Listed among the Most Beautiful Detours of France, Saint Léonard de Noblat, is a town to experience and explore, with its architecture and skills, festive traditions and nature. The medieval and pilgrimage city overlooking the Vienne river valley, offers to the visitors a preserved historic heart around its UNESCO listed collegiate church.
Let’s travel through time visiting the city’s old centre. If the collegiate church attracts all the attention, numerous rich historic and religious past traces of the town. Leave your car at the Champs de Mars square, opposite the Tourism Office, a powerful Limousin bull statue, a masterpiece from the sculptor Iradj Emami. Saint-Léonard de Noblat is the craddle of the Limousin bovine race and numerous breeders continue the rearing. Every summer, the town celebrates the Limousin bovine meat during a big event alongside the medieval fair. All year long, the food professionals and restaurant owners are happy to make you discover this fine and thoroughbred meat.
Appetite comes with walking so let’s enter the town by the Rue de la Révolution, one of the main commercial thoroughfares.
From square to square, from alleyways to passageways, get closer to the Collegiate church and look at the preserved remains of the past : beautiful timber-framed houses, ancient doors, turrets, corbels….
Start at the Noblat square where 13th century mullioned windows and 15th century shop arcades are waiting for you.
Carry on the République square where the round and square towers face each other, next to the market hall built in the 19th century.
Take, then, the direction of the Gay Lussac square where you find superb 12th century houses redesigned in the 17th and 18th centuries, a Renaissance frontage as well as the native house of Gay Lussac. A municipal museum is dedicated to this scientist, in the old Our Lady Girls convent.
You finally arrive at the Collegiate church… Majestic, imposing….
It’s around Saint-Léonard worship that the town developped. Founder saint of the town and patron saint of prisoners, it is the subject of a pilgrimage before the growth of the Santiago Compostella’s. Dedicated to Saint-Léonard, the roman style collegiate church was built during the 11th and 12th centuries then redesigned till the 19th century.
Enter the building via remarquable bell-tower porch, admire the rotonda used as a font. Inside, you will find a vaulted nave as well as a vast ambulatory chancel lighted by 7 bright chapels. Admire the Saint-Léonard tomb, its iconic lock and its relics shrine which are preserved in the collegiate church. When opening the apse’s gate, it is possible to go under the relics. While going out, you can contemplate the Limousin church doorway with its numerous thin pillars and collums built in the 13th century. The collegiate church bell-tower culminates at 52m and can be seen from afar during your nearby country walks.
Today, Saint-Léonard de Noblat is a major stop on the Santiago de Compostella walk, on the Vézelay way. In 1998, the collegiate church was listed on the UNESCO wolrd’s heritage as a “Santiago de Compostella trail of France ”. Maybe, you will find the scallops dotted about the town?
Leaving the collegiate church, take the time to admire the consul’s house situated opposite. This old town hall offers a good exemple of gothic architecture with mullioned windows and decorated pillars.
Take the Rue Lamazière and end up on your left the ancient pilgriml’s Hospital which presents two massive Limousin roman style doorways.
Now, you had a quick visit of the centre, long ago surrounded by ramparts which only a few remains are left, go and explore the other historical borough of the town : the ancient Noblat bridge outskirt which spreads along the Vienne river at the feet of the ancient motte-and-bailey castle.
You can go down on foot via the Chemin du Pavé (a 12 minute walk) or take the car and stop before the town’s exit, Limoges direction (car park at Saint Martial square or car park at the fitness trail, Rue de la Vallée).
Stroll in this peaceful borough by the Vienne river to discover the ancient stone birdge dating from the 13th century and ancient timber framed houses. You can also enjoy a splendid viewpoint of the historic heart, the collegiate church as well as the new bridge, the railway viaduc with its 22 arches. As an aside, the railway had a great influence for the town and its region and the curious ones will find their happiness at the “Historail”, the Saint-LEonard de Noblat museum dedicated to the railway.
A thoroughfare since Roman times, defensive place during the Middle-Ages and carftsmanship place later with the implantation of bark and flour mills, the borough of the ancient bridge houses today the JL Coquet porcelain shop and factory, punctuated with ancient mills. In summer, the borough hosts the traditional Saint Martial fair and local producers markets.
Saint-Léonard de Noblat is also a city of craftsmanship and discoveries !
The miauletoune city had up to fifty mills and there is one which perpertuates the traditional papermaking. Situated 4km from the town-centre, the Got Mill allows you to discover all the steps of making paper during guided tours and also offers you exhibitions and creative workshops.
Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat differs also by the craftsmanship of Limoges’ porcelain. The porcelain production was introduced in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat during the 19th century thanks to the presence of water, working mills and a large amount of firewood. Today, the town is proud of the eixstance of two porcelain manufacturers labbelled Living Heritage Businesses : the J.L Coquet factory at the town’s exit (Limoges way) and the Carpenet house (which you can visit the workshops) at the exit of the town (Vassivière way) as well as a porcelain decorator, Garance Créations, on the way to the Got Mill. Do not hesitate to push the door of their shops to discover the results of the earth and fire arts!
Via rue du Colonel Ledot, the Banchereau suburb houses artists and craftsmen : marble paper workshops, heritage decorative painters, traditional leather tanning, a group of artists Factory87… Discover them during the summer visits and the all year round exhibitions at the Lys Garden !
Did this little walk in the town whet your appetite? It’s just as well! One cannot stop at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat without being tempted by the massepain, the town’s specialty.
According to the legend, it was a pilgrim coming back from Santiago of Compostella who brought back the recipe. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, this almond biscuit is a little piece of tasty history to enjoy! You will find it in every confectionner and baker in town.
To finish, a few walking trails start from the town and its surroundings to appreciate the charms of the city and the countryside all around.
Finaly, to visit the city in a different way, we advise you to try, with the family or with friends, the geocaching circuits Terra Aventura : “Let the little papers sail” and “towards the medieval times and today’s delicacies”.