During my seven years as an expat in Paris, one of my favourite things was get outside of it and explore. I could never resist the castles and medieval towns, not to mention the mouthwatering food, of the surrounding regions. Visiting these areas is like visiting another world and it is these parts of the country that are often what many dream of when thinking about holidaying in France.
On hearing the name Limoges you might immediately think of the exquisite porcelain that has been in production for centuries and that’s exactly what the Limousin capital is known for. Here you’ll find luxurious porcelain brands, traditional and contemporary designs, factory tours and even outlet shopping. The Adrien Dubouché Museum here holds the world’s largest Limoges porcelain collection for those wanting to indulge more.
But not only can you find traditional, long established porcelain producers like Bernardaud Porcelain but also contemporary design groups like Esprit Porcelaine.These artists treat porcelain in new, more interesting ways, often mixing it with materials like glass and wood and it’s worth visiting both groups to understand the traditions and history as well as the exciting new innovations and designs.
But Limousin isn’t just about the famous porcelain and if you are serious about the best quality shopping, this is the place to be. Creative designers and artists have made the region their home, following their passion and producing high quality, hand-made products. Here, leather, lace, tapestries and enamel are all found in abundance - the best of these creators being a part of the Luxe et Excellence Association (a group chosen for the quality of their workmanship and ethical techniques).
Outside of Limoges, Limousin has some of the most beautiful towns and villages in France, each with their own traditions and creative industries. French trains will get you just about everywhere but driving is my preferred way to get around. There’s nothing like taking a quick turn to stop by a castle that catches your eye or stopping in a secluded spot for a scenic picnic.
Aubusson and its UNESCO listed tapestries is an easy trip from Limoges and in the 10 years since I first visited, so much has changed. Even though tapestries are a traditional product, like porcelain, you can now also find contemporary designs by artists who are still influenced by tradition but who have an eye towards the future.
One of the great things about France is the little boutiques specialising in one particular product - they do one thing and do it well. Walking into Agnelle in the pretty town of Saint-Junien, you’re faced with a rainbow of leather gloves in beautiful, elegant designs. This is a shop with nothing but the best gloves in the world, making for a different experience from shopping in the high street.
In the Corrèze area is one of the prettiest hilltop towns in Limousin called Uzerche - its turreted houses perched above the Vézère River. You can visit the 11th century church of St Peter and St Andrew, wander the medieval streets of the old town and if you can find the stairs up to the viaduct, walk the length of the stone pathway for the best views of the town.
Next, stop at Collonges-la-Rouge for more turreted architecture and stately homes but this time in red sandstone. It’s quite unusual compared to the pale, neutral shades of the buildings in the rest of Limousin and one of the reasons for its popularity.
With shopping and the main sights in Limousin covered, the one thing left to experience is the delicious food. If you’re searching for local specialities stick to beef, lamb or maybe some blood sausage if you’re feeling adventurous. My top tip is to make your way to a creperie where you’ll find savoury crepes filled with meat and onions. These are unlike any kind of crepe or pancake you would ever find back home. Other regional favourites including violet mustard from the town of Brive, Limousin chestnuts and the famous dessert of the region, clafoutis - a cake-like dessert made with crepe batter and cherries. It’s the kind of cake you’ll always remember and be tempted to make once you return home.