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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 sights
Square Marcel Cerdan
Named after France’s greatest ever boxer, the Square Marcel Cerdan features manicured lawns, topiary and magnificent rose gardens.
Housed in a magnificent 16th-century townhouse, Musée Labenche has 17 rooms celebrating the art and history of the town and its region.26 bis boulevard Jules Ferry, 05 5518 1770
Brive’s towering Château d’Eau looks like a lighthouse but it’s many miles from the sea. The clue is in the name. In reality, this iconic landmark is a water tower, with the tourist office today at its feet. If you’ve got the legs, climb to the top for superb city views.
Brive by night
Every evening, city hall, the Tourny Bridge, Liberation Square, Cardinal Bridge and Brive’s other historic sites are spectacularly illuminated.
Located 15km south of Brive, the medieval hilltop village of Turenne is one of the prettiest villages in France, perfect for a day trip too.
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.
Our top five events
July-August: Festival de la Vézère
Celebrating its 33rd anniversary in 2013, this spectacular 12-day event offers orchestral and chamber music, opera and recitals staged within the romantic backdrop of the Château Saillant.
July-August: Brive Plage Festival
Sandball, volleyball and other beach sports plus a kaleidoscope of rock, pop and folk music from mainly local bands.
August: Festival de L’Elevage
A massive agricultural show featuring 500 producers and more than 700 farm animals. Attracting 40,000 visitors, the event also features a food festival showcasing local produce.
September: Journées du Patrimoine
Entertaining guided tours of the town’s most historic sites, including the Collégiale Saint-Martin, Hôtel Labenche and Maison des Clarisses.
November: Brive Book Fair
This internationally renowned three-day event attracts established and aspiring authors and literature fans alike. There’s a full programme of exhibitions, seminars and discussion groups.
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).
Accommodation in Brive
What could be better for a romantic break than a fairytale chateau perched on a precipitous bluff overlooking the languorously winding Dordogne River? The 16-bedroom Château de la Treyne (Lacave, 05 6527 6060) and its elegant gardens and Michelin-starred restaurant wait to cosset you. If you’d prefer the downtown bustle, there’s the fuss-free La Truffe Noire (22 boulevard Anatole France, 05 5592 4500), a three-star haven built in 1893, or you could opt for the dependable, edge-of-town, Etap budget hotel, run by the giant French-owned Accor group. The low-cost Kyriad, Le Chêne Vert and Premier Classe also have a presence in the area.
Delayed through concerns over a rare breed of butterfly, the new Brive Vallée de la Dordogne Airport finally opened in 2010. It lies beside the A20 motorway, to the south of the town. Taxis are available at the terminal but hire cars must be booked in advance.
Brive Airport Information
CityJet Flight Routes
Amsterdam to London City
Amsterdam to Avignon
Amsterdam to Brive - Dordogne Valley
Amsterdam to Perpignan