Gueret, capital of the department of Creuse, was originally the site of a seventh century monastery.
The town has some impressive architecture amongst its traditional granite houses, twice weekly markets and summer music festivals.
Don’t miss Gueret’s museum - Musee de la Senatorierie - housed in an eighteenth century mansion set in beautiful gardens which is full of unexpected treasures, from archaeology to Art Deco.
Items include a valuable collection of Aubusson tapestries; religious art; ceramics including some from China’s Ming dynasty; and exquisite twelfth and fifteenth century Limousin enamels.
The museum also exhibits a collection of locally inspired Impressionist paintings. Close by, Courtille Leisure Park has a huge lake with a man-made beach where swimmers, sun bathers and watersports enthusiasts can enjoy themselves.
Gueret makes an ideal centre from which to explore Chabrieres Forest - a wild place of legends inspired by strange granite rock formations.
Aubusson on the River Creuse is famously an important tapestry weaving centre which rivalled the Goblins in Paris. The earliest workshops were set up in the fourteenth century with wool from local sheep, plus use of clear water from the River Creuse, creating ideal conditions for the trades of wool dyeing, weaving and tapestry.
Aubusson’s Musee Departmental de la Tapisserie houses a rich collection spanning nearly 600 years of tapestry and carpet making, allowing visitors to see how the industry has developed over the centuries.
In the 1920s and 30s, artists such as Dufy and Picasso were invited to create designs and the Surrealist Jean Lurcat became a designer. Modern work can be seen in the Jean Lurcat Artistic and Cultural Centre which also houses a theatre.
See craftsmen at work in the town’s workshops and look for the sixteenth century home of a master weaver in the Maison du Tapissier, next to the tourist office, where you can enquire about exhibitions and guided tours. Climb the hill to Aubusson’s ruined castle for great views of the town and river.
Sister town to the tapestry making centre of Aubusson, Felletin concentrates on modern products and the tapestry ‘Christ of the Apocalypse’ designed by Graham Sutherland which hangs in Coventry Cathedral was woven here. Completed in 1962 and measuring 23.8m x 11.6m, it was the largest tapestry every produced in Felletin.
The town is a gateway to the Plateau de Millevaches and makes an idea base for exploring the region. There is a busy market in Felletin on Fridays and a sheep fair on the last Friday in July.
Crozant is set on an impressive rocky spur above a deep meander in the River Creuse where it meets the bubbling waters of the River Sedelle and there is evidence of a settlement on the site of this small village since pre-historic times.
The subject of prestigious paintings in galleries around the world, Crozant was much visited by nineteenth century Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet. You can enjoy the wonderful views which inspired these artists from the church square; close to the Colin Tower; and looking across the river from le Roche des Fileuses.
The scenery is particularly lovely in spring when the broom flowers or when the colours of autumn light up the landscape. Visit Crozant’s twelfth century Romanesque church of St Etienne and eleventh century castle ruins which are undergoing restoration. Contact the town hall for details of admission to the castle - tel: (00 33) 5 55 89 80 12.
Chateau Villemonteix near Chenerailles is a sympathically restored, privately owned, fifteenth century chateau which has a magnificent collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century tapestries made in Aubusson, Felletin and Flanders. Open Easter to 1 Nov.
Set high above the valley of the River Creuse, finely furnished Chateau Boussac, built in the twelfth - fifteenth centuries, is famously the place where nineteenth century French writer George Sand stayed during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. Her novel ‘Jeanne’ is set in the countryside around the Petite Creuse. Chateau Boussac is open to visitors all year. Tel: (00 33) 5 55 65 07 62 for details.
The medieval hamlet of Moutier-d’Ahun lies where the lush summer countryside drops down to the River Creuse, 2km from the larger village of Ahun.
An ancient Romanesque pack bridge crosses the river and Moutier-d’Ahun’s clustering houses are bright with flowers. The former Benedictine abbey founded in 997 is now a church, and rightly visited for its wonderful seventeenth century wood carvings.
There are guided tours each afternoon in July and August. If you are lucky enough to visit on 15 August you will see the statue of St Roch processed through the streets to the river.
This medieval town was a well-known stopping place on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela and today’s visitors still enjoy walking and cycling along the same tracks through the Creuse countryside.
Of interest are a black Madonna in the bell tower of La Souterraine’s church of Notre Dame and the town’s thirteenth century gate of Porte St Jean - all that remains of the town’s original ramparts.
Creuse has a history of stone cutting and its itinerant master masons took their craft to Paris in the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Many men walked 400km to find work there and some of the capital’s most famous buildings such as the Tuileries and Notre Dame are evidence of their handiwork.
Seek out the tiny village of Masgot to delight in the nineteenth century sculptured creations of animals and figures carved by a local farmer, Francois Michaud, which decorate many buildings. There is a permanent exhibition ‘All About Stone’ in the village.
Wolves roamed the Chabrieres Forest, near Gueret, until the middle of the twentieth century. Observe these shy creatures today in the safety of a secure park and go wolf watching on a trail led by an experienced naturalist.
The park is home to several species, including the European wolf, Canadian white wolf and black wolf of Alberta. Discover more about relationships between man and wolf and the many myths surrounding this predator.
Open afternoons only off-season and from 1000 May to mid-Sept with guided tours June, July and Aug. Feeding time is in the afternoons. Storytelling evenings July and August. See www.loups-chabrieres.com