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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2007
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Living in the Limousin

Vacation Home Rentals in the Heart of France

Medievel Castle in Limousin, France
The Limousin region of France is dotted with medieval castles. ©Volker Poelzl. All Rights Reserved.

The Limousin is a little known region in central France, a land of rolling hills covered with lush meadows and extensive forests. It is a region of small farms with cattle, sheep, and goats, where tourism still plays a small role in the local economy, and where visitors can enjoy a peaceful and quiet vacation away from crowded tourist destinations.

But not long ago the Limousin was affected by extensive emigration. Many farms and village houses were abandoned, as the rural population moved to cities in search of work. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of interest in the rich cultural heritage of the Limousin, and the French government created the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park in 1998. This cultural and natural heritage park helps preserve the traditional livelihoods and handicraft traditions of its residents and protects the diverse ecosystem. As a result there is today once again a thriving community of small farmers in the Limousin, who specialize in a cottage industry of local products, such as sheep and goat cheeses, smoked meats, honey, preserves, and handspun wool and wool products.

Long-standing artisan and crafts traditions are also kept alive by the locals, such as basketry, lace making, weaving of tapestry and rugs, as well as the famous painted enamelware and porcelain from Limoges, the region’s largest city. This revival effort has not only helped the local residents preserve their livelihoods and strengthen regional culture, but it has also put the Limousin on the map as an increasingly popular vacation destination. Many old farms and houses have been restored and are now rented out to foreign as well as French visitors. The renovated rental properties range from historic farmhouses and manor houses, to converted barns and stables, and even water mills.

A Region Rich in History and Traditions

Although far from the most popular historic attractions in France, the region has a rich historic heritage, from century-old farm houses to Romanesque village churches and medieval castles. During the Middle Ages the Limousin was part of the Duchy of Aquitaine, an English possession, and its most famous ruler was king Richard the Lion-Hearted, who was killed here at his castle in Châlus during a French siege in 1199. The locations connected with the fate of the English king are today part of the Route Richard Coeur de Lion, a cultural itinerary that covers many historic locations across the Limousin. A medieval festival in Rilhac- Lastours gave me a first-hand impression of the region’s past. There were musicians performing medieval ballads, an ironsmith demonstrating his traditional craft, and even a weapons master who demonstrated his skills with the crossbow. After briefly sighting his target he pulled the trigger and the arrow swiftly tore through an English flag draped over a haystack.

“The English once owned this part of the country, and we like to revive this age-old rivalry just for the festival,” he said with a smile, as he pulled the arrow out of the flag. Then he was surrounded by a group of boys who intently listened to him explaining medieval weaponry.

Today the Limousin region lives another chapter of its historic connection with Britain, but this time it is a peaceful one. In recent years this bucolic landscape of rolling pastures and forested hills has attracted a growing number of seasonal residents from Great Britain, who come here to rent and buy old farmhouses.

Village Scene in Limousin, France
A village scene in the Limousin—an ideal place for an equestrian holiday. ©Volker Poelzl. All Rights Reserved.

Exploring the Region

The Limousin is a geographically diverse region that offers great outdoors activities to visitors. The region is covered with extensive forests that make for great hiking and bicycling. There are many rivers that dissect the Limousin on their way to the Atlantic Ocean, some of them running though narrow gorges, which attract fishermen and paddlers alike. Horse riding is also a long-standing tradition here, and many horse farms offer lessons and excursions for riders of all skill levels. Due to its central location in the heart of France, the Limousin is also an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding regions, such as the Atlantic coast or the peaks of the Massif Central to the east. To the southeast, the famous prehistoric cave paintings around Lascaux in the Périgord region can be visited easily on a day trip.

Regional culture and cuisine are also celebrated everywhere. There are many markets, fairs, music, and theater events, as well as food festivals, where visitors can sample the local cuisine, which is made from traditional ingredients and known for its rustic and hearty quality. Among the Limousin’s specialties are its tender beef, ham, lamb, mutton, foie gras, chestnuts, truffles, bréjaude (a soup of cabbage and bacon), pâté de pommes de terre (potato pie with smoked ham), and galettes (buckwheat pancakes). There are also many desserts, preserves, and liqueurs made from local fruit and wild berries. Contact one of the local tourist offices for a calendar of cultural and culinary events (see sidebar below).

Country Home Rentals in Limousin, France
Country homes like this one near Limoges are rented to visitors year-round. ©Volker Poelzl. All Rights Reserved.

Renting a Home

At a time of a weakening U.S. dollar, self-catering vacation rentals (known as gîtes in France) are an affordable alternative to hotel accommodations. The price of accommodation per person is much lower than at most hotels, and you can also save by preparing your own meals and taking advantage of the large offering of fresh food and produce at farmer’s markets and fairs.

There are variety of rentals on the market, and it is best to research several listings to find the right choice for your vacation. Most houses are rented by the week, and so it is important to do some research before committing yourself to a home. Before booking you should take into consideration the per person cost for a larger vacation house versus a smaller one, whether a deposit is required, and if there is a cancellation policy or refund in case of a late arrival or early departure. Find out what services and activities are offered. Some hosts offer meals and a variety of activities, such as excursions or horseback riding. Are you looking for a traditional farm, a renovated house, a modern home, or an elegant estate? Historic farmhouses have a great flair, but they can be quite rustic and may not have modern appliances. But in general, while most historic homes retain their traditional ambience, they also feature modern amenities to cater to the demands of today’s travelers. The location of your vacation rental should also fit your needs. Some rentals are in towns or villages; others are in the countryside. Find out if there is a town nearby with a supermarket and other facilities such as shops and restaurants. Are there attractions in the vicinity and easy access to your favorite activities? Depending on your location, you may need a rental car, or you may be able to get by with a bicycle, bus, and local train. If you do not plan to rent a car, find out if your hosts are able to pick you up from a nearby railway station or the Limoges airport.

The local residents are hospitable and friendly toward foreigners, and in the small towns and hamlets it is easy to interact with them. It helps to speak some French, but an increasing number of French people, especially the younger generation, speak some English. Spending your vacation in the Limousin allows you to experience an authentic slice of life in rural France and explore a quiet and still little visited region in a beautiful part of France.

For More Info

Getting There

AirFrance flies from Paris to Limoges. RyanAir flies from London Stansted to Limoges. You can also take the train from Paris to Limoges. Limoges has several car rental agencies, such as Europcar, Avis, Hertz, National Car Rental, and Rent-A-Car.

When to Go

Summer is the most popular time to go. The weather is warm and dry, but the rates are the highest. Spring and fall have more rainfall, but temperatures are mild and still allow for outdoor activities, and rates fall significantly. Most cultural events, fairs, and markets are held between late spring and early fall.

Travel Information

Limoges Tourist Office: www.tourisme.fr/tourist-office/limoges.htm (in French). Comité Régional du Tourisme Limousin (Limousin Regional Tourism Committee): www.tourismelimousin.com (in French). Comité Départementale du Tourisme (Departmental Tourism Committee): www.tourisme-hautevienne.com. Welcome en Limousin (www.welcome-en-limousin.com) provides travel information about the Limousin region.

Rating Systems for Vacation Rentals

To help visitors make the right choice andto ensure high quality of vacation rentals, several reputable organizations have introduced a rating system for vacation homes. Some websites also provide a feedback section, where you can read commentaries from other visitors. Clévacances is a widely recognized listing service that provides quality control and a rating system of its listed properties, with a regional office in Limoges: www.clevacances.com.

The Gîtes de France also awards its listed vacation rentals a quality seal, which is widely recognized throughout France.

Rental Listings

The following websites all have extensive listings for vacation rentals and B&Bs in the Limousin region:

Gîtes de France is a great directory site with many listings in the region.

Bienvenue à la Ferme is a network of 5,200 French farmers who offer farm vacations, operate farmhouse inns, and sell their cottage industry and farm products
French Connections
French Entrée Limousin
Holiday Homes France
Holiday Lettings
Homeaway
Homelidays
PerfectPlaces.com Vacation Rentals
Slow Travel

 
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