24th November 2017 

THE LIMOUSIN


The Limousin region is a land of upland pastures, forestry and pure water, springing from the region itself or just a little higher in the Massif Central. Waterfalls, springs and fountains, rivers and streams, flow into the Loire or south into the Garonne, irrigating the green fields and flowing through woodland and gorges.

The abundance of these natural staples explains the industries for which the region has made itself a name: Limousin beef (still eaten confidently due to its natural raising outdoors), wool, weaving and tapestry, oak barrel making and, from the pure kaolin supply, chinaware and enamelling.

The region’s three départements, Creuse, Correze and Haute Vienne, are ideal destinations for those in search of peace and quiet and unspoilt scenery: ramblers, riders, anglers, rock climbers, canoeists and other water sports fans.

Artists and art-lovers are also drawn here for similar reasons and because the Limousine has a serious share of museums dedicated to all epochs of art including the most contemporary.

If there are few large towns, the countryside is dotted with charming, authentic little villages and, the legacy of the ‘builder monks’ and the masons of the Creuse: castles, manors, Romanesque abbeys and churches, often concealing elaborate enamelled casks, finely wrought altar-pieces, frescoes and stained glass.

The region is of course world-renowned for the porcelain and enamels of Limoges and the tapestries of Aubusson and has been muse to many a painter, most famously perhaps the so-called ‘Ecole de Crozant’, the name covering all the painters inspired by the gorgeous gorges along the Creuse river.

Many other contemporary applications of traditional decorative arts, crafts and industries are still thriving, among them weaving, haute couture, pottery and goldsmithing.


The Haute-Vienne




The Haute-Vienne, a region of open countryside, with Limoges as its capital, stretches westwards from the flanks of the Massif Central mountain range. Being the first obstruction to be met by clouds off the Atlantic, it’s eroded and corrugated granite base is subjected to a great deal of rain, which is why the region is green, and abundantly wooded.

To the north of the département lies the Basse Marche, dominated from the South by the Monts de Blond and the Monts d’Ambazac. These mini-mountains reach a maximum height of 700 metres, but afford some magnificent views from their rounded, sometimes barren, granite slopes.

The soil is usually considered to be poor and it is animals, which reign here, flocks of grazing sheep and the famous Limousin cows. The farmers of the Haute-Vienne are essentially breeders, keen to preserve local varieties of livestock such as the pig of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, known by the delightful name of ‘cul noir’ (black bum).

Apart from Limoges and a few smaller towns, the population is scattered throughout villages and tiny hamlets. The houses, often very beautiful, combine the dark granite walls of the North with the broad roofs and light brown Roman tiles of the South.


Le Dorat


A must in Le Dorat is a visit of the collegiate, “one of the largest, most complete and most curious Romanesque edifices in France” (Leclerc).

From outside, the eye is drawn to the three-storey octagonal belfry, each floor receding from the one below with the soaring stone spire, bearing aloft, at 90 feet above the ground, a XIIIc gilded copper angel, itself four foot high.

Once you have entered by the Moorish mosaïc doorway, the view from the top of the monumental stone staircase is staggering. The church is laid on a Latin cross plan, 231 feet long with narrow side aisles, a nave of five bays, a Carolingian baptismal font, two cupolæ on pendentives, one of which is illuminated by the eight stained glass windows in the octagonal belfry, the choir and the crypt.

From 1420 to 1431, Guillaume l’Hermite was empowered by Jacques le Bourbon to surround Le Dorat with the soundest fortifications. These included 20 towers.

The collegiate also benefited from defensive measures, which included the tower rising from the end of the chevet, bristling with arrow slits and capped by three bartizans on which the corbelling follows the pattern of the old Romanesque cornice.

Guided visits take you back in time through ancient alleys and squares, past XVIc and XVIIc buildings - the monumental XIXc fountain, the terraced gardens along the ramparts and the view over the valley of the Courtoison.

The Ostensions, a Limousin religious tradition held every seven years, took place in 2002. The Church called this display and veneration of relics of the Saints ‘Ostensions’. They last for 50 days and give rise to many religious ceremonies and processions associated with the reliquaries of the local saints Israël and Théobald.


Oradour-sur-Glane


On Saturday June 10th 1944 a company of 120 of the Der Führer Das Reich Second SS Panzer Division sealed off the exits of Oradour-sur-Glane and moved into the village.

Their arrival aroused more curiosity than fear. The open land around Oradour was unsuitable for operations by the maquis and the war had largely passed the village by.

But that afternoon many had come here to collect their tobacco ration, to shop and, by a cruel irony of fate, bring their children for a medical check-up.
The German officer in charge, Dickman, ordered the Mayor to assemble everyone in the village on the Champ de Foire for an identity check.

The village was searched for weapons and prohibited merchandise. The assembled population was separated, the women and children escorted to the church, and the men told to sit in three rows facing a wall.

The troops returned from the house-to-house search and the men were marched in groups to stables and barns, told to clear them of equipment and enter.

Dickman fired a shot, the signal for his troops to rake the men with machine-gun fire. The barns were set alight. The SS then moved on to the church, opened the doors, threw in grenades, sprayed the 450 women and children with automatic fire and set fire to the church.

Only one woman escaped by jumping through the east window, the village was torched and the victims burnt in a mass grave. The troops moved out around seven o’clock, many drunk after looting the houses of linen and silver. They left 642 dead.

When General de Gaulle visited the village he decreed that it should remain untouched as a monument of man’s inhumanity to man. Below the Champ de Foire is a small museum where the victims’ names are engraved on the walls; showcases display personal items that did not burn - toys, watches, glasses, cigarette cases and jewellery.


Limoges




LIMOGES is a fusion of two cities, which, after the sack of the Roman-built Augustoritum by the Barbarians, grew up separately over the centuries and were not united until the French Revolution.

One is the ancient cathedral quarter, rising up above the riverbanks. The Gothic cathedral of St Etienne still dominates the scene, despite having lost its spire, struck by lightning in the XVIc. It is surrounded by the gardens of the bishop’s palace, which has vast subterranean passages.

The Musée de l’Evêché inside the palace displays fine enamels dating back to the XIIc, as well as Egyptology, a lapidary collection and paintings by Auguste Renoir, who was born in Limoges in 1841. Excellent exhibitions are staged here.

Nearby is the Musée de la Résistance, commemorating the exploits of the maquis, which was very active in the Limousin. Many of the

Resistance fighters took part in the liberation of Limoges itself (on August 21st, 1944).

The Flamboyant Gothic architecture of the monumental Portail Saint Jean looks ethereal floodlit at night. Between here and the second original city are the enamel workshops, from the Boulevard de la Cité, through the Rue Raspail and along the Rue des Tanneries.

The second city was the centre of political power, known as ‘the Château’ - the Royal Town, ever at odds with the Bishop’s City.
Limoges’ architecture ranges widely from the Jesuit severity of the XVIIc Gay-Lussac Chapel’s main door, to the Art Déco surrealism of the Pavillon de Verdurier, a former cold store.

In counterpoint is Limoges’ famed main railway station, crowned with its campanile and copper dome, like some latter-day mosque.

The picturesque quarter of the Ancestral Guild of Butchers was established in the XIIIc near the highest point of the town. The entire trade was controlled by six large families who have maintained their grip on it virtually ever since.

Limoges’ exquisite china only really emerged 200 years ago when a very pure supply of kaolin was discovered near Saint Yrieix-la-Perche. Hard-paste porcelain was first made in France in the 1760s at the royal factory in Sèvres.

Limoges has had a reputation for enamels since the XIIc so it was logical that a china works be set up here: fuel for the kilns grew abundantly in the region’s forests, and the Vienne river made distribution easy.

The local people soon set up their own factories and developed their own decorative style. At the turn of the century, there were no less than 35 porcelain works in Limoges with an annual production of up to 3,000 firings.


In The Steps Of The Lionheart



Châlus guards her Duke’s entrails
His body Fontevraud in marble shrines.
The Normans boast the King’s unconquered heart.
Three countries thus the glorious ashes share
Ofring under pressure from the king of France.

On 20th March 1199, Richard laid siege to the Château of Châlus, a keystone in the circle of fortresses protecting the south west of the Vicomté. He was wounded shortly afterwards by a crossbow bolt and died on 6th April, but not before he had entreated a pardon for the garrison and the sharp shooting crossbowman.

Needless to say, the entire garrison was promptly hung and the crossbowman was flayed alive.

One account for Richard’s zeal in besieging this stronghold is that he coveted the treasure the Vicomte of Limoges was supposed to have unearthed there. While this is no doubt a legend, there may well be a shred of truth in the tale since the area has been mined for gold since antiquity.

One can still see certain traces of this tragic event in Châlus’ interesting corps de logis (living quarters within a castle) and fine XIIc keep.

Lovers of history and architecture will enjoy exploring the Route Richard Cœur de Lion with its outstanding examples of life as it was in the Middle Ages: churches, towns and above all castles, which are open to the public. Some have been partly rebuilt, some embellished, but their warlike purpose is still evident.

Start from the high open landscape of the limits of the Charente and the XIIIc and XVc fortress castle of Rochechouart, which houses an excellent museum of contemporary art. Then southwest to the Romanesque church of Salles Lavauguyon with its marvellously rich XIIc frescoes.

To the southeast is the Château de Brie, a former fortified stronghold with walls three metres thick. Inside the square keep is a splendid spiral staircase in granite, which ends in a cluster of vaultribs.

On to the historic Château de Marval and its XIIIc guardroom, then west of Châlus towards Montbrun, the finest example of a fortified castle in the Limousin. Its round towers, overshadowed by the enormous Romanesque keep, are reflected in the waters of the lily pond.

Then to Châlus, with the XIIIc Châlus-Maulmont in the heart of the old town and, overlooking the Tardoire valley, the now ruined Château de Châlus-Chabrol (XI-XVIIc), site of the Lionheart’s death.

East of Châlus are the ruins of the ancient feudal fortresses of Lastours and Cars. Two interesting stages before you reach Nexon, where you should visit the church and XVIIc castle, a former barony, and its stables.

Now head south to the Romanesque church and monks’ cemetery of Le Chalard, and follow the route briefly into the Périgord as far as the château of Jumilhac, built on a rocky spur.

The fairytale turrets make it difficult to remember that this was a castle made for war.

From here, go eastwards to the ‘china town’ of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, for its XVc and XVIc houses, a ruined tower from the Hundred Years War and a wonderful museum of porcelain. To the east is Coussac-Bonneval, an XIc fortress destroyed in the Hundred Years War, rebuilt in the XVc and XVIIc.

Then south to Ségur-Le-Château, one of the most beautiful villages in France, with its XVc and XVIc wood framed houses and little turrets.

The Route ends at Pompadour, birthplace of the Limousin cow and now home to the National Stud. The imposing château was a gift bestowed on a favourite by Louis XIV. Beneath the towers and curtain walls is the famous racecourse. Fit for a king!


The Lover Of Food



With its high green plateaux covered with herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, fruit trees everywhere, crystal-clear mountain torrents full of trout, pike and zander, and forests of chestnuts, where ceps and other edible fungi like to lurk, it is easy to understand the Limousin’s reputation for gastronomy.

There are plenty of recipes for hearty dishes and long-simmered stews and the region is also known for its charcuterie, its sausages and pâtés often stuffed with the omnipresent chestnut. The beef, raised outdoors on these emerald plains, has an international reputation along with the milk-fed veal (veau sous la mère).

The woodlands yield game and, near Ussel, are particularly rich in fungi - cèpes, girolles, trompettes de la mort... - which are used in sauces or as a vegetable in their own right.

Round off your meal with some local cheese (similar to Roquefort) and traditional cakes and puddings such as the apple flaugnarde, cherry clafoutis (both batter-based cakes), Corrèze’s special galettes or the Creuse’s almond gateau.




Treasures Of The Creuse


Meaning ‘hollow’ in French, it is true that the Creuse is one of the least inhabited départements of France. If you are looking for peaceful, unspoilt countryside of gentle pastoral scenery, dramatic landscapes and breathtaking views... and water, water everywhere, the Creuse is it.

The unpolluted rivers, still jumping with ‘fario’ trout, tench, roach, carp and pike, has long made it a favourite with anglers. But the Creuse also has a history, with the royal tapestry town of Aubusson, the architecture and building of the sought-after masons of the Creuse, and many fine Romanesque churches hiding priceless altar screens, enamelled reliquaries and other treasures inside their walls.

Starting in the northeast corner of the département, bordering the Auvergne and Centre regions, or the old Berry and Bourbonnais, is Boussac, on a fortified rocky spur much fought over since the times of the original Gallo-Roman site (Bociacum).

Here George Sand once lived and set her first rural novel (‘Jeanne’), in the XIIc and XVc castle above a waterfall, and the six mysterious tapestries, called ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ series, were found. The town has some marvellously conserved buildings, with stone spiral staircases and wrought iron balconies.

Following the Petite Creuse river from Boussac towards Fresselines and Crozant, where it meets the Grande Creuse, you are still in George Sand country (‘Laura’). The landscapes between the two rivers have been well celebrated by artists, from the Ecole de Crozant to Monet and the most contemporary.




To find out more about the Limousin region please: CLICK HERE