Town and city sketches
Brive, a lively, forward-looking town of some 50 000 inhabitants is by far the largest in the Corrèze. Brive is renowned for its excellent regional cuisine, and rugby fans will certainly have heard of the local team’s prowess. Located where four different rock types meet, a wide variety of produce is available thanks to the varying soils and Brive’s markets are renowned for the variety and quality of produce on offer. In recent times, as well as the shops and boutiques in the well-restored mediaeval and Renaissance quarters constructed around St. Martin’s church, rebuilt in the 13th C. Brive has a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere, and as well as its historical and architectural heritage, has much to offer the visitor, including various festivals and events.
Figeac, also a ‘Town of Art and History’ and “Grand Site Midi-Pyrénées”, owes its existence to the foundation of a Benedictine abbey on the banks of the river Célé. Now the Lot’s second largest town, it grew rapidly as the abbey prospered, and in the 13th and 14th C. was home to rich merchants whose business took them throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Their wealth built some very fine town houses, and explains the lovely mediaeval aspect of Figeac’s well conserved, semi-pedestrianised town centre. The town was also home to Champollion, who cracked the code of hieroglyphics, and there is now a museum dedicated to him and to the writing systems of the world. Figeac is an invitation to stroll through a living history book which has adopted - and adapted – modernity without losing its delightful personality.
The mediaeval heart of Martel, with vestiges of the 12th C. town wall, a large fortified church rebuilt in the 14th C. and the covered market place with its set of old grain measures, is very well preserved. A busy, bustling market is still held here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, bursting with delicious local produce, including in wintertime that highly prized commodity, the black truffle.
A short distance away to the west on the banks of the river Dordogne, the town of Souillac provides plenty of interest, including a beautiful 12th C. Romanesque abbey church, the old quarter containing some lovely mediaeval houses, and a Museum of Automata, which possesses a fascinating collection of mechanical toys and automata from the 18th and 19th C., many of which can be seen working.
This town has always been an important river crossing, where north-south and east-west routes meet, and the Pont Vieux, which has spanned the river since the 12th C., bears witness to this long history of travel and exchanges. If you climb up to the top of the Malpas cliff, you get a wonderful view over the river, the roofs and old streets of the town and the 15th C. St. Sour church. Les cluseaux are a real curiosity: they are underground shelters, whose history is shrouded in mystery, but the fact that most are equipped with a source of water suggests that they might have been used as refuges in troubled times. Enjoy a stroll through the gardens inspired by 17th and 18th C. styles, and the contrasting Jardins de l’Imaginaire, which are a modern garden must-see.