One of the most beautiful departments in France Correze is a region of wonderful rolling hills and picture perfect villages and towns. You start to get an idea about the beauty of this place when you realise that of Limousin’s seven Plus Beaux Villages de France, six are in Corrèze: Collonges-la-Rouge, Turenne, Curemonte, Treignac, Ségur-le-Chateau and Saint Robert.
We’ll discuss each of these villages and more below. But first, a bit more about the department itself.
What makes Correze so popular?
What makes Corrèze such an alluring place is the low population density, and, as a result, a low crime rate. But beyond these pertinent issues, it is the fact that, like its neighbours in the broader region of Limousin, this is the empty quarter, unknown to many, dismissed by others, yet prized by those who come to know it.
This is a region of gently rolling hills, wooded and farmed, where the ubiquitous Limousin cattle browse contentedly and soaring black kites give shape to the wind. Vineyards, maize fields and orchards feature prominently, and contribute to the pervading atmosphere of pastoral rusticity.
Much of the department is embraced in that amorphous region known as Quercy, and popular with short-stay visitors although it is well off the main tourist drag, which if anything makes it all the more appealing.
There is no haste here, quiet, anything-but-direct, roads meander up hill and down dale, leading the tourist to quiet villages where the tempo of life is very much andante sostenuto.
There are towns – Brive-la-Gaillarde and Tulle – but they are administrative and commercial centres with little to contribute to the culture or patrimony of the region.
Among the local people – Corrèziennes – Corrèze inspires passion, pride and devotion. This is a place where peace, legend, solitude and tradition live on, touched by charm and a welcoming gracefulness.
In some ways, the prevailing tranquillity might be thought to be epitomised in the Regional Nature Park Millevaches – the Park of a Thousand Cows – largely set in the north of Corrèze, but overlapping into Haute-Vienne and Creuse.
This is Limousin’s highest area and one of France’s main water sources, but it has nothing to do with cows – although they are about in abundance. The name comes from the Celtic mil batz, meaning a thousand springs.
Read more: Driving and touring around Limousin
9 villages and towns to visit in Correze
Collonges-la-Rouge is the base of the Association des Plus Beaux Villages de France, a distinction that bestows justified acclaim on some of France’s most agreeable villages. Exactly so with Collonges.
This is an engaging village, liberally adorned with pepper-pot towers, turrets and beefy walls built of burnished red sandstone that flank a warren of narrow streets shaded by aged chestnut trees.
It is an altogether delightful and skillful use of traditional materials that blend harmoniously.
During the 16th century, Collonges was the place chosen by the nobility for their holidays, and it was they who built the mansions and manor houses that give the town its individuality.
One unique and remarkable peculiarity is the 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church on the main square, which during the often bitter Wars of Religion (1562-98) saw Protestant and Catholic agree to share the church, shedding their differences, and conducting services simultaneously.
The countryside around the village is gently undulating, intermittently wooded and dotted with juniper bushes, walnut plantations and vineyards.
Just south of Brive-la-Gaillarde – the largest town but not the prefecture – the honey-coloured stone houses of Turenne have none of Collonges’ vivid hues.
But they gather together companionably in the shelter of a sharp cliff on the summit of which sprout the towers of the chateau once occupied by a viscounty that benefited from numerous royal prerogatives and enjoyed almost total independence from the Crown.
Just four families succeeded one another across ten centuries as the Viscounts of Turenne, a dynasty that gave Rome two popes – Clement VI and Gregory XI.
Pompadour pompe; Ventadour vente; Turenne règne, is a local saying attributing nobility to Turenne while suggesting that the other villages are just full of hot air.
Whatever, the village is a neat and worthwhile stopping off point, if only to wander the steep and narrow streets to the chateau, followed by a lazy allongée back at ground level.
In an attractive setting, in a wooded valley on the banks of the upper Dordogne, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne has great allure.
Originally developed around a Benedictine abbey, of which part can still be seen in the somewhat gloomy 12th-13th century church of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu, this beautiful (twice-weekly) market town with numerous shops and restaurants still has a medieval feel about it, and should be included in any tour of this southern part of Corrèze.
Equally so, the stunning collection of towers and turrets sitting along a narrow ridge, giving the village of Curemonte a commanding view over the Viscounty of Turenne, controlling two valleys and so preventing invaders from attacking from the Dordogne.
To wander this charming village’s streets, is certainly to go back in time, in a most agreeable way. Few guidebooks include Curemonte, and that is a strange omission for in spite of limited services for the tourist, not even a car park as such, it is a truly endearing village.
Perched above the Sourdoire valley, Curemonte has not only three chateaux – St Hilaire, La Plas and La Johannie – but also three churches, and an open market hall where a weekly farmer’s market is held in the summer months.
With a post office, bar/tabac and three restaurants, it remains however very much a working village, and perhaps that is its appeal. It comes as something of a surprise.
Quite how revealing a tour of Corrèze can be derived from a haphazard loop beginning in the medieval village of Donzenac.
It is quite unpretentious in itself, but built almost like a bastide, a place of high walls that embrace narrow and tortuous streets.
The central bell tower is neo-13th-century Gothic, while the pukka 13th-century house on Rue du Puy Broch is claimed to be the oldest extant building in Limousin.
From here it is a short drive to Varetz through lush and undulating countryside that is so agreeably typical; there is no need for speed, in any case, many of the serpentine roads won’t permit haste.
Of itself, Varetz is no more than another rural village, pleasurable but not outstanding. But just to the south of the village, the Jardins de Colette are an inspirational move to commemorate the French authoress, who for a time lived at the nearby Chateau de Castel-Novel.
The garden has as its theme the life and work of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and in them you discover not only the regions of France that she visited, but also the plants that she preferred, and which she came to know and understand under her mother’s guidance.
Although twice married, Colette caused a sensation when with the Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy, with whom she became romantically involved, the two performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge.
Their on-stage kiss nearly caused a riot, which the police were called in to suppress. Colette’s 1923 novel Le Blé en Herbe also raised hackles when it portrayed the seduction of a young boy by a much older woman.
Her most popular work, Gigi, was made into a Broadway play and a highly successful Hollywood film starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron.
North of Varetz and beyond Allassac, the village of Le Saillant is announced by a fine medieval bridge spanning the Vézère. Again, first impressions are of no more than an agreeable village of some antiquity.
Yet in its modest chapel are some of the last works in stained glass by the renowned artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Arguably, his most famous work – the twelve Chagall Windows – are in the synagogue of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.
Yet it is typical of the artist that his passion is displayed in more modest settings, too.
On a grey day it may be tempting to pass by when you reach Uzerche, but such would be a mistake, for this charming Limousin town at a bend in the River Vézère is a splendid detour.
A surprising number of the slate-roofed houses sport bell-towers, pepper-pot turrets and ornate architectural detail, including some fine examples of timber-framed houses (collombages). You enter through the Porte Bécharie, the only survivor of the nine gates that once encircled the two parishes of St Nicholas and St Mary de Bécharie.
The Place des Vignerons originally staged the wine fair and meat market, overlooked by the Tour du Prince Noir, but whether the Black Prince was the son of the English king Edward III, or a bandit, Geoffry of the Black Head, both of whom figured largely in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), is not clear.
The timbered Maison à pans de bois is architecturally unusual in an area where stone is the dominant building material. The main square, the Place de la Libération, is hugely dominated by the barrel-vaulted Romanesque abbey-church of St Pierre, and from a nearby viewpoint there is a lovely cameo of the river bend far below.
By way of complete contrast to the historical detail of Corrèzienne villages, a route that continues east from Urzeche through the Pays Vézère to Eyburie, le Lonzac and Madranges and onto the granite massif de Monédières will show the département’s pastoral side.
Nowhere more so than from the orientation table on Suc-au-May, at 911 metres, one of the highest points of Corrèze, and offering a panorama that enfolds seven départements.
From this vantage point you get a fine aerial impression of this gentle landscape across which natural wooded hills, moulded by lush valleys that conceal reed-fringed lakes and animal pastures, ripple into the distant haze.
At Seillac, for example, the Etang de Bournazel, a sizeable boating lake with surrounding woodland and walks, is hugely popular with families.
Unlikely of itself to arouse much attention, the sleepy village of Sarran boasts the Musée du president Jacques Chirac, a quirky but fascinating display of gifts to the Corrèze-elected politician during presidential state visits (1995-2007).
That the museum seems to be in the middle of nowhere may surprise some, but when the middle of nowhere is as tranquil and beautiful as the massif de Monédières, who can question it?
It takes time to work your way around Corrèze, and that’s no bad thing. This is a most enchanting department, and one that responds beautifully to taking a leisurely approach.
A start in Collonges-la-Rouge is always welcome, and from there visiting the former stronghold of Brive-la-Gaillarde before heading south to Turenne and then Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in a wooded valley on the upper Dordogne – doesn’t the name say it all? – ‘beautiful place on the Dordogne’.
Continuing in a somewhat haphazard way, you can head for Varetz, and visit the lovely Jardins de Colette, and maybe even stay in the house, now a luxury hotel, where she lived.
Le Saillant is a quiet backwater with some impressive stained glass windows in its church, by Marc Chagall, while Uzerche is probably a place you wouldn’t even think of visiting unless I encouraged you to do so.