Louis also founded (1761) the stud farm which has made Pompadour a center of horse- breeding (Anglo-Arab horses) and racing (annual horse shows). The National Stud (Haras National) can be visited.
Argentat (pop. 3,121), picturesquely situated in the Dordogne valley, is a good base for excursions in the surrounding area. The best view of the town is from the old stone bridge.
This Cistercian abbey in Aubazines was founded in the 12th C. by a local saint, Stephen of Obasine, whose tomb has fine carved decoration (13th C.). The church also contains a 12th C. oak press, remains of frescoes and a fine treasury.
St Junien, France
St-Junien has a fine Romanesque church (11th-12th C.), typically Limousin in style. The richly carved tomb of St Junien is one of the masterworks of 12th C. Romanesque sculpture. There are still many 14th and 15th C. houses in the town.
Ussel (alt. 631 m/2,070ft; pop. 11,316) has a number of 15th-17th C. buildings in the center of the town and a Roman eagle found at the mill of Peuch, the original site of the town.
Ahun (pop. 1,564) was a place of some consequence in Gallo-Roman times. The church has a Romanesque choir and an 11th C. crypt containing a rare reliquary.
The former abbey of Moutier d'Ahun, with a square tower, has beautiful 17th C. carved woodwork by Simon Bauer.
The little town of Ambazac is surrounded by hills rising to 700 m/2,300ft. The church contains a valuable and unusual chest- shaped reliquary (1123).