An eight hour car trip can be mind-numbing, especially when stuck in traffic for the majority of the journey. No amount of jolly ‘sing-along’ music or chewy sweets can make it a pleasurable ride. However, the Haute Vienne region of France makes even the most unbearable drive worth it.
The Haute Vienne is located in the west of France and it goes largely unnoticed by the buzzing hoards of bleary eyed, beer guzzling, heavily accented tourists that flock to the rather more famous Dordogne and its capital Bordeaux just south of the Haute Vienne. The French themselves seem to remember the region as only one town, Limoges, boasting a population exceeding 20,000.
Towns are few and far between but are filled with an ancient and welcoming charm that can only exist in such medieval small holdings. Stereotypes run wild here. Townhouses lean bafflingly in all directions, roofs appearing to protrude into the crisp blue sky that ceilings the narrow cobbled streets, and rivers flow green into steep valleys reflecting the images of age-old abbeys. Elderly French men tend to their flooding crops in flat caps and tweed trousers whilst wives peer on through calm eyes squinting against the bright and almost unforgiving sunshine.
The verdant landscape of the Haute Vienne is tantalisingly inviting to those whose idea of a perfect escape is to relax in a world of utter silence, where only the beats and rhythms of nature enter your ears. Or those who enjoy an adventure of a two-wheeled nature. Cycling is popular in the region, due mainly to perfectly tarmacked roads where one forgets that demon pot-holes ever existed and can see more deer than cars. The region is by no means flat, but the rolling landscape makes each ride ever more mystifying; it appears ageless.
The region is known as “The Land of a Thousand Lakes” and, while you’ll be pushed to find one that challenges the size of those such as Lake Nyos and Lake Baikal, the Haute Vienne certainly lives up to this name. The lustrous large ponds speck the vista for miles around, making the region a popular fishing destination.
The people are, above all, friendly and come out in force for local celebrations. Towns that appeared barren before rapidly flood with overwhelming crowds as festivities rage over hazy summer weekends.
While some people will complain that the Haute Vienne is boring, mundane – even lifeless – and that there is ‘nothing to do’ here, a little prior research goes a long way.There is actually a lot to do here. Prehistoric caves hide amongst deep forests; the area is well known for a variety of cave paintings. There are many ‘chocolate box’ towns to be explored including Brantôme, arguably the most picturesque French town of all. Brantôme, snuggled around the river Dronne, hosts a variety of cafes and restaurants, as well as spots to rent canoes. The region is also blessed with huge markets; in fact, some of the best markets in France are nestled here. You can buy anything from a lawnmower to live chickens, and the crowds that alight these markets are astounding. But never fear, there is always a shaded table at a café waiting for you when it all gets too much.
All in all, the Haute Vienne is an unsung delight. A secret escape that should be shared with more than just the large Dutch families that holiday in the region. It may not have a raging nightlife, and you might not be able to go and see the largest pizza in the world, but if deer spotting is your thing, it is worth the stupefying journey to get there.
How to Get There:
Ferries depart every hour from Dover to Calais. With P&O Ferries, for a car up to 1.8 metres high average prices can range from £45.00 – £100 pp depending on dates.
Flights are around £217 pp return from London Heathrow to Limoges flying with Ryanair.
Hotels in Limoges start at £33 per night per room for 3 stars. (Appart’City Limoges with Booking.com)
Photo credit: Rachael Povey