18 October 2009

Aubusson, of tapestry fame

When we drove back from Salers to Saint-Aignan in September, we decided to take the scenic route. Instead of driving on the same roads we had taken to get down there, we came up through Ussel in the Corrèze, and Aubusson and Guéret in the Creuse.

Some of the businesses in "downtown" Aubusson

The départements (counties, more or less) of the Corrèze and the Creuse (which are both rivers — most French departments are named for the rivers that cross them) are two of the poorest in France. You wouldn't really know it, just driving through, though. It's not that they are full of slums or trailer parks or anything like that — you just see very pretty, and very quiet, villages and small towns.

The old faubourg called Terrade at Aubusson,
on the banks of the Creuse river

Both departments, like the ones in the Auvergne just to the east — the Cantal being one of them — have suffered generations of out-migration and are seriously underpopulated. In the Corrèze, for example, nearly 20% of all the housing units are actually second homes — résidences secondaires — that sit unoccupied most of the time.

An old turret on a house in Aubusson

In the Creuse department, there are 22 inhabitants per square kilometer. In the department where we live, the Loir-et-Cher, there are 50. So you probably see only half as many people when you pass through the Creuse. It feels kind of empty. The department right next to ours, the Indre-et-Loire, with Tours as its main city, has a population density of 95 people per sq. km. And in the Ile-de-France, with Paris at its center, the figure is 975 per sq. km.

This Aubusson property might be available for purchase...

Aubusson was the town I really wanted to see. I don't know about you, but sometimes I'll see a town on the map and realize I've heard the name for years, or decades, but I've never seen the place. That really makes me want to go explore. I felt that way about Salers. And about Aubusson. The famous Dame à la Licorne tapestry — the unicorn tapestry in the Cluny museum in Paris — was manufactured there.

Seen in a shop window

About 100 years ago, the population of the town was 7,500, but now it's down to about 4,000. Since the 1400s, Aubusson has been renowned for the beautiful tapestries produced there, and as late as the beginning of the 20th century 1500 to 2000 people were still employed in that industry. It has declined dramatically since then. As a result, the town has lost population. The decline was accentuated when a local Philips electronics factory closed down about 20 years ago.


Still, Aubusson is the third largest town in the Creuse department. People have lived on the site since Roman times, and there is evidence that there was a settlement there during the Iron Age. Since the Middle Ages, local men have been recognized as skilled brick masons, and many men have left the area over the centuries to work on building projects in places like La Rochelle in the 17th century and, especially, Paris in the 19th century.

On the main street in Aubusson

Tourism is probably Aubusson's only prospect now. But the town is far from the main roads that crisscross France. You really have to want to go there. Aubusson is 90 km/55 miles from Limoges, and according to Google maps the drive takes and hour and forty-five minutes! That tells you what kinds of roads you'll be on, because there is essentially no traffic to slow you down, just curves and villages. From Tours or Saint-Aignan, it takes about three hours to get down there, and from Paris four to four and a half.

On main street in Aubusson, looking up

For Walt it me, it was a lunch stop. We had a pizza. One day we'll go back. I'd like to, anyway.


  1. Oh, how wonderful! It is so cool to actually get to go to see the towns that you've read and heard of because of something like their tapestries, or their cheese, or their being the birthplace of someone you've read about, etc. Thanks very much for sharing this post :) I love the historic glimpses you give us, Ken :)


  2. That available Aubusson property looks like the original money pit. It's a beautiful place. A place it would be nice to visit, but I don't think I could live in a small town.

  3. Aubusson was one of the towns on our "must visit, may live there one day" list. It is still on the "must visit" list.

    It's strange how you get a feeling about a town even before you have been there, but Aubusson appeared somewhere we could have settled.

  4. Hi Ken, thanks for the views of Aubusson.

    Curious the sign "Chocolat François" depicts a child carrying a jar of Marmite (a British product). Is Marmite sold in France?

  5. Hi Simon (Bate), I've never noticed Marmite for sale in the supermarkets here in France. But then I haven't looked, since I've never tried it.

    Somebody who might be able to give you better information than I can is Simon Brand, who said he considered Aubusson as a place to live before he settled in Touraine.

    Hi Simon Brand, by the way, Simon Bate lives just outside Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Starman, little French towns aren't really like little American towns, at least not in some ways. People don't have the same prejudices and preconceived ideas (though they often have others, different from in America).

    Judy, you put your finger on one of the reasons that made me want to live in France. After studying the language, history, literature, and culture for 45 years, I wanted to be in a position to be able to go see some of the places I knew about. I've always said that having an entire country (and language) to explore would probably keep me busy for the rest of my days.

  6. THanks for sharing this. We're in Segur le Chateau in the Correze and indeed it is very quiet. I've not yet visited Aubusson, but am intrigued. I think we'll take a trip in the summer.


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