The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                               PAGE FIVE

Featuring the Creuse   continued . . .



The river is now flowing from the south, and as we proceed in that direction it widens just north of the boundary with the département of the Creuse forming Lac de Chambon.  The D 913 on the western side of the lake and river is winding and scenic as it passes through the town of Eguzon and continues on to Crozant, our first village in the Creuse département, with 580 inhabitants who have the good fortune to live in this marvelous spot at the confluence of the rivers Sédelle and Creuse.  Visitors will appreciate the ruins of its medieval fortress, massive and looming from a promontory where those rivers meet. This home of the fortress is referred to as "the key to the Limousin".   The best view of the site is from the D 30 if you approach from the northeast. 

But, we are now farther along on the D 913 where the Creuse narrows and la Petite Creuse has joined it on our left from its origins just southeast of Boussac.  We are at the village of Fresselines -- the 'village of artists', it calls itself for its past association with the likes of Claude Monet.   A popular attraction here and elsewhere along the rivers is fishing with perch, trout and sandre among the targets of the sportsman.  The main river is soon to pass through a gorges near Anzême where travelers will find some of the most breathtaking landscapes the river has created.  The Creuse bypasses the capital city of the département, Guêret, and arrives some 31 kilometers later at Aubusson, certainly a familiar name to everyone, the center of tapestry making in France, and one of the most renowned textile centers in the world.  However, we must say something about Guêret.  It is the 'county seat', so to speak, of the Creuse and has a long and interesting history.  Built around a monastery in the eighth century, Guêret has been an important administrative center since the thirteenth century.  For travelers interested in fine enamel work, ceramics and weaving, the city has several very good museums.  Today, visitors will also enjoy its busy markets on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Tapestry from Felletin, copyrighted photo Felletin tourist office

Naturally, Aubusson is still the center of weaving in France, known around the world for fine carpets and magnificent tapestries.   The river plays a large part in the success of Aubusson -- its exceptionally pure waters contribute to the fine and delicate dyes used in both tapestries and rugs.  Aubusson and the surrounding area peaked in the 16th and 17th centuries, but interest diminished partly because of the Revolution at the end of the 18th century.  However, due to artist Jean Lurçat's encouragement of tapestry design and production, the 1940s saw a resurgence in the popularity of this marvelous craft.  Do visit the Musée Départemental de la Tapisserie across the river from the Old Town or see tapestries being produced at Manufacture St-Jean where custom-made carpets are created and restored by hand.  Halfway between Aubusson and Guêret along the D 942 is a fine collection of 15th century houses and a Roman bridge in the village of Moutier-d'Ahun.

Very soon the river passes by Felletin, a city with a centuries-long history for producing exquisite tapestries right up to the present time.  Flemish weavers are said to have emigrated to Felletin from Belgium in the early 17th century, bringing with them their foot-powered looms and great skills.  Not only were they in the Aubusson region, but their strong presence in Felletin made it the cradle of this art in France. 

If you continue along the river on the D 982, you will reach the river's source at 810 meters near the Col du Massoubre.   The Millevaches Plateau itself is home to the source of the Vézère, Corrèze and Vienne rivers from its height of over 1000 meters -- and the name 'Millevaches' does not mean '1000 cows', but is the Celtic word for 'spring'.

Away from the River Creuse, as much as along its banks, the lush, green Creuse of France has so much more to offer.  It the southwest corner of the département at the boundary of the Haut-Vienne, is Lac de Vassivière, covering some 2700 acres and one of the largest lakes in Europe.  It is a vacation destination of great popularity due to it fine sailing waters, numerous campgrounds and sandy beaches.  The familiar green-lined roads on Michelin Maps indicating their choice for 'scenic routes' are everywhere in the Creuse.  Tiny rivers crisscross the entire département,  and forests are abundant. 

Bourganeuf and Towers, courtesy of www.bourganeuf.comIn the western part of the département is the 12th century medieval town of Bourganeuf, which was long ago the capital of the Knights Templar.  In the town stands the five-story Tower of Zizim, a place of refuge for the Ottoman Prince Cem Sultan, whose father, the Sultan Mehmet II,  made him heir to the throne.  His older brother, Crown Prince Beyazit, was not thrilled with the arrangement, and when the Sultan died, the ensuing power struggle sent Cem into exile.  He finally arrived in Bourganeuf and lived in supervised exile in the tower for five years under the Knights of Auvergne.   After being taken to Rome in 1489, he was finally freed by the King of France but later died of poisoning in Naples in 1495.  During his five years in France he had a romance with Philippine de Sassenage, which, it is said, inspired Victor Hugo and others to write stories following a similar theme.

South of Aubusson the terrain becomes more rugged as one drives on the Plateau de Millevaches.   This is the southernmost part of the département bordering on the Corrèze where our journey ends for now.  We hope that our feature on both the River Creuse and the region of France bearing its name has enticed you to explore it yourself someday soon.  Perhaps the Postcard from the Creuse has provided some insight into what is offered to travelers, visitors, and new residents alike.  Please look for Wanda Glowinska-Rizzi's next installment in our December issue where she will introduce us to all the contributions the Creuse stonemasons made to the buildings of France.

[Photos copyrighted property of La Roche Posay web site, or as otherwise indicated in photo tags.
Drawing copyrighted property of Cold Spring Press.  All Rights Reserved]


CHÂTEAU ANGÉLUS - Rising among the Bordeaux Elite

                                                                                                                              by Panos Kakaviatos

Perhaps the most traditional Bordeaux wine appellation, Saint Emilion, was a religious center during the Middle Ages – half of its 9,000 inhabitants were monks largely responsible for exquisite limestone architecture, which includes amazing underground passageways. 

Declared an historic monument by UNESCO in 1999, Saint Emilion is flooded by tourists each year.  But anyone who takes a stroll on the town's cobblestone pathways cannot avoid its omnipresent wine boutiques, hilly vineyards and, when a vintner allows, wines stored in those old underground passages – all of which reveal Saint Emilion’s more recent claim to fame: fine wine. Château Angélus Wine

Wine writer Hugh Johnson advises people who want to discover Bordeaux wine to try Saint Emilion first, because the generally dominant Merlot grape in most Saint Emilion wines tends to be softer and more approachable that the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Médoc appellation, famous for such wines as Château Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and the like. Indeed, French sommelier Cécile Chauveau, who works spring and summer at the upscale Chanticleer restaurant on Nantucket Island, admits to bending the truth slightly in sometimes recommending Merlot-dominated blends from Bordeaux like St. Emilion to American customers used to softer, sun-soaked Cabernets from California.

As a wine appellation, Saint Emilion packs some 2,000 chateaux into just over 5,500 hectares (13,600 acres), which surround the town itself. Unlike the more established and much larger Médoc, whose top wines were graded by an 1855 classification based on terroir still in effect today, the wines of Saint Emilion face more intense internal competition, as their more recent 1954 classification is renewed every 10 years, based not only on terroir, but also on consistency in quality. 

That means that wines from any part of the appellation can be either promoted or demoted, and that includes the some 1,350 plain old Saint Emilions, the some 600 Saint Emilion “Grand Crus,” the 55 Saint Emilion “Grand Cru Classés,” and, finally, the top 13, which are themselves divided into two parts: Cheval Blanc and Ausone as the top two Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classés “A” and 11 Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classés "B". 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                continued on page 6

page four    previous page                            next page page six