Classed as one of the Plus Beaux Détours de France, Saint-Léonard de Noblat is a town to experience and discover, between architecture and know-how, festive traditions and the great outdoors. A medieval pilgrimage town overlooking the Vienne valley, Saint-Léonard de Noblat offers visitors a preserved historic heart around its UNESCO-listed collegiate church.
Let’s travel back in time as we stroll through the town’s old center. While the collegiate church is an eye-catcher, there are many traces of the town’s rich historical and religious past. Leave your vehicle on the Place du Champ de Mars, where the mighty Limousin bull, a granite work by sculptor Iradj Emami, takes pride of place. Saint-Léonard de Noblat is the cradle of the Limousin cattle breed, celebrated every summer in a major festival coupled with the medieval festival. The town’s restaurateurs and food artisans are also happy to help you discover this fine, racy meat.
The appetite comes with walking, so let’s enter the town via rue de la révolution, one of the main shopping thoroughfares.
From square to square, alleyways and passageways, approach the Collegiate Church and observe the preserved vestiges of the past: beautiful half-timbered houses, old doors, turrets, corbels…
Start at place de Noblat, where 13th-century geminated windows and 15th-century store arcades await you.
Continue on to Place de la République, where the round and square towers face each other, next to the 19th-century Halles marchandes.
Then move on to Place Gay Lussac, where you’ll find superb 12th-century houses remodeled in the 17th and 17th centuries, a Renaissance facade and Gay Lussac’s birthplace. A municipal museum is dedicated to this scientist, in the former convent of the Filles de Notre Dame.
You finally arrive at the collegiate church… Magestuous, imposing…
The town developed around the cult of Saint-Léonard. Founding saint of the town and patron saint of prisoners, he was the object of a pilgrimage before the rise of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Consecrated to Saint-Léonard, the Romanesque collegiate church was built in the 11th and 12th centuries and then remodeled until the 19th century.
Enter the building through the remarkable bell tower-porch, admire the rotunda serving as a baptistery. Inside, you’ll find a vaulted nave and a vast ambulatory choir lit by 7 radiating chapels. Admire the tomb of Saint-Léonard, its emblematic lock and the reliquary shrine preserved in the collegiate church. Push open the wicket in the apse, and you’ll be able to walk right underneath these relics. On your way out, take a look at the 13th-century Limousin portal with its numerous columns and capitals. The collegiate church’s bell tower rises to a height of 52 metres, and can be seen from afar on your walks through the surrounding countryside.
Today, Saint-Léonard de Noblat is one of the major stops on the Chemin de Compostelle, on the Vézelay route. In 1998, the collegiate church was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the “Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle en France”.
Take in the Maison des Consuls, just opposite, a former town hall offering a fine example of Gothic architecture with geminated windows and decorated capitals.
Take Rue Lamazière and turn left into the former Pilgrims’ Hospital, which features two massive Limousin Romanesque doors.
Now that you’ve taken a quick tour of the town center, once encircled by ramparts of which only a few remnants remain, set off to discover another of the town’s historic districts: the ancient suburb of Pont de Noblat, which stretches along the Vienne River at the foot of the ancient motte castrale.
You can either walk down the Chemin du pavé (a ten-minute walk) or take your car and stop before you leave the town in the direction of Limoges (park at Place Saint Martial or at the parcours santé parking lot, rue de la Vallée).
Take a stroll through this peaceful neighborhood on the banks of the Vienne to discover the old 13th-century stone bridge and old half-timbered houses. You’ll also enjoy a splendid view of the historic heart, the collegiate church as well as the Pont neuf, the railway viaduct with its 22 arches. As an aside, the railways have had a major influence on the town and region, and the curious will find much to enjoy at HistoRail®, Saint-Léonard de Noblat’s museum dedicated to the railroads.
A place of passage since ancient times, a defensive site in the Middle Ages and then a craft site with the establishment of tan and flour mills, the Old Bridge district is now home to the JL Coquet Porcelain factory and store, lined with the old mills. In summer, the district comes alive with the traditional Saint Martial festival and local farmers’ markets.
Saint-Léonard de Noblat is also a city of know-how and discovery!
The miaulétoune city has counted up to fifty mills, and one of them perpetuates old-fashioned papermaking. Located 4 km from the town center, the Moulin du Got allows you to discover all the stages of paper-making during guided tours, and also offers exhibitions and creative workshops.
Saint-Léonard de Noblat is also distinguished by its Limoges porcelain expertise. Porcelain production was introduced to Saint-Léonard de Noblat in the 19th century thanks to the presence of water, working mills and abundant firewood. Today, the town boasts two porcelain factories with the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) label: the JL Coquet factory on the outskirts of town in the direction of Limoges, and the Carpenet factory (whose workshops can be visited) on the outskirts of town in the direction of Vassivière, as well as a porcelain decorator, Garance Créations, on the Moulin du Got road. Don’t hesitate to push open the door of their stores to discover the fruits of this art of fire and earth!
Via rue du Colonel Ledot, the faubourg Banchereau is also home to artists and craftspeople: marble paper workshop, heritage decor painter, old-fashioned leather tannery, Factory87 artists’ collective… Discover them during summer tours and with year-round exhibitions at Jardin des Lys!
Has this little stroll around town whetted your appetite? It’s perfect timing! You can’t stop in Saint-Léonard de Noblat without indulging in the town’s specialty, marzipan.
According to legend, a pilgrim returning from Santiago de Compostela brought back the recipe. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, this almond cookie is a little piece of gourmet history to savor! You’ll find it at all the city’s patissiers and bakers.
Finally, there are several hiking trails in and around the town to enjoy the charms of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Finally, to discover the city in a different way, we can only recommend that you try, with family or friends, the Terra Aventura geocaching tours: “Let the little papers sail” and “Towards medieval times and today’s delicacies”.