Rochechouart France, the land of the meteorite
Rochechouart - A dream come true?
If you dream of a quaint, historic town with a fairy tale castle set in a landscape of rolling, green hills, with lakes and rivers full of fish, and mile after mile of wild flower meadows and sweet chestnut and oak forests, then Rochechouart is your dream come true.
We fell in love with this part of Limousin and settled here in 2002. Our vision was to run painting holidays from our farmhouse in Videix. At Les Trois Chenes we now have a Chambres d'Hôtes, (or Bed and Breakfast), and gite which we also use as accommodation for our painting students. It is indeed, our dream come true.
In memory of the meteorite
The town of Rochechouart
This picturesque, mediaeval fortified town dating from 965, is dominated by a magnificent chateau and still retaining the remnants of its town walls. It is situated about halfway between Limoges and Angouleme, on the borders of the Dordogne and the Charente, an area rich in both culture and nature.
The name, Rochechouart is pronounced ‘Rosh-esh-wah’ from the rock (roche in French) on which it is built. The castle, now a centre for modern art and housing a collection of the work of Raoul Haussman, dominates the town and overlooks the pretty Graine valley. The romanesque and gothic church famous for its unusual twisted spire is also of great historical interest and it houses a museum of sacred art.
Nestled amongst the narrow streets and stone and half-timber houses with their window boxes full of flowers, you will find the Meteorite museum. This is dedicated to the six billion ton meteorite, one of the largest ever to hit the earth, which fell in this area 214 million years ago. The buildings of Rochechouart are largely constructed with stone from this meteorite which the locals call ‘moonstone’, giving 'the countryside of the meteorite' a very distictive character. Les Trois Chenes is built from this stone.
Experience the freedom of the countryside
We all need to get away from noise, pollution, vandalism, litter and all the ills of modern urban life. We were looking for a clean and healthy place to bring up our son, and here we found the perfect environment. Not only does Rochechouart and its countryside providea quiet and stable place to live, but there is also a wide range of things to do and see. There are three swimming lakes with beaches, play areas and cafés within 15 minutes drive. The largest one, Videix lake, has a nautical centre where you can hire sailing boats, wind surfs, kayaks, pedalos and canoes at very reasonable rates. Enjoy a glass of wine or a pleasant meal and watch the sun set over a still lake surrounded by the Limousin countryside. The whole area is well served by many short and long distance footpaths and bridleways, making it ideal for walking, poney trekking and cycling. The smaller roads are almost empty and you can enjoy a largely traffic free holiday where parking is easy. The only hold up is the odd tractor. It took me a long time to realise that I don’t have to add time to a journey for hold-ups and traffic jams, and I don’t have to worry about parking!
If you enjoy fishing, then this is the area for you. There are also two golf courses with half an hour of Rochechouart and an outdoor activity centre at Massignac. You can swim in the lakes, or in the brand new baths at St Junien, the second town in Limousin, after Limoges and about 15 minutes drive from Rochechouart.
Why not try a cycling holiday? This area with its gently rolling hills and empty roads is superbe for cycling. You could follow the Route of Richard the Lion Heart and pass by 19 castles and sites of historic interest.
Stunning historical monuments abound
The area is steeped in history and if Rochechouart has left you keen for more, you will find two places of European importance just ten and twenty minutes drive from the town, the Roman baths at Chassenon, and the frescoes in the church of Saint-Eutrope at Les Salles Lavauguyon (one of the stops on the Pilgrim route of Saint Jacques de Compostelle). The third most important monument, and most moving of all, is the village of Oradour-sur-Glane; a village destroyed by the occupying Germans in the second world war and preserved exactly as it was left. The astonishing visitor centre tells the powerful and unforgetable story of this ordinary French village.
Rich in traditional regional foods and drinks
Food is the business of Limousin, the bread-basket of France, and there is a rich, traditional cuisine unique to this region which you can sample at the many excellent restaurants in and around Rochechouart. Whether you choose smart, lake-side restaurants, ancient town-centre hotels, small, family-run restaurants offering home-grown vegetables, farms or chateaux, you will be offered a wide variety of regional specialities. You can sample the world-famous Limousin beef from the tan-coloured cattle you will see grazing everywhere, or try the sausages made with local sweet chestnuts. There are many small producers of duck and goose paté de foies gras, cow, sheep and goat cheeses and to wash it all down Limousin produces a superb chestnut liqueur. This region is not wine country, but it does have thehonour of producing oak sought after for the barrels used to age good wines. Yet only half an hour’s drive away you will be able to enjoy local wines of the Charente at Saint Sornin.
Festivals and celebrations
Festivals are part of the culture! The town celebrates its history in a mediaeval festival in the summer (in 2010 the main activities were on 14th August), where whole pigs are spit-roast in the street for the evening banquet, (you can join in!), and you can see jousting, singing, dancing and wolves and ancient breeds of hunting dog in the streets. There is also a huge ‘vide grenier’ (empty your attic) where the local population sells a range of unwanted goods. This is the place to pick up all manner of interesting bits and pieces that have been lurking in barns for many a year – and all going for a song. The towns and villages all around hold outdoor lunches and dinners where you can join the locals for a meal of four five or more courses. In spring enjoy venison and wild boar at the hunt dinner, in summer try moules et frites (mussles and chips) or stuffed cabbage and barbequed pork. Christmas is the time for spectacular night markets where you can do your Christmas shopping and give gifts with a difference. There are food and craft festivals all year round but autumn is especially rich when the ceps and other funghi are on sale along with apples, pears and chestnuts. You can buy fresh apple juice, local cider or chestnuts roasted over open fires and gather field mushrooms from the roadsides.
Another highlight of the year is the Festi'Band that takes place in the first week of July. Here bands come together to play all styles of music. They parade through the streets and then hold concerts outside the Chateau de Rochechouart.
Many local delicacies and specialities are on sale at the markets held in all the towns and villages. The most notable of these is at Piegut, every Wednesday morning. Here the whole of the town centre is devoted to an enormous, colourful and bustling market selling everything from antique French furniture to live chicks and ducklings.
Places to visit
Day trips from Rochechouart will allow you to see the many chateaux of the area. If you follow the Route of Richard the Lion Heart, you will pass the chateaux of Brie, Rochebrune, Chalus, Lastours, and Montbrun among many others. La Rochefoucauld, another pretty historic town with an imposing and beautiful castle , St Junien and Nontron are only a short ride away, and within the hour you can be at the major historical cities of Limoges, Angouleme and Perigueux.
There are many ancient, interesting and beautiful villages and buildings around Rochechouart. Biennac is just one of them, and is the site for the 2011 re-make of the famous film, the War of the Buttons, or La Guerre des Boutons.
Getting to this area is easier and cheaper than ever. There are many low cost flights available by flying Ryanair to Limoges from Paris, Nice, Lyon, London, Edinburgh, Bournemouth, Leeds, Luton, Liverpool, Southampton and other towns in the UK. You can also fly to Bordeaux, Angouleme or Poitiers. The Eurostar runs to Limoges from the UK, and there are good train servicse to Angouleme and Limoges. From there you can easily hire a car through many internationally known firms.
Anyone flying with Ryanair should have a look at this article first to try to avoid traps and pitfalls: Ryanair - Low Cost Carrier - What you need to know about cutting costs of budget flights
Accommodation ranges from 5 star hotels to cosy guest houses, and spacious, well-equipped gites (self-catering holiday homes); and I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by the prices in this undiscovered and unspoilt corner of France! Rochechouart is definitely one of the jewels in the crown of Limousin.