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If you really want to get off the beaten track in France, head for the rural and little-populated region of Limousin, suggests Dominic Bliss. Discover medieval hilltop villages, imposing châteaux and swathes of stunning scenery…

Back in the old days, the good residents of Limousin were famed for wearing huge, hooded cloaks. This practice kept them nice and warm in winter but unfortunately it has also ensured that they will eternally be confused with a large style of American car. Yes, we mean the limousine, of course.

There are two stories explaining the origin of the name of the car. One suggests that the soft, folding roof of early carriages and automobiles resembled the Limousin residents’ hooded cloaks. The other maintains that the original limousine drivers donned large cloaks to protect them from the elements. Whatever the etymology, one thing is certain: you won’t see many limousines in Limousin. Not the motorised versions, anyway.

That’s because this is one of the most rural areas of mainland France and officially the least populated – less than three-quarters of a million at last count. Comprising the three departments of Creuse, Corrèze and Haute-Vienne, it used to be an official region of France before it became subsumed into the much bigger Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the great administrative shake-up last year. It’s named after the Celtic tribe, the Lemovices, who long ago were based in what is now Saint-Denis-des-Murs, in the Haute-Vienne. Slap bang in the centre of France, Limousin sits mostly atop the Massif Central, affording it lots of beautifully rolling hills, lush woodland, verdant river valleys (including some of the Dordogne, the Charente and the Vienne), farmland as far as the eye can see, and even a bit of mountain. The lowest land (around 250 metres above sea level) is found in the northwest, past Bellac, while the highest (around 1,000 metres above sea level) is in the southeast, out towards the long string of volcanoes in the Auvergne.


There aren’t large cities here, and that’s part of the region’s charm. Limoges, west of the region’s central point, is the biggest with 140,000 inhabitants, while in the north there’s Guéret, and in the south Tulle – global capital of accordions! – and Brive-la-Gaillarde, with its golden sandstone central village. Thanks to its university, Limoges is the only place in the entire region where you’ll find anything approaching nightlife. Elsewhere it’s distinctly sleepy, to say the least, even during the summer months. Many of the larger towns have attractive street markets where you can indulge yourself in the amazing local farm produce. But elsewhere you’ll feel isolated. In some areas, if you stick to the back roads, you’ll struggle to spot more than a handful of passing cars all day. This is real rural France at its most glorious.

Read the rest of this article at the website below.

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Limousin France

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