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An archetypal French country town, prosperous Brive la Gaillarde was settled in Roman times as a key staging post on the road between Paris and Toulouse. Today it serves as a hub for routes criss-crossing the beautiful Massif Central. Corrèze, the Dordogne and the Lot Valley, with their wooded hills and host of delightful villages – many fortified – are all within easy reach. The first French city to shake off Nazi occupation by its own efforts, in 1944, it is today a bustling commercial centre huddled round a medieval core with many picturesque period buildings and a good range of shops.
Our top five activities
Take a 100km guided tour of the Pays de Brive’s glorious countryside, booked through the tourist information centre. There’s also a range of organised walking tours in the town itself.
The area has a wealth of caves to be explored, some containing prehistoric wall paintings. Offering a kaleidoscope of red, ochre, brown, grey, pearl and white rock colourings, the Gouffre de la Fage in Noailles is one of the most spectacular caverns in all Europe.
Based in Brive, the Tonnellerie Saury company is one of the few remaining traditional barrel makers. Wine production is a passion in these parts and most wineries offer free tastings and, in some cases, guided tours of the vineyards and cellars.
Kayaking and canoeing
The beautiful Corrèze, which passes through Brive, is a gentle river, ideally suited for kayak and canoe expeditions. It is also a renowned magnet for anglers.
Besides a wealth of ancient castles to visit, there are some truly spectacular gardens. Among the best are the Jardins de Colette, at Vareze, and the modern Jardins de L”Imaginaire, created by the American garden designer Kathryn Gustafson.
Tea-shops are all the go in France right now. Les Cafés Bogota (28 rue Gambetta, 05 5586 2618) has a wide choice of leaves plus all the paraphernalia for a good brew. There’s also an enticing selection of patisseries, while the best bakers, such as La Mie Câline (9 boulevard Charles De Gaulle, 05 5523 5597), offer a selection of artisan traditional breads as well as the ubiquitous baguette. Besides a host of boutiques, there are branches of most of the major French brands, while a selection of hypermarkets ring the town. Jam-packed with locals as well as tourists, the George Brassens covered market hall is, as the French would say, “formidable”.
Food & Drink
Corrêze is an agricultural region of small, often subsistence farms, so it’s hearty peasant dishes that tend to dominate local cuisine. Limousin-style beef and veal dishes are the specialities at L’Amphitryon (12 avenue Alsace Lorraine, 05 5584 8704), just two minutes from the town centre and with two cosy dining rooms and great value set menus. There are close on 80 other restaurants in town. Among local goodies are walnut liqueur and delicious purple mustard, which is coloured by the addition of grapes. Seek out the truffle markets in winter and farm fresh fruit and veg year round. Duck is also a local favourite, as are goat cheeses.
Like most French provincial towns, Brive goes to bed early. There’s a handful of night owl hot-spots though. Open seven days a week from 8am to 1am, the lively Garden Ice Café (1 avenue du 14 Juillet, 05 5588 3504) provides non-stop food service from midday to midnight. Light grills and massive salads star while the outside tables are a great place for people watching. If you fancy dancing, try Le Cardinal (35 avenue Millard, 05 5524 2672); La Charente (33 avenue Robot, 05 5587 6573) or the Irish-themed Le Shamrock (13 place Winston Churchill, 05 6005 3856).
Brive Airport Information
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