The French Middle Earth continued

By Anne Gregg, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 18:53 17 February 2003

More creative distractions await at Limousin's capital Limoges, where at Bernardaud, children can paint their own porcelain plate while you case the factory shop for seconds.

Plus, the Adrien Dubouche Museum is a treat, displaying the most fabulous old china from around the world while the ancient bishops' palace houses a collection of 14th Century enamels and paintings by Renoir, who was born in the city.

I liked Limoges, though it takes time to grow on you. Confusingly, it has two centres, an old town and an older town.

The best bits are around Rue de la Boucherie - the power base in medieval times when six butcher families ran the show - and the leafy environs of the cathedral, which towers above the River Vienne.

At one end of the brilliant Romanesque St Etienne's Bridge is a restaurant called, not surprisingly, Le Pont St Etienne, where I dined on red mullet and crispy fried beetroot.

The food in the cattle country of Auvergne and Limousin is not as beef oriented as you might expect.

Potee auvergnate or limousine does wonders with pork and vegetables, stewed pigs cheeks are a novelty and lamb with ceps is excellent.

At a charming chambre d'hote in Chapelle Montbrandeix, I had a delicious confit de canard and stayed at a beautifully renovated old manor, where 43 euros pays for a double room and 13 euros (per head) buys dinner.

In Haute-Vienne, chestnuts are the order of the day - in stuffing and cakes and yummy marrons glaces.

The old trees drop the goodies while the tender young ones provide tables to put them on.

The golden latticed garden furniture is woven at small country ateliers de vannerie such as Pascal Raffier's. Big and rosy, he was delighted to do a demo and even more delighted when I ordered some - they'll send it anywhere.

And it is chestnut wattle which encloses the parterres of a medieval herb garden among the beguiling ruins of Chalus, where Richard the Lion Heart stopped beating.

Foolishly without his chainmail, he was besieging the fortress when a knight with a crossbow got him from 120ft.

His mother took his body to Fontevraud and his heart to Rouen, leaving - rather weirdly - his innards at Chalus, where a stone slab lies.

I have to tell you also about Oradoursur-Glane, the most effective and affecting memorial I have seen.

Just after the D-Day Landings, on June 10, 1944, Hitler's SS systematically annihilated this Limousin village, killing 642 men, women and children in two hours.

The village, carefully tended, remains frozen in time. Walking through it is unreal. A Citroen rusts away in the square. In the church, whose altar is pitted with machine gun fire, lies a buckled child's pram.

I will never forget Oradour. Nor the many more heartening corners of this untouristy swathe of hidden France.

To the rolling heights of Cantal and the quiet Bourbonnais vineyards, to the russet villages of Creuze and the delights of Vichy.

With low-cost flights making access a piece of clafoutis, my advice is get there fast before Dordogne devotees start heading east.

Getting there

buzz offers return flights from Stansted to Limoges from £58 (

Air France (0845 0845 111) has return flights from Gatwick to Clermont-Ferrand from £145

Ryanair offers return flights from Stansted to St Etienne from £29.95. (

More information on Limousin and Auvergne at and

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