If you’re looking to experience France off the beaten path, then Limoges is the place to go, especially if you are a solo traveller and a fine art lover. The Michelin travel guide describes it as a “lively city, dotted with attractive boutiques which you can explore as you stroll through the streets and along the developed banks of the river Vienne”. Located in central western France, just off the motorway that links Paris to Toulouse in the south-west, Limoges is listed as a ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ and according to the magazine L’Express’s quality of life survey, it’s the second best city to live in France.
Recognised by UNESCO, Limoges is also part of the global network of creative cities. This recognition acknowledges the region’s driving forces behind its arts du feu (literally ‘fire arts’), rich in history, creativity, craftsmanship, and innovation.
Pottery in Limoges
Porcelain connoisseurs will already be familiar with this legendary little city. For more than 200 years, Limoges has thrived as the top producer of excellent china in France; you can tell it by shop windows galore filled to the brim with teapots, vases, cups and sauces and the accoutrements of tableware.
If you want to get to know why the pottery produced here is very special, don’t miss Bernadaud, France’s largest dinner porcelain maker since 1863. Bernardaud is a registered Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Live Heritage Business), with two production sites in Limousin (Limoges and Oradour- sur-Glane) and shops worldwide. It also hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions to enjoy, such as ‘Ceramiques Gourmandes’ which will run until 28th March 2020. The exhibition examines the human relationship with food (guilty, sensual, problematic) and features 14 international artists with a taste for ceramic. The contemporary works showcase artists seldom exhibited in France and demonstrate the great vitality of ceramics on the international art scene, especially porcelain, one of the most interesting artistic mediums around today. Artists exhibited include the likes of Jae Yong Kim, renowned for her animal sculptures, Japanese jewellery designer Kaori Kurihara, American contemporary artist Jessica Stoller and British Ceramic artist Susan Nemeth.
To learn more about the history of the city and its porcelain, you can also visit the Adrien Dubouché National Museum, a paradise for porcelain collectors. Offering programs of cultural events, as well as a variety of activities and national and international exhibitions, The Adrien Dubouché National Museum has already become a part of French contemporary society. In its fully renovated setting, it holds the largest collection of Limoges porcelain in the world (over 10,000 pieces) and it contains representative works from the key stages in the history of ceramics. The museum route follows a journey through time starting from Antiquity, crossing continents and civilisations and leading visitors towards the most recent pieces.
Wandering in town
But Limoges also offers many surprises such as the palace looking 1920’s railway station and ‘La Règle’ subterranean tunnels. A variety of interesting museums, the impressive Gothic-inspired building Cathedral of Saint Etienne (built almost entirely in granite), romantic gardens and mysterious medieval passages wait for us to discover. Around the city is an unspoiled, rustic region of woods, green meadows and rough pasture, simple cottages, flocks of sheep and beefy Limousin cattle. It’s what was once the Limousin region of France.
The best very best thing to do in Limoges? It’s to wander around Rue de la Boucherie, one of the most picturesque and oldest quarters of the city. So-called because this area was once the district of Butchers, it dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. Today, there are still plenty of timber-framed houses, independent boutiques, and romantic cobbled lanes to explore.
And if you get peckish head to the Central covered market, a local gourmet hotspot. Built on Place de la Motte between 1885 and 1889, the central market of Limoges was the shopping centre of Limoges during the 19th Century. It was completely renovated in 1996 giving emphasis to a steel structure with triangulated frames, inspired by the works of Gustave Eiffel. Nowadays, the central covered market houses more than 40 shopkeepers serving a variety of local dishes and some restaurants.
Where to stay
Domaine des Etangs, Massignac, just 40 minutes’ drive from Limoges, is a spectacular hotel. Former private home made up of an 11th-century château and six farmhouse cottages, set in over 1,000 hectares of protected nature-filled countryside, it is an art destination in its own right thanks to the owners’ private collection that can be subtly stumbled upon in and around the estate. Original artwork including works by the likes of Matisse and Picasso adorn the suites and the château is surrounded by landscaped gardens and lakes, filled with art installations and sculptures including those by Richard Long and Irina Rasquinet. The hotel is also home to a spectacular exhibition space ‘La Laiterie’, housed in a former dairy barn, which regularly hosts art exhibitions such as La Lumière des Mondes (The Light of the World), running until the 15th of December 2019.
Curated by Hervé Mikaeloff, advisor for Louis Vuitton, and Ingrid Pux alongside owner of the Domaine, Garance Primat, La Lumière des Mondes features a varied selection of 30 pieces by 25 international artists from across the creative spectrum and includes sculptures and drawings by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, best known for her large-scale sculptures, and Annette Messager, renowned for her work on the French Pavillion. Additionally, works by Turner Prize Winner Anish Kapoor, Angel of the North sculptor Antony Gormley and contemporary American artist Sam Falls explore alchemy, humans and the earth and celebrates the plant and mineral world.
How to reach Limoges
If you’re planning to visit Limoges, then be sure to at least arrive or depart via train. After all, the stunning Art Nouveau Gare de Limoges-Bénedictins is one of the best in Europe. Not only does Limoges have easy train links to the rest of France, but it also has its own international airport.
You can fly direct from London to Limoges International Airport year round with Ryanair from £32 return and with British Airways from June – September from £60 return.