Think of Limoges, the capital of Limousin and the department of Haute-Vienne, and most will picture the world famous porcelain manufactured there after a deposit of fine white clay was discovered nearby in the mid eighteenth century.
Yet in the Middle Ages, Limoges was already renowned for its enamels and at various times, gold, quartz, copper and uranium have all been mined in the vicinity.
Today, this centre of the decorative arts is a major university town hosting an important September festival of writers and musicians.
Visitors can enjoy the botanical gardens, Cathedrale St Etienne’s fine stone carvings, and magnificent porcelain and enamel collections in 2 museums.
Tired of shopping or browsing factory showrooms, then take the summer steam train from Limoges to Ussels in neighbouring Correze,100km of dramatic scenery across the fantastic gorges of high altitude Plateau de Millevaches. This wild land of rivers and forests is a joy for walkers, cyclists and anglers.
Leave the train earlier at medieval fortress town, Eyemoutiers on the River Vienne to visit man-made Lake Vassiviere, one of the largest lakes in France, offering all kinds of leisure activity including opportunities to learn sailing, windsurfing and horse riding.
Haute-Vienne holds various gourmet festivals celebrating an agriculture best suited to livestock. Sheep and red Limousine beef cattle graze green pastures and the tasty dish of ‘potee Limousine’ - salt pork boiled with vegetables including onions, carrots and potatoes - is surely down to the free range diet enjoyed by the pink and black ‘cul noir’ pigs from around St Yrieix.
In the south, Haute-Vienne forms part of the Parc Naturel Regional Perigord-Limousin, where the ancient skills of the ‘feuillardiers’ or woodcutters working with chestnut wood were practised. These skills are now used to make garden furniture and park tourist offices offer themed walks and workshops, from chestnuts to bird-watching, which should especially appeal to families as will the Dronne Valley Velo-Rail ride.
There’s plenty too in Haute-Vienne for history lovers. Churches and castles record the route followed by Richard the Lionheart, including Coussac-Bonneval and the ruined Chateau de Chalus-Chabrol at Chalus where Richard was mortally wounded by an archer.
North West of Limoges, Oradour-sur-Glane stands as a moving twenthieth century shrine for inhabitants massacred there in WWII.