Limoges: Medieval streets and porcelain dreams (France)

Get the guide to the town of Limoges, with medieval charm meets porcelain elegance. With history, top things to see, do and eat.
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The name Limoges is synonymous with porcelain, and for good reason. The town’s pottery prowess is so legendary that even your most posh aunt would do a double take at all the elegant dinnerware.

Located in the heart of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in central France, the town of Limoges has become famous for its porcelain craftsmanship. But as visitors flock here looking for table settings, they are bound to stumble upon this historic town’s cobbled streets and medieval architecture.

Because while the porcelain only dates back to the 18th century, Limoges is a town that dates back to the Roman Empire.

traditional porcelain from Limoges

This is a town where every corner holds a piece of the past, and every street has a story to tell. So let’s have a look at the history of Limoges and the top things to see, do, and eat here, shall we? Allons-y!

History

Limoges boasts a history that stretches back to Roman times, with evidence of a settlement dating as far back as the 10 BC.

Located on the river Vienne, Limoges, was then known as Augustoritum, and served as an important center for administration and trade. Roman baths and ruins are testament to the town’s significance in the ancient world.

The town flourished during the Middle Ages, as part of the lands of the Dukes of Aquitaine. When Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married the King of England, her lands including Limoges came under English control.

Eleanor’s son King Richard the Lionheart of England tried to consolidate his power over Aquitaine (and Normandy next door, which were inherited from his great-grandfather William the Conqueror). As such, it was not until the French victory during the Hundred Years’ war against the English that Limoges became part of the Kingdom of France.

Limoges is also part of the pilgrimage of Santiago of Compostela, with many pilgrims going on nearby Rocamadour. In the Middle ages, Rocamadour was the 4th largest pilgrimage site among the sites in Europe and the Holy Land.

The discovery of kaolin, a clay mineral, in the 18th century transformed the town of Limoges into a global center for porcelain production. Kaolin is a key ingredient in porcelain production and this propelled Limoges into global prominence as a center for exquisite craftsmanship.

The legacy of this era is visible today in the town’s thriving porcelain industry. Interestingly until the 1970s, the regional language Limousin was the primary language in the area. (Limousin is a dialect of Occitan and a Langue d’Oc language.)

Today Limoges is a modern town with its distinct echos of the past attracting plenty of tourists and locals to the area.

Things to do in Limoges

1. Quartier de la Boucherie

Limoges’s medieval history is perhaps best displayed in medieval streets like those in Quartier de la Boucherie. This is a neighborhood with its timber-framed houses and narrow lanes.

The name “boucherie” comes from the fact that is where the town’s ancient guild of butchers used to live.

Limoges: Medieval streets and porcelain dreams (France) 1

The medieval charm here is off the scale, with each step transporting you back in time. If you have time, stop at the numerous local cafes and shops and absorb the atmosphere of this unique neighborhood.

2. Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

The impressive Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges is a masterpiece whose construction began in 1273 and was only completed in 1888.

Because its construction took so long, the cathedral’s soaring spires and intricate stained glass windows are in a gothic, renaissance and romanesque styles. The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Limoges.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

Located in the center of Limoges, it stands as a testament to the town’s religious and architectural heritage. Entry is free, and you can take the time to explore its interior, adorned with art and history.

3. Buy some porcelain

The porcelain industry, passed down through generations, remains a source of local pride. There are plenty of small porcelain shops dotted around the city, offering a range of classic tableware as well as dinnerware sets for those with a more modern taste.

Limoges porcelain with birds motif

Visitors can witness the delicate artistry involved in porcelain-making through tours of the local Museum National Adrien Dubouche. The meticulous process, from molding to painting and firing, showcasing the largest collection of Limoges porcelain in the world.

4. Saint-Michel-des-Lions Church

Another architectural gem, Basilique Saint-Michel-des-Lions, stands proudly in Limoges. The current church was built during the 14th-16th century, on the grounds of a older church dating back to the 7th century.

spire of the Saint-Michel-des-Lions Church

The church’s bell tower is a distinctive feature on the town’s skyline. Outside the church are two stone lions, that date back from the Gallo-Roman period.

They were likely funerary monuments placed at the entrance to ancient public cemetery. They remain in the same place, even after the cemetery was moved outside the city.

5. Market days

There are several outdoor markets in Limoges, nearly every day of the week. The most popular are:

  • Tuesday to Saturday around Place des Bancs for food products only
  • Wednesday: Val de l’Aurence for all types of shopping
  • Thursday: around La Bastide, Corgnac, and Les Longes for all types of shopping.
  • Friday: around Beaubreuil for all types of shopping including various exotic products
  • Saturday:
    • Place des Carmes: (food products and natural flowers)
    • Place Marceau: all shops (with space dedicated to production from organic farming)
outdoor food market in Limoges

6. Musée des Beaux-Arts

For art enthusiasts, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is a treasure trove. Housed in a historic building that was the former episcopal palace of the Haute-Vienne.

the museum showcases an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, as well as one of the largest collection of enamels in the world.

There is also a collection of archeological artefacts from the Gallo-Roman period and Egypt that was donated by a rich local industrialist.

The museum is not open all the time. Rather it is open on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays (but is closed at lunchtime) as well as Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. Check opening hours before heading over.

7. Local Specialties

The Périgord and Dordogne departments of Nouvelle Aquitaine around Limoges is famous for its truffles, and you will find plenty of varieties inside the market.

Other local specialties in this part of Nouvelle Aquitaine is foie gras which is made from goose liver. The market is open every morning until 1pm during the year, except on Thursdays when it is closed.

Pilgrim cakes being sold in Limoges
Pilgrim cakes

It also offers some specialities linked to Rocamadour and for pilgrims following the path of the Santiago of Compostela.

How to get to Limoges?

Limoges is about 245 miles (390 km) from Paris. The fastest way to get to Sarlat is to drive or by taking a train leaving from Paris Austerlitz station in around 3h15.

The city of Limoges also has a small airport connecting to major cities around Europe.

square in Limoges

How easy is it getting around?

The historical center of Limoges is quite flat. Much of the center is limited to local resident traffic, so a good pair of shoes is a must for walking.

How many days should you spend?

It is possible to visit Limoges as a day trip if you are staying somewhere in the Nouvelle Aquitaine area, but as it is a rather lively town, I recommend staying overnight.

When is the best time to visit?

Limoges is not one of the towns that many tourists make their way to, as it is relatively far from other popular tourist attractions. As such, you can happily visit any time of the year.

However, in particular Limoges is famous for its Toques et porcelaine festival which is usually held every September. Organized by the city of Limoges, the event brings together with local food producers as well as tableware designers.

Where should you stay?

The following hotels in Limoges are great places to stay within the city:

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around Nouvelle Aquitaine. A bientôt!

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