France, Limousin: Saints and Sinners

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Andi Seiler

Empty country roads, cultural treasures, deep green forests and waving meadows were some of the highlights of my tour through Limousin. But on a trip like this, you also have to be prepared for encounters with knights and nobility, saints, and quite a few sinners.

The crowd moves back when the first knights reach the castle. The drawbridge lowers. The huge gate slowly opens, and a stream of coaches, riders, horses, cows and goats meander into the fortress.

My mind plays games while I'm sitting on a curb in the middle of the 700-souled village of Turenne and trying to capture the right angle for a mixture of narrow cobblestone streets and historic buildings in my camera's viewfinder. Turrene is located in Depártement Corrèze in southern Limousin. When you approach the village, the first recognizable features are parts of the ancient fortress, built in the eleventh century. After the French Revolution, only two towers and the square in between survived. The scene beams me back to a time when I built sand castles and defended them with plastic swords. But now, my only weapon, if you can call it that, is the camera. At least you can shoot with it.

The range of historical goods for the mind to acquire is amazing when you travel France in general, and that's especially so in Limousin, where I've traveled with a group of six dedicated, Harley enthusiasts. Our tour guide, Monika Kleppinger, a former PR person for the French tourism office in Germany, leads us through the Depártements (larger than a county, but not quite a state unless we're talking about Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, or Monaco) of Corrèze, Creuse and Haute-Vienne.

Our next stop is Collonges-la-Rouge, right at Highway D38. The town with its small alleys, little towers, steeply angled roofs and archways seems to have been dipped in burnt-orange paint. All the buildings are made of red sandstone. Like many other towns around here, Colonges-la-Rouge was originally an abbey (founded in 785 AD), and in the thirteenth century it developed into a town and 300 years on the officers from Turenne completed its fortifications.

We sally forth on our iron horses to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. Beaulieu means "beautiful town," and indeed it's a seductive locale with all the wonderfully restored old buildings, vineyards and banana plants (strange, but true!). And the closer to the shore of the Dordogne River you ride, the more exotic the place gets. Bateaus and barges travel up and down the stream; a fisherman tries his best to secure the evening meal. To us this is the perfect location for a picnic and maybe a nap later on. Brie, fresh-baked baguettes, sausage, boiled eggs and salad are on the menu today.

An hour later, we're back in the saddle on our pacifist crusade through Limousin. At the waterfalls of Gimel (Gimel les Cascades), we stop and pull our cameras out to catch the steaming cataract and the brilliant spectrum refracting in the spray. Well rewarded with our haul of color slides, we look forward to other travel perks - a relaxing bath and a great meal with wine and the culinary specialties of the region served up in La Seniorie Hotel in Correze.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2003 back issue.