This article originally appeared on Cadence Mag and has been edited and republished with permission. Words and photos by Scot Whitlock.
Day 3: Peyrelevade to Vitrac-sur-Montane (70 km)
Today’s ride began in Peyrelevade, situated in the forests and peat bogs of the ‘Plateau de Millevaches’. I was joining the ‘Véloroute Correze’, which links Peyrelevade in the north (via a connection with the East Creuse cycle route) to Liourdres in the south.
This ‘V87’ cycle route continues for 146 km and is rather hilly. It’s marked in full and there are 7 stopping areas—where bike parking, tables, benches, and rubbish and recycling bins are located—along the way.
The route crosses 18 localities and, as I continued to ride, I was expecting to notice that I was further south and in a new region (with architecture usually being the main indicator). However, despite there being many differences, there were no noticeable boundaries between the regions.
From the north to the south, the Corrèze is blessed with an extraordinary diversity of stunning natural landscapes encompassing a wide range of protected flora and fauna—the area is rightly referred to as ‘A plateau of legends’. Squeezed between the D18 and the D979 is Bugeat, a stunning introduction to the Massif des Monédières, with its blanket of heather and dramatic viewpoints perched above the Dordogne valley.
Covering around 60 km², the Monédières Massif is one of the seven landscape entities attached to the Millevaches Regional Nature Park. This unspoilt granite territory is located in the foothills of the Massif Central, in the south-west of the famous Millevaches plateau. Its dry moorlands are a Natura 2000 listed area, meaning that they are an exceptional site for flora and fauna. At the Puy de la Monédière; the Suc au May; and Freysselines cirque, in the municipality of Chaumeil, you can admire the typical moorland plant life (made up of heather, broom and gorse, as well as wild blueberry bushes, mountain arnica and yellow gentian). When it comes to animal life, you might be lucky enough to see a short-toed snake eagle, woodlark, European nightjar, Montagu’s harrier or green lizard.
As I continued, I encountered a collection of wooded slopes with dramatic views of luscious valleys dotted by the occasional home—it felt rather wild and isolated. After an energetic 13 km stint, I entered Lestards (just off the D16). The village is a quiet place with only approximately 120 people; its best feature is its stunning thatch-covered Templar church. The church has Romanesque supports and barrel vaults from the late 12th-early 13th century. The cross vault of warheads in the square of the transept dates from the 15th or the 16th century. The west entrance facade is a wall-gable bell tower, flanked by four buttresses on the corners. The building is covered by a thatched roof (unique in France). Its interior decoration (carved capitals) has been enhanced by a recent restoration. Free access, from 8 am to 7 pm—it’s well worth a visit.
What followed was an attractive ride towards Sarran and the Musee de Jacques Chirac; the journey was characterised by harmonious undulating forms and wild unassuming landscapes. My hours pedalling exposed me to the best of isolated France: little side roads leading to small hamlets and fields brimming with the famous Limousin cattle.
The Museum of Président Jacques Chirac was my next stop. Based on a collection of gifts that the ex-president—he served as President of France and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra from 1995 to 2007—received in the execution of his duties. It contains approximately 5000 items, some orthodox others bizarre. The exhibits give us a real insight into the expected protocol at the higher echelons of power.
It was Monday and the museum was closed. While it would have been great if the man himself had arranged us access, we were still fortunate that the Tourist board had pulled some strings and we met the manager Michele who allowed us full access and free reign. The chance to explore the corridors unhindered was invigorating; Michele explained that the majority of visitors are French, but they hope to spread their cultural net wider. The contemporary building houses a permanent collection of gifts (150 items), divided into geopolitical areas and the context in which they were given (e.g. state visits, international summits, private visits etc).
Back on the bike, down the D143, for about 10 minutes and we reached the stunning village of Corrèze and our overnight base. Dozing in a valley surrounded by wooded hillsides, the town is a pleasant little place for a stroll. The ancient quarter, dominated by the Port Margot, opens out into an attractive square, and the little artisan shops and tall houses are shuttered for most of the day, adding to the town’s aesthetic charm.
Our overnight indulgence was at Hôtel la Séniorie. Standing above the jumble of irregularly shaped buildings in the village below, its matriarchal presence dominates. This hotel is simply fabulous: the rooms are extravagantly spacious, the views unbelievable and there is a pool.
That evening we ate like gods; the food was delicious and, once again, a wonderful mix of traditional and contemporary served in the glare of vibrant moonlight.
Day Four: Vitrac-sur-Montane to Liourdres (76 km)
My final day was to be the most picturesque of the trip, with plenty of tiny roads shaded from the sun and the dramatic presence of the Dordogne river. Thick forest, bright waters, elevation-freshened temperatures and some winding downhills—it’s not surprising that, with more than 1,000 km of marked MTB trails from 17 municipalities, the Haute-Corrèze Mountain Bike Area is the largest network labelled FFVélo de France.
A little scenic route to the south from Clergoux took me to the hamlet of the peaceful Saint-Pardoux-la-Croisille. I took a break in the lovely La Roche Canillac; the views over the Doustre gorges are not to be missed. The little town is divided into two parts: the Roche-Haute, built on the plateau; and the Roche Basse, nestling into the hillside 50 m below. Founded in the 9th century, the Roche-Basse is crisscrossed by narrow paths known as ‘courrijoux’, which allow access to the terraced plots used for growing crops. After a coffee and a labouring stroll, I pushed on further south towards Argentat.
Time permitting, consider a visit to Sedieres Castle: a 15th-century castle, fully restored and located 3 km from Clergoux, in a beautiful green setting surrounded by ponds. It offers a certified leisure bike base with 12 marked trails from 5 to 96 km, a free Bike Park and is open to all abilities with free access to 3 specific nature trails marked out from the castle (1 5.2 km green circuit, 1 9 km blue circuit and 1 14 km red circuit).
My next stop was Argentat sur Dordogne, which is beautifully sat on the banks of the Dordogne and was once an ancient trading port for gabare boatmen. Known as the Venice of Berry, it’s very picturesque with typical old houses, galleries, traditional paved quaysides and lauze stone rooftops reflected in the water of the river. The best places to admire this beautiful scene is the old bridge over the river or the terrace of Bonne-Dame chapel perched on the hillside above, where the view over the rooftops and valley is stunning. It is undoubtedly one of the most attractive towns in the area.
Back on the bike and the countryside remained calm and flat, with every turn and corner yielding stunning views of the river. The route follows the side of the Dordogne; forest and walnut groves flank the road. I breezed in and out of a selection of quirky villages less touched by tourism before my arrival in Beaulieu sur Dordogne.
The town is a most likeable place and much still happens on the river (try not to miss the chance to catch a gabare boat trip). Once a medieval city strategically placed on the right bank of the Dordogne, Beaulieu was nicknamed ‘the Riviera limousine’ thanks to the mild climate conducive to the cultivation of strawberry.
We met Gilles from Corrèze Tourism by the water and the 12th century Chapel of the Penitents to explore the water by barge. The water was so peaceful, the boatman (Alain) looked identical to Herge’s Captain Haddock, and it’s definitely not to be missed.
A gentle wander back to our accommodation, through the atmospheric streets, exposed us to the superabundance of charm that the town possesses. The Hôtel le Beaulieu is strategically placed and has 25 comfortable rooms perfectly suited to your holiday or business travel. The characterful building has a selection of spacious rooms decorated in a rural style, with a lounge, terrace and a popular restaurant serving quality traditional food in a relaxed setting.
Whether you decide to strike out on your own or follow the path/s we have sleuthed out for you, we encourage you to simply explore and allow yourself to fully immerse in rural France at its best.
For more information on the Corrèze: click here