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Limousin - France's 'best-kept secret'

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Limousin - France's 'best-kept secret'
Taunya with her husband. Photo: Taunya Smith and Limoges cathedral. Photo: Aratar
10:48 CET+01:00
The central region of Limousin is not usually top of the list for tourists who often drive straight through to reach more well-trodden destinations. But for this week's My France, Brit Taunya Smith, tells us why more should stop by.

What brought you to Limousin?

My husband Brian and I used to run a farm in the Pennines, west Yorkshire, which we decided to sell when he was offered early retirement. We wanted to move somewhere with better weather and decided on France. Our only preferences were that we live near a lake because my husband fishes and within a reasonable drive of Calais. Limousin seemed to tick all the boxes so we searched on the internet till we found a house in the Haute-Vienne department, about 40 minutes from the capital Limoges. We had already been to France on holiday but like many tourists had only ever driven through the region. Although we originally planned on retiring we started a gite-renting business here.

Tell us more about Limousin?

Limousin has three very different departments all with stunning scenery: Creuse, Corrèze and Haute-Vienne – where we live. Situated in the north of the region, Creuse has rolling fields and is not as populated as Haute-Vienne. Haute-Vienne on the other hand is dominated by hills, oak and chestnut forests and lakes. Finally, there’s Corrèze which is very mountainous.

You can find just about any type of countryside here not to mention friendly people and plenty of things to do and places to visit. It really is one of France's best-kept secrets.

Was it difficult to settle in?

Not really. Although I had studied French at school a little longer back than I would care to remember I picked up the language quickly enough and it was easy to make friends here. My husband always jokes that it has cost thousands of euros for me to learn French because I learnt it through shopping trips to Limoges with my French friends.

What’s the very first place you would take a visitor?

I would take them to Oradour-sur-Glane in the Haute-Vienne department. It’s a unique martyr village from World War II. On June 10, 1944, the inhabitants of the village were gathered together in the town square by the Nazis. The women and children were then taken to the church where they were shot and the men to various barns where they too were killed. Then the whole village was burned to the ground. The town was rebuilt nearby, but under the orders of Charles de Gaulle the old town was left exactly as it was as a memorial to the 642 people who died. It’s free to visit and open virtually all year round. It’s probably not top of a list of places to see for most people but it is an important part of the history of Limousin.

Anywhere else in the region?

Of course, the regional capital Limoges is a must, famous the world over for its porcelain. At its heart is a medieval district called the Quartier de la Boucherie, literally ‘The Butcher’s Quarter’. It’s a lively area full of charming timber-framed shops, narrow streets and superb restaurants.

I would also recommend visiting the old city walls and Saint-Étienne de Limoges cathedral. Also not to be missed is the Art Déco railway station with its stunning interior, garden and fountains, which all miraculously survived the war. You may recognize it from various television ads.

For a complete change you could visit Vassivière lake situated between Creuse and Haute-Vienne. The lake is so big that you can take a two-hour dining cruise, which I highly recommend. There are also water sports available and it’s a great place to walk and cycle.

Where’s a good place to take children?

A great place to take kids is the nearby medieval town of Chauvigny where there’s a ruined castle called the Château des Evêques. In the castle’s amphitheatre you can see the ‘Géants du Ciel’, a display of all manners of birds of prey including vultures, bald eagles, falcons, owls and parrots. There are shows twice a day in the summer and you can even watch fruit bats being fed in the cellar. Last year a young family member asked us to take him there every day and leave him there!  

Where can you get the best food?

If you want to go somewhere special try the Manoir Henri IV in Bessines-sur-Gartempe, a small manor and hunting lodge where Henry IV found out he would become king of France in the 16th century. The surroundings are beautiful, the food excellent and the staff helpful. It’s also a hotel so, if you don't want to drive after your meal, you can book a room. 

For the world-famous Limousin beef, you can’t go wrong at the Hall West restaurant in Limoges.

What advice would you give someone hoping to move to Limoges?

Limoges is a very rural area with attractive house prices. But employment is limited, especially if you don’t speak French. Most of the English people we know here are either fluent with a job, self-employed, or, like my son, go back to the UK on a regular basis for work. My best tips are: learn the language and get involved in things as much as you can in your town or village. Incidentally, I’m the only English woman on my village fete committee!  

Tanuya and Brian own a gite rental business Gites de la Prade.

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