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.
Beaulieu sur Dordogne, France
Le Thot - Le Thot Prehistoric Center
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.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Parc Vuillier de Montane
Le Dorat, France
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.The month-long Opera Festival (Festival de la Vezere) in Brive takes place between July and August.
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.
St Leonard de Noblat, France
St Yrieix-la-Perche, France
La Souterraine, France
Oradour sur Glane
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.
St Junien, France
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).