by Georgina Crawshaw
Capital of the Haute-Vienne department, and boasting its very own airport, Limoges was named after its early inhabitants, the Celtic Lemovices tribe. Today the city is brimming with history and is made up of two main parts – the quartier historique de la cité, which sits on the banks of the Vienne River and quartiers historiques du château.
There are over 3000 plants, all meticulously named and organised into colour-coded groups
The former is home to the municipal museum where you can find paintings by one of Limoges most famous exports - Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Gothic cathedral of St-Etienne next door is worth a look as are the botanical gardens which accommodate over 3000 plants, all meticulously named and organised into colour-coded groups. For a slightly different view of Limoges join a guided tour of the city’s souterrains, a series of interconnecting underground tunnels, said to stretch the length and breadth of Limoges.
Surface in the main part of the town (quartiers historiques du château) which is built around the medieval site of the Motte Castrale and take a stroll down the famous cobblestoned Rue de la Boucherie with its small but ornate chapel, built in honour of Saint-Aurélien, patron saint of butchers. Speaking of food, the covered market, les Halles, located on the edge of Place de la Motte, offers a mouth-watering medley of French cuisine, from fresh fish and poultry to just-baked breads and pastries. This feat of nineteenth century engineering is decorated with porcelain tiles like many other local landmarks – hardly surprising seeing as Limoges is world renowned for its arts du feu (porcelain, enamel and stained glass). The Bernardaud factory, who supply personalised porcelain to over eighty percent of Michelin starred restaurants, is well worth a visit if you’re interested in seeing how these dinner table masterpieces are made.
The covered market, les Halles, offers a mouth-watering medley of French cuisine
Of course there’s more to the Limousin region than just its capital city and a hire car’s a must if you want to make the most of your stay. Saint-Junien, for example, is only half an hour’s drive away. The second largest town in the Haute-Vienne department, this ‘luxury leather glove capital’ is home to the Agnelle workshop who supply some of the finest haute-couture houses in the world – Dior, Vuitton and Ninna Ricci to name but a few.
Lac de Vassivière to the east is one of France’s largest lakes and with 45 kilometres of shoreline, dotted with vast woody forests, to hike, cycle or explore from the water it’s an alfresco lover’s dream. At the centre of the lake lies the Ile de Vassivière, an island dedicated to art where you’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful sculptures from a giant replica WWII German helmet, to an oversized broken iron egg. Climb the spiral staircase inside Italian architect, Aldo Rossi’s lighthouse for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside – rural France at its very best.
This is rural France at its very best
Last but by no means least you can’t leave Limousin without taking a short detour to Oradour-sur-Glane. During the Second World War German troops killed 642 inhabitants and burnt down most of the buildings, leaving behind a ruined village that stands untouched on the orders of the then French president, Charles De Gaulle, as a memorial to its victims. Maybe not the highlight of your holiday, but a poignant symbol of peace and remembrance that should never be forgotten.