There has been a city where Limoges now stands, for thousands of years. The Romans settled there, finding a sunny hill that was well drained with a river close by. They built villas and baths, an amphitheatre and all the mod cons of the day. Some remains are still there. The birthplace of Renoir and home of Balzac and Molière, Limoges is a city of secrets. Bishops, priests and locals carved out a 12-mile network of tunnels to store food, grain and wine during the hot summers and to hide from the marauding army of the Black Prince in 1370.
Centuries later, a cathedral and chateau were built and the town grew busy and rich. In 1768, the discovery of kaolin near Limoges kick started the porcelain industry that the town is now known for around the world. Fans of The Antiques Road Show will know that Limoges Porcelain is the crème de la crème, the best in the world.
The porcelain industry continues to flourish here. The town of Limoges is peppered with stores selling cups and saucers of every size, shape and style. Dinner services, teapots, ornaments, lights, there are small quirky shops and huge warehouses of porcelain.
The People of Limoges are potty for pottery
“In Limoges, everyone checks the backs of their plates. In restaurants or at the houses of friends – they want to see who made it, to make sure it is real Limoges” I’m told. Authentic porcelain is translucent, just hold it up to the light and you’ll see the faint glow through the solid fine china. Going back to The Antiques Road Show – that’s one of their first tests when they’re assessing an heirloom, fail that first basic check and sadly the dinner service your Aunty Betty left you that you thought would be your nest egg is most likely a dud. That’s not to say that all porcelain that’s see through is Limoges.
There are several requirements for making sure its real Limoges china, from where it’s made start to the ingredients, the design, flair, art, makers marks…
You’ll often come across Limoges porcelain in restaurants and probably won’t even know it. Sure it’s pricey but good restaurants want the best and this stuff lasts. The sexy, sophisticated and iconic striped dinner service used in Claridges, London was produced by Bernadaud. I’m smitten with the silver and green stripes, “How much” I ask. The reply is a discrete cough and I’m informed I can’t buy that exact service, it’s unique to Claridges (of course) but I can have something that looks very like it – a small coffee cup costs €25. I’m rather surprised by how affordable it is.
Porcelain fans will love the Adrien Dubouché National Museum of Porcelain with over 10,000 porcelain and earthenware pieces from all over the world, a must-see for ceramics fans.
What to see and do in Limoges:
Rue de la Boucherie
Pedestrianised rue de la Boucherie was named for the butchers’ shops that lined the street in the Middle Ages, the timber buildings are quite beautiful. Wander, eat, drink and be merry… in the old streets of Limoges. Relax at a terrace café, enjoy a meal at a restaurant – there’s a whole lot of choice here. Try Le Bistrot Jourdan for authentic atmosphere, lovely setting and great food.
Fresh air and glorious countryside of Limousin
Get out and about to discover picturesque villages and lush green countryside, places like Lupersat, a typical Limousin village with a few shops and a great little bistro where you can watch the bread being made for lunch and buy wine to take home. Not too far away is Aubusson, the centre of excellence when it came to tapestries and carpets of days gone by. The museum there is a must-see for all tapestry fans.
Centre de la Mémoire, Oradour-sur-Glane
On 10 June 1944, the little town of Oradour-sur-Glane, 21km northwest of Limoges, suffered one of the worst Nazi atrocities on French soil. The Village of the Martyrs has been left exactly as it was that day, a powerful reminder of dark days and a sobering visit. read more about Oradour-sur-Glane.
For information on what to see and do in Limousin visit: www.tourismelimousin.com
This is an excerpt, enjoy the full features about Limoges in the July/August 2015 The Good Life France Magazine