Gimel-les-Cascades is a small commune in the Corrèze region of France. Not in my France guide book, this tiny town is truly a hidden gem. It is a picture-perfect French village and was one of my favorite places in the Limousin and the surrounding area.
I was thankful to arrive around lunch time, as most everything closes between 12-2 in the Corrèze, and I didn’t have to contend with any traffic. As such, somehow, I managed to drive my giant rental car through the few narrow streets that we were wide enough for only one vehicle at a time.
There was so much to see in Gimel-les-Cascades including remains of castle La Rouche Haute, Church Saint Pardoux and its treasury, Chapel of the Penitents, the home of Gaston Vuillier, and of course the waterfalls for which Gimel-les-Cascades is named.
Since I LOVE waterfalls, my first stop was at the cascades. There are actually three waterfalls as part of Parc Vuillier which requires an entry fee. I arrived on a quiet weekday and no one was at the ticket booth. There was a sign that may have directed visitors down all the stairs to the restaurant to purchase a ticket for all three falls, but given I don’t speak French, I wasn’t entirely certain.
I was happy just stay near the top of the stairs and see the first cascade that roared down the rock wall after recent rains. After quickly admiring the falls, I crossed the street to walk a trail that followed the river. At the trailhead is a statue of the Virgin of Saint-Dumine which is also known as the Virgin of the cascades. Abbot Talin, priest of Gimel, raised the statue to the top of the cliff in 1868.
Also. near the trailhead is Fountain Saint-Michel. This natural fountain was once the object of pilgrimages and devotions. After trying to decipher all the French signs, I finally set off on the trail which led me through a lush forest of trees draped in moss. The humidity and recent moisture saturated the intermittent rocky and dirt path.
The path split into two directions. Taking the fork to the left turns back toward the waterfall for a short loop hike. The other way continued toward Pont du Péage which I knew was further away as I drove across the ancient toll bridge at the bottom of Gimal-les-Cascades after I missed the parking area at the top of the town. As I had already walked up to town from the bridge after I parked on the side of the road, I took the shorter loop. The stroll through the forest was simply lovely!
The Village Streets
After my hike, I wandered along the main street while visiting other landmarks. The quaint, old buildings and colorful flowers really provide a beautiful setting in Gimel-les-Cascades. The Maison Noble, a cute store, is housed in one of the oldest structures in the village, built in 1364. In addition, lovely homes surrounded in flower gardens cluster near the bridge, once the only entrance to Gimel-les-Cascades.
On the main street in Gimel-les-Cascades, is the Church Saint-Pardoux. The church which dates back to 1486 was constructed atop an old chapel. Two murals decorate either side of the altar. The charming church also includes a treasury which features a reliquary from the 12th century dedicated to St. Stephen and a 15th century silver bust of Saint Dumine.
Chapel of the Penitents
In addition to the church, there is also the Chapel of the Penitents on the main road of Gimel-les-Cascades. The chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, served as a seat for brotherhood of white penitents.
Across from the church and slightly down the hill is the “Castel”. It was the home of famed painter and illustrator Gaston Vuillier who worked to get France to protect the waterfall, which became the first protected site in the country. While the house isn’t open, the gardens provide nice views of the valley below.
La Roche Haute
As I wandered around the town, I didn’t even notice the ruins of the medieval castle La Roche Haute perched up on the hill. It was destroyed during the Wars of Religion, and now is part of a sound and light show that takes place every July. Fascinated by ruins, I loved wandering through the arches and around the crumbling walls.
Who knew Gimel-les-Cascades has so much to offer! I’m surprised it wasn’t in my guidebook. I suppose there are only so many places that can be squeezed into a book about the entire country, but Gimel-les-Cascades is worth a visit while vacationing in the Corrèze. ETB