Gil­lian Har­vey

Head in­land to Li­mousin and you’ll dis­cover clear lakes, forests and pas­tures, as well as in­ter­est­ing towns and vil­lages, each with their own story to tell. Gil­lian Har­vey gives the low-down on her home depart­ment of Haute-Vi­enne

Living France - - Editor's Letter -

Our reg­u­lar columnist Gil­lian has lived in Li­mousin for seven years. In ad­di­tion to her col­umn this month, she writes about her home depart­ment of Haute-Vi­enne on

With its sweep­ing ru­ral land­scape, scat­tered with lakes and forests, and as one of the trio of de­part­ments boast­ing the clean­est air in France, Haute-Vi­enne of­fers a ru­ral idyll that could eas­ily com­pete with that of the more fa­mous depart­ment of Dor­dogne, only with a lower pop­u­la­tion and ar­guably more mod­estly priced prop­erty.

Nes­tled in Li­mousin, and re­ferred to by some as the ‘Lake Dis­trict of France’, Haute-Vi­enne is home to nu­mer­ous in­land lakes in­clud­ing Lac de Vas­sivière, which, at nearly 10 square kilo­me­tres, is one of the largest man-made lakes in France. Many of the lakes have ar­ti­fi­cial beaches grac­ing their shores, mak­ing them par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies dur­ing the sum­mer months.

With a quar­ter of its land given over to agri­cul­ture, and a pop­u­la­tion of un­der 400,000, Haute-Vi­enne is also home to two of France’s 49 re­gional nat­u­ral parks, which spill into neigh­bour­ing de­part­ments. To the south-east, the Parc Na­turel Ré­gional de Mill­e­vaches en Li­mousin and to the south-west, Parc Na­turel Ré­gional Périg­ord Li­mousin. Such parks are con­sid­ered to be ar­eas of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty and are a plen­ti­ful source of in­for­ma­tion for both ed­u­ca­tional and eco­log­i­cal stud­ies.

The cli­mate in Haute-Vi­enne can be vari­able, with bit­terly cold, but of­ten short­lived win­ters, giv­ing way to warm, wet spring weather, hot sum­mers and clement au­tumns. The weather can be ex­tremely var­ied, and the depart­ment has the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing part of the Mas­sif Cen­tral, mean­ing it ben­e­fits from more pre­cip­i­ta­tion than sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Pop­u­lar with artists and cre­atives, Haute-Vi­enne’s cap­i­tal city, Li­mo­ges ac­quired world­wide fame for its del­i­cate porce­lain after kaolin de­posits were dis­cov­ered close by in the 18th cen­tury. The city is also famed for its enamel work, which took off dur­ing the 12th cen­tury, with work­shops be­ing spon­sored by StMar­tial’s Abbey.

To­day, as well as be­ing home to many porce­lain pro­duc­ers – from in­di­vid­ual ar­ti­sans to larger fab­ri­ca­tors – and a wealth of porce­lain shops, Li­mo­ges is home to sev­eral mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion of porce­lain through the ages, as well as di­verse col­lec­tions from sci­en­tific in­stru­ments and rare books to paint­ings by Renoir and Morisot. Porce­lain lovers will also en­joy vis­it­ing the Musée Na­tional Adrien Dubouché which ex­hibits over 15,000 ce­ramic pieces, dat­ing back to the 18th cen­tury.

Sarah Ford, 47, moved to Li­mo­ges in 2014 after her part­ner, Paul, found a job lo­cally and is en­joy­ing her life in the city. “I have lived in sev­eral towns and cities in France in­clud­ing Nancy, Ne­mours and Paris. Here, we have a qual­ity of life we couldn’t hope for else­where: fresh air, spa­cious liv­ing space, happy chil­dren. I wish the train links to other cities were faster, but apart from that we just love Haute-Vi­enne.”

Li­mo­ges it­self is split into two parts – the old city, with its quaint, half-tim­bered build­ings and cob­bled streets, and the newer part, formed around the Place de la République – a lovely foun­tained square in the city cen­tre. Here, tra­di­tional stone streets give way to mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture and glass-fronted depart­ment stores and shops, in­ter­sected with cafés and

restau­rants. Old and new jos­tle for po­si­tion, with an an­tique carousel still bring­ing en­joy­ment to the city’s chil­dren on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and a stone foun­tain pro­vid­ing the perfect place to sit and con­tem­plate life, or munch a pain au choco­lat.

The Place de la République also hosts var­i­ous mar­kets and ex­hi­bi­tions through­out the year, in­clud­ing a Christ­mas market dur­ing which the square is decked out with tiny wooden cabins, cre­at­ing a mag­i­cal scene to brighten the dullest of win­ter days. Excitingly, the square is also in the midst of an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig, and passers-by can wit­ness the re­mains of the for­mer Abbey of St-Mar­tial be­ing un­earthed from be­neath the grey paving.

Li­mo­ges has a rich re­li­gious his­tory too, with parts of its cathe­dral, St-Éti­enne dat­ing back to 1273. On a smaller scale, the lit­tle Chapelle St-Aurélien, built in 1471 in what is known as the ‘Butch­ers’ Quar­ter’ is a charm­ingly peace­ful, mod­est build­ing stand­ing slightly askew on the cob­ble­stoned streets.

Natalie Ho­dencq, 42, moved to the small town of Bel­lac, 40 kilo­me­tres north of Li­mo­ges with her hus­band Charles, 43, in 2005. Now work­ing as a teacher of busi­ness English in Li­mo­ges, she is happy with her cho­sen lo­ca­tion. “I love the fact we live out in open coun­try­side – with fields stretch­ing in all di­rec­tions – but that we’re just a hop from Bel­lac town cen­tre, and a short drive from all the ameni­ties in Li­mo­ges,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

If nat­u­ral his­tory is your thing, then a visit to the town of Roche­chouart is a must. Sit­u­ated 40 kilo­me­tres west of Li­mo­ges, Roche­chouart is the site of a me­te­orite im­pact over 214 mil­lion years ago. While time has eroded much of the crater, ev­i­dence of the im­pact can be seen on sur­round­ing rocks.

The pretty, walled town of Rouche­chouart is also the lo­ca­tion of one of Haute-Vi­enne’s most beau­ti­ful châteaux, the Château de Roche­chouart, the ori­gins of which date back to the 13th cen­tury. The cas­tle has been mod­ernised over the years and now houses a mu­seum of mod­ern art which hosts an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion in­clud­ing a col­lec­tion by Dadaist artist Raoul Hauss­mann, and sculp­tures by Bri­tish artists in­clud­ing Tony Cragg and Richard Dea­con.

Some 20 kilo­me­tres north of Li­mo­ges lies one of the depart­ment’s most fa­mous tourist des­ti­na­tions – the de­serted vil­lage of Oradour-sur-Glane. Known as the ‘vil­lage of mar­tyrs’, the town was set upon by Ger­man SS Das Re­ich di­vi­sion on 10 June 1944; the troops shot the men, then housed the women and chil­dren in the town’s church, which they then burnt to the ground. A to­tal of 642 peo­ple lost their

lives, and the vil­lage has been left ex­actly as it was on that day. Rusted, burnt-out ve­hi­cles, derelict houses with metal bed frames, sewing ma­chines on stone win­dowsills and unused tram­lines give this vil­lage a haunted sad­ness, and vis­i­tors are left con­tem­plat­ing the hor­rors of war.

The Sec­ond World War is also com­mem­o­rated, this time for a TV se­ries, in the small town of Ey­moutiers which lies 30 miles east of Li­mo­ges. Here the se­ries Un vil­lage français is filmed. De­scribed by some as France’s an­swer to Down­ton Abbey, the his­tor­i­cal drama doc­u­ments life in the fictional com­mune of Vil­leneuve in Ger­man-oc­cu­pied France dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Dur­ing bouts of film­ing, shop fronts are re­placed, old cars can be seen grac­ing tiny side roads and lo­cals are treated to the sight of Ger­man troops march­ing down for film­ing, or groups of vin­tage-clad women sip­ping cof­fee be­tween takes.

Li­mo­ges’ old city has quaint, half-tim­bered build­ings and cob­bled streets

Ey­moutiers is also home to Es­pace Paul Re­bey­rolle, an art gallery fea­tur­ing the work of French artist Paul Re­bey­rolle, as well as a reg­u­lar host of vis­it­ing ex­hi­bi­tions that re­cently in­cluded sketches by Pi­casso.

Tim Cater, 48, moved to Ey­moutiers in 2003 with his part­ner Richard, 44. To­gether they run a cham­bres d’hôtes, Les Cerisiers, and have re­cently opened an ad­di­tional gîte. “We love the di­ver­sity this area of France has to of­fer,” ex­plains Tim. “For us, Ey­moutiers is per­fectly po­si­tioned as it’s within easy reach of good lakes and well-marked walk­ing routes. Plus, Haute-Vi­enne has some­thing for all tastes – mu­sic fes­ti­vals in the sum­mer months, lovely ar­chi­tec­ture and plenty of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties. It’s a beau­ti­ful, peace­ful and in­spir­ing area of France.”

De­spite hav­ing a pop­u­la­tion of fewer than 3,000, Ey­moutiers is a vi­brant lit­tle town, with a bi-weekly market, reg­u­lar, two-car­riage trains from its sta­tion to

Main: Lac de Vas­sivière is one of France’s largest man-made lakes Top: Parc Na­turel Ré­gional de Mill­e­vaches Be­low: Pont St-Eti­enne in Li­mo­ges

These pages, clock­wise from main: Place Fon­taine des Bar­res in Li­mo­ges; a typ­i­cal half-tim­bered house; Li­mo­ges is home to nu­mer­ous porce­lain pro­duc­ers; Château de Roche­chouart is one of the depart­ment’s most beau­ti­ful châteaux

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