Nicknamed the ‘gateway to the south’, Brive-la-Gaillarde is at the meeting point of three départements: Corrèze, Lot and the Dordogne. Just a speck on the map, hidden amongst the bigwigs of magnificent French cities, this market town was where I found myself for 6 months this year.
Nestled in the luscious French countryside, lies little Brive. A network of streets lead out from the central square, Place Charles de Gaulle, getting more industrial the further you go out. The centre of Brive is home to quirky boutiques, cafés and a handful of high street shops, and radiates a welcoming and enchanting atmosphere. On the outskirts you have two main points of reference: both about a 15-minute drive from the centre. The east side, Zone Artisanale and the west side, Zone Industrielle. The latter is where you’ll find most of the bigger branded shops and restaurants, including the haven that is the supersized Carrefour hypermarket.
Perfectly encapsulating the Southern French lifestyle, Brive adheres to the classic opening times of the southern lifestyle. Most (if not every) shop, bar and restaurant closes 12-2pm, and of course, every Saturday morning there is the local market, offering everything from fresh produce to clothes and accessories. One thing that took me a long while to get used to, was French Sundays. Spanning from tradition, the world seems to grind to a halt every Sunday, without fail. No shops or restaurants are open, and there are no buses running – you may find the odd train, at the most ridiculous hours. Having a car with me was a godsend. At least I was able to drive to the Carrefour supermarket (the only shop open in a 50-mile radius) and wander aimlessly up and down the aisles.
That being said, when Brive is up and running, it is a great little town to explore. It’s very easy to lose yourself amongst the designer boutiques and unique cafes, or head to one of the many bars for an exquisite wine tasting. One fond memory is watching the Six Nations tournament in one of the (English-themed!!) pubs, being the only English supporter in a sea of angry French men. It seemed that every living person in Brive had come out of the woodwork just to watch the match and the town felt more alive than ever.
One thing I have to mention is the food scene in Brive-la-Gaillarde. There may not be much going on 24/7, but at night the restaurant scene is immense considering the small size of the town. Ranging from traditional French cuisine, to pizza and even sushi, Brive has something for every taste palette.
Experiencing the charm and cheerfulness of the true “Gaillarde” way is really something that has to be felt in person, so if you’re ever in the area I highly recommend stopping by – or book yourself a trip away to this classic market town.