The hamlet of Villemonteix is at the gateway to the Monts and Barrages (mountains and dams) natural park, and so a visit to the Plateau de Millevaches (not the Plateau of the thousand cows as most people think, but actually it comes from the Celtic mil batz - a thousand springs!) and the volcanic region of the Massif Central is a must. The skiing region of Mont Dore, Besse and Superbesse is approximately a two hour drive and is more than worth a visit even out of skiing season!
The Limousin, made up of three departments - Correze, Creuse and the Haute-Vienne - is a region of beauty and tranquility. From pasture land and forests to magnificent lakes (many of which offer water sports and/or fishing) and rivers (again with fishing!) there is little that the region does not offer in the way of places to relax or to experience something a little more energetic!
The landscape lends itself naturally to many 'countryside' pastimes whether that be horse-riding, hiking, mushroom hunting (in season), 4 x 4 or motorbike off-roading, or mountain biking. Water sports abound in this region, which after all is rightly known as the lake district of France!
Only five minutes drive from the gite is the Lac de St Helene - typical of many such lakes in this area - where you will find a small well kept beach from which to swim in safety under the watchful gaze of a lifeguard (times of cover posted at the beach). A separate area of the lake is dedicated to those more adventurous types for water skiing.
The region iis a perfect place for artists and art-lovers of all genres, with a rich history in not only the porcelain and enameling for which the region is famed, but also tapestries, weaving and stained glass making. The Limousin has played host to many famous painters from Claude Monet to Armand Guillaumin and lovers of painting or photography will find much to inspire them. Limoges was the birthplace of Auguste Renoir (1841) and the Musee de l'Eveche houses a permanent display of his paintings.
The Lac de Vassiviere is about 40 minutes drive from the gite and offers not only beaches, swimming, canoeing, and water skiing, but there is an island in the middle with a chateau with gardens housing a small menagerie of animals such as llamas and donkeys. There is also an exhibition centre which hosts art shows throughout the year. In an adjacent tower, we had the worlds largest Buddhist prayer wheel rotating constantly for about 6 months! Permanent sculptures adorn the gardens.
Also near to the lake is a great place to spend some adrenalin time! Even if you are scared of heights (as we both are!) Arbre en Arbre is a fantastic way to while away a few hours doing your best Tarzan impression! From easy 'green run' clambering over the obstacles, through the 'brown run' Tyrolean zip lines to the (as yet un-attemped by us) scary scary 'black run' there is something for everyone from the biggest scaredy cat to real adrenalin junkies!
History lovers will likewise find much of interest - the countryside is dotted with antiquities from dolmens to castles, manors, abbeys and churches (many of which date from the 11th century onwards). The local medieval town of St Leonard de Noblat is on the pilgrimage route to Compostella and the emblematic shell of St Jaques can be found set into the roads and pavements of its streets. 2010 was declared a Holy Year for the pilgrimage and completion of the route gains a Plenary Indulgence ( a remission of punishment for sins already committed!) - something that in a normal year is only granted if you die en route!
The Limousin is not blessed (or some would say cursed!) with many large towns, but the capital of the region is Limoges, some 35 minutes drive east from the gite. Here you will find a host of attractions - museums (porcelain, enamels, history of the resistance, and general), porcelain factories (where you can enjoy a tour before buying a piece of Limoges to take home!), a daily (mornings only) covered market, shopping, the cathedral and other churches, gardens, an aquarium, bowling, golf, restaurants... the list goes on!
France paid a heavy toll during the Second World War, and the Limousin itself paid dearly. With an extremely active Resistance working in the area it was perhaps inevitable that the Germans would leave their mark. With museums in both Limoges and nearby Peyrat-le-Chateau the local history of the Maquis can be seen, but the most compelling and moving experience is a visit to Oradur-sur-Glane (about an hour from the gite). Here virtually the entire town was massacred by the German troops in just one day in June 1944 - the remnants of the village have been left as a reminder, and a memorial has been built, along with a visitors centre which holds many artifacts from the old town and where you can see photographs and films which tell the story of the victims and the handful of survivors.