Les Tours de Merle, photo: Stéfan Le Dû

Brive-Dordogne Valley airport has made access to the area from the UK easier than ever. Here we take a look at some of the delights of the area in the vicinity of Brive-Dordogne Valley airport.

The Wonders of the History and Geography of the Dordogne Valley

As you step out of the new Brive-Dordogne Valley airport, you are on the threshold of an area to which time has been kind: its rich traditions and heritage accumulated over millennia – scenic, architectural, historic, cultural and gastronomic -are still very much present and alive. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon Man, the first to leave us his paintings, both occupied this land. Even now, they would have little difficulty in recognising the landscapes they knew, particularly the remote places where Nature has largely been left to her own devices.

The airport lies on the boundary between two of France’s twenty-two regions, namely the Limousin and Midi-Pyrénées, and more specifically, between two départements, the Corrèze and the Lot. Despite these apparent divisions, they have a great deal in common, notably the river Dordogne which flows between and through them, like a blue-green ribbon binding them together in its loops. This waterway, from earliest times until the 19th C., was a vital trade artery, as were all navigable rivers, and the busy river traffic brought prosperity to many a settlement established on the banks. The rich historical and
architectural heritage of places such as Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Corrèze) and Souillac (Lot) bear this out.

Geographically speaking, this area, tilted down from east to west, effects the transition from the Massif Central, the highlands formed of ancient rocks constituting the heart of France, to the lower-lying regions leading to the ocean. This means that there is a wide variety of landscapes, from the steep, narrow valleys of the granite uplands, through limestone plateaux with their wide, flat horizons gashed by deep valleys lined with tall cliffs, to fertile, verdant river plains. The Lot and the Corrèze have more in common than just geography: they share a great deal of their history, too. From early medieval times until the 18th C.,the southern Corrèze and the northern Lot together formed the Vicomté de Turenne, ruled by the Viscounts of Turenne, extremely powerful feudal lords.

All such nobles were powerful, but the Viscounts of Turenne were exceptional: Within their domain, they wielded the authority usually reserved for royalty.Amongst other privileges, they set tax levels for their fief, which was exempt from the normal taxation imposed by the King. This had the consequence of ensuring that the Vicomté was better equipped economically to recover from the various wars and disasters that afflicted the South-West of France from the 14th to the 16th C than other areas outside this zone.

This area has never been heavily industrialised, which explains why it boasts so much unspoilt countryside, and so many beautifully-preserved towns and villages including several of the plus-beaux-villages-de-france (most beautiful villages)

Another excellent reason for visiting this part of the country is the delicious food and wine available everywhere: there is a very strong tradition of producing(and enjoying) all kinds of delightful things to eat and drink. Lively local markets, food fairs and festivals, restaurants ranging from Farm or Village inns to Michelin-starred establishments all contribute to the vigor of this tradition for locals and guests alike.

Culture in the Dordogne Valley, Corrèze

The arts in all their variety and crafts ancient and modern are also very much on the menu: guided tours, museums and galleries, handicraft fairs and workshops open to the public are to be found all over the area. The performance arts are well catered for by a host of lively, friendly festivals which feature high quality artistes and provide something for everyone, with the emphasis always on excellence.

The area offers a marvelous opportunity to recharge your batteries, whether this involves walking, riding, cycling, fishing, climbing, caving or one of the many other outdoor activities. Perhaps your ideal break consists of sitting on a shady hotel terrace overlooking a lovely landscape with a glass of something cool and delicious to hand (or both!). People here are very conscious of the benefits of their unhurried local lifestyle, and enjoy sharing it with visitors, who are considered as welcome guests.

And that’s an invitation… you can’t possibly refuse!

This vast limestone plateau stretches from north of the river Dordogne southwards to the Lot river and beyond, forming the heart of the Lot département and providing its defining landscapes. Sparsely populated, it nevertheless bears many traces of those who have lived here and worked the land: dry stone walls criss-cross the undulating fields; shepherd’s huts, barns, covered wells – all of dry stone – punctuate the countryside, testimony to the inhabitants’ resourcefulness. Water rarely stays long on the surface, but quickly disappears into a vast network of, caves and chasms, such as the iconic, spectacular Gouffre de Padirac. This is also an area made for people who love the great outdoors and all kinds of active leisure pursuits, including those who, like the White Rabbit, enjoy nothing more than diving down a pothole!

Places Not To be Missed.

Let’s begin with the little town of Argentatf in an idyllic setting on the Dordogne, where the river begins to form a wider flood plain than in its higher reaches.

There were settlements nearby in Iron Age times, but Argentat really got “on the map” in the 10th C., when it was recorded as a walled town centered on a priory. Its prosperity came from the river trade, which developed particularly in the 18th and 19th C., with the transport of wood destined for wine barrels and vine stakes in the Bordeaux vineyards, and the evidence of its former wealth is visible to this day.

A replica courpet, the traditional flat-bottomed cargo boat, can be seen tied up at one of the quaysides.

Following the Dordogne downstream, you come to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne , which owes its existence to the founding of an abbey in the 9th C. by one of the Turenne family. “Beaulieu” meaning “beautiful place”, and it is certainly aptly named.

Charming old houses encircle the former abbey precincts: all that now remains is the church itself and the chapter room, but it’s certainly worth stopping to see. The 12th C. Romanesque church has an exquisitely carved tympanum over the south doorway depicting the Last Judgement, considered a masterpiece of its time.

If you turn up at the right time of year, you may find yourself in the middle of a strawberry festival, adding an extra treat to your visit.

Further south, on the other side of the Dordogne, lies the iconic Gouffre de Padirac, a truly spectacular natural chasm which forms a gaping 75m deep hole in the limestone causse.

Open to the public since 1899, the visit includes a short trip on a punt along the underground river which formed the whole system, and a walking tour of the vast internal caverns (the second largest open to the public in Europe), which are geologically interesting, with beautiful, unusual concretions.

Corrèze Towns and Villages To Visit

This part of France has retained a very strong identity, and many people here, whilst enjoying all the benefits of modernity, nevertheless have a lifestyle which takes account of the changing seasons and the cycles of Nature. This sense of continuity, of being in touch with one’s roots and with the essentials of life, exerts a powerful charm over visitors, many of whom return again and again. The places mentioned here are all particularly attractive; but the list is by no means exhaustive: come and decide on your own favourite!

Brive-la-Gaillarde

On the river Corrèze, the old centre which originally developed around St Martin’s church is now largely pedestrianised, providing a very pleasant environment. There are plenty of interesting old buildings to see, including the Labenche Renaissance town house, now a museum; shops to dawdle past and an excellent market,where all the many local specialities have pride of place.

Other must-sees in this area include several villages belonging to the select group known
as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. This is an association founded in 1982 by Charles Ceyrac, who was then Mayor of Collonges-la- Rouge in the Corrèze. Its purpose is to preserve and enhance the heritage of member villages, in order make them better known, so that they can attract more visitors and develop their local economy, thus helping to keep them alive and viable. There are currently 155 members, located all over France. Membership of the Association is not granted lightly: candidates have to satisfy very strict criteria relating to their population, the quality and state of conservation of their heritage, and the efforts made by the village council to ensure that it is appreciated and well looked-after.

Collonges-la-rouge

Collonges-la-rouge has impeccable credentials: in the past, it became the favourite place for nobles and officers from the nearby court of the Viscounts of Turenne to build their fine residences, with the result that several houses have the aspect of small châteaux. Add to this the fact that the whole place is constructed of a local dark red sandstone and you have a village which really stands out from the crowd. Plenty of fine local craftwork and local products are available in the little shops around the village.

Turenne

Turenne and Collonges are not far apart, but they could hardly look more different.
Turenne is built on a conical hill dominated by mediaeval towers, vestiges of the mighty
seat of power of the Viscounts of Turenne, who held sway in this area for nearly ten centuries. Steep lanes lead down to the village houses built, like the castle, from the underlying grey-white limestone. The quality of the houses is indicative of the social status of their original owners. There are wonderful views from the top of the hill: you can see why feudal lords chose this spot.

Curemonte

Curemonte, built on a ridge between two watercourses, was recorded as early as 860, but began to develop during the 11th C. when it came into the possession of the Viscounts of Turenne.

This lovely village boasts three châteaux, tightly grouped around the attractive covered market place and 12th C. church, with other fine old noble residences encircling the central hub. Two other churches stand outside the main village: the 11th C. Romanesque La Combe (one of the oldest in the Limousin) and the 12th C. St. Genest, now a museum of sacred art.

Arts and traditional Crafts in the Dordogne Valley Area of Corrèze

Not far north of Brive, near the mediaeval village of Donzenac, Les Pans de Travassac provides a fascinating insight into the extraction and preparation of roofing slate, large deposits of which are found locally. Exploited since the 16th C., this quarry was the only one to survive the collapse of the industry in the 20th C. and is now thriving, thanks to high demand linked to the renovation of old buildings and for new builds as well. Over the centuries, towering 100m cliffs have been carved out, forming a spectacular backdrop to the visit, during which you can find out all about the highly skilled craft of the slate workers.

In the village of Collonges-la-rouge, e couteaux de Corrèze a handcrafted knife in the traditional local style, first reflected the light of day in 1995 when Eric Peyronnaud set up his workshop here. The Corrèze knife has its own registered trademark, and has an unusual design as regards both its shape and its spring, formed like a sweet chestnut leaf. Short guided tours of the workshop are provided free, so that you can appreciate the craft of the knife-maker.

Earth, air and fire… when these come together (at exactly the right temperature!) glass is born. In Alvignac-les-Eaux in the glassblower’s workshop of Jean Pierre mateus you can watch this magic happen for free, as Jean Pierre and his assistants ply their traditional craft. Glass making requires both a high degree of artistry and skill, plenty of which is on display here. In the shop you’ll find a wide range of items from small pieces of jewellery to large display creations.

Not far from the village of Autoire lies the Ferme de siran, where gaëlle and Julien Taillefer take great care of their herd of goats… but their business isn’t cheese making. They raise angora goats whose thick, curly coats are transformed into warm, deliciously soft mohair. You can visit the farm (the goats are very welcoming, especially when you feed them!),

It’s a pleasure to watch clay taking shape and life beneath the nimble fingers of Laetitia Robert whose Meyssac workshop is open to the public. This young artist creates everyday objects, linked to the art of setting a table beautifully, plus a whole range of vases, lamps, mirrors, chandeliers… And even more unusual… Laetitia also produces, to order, épis de faîtage or finials, which traditionally crown the roofs of the fine residences and typical local houses in this area.
www.poterie-meyssac.com

Go With The Flow Down The Dordogne Valley

What better way to enjoy the splendor of the Dordogne valley than by boat. There are dozens of places along the river here you can hire canoes. Don’t forget to pack a pic nic!

Setting off from Argentat, with all its long history linked to the river, the first stage of your trip takes you down to Beaulieu sur- Dordogne, through a gentle, bucolic landscape. The valley here is quite open, with a fertile flood plain rising gently towards green, wooded hills. There are plenty of places where you can pull your canoe out on to a little beach, to enjoy a picnic, or just relax.

Beaulieu is another place whose rich history and heritage is closely allied to the river, including an old Penitents’ Chapel on the riverside where the gabariers or boatmen who once plied their trade on the Dordogne used to pray for a safe voyage.

Continuing on towards Carennac, the Dordogne winds its way peacefully between well-tended fields where you may find strawberries or asparagus, according to season. Tributaries such as the Cère and the Bave flow in on the left bank, and the river splits into channels embracing verdant islands.

One such island lies opposite Carennac, where beautiful old houses line the river, as though wanting to dip their toes in the water. A stroll around the village reveals a fascinating new detail at each turn.

Imagine yourself floating gently down a river in whose fresh, quiet waters are reflected the blue of the sky, the green of the vegetation on the banks and the balconies of old houses overhanging the waterside… This is the start of a fourday canoeing trip which takes you down the river Dordogne from Argentat to Souillac, with overnight stops on the way.
Higher up the valley, the river runs fast and wild through steep gorges, but on this section it is much more calm and mature, and suitable for those who have no previous canoeing experience.

The next stage of the journey takes you down to Saint Sozy. On the way, the scenery changes, as the river begins to carve its way through the limestone plateau, creating spectacular cliffs on either side and meandering past proud rocky promontories. Don’t be surprised if you see a steam train puffing its way slowly along about 80m up on the cliffs on the right bank: it’s a tourist train that runs on the old line from Martel to St. Denis-les-Martel. Saint Sozy on the north bank has a twin on the opposite bank, the village of Meyronne. Both villages repay a visit: Meyronne is home to a former château that belonged to the Bishops of Tulle – they certainly knew how to choose the best spots! The final leg of this «voyage» takes you to Souillac, past more impressive cliffs. On the way, you pass the riverside village of Lacave, where the entrance to an enormous cave (which you can visit) opens in the hillside.

Soon after this, a small tributary, the Ouysse, flows in on the left, and where the waters meet, Belcastel castle stands sentinel atop the narrow promontory, as it has for centuries. After the next meander, you glide beneath the whitewalled Château de la Treyne on its bluff, guarding the river passage.Then journey’s end at Souillac awaits you, whose old quarter and modern Museum of Automata provide plenty of interest, to round off your trip through the lovely and varied landscapes of the Dordogne valley.

A Taste of the Dordogne Valley

Few aspects of our local lifestyle are more important to both residents and visitors alike than the really good food and wine available everywhere here. You can find it in simple country inns or village bistros, brasseries, or establishments with MIchelin stars. But we’re not just talking about restaurants; it all starts literally at ground level, in fields, orchards and vineyards, where produce of the highest quality begins its life. Many of our products have official quality certification such as AOP or Label Rouge; and these are not awarded lightly.

They are all to be found on the numerous markets which flourish in this area. Towns and many villages have once or twice weekly markets throughout the year; whilst in summer, Local Farmers’ Markets, at which only producers from the surrounding communities can trade, spring up in many places.

Every Saturday morning, the dynamic town of Brive sees crowds of shoppers in search of the finest seasonal produce flocking to the excellent Georges Brassens covered market on the Place de la Guierle. There are also traditional open food markets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so there’s plenty of opportunity to see and sample our many and varied specialities at their best.

If you want the fresh black truffle experience, you’ll have to come here between December and March when they ripen and the truffle markets in Lalbenque, Martel and Brive are crowded with producers, dealers, restaurateurs and visitors inhaling the inimitable aroma.
The lush green pastures and the famous chestnut-coloured Limousin cattle combine to produce excellent milk-fed, naturally-raised veal (no cages). The tender, delicate pinkish-white meat has Label Rouge status; and Objat’s market is recognised for the consistently high quality of the meat sold here.

The Dordogne Valley itself is a very fertile production zone, with earth enriched
by flood deposits over the millennia. Delicate white and green asparagus spears appear in spring, while sweet, succulent, sun-ripened strawberries perfume our markets in their turn.

This area is also home to vin paillé, a sweet wine made by a small number of winemakers who keep this centuries-old tradition alive. Bunches of grapes are hand-picked, laid on trays and allowed to dry naturally before being pressed. This concentrates the sugars and aromas, giving a white and a red wine that can be served chilled as an apéritif, or with foie gras, cheeses and desserts.A  very pleasant way of trying our traditional cuisine is to visit a Ferme Auberge or Farm Inn, where you can enjoy a meal on a working farm.

More Information

Correze Tourist Board

Aeroport de Brive Vallee de la Dordogne

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