The Lot - A beautiful region of France
The department of the Lot, France's heartland and part of the old province of Quercy, is generally warmer, drier and less populated than neighbouring Dordogne to the west, with much to attract the visitor historically, culturally and gastronomically. Taking its name from the River Lot which carves its way through the rocky beauty of the Causses limestone plateau around the capital Cahors, the department of the Lot finds its eastern border in the foothills of the Massif Central. Cycling in traffic-free Lot is a delight and walking a pleasure. Horse riding, fishing and canoeing are also popular. The white stone villages of Quercy Blanc - rated some of the most beautiful in France - reflect the southern light over fields of sunflowers, melons, tobacco and vines. Enjoy the oak woods, orchids and amazing fauna and flora of the Causses du Querc Regional Natural Park. Near the Massif Central are wonderful steep valleys and panoramic mountain views.
Tree lined Boulevard de Gambetta in Cahors is the perfect place to enjoy southern café life. Rest your baskets of local produce from the twice weekly markets and stay for lunch - perhaps a cepes (wild mushroom) omelette and a glass of fruity red Cahors wine. Lovers of architecture should visit the perfect medieval village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie or hillside Figeac. At Moulin de Cassel - one of Lot's few remaining windmills - is a monument to the French Resistance fighters who died there in 1944. Rocamadour village, which gives its name to the local goat's cheese, is a much visited marvel clinging high on a cliff face complete with church of the Black Madonna and castle. Take a boat trip past giant stalactites and stalagmites 300ft underground at nearby Gouffre de Padirac.
The Lot is rich in pre-history, caves abound - spot dolmens and tumuli. Lascaux in nearby Dordogne may be more famous, but Lot's pre-historic "Sistine Chapel" at Pech-Merle is a much larger complex and interestingly the original 20,000 year old wall paintings can still be seen by visitors.
Our nearest village is Labastide Murat, which for a population of only 700 has a surprisingly large selection of shops and businesses.
These include a Carrefour supermarket with in-store butcher and petrol station, a bank with cashpoint, post office, Bar-Tabac, butcher, bakery, pizza shop, paper shop, florist, 2 hairdressers, medical centre, a gallery, hotel and restaurant and estate agent. There is also a helpful Tourist Information Office, a library and tennis courts.
There is also a church and a museum dedicated to Joicim Murat, brother-in-law to Napoleon and a famous soldier in his own right. He was born in the village and his large mansion is a based largely on the Elisee Palace in Paris.
Markets are held every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month, and during July and August there is a producers' market every Sunday morning. There are frequent flea markets and every August there is a Village Fete that runs from Friday to Monday with fairground and live entertainment.
Set in the majestic Lot Valley, Cahors, City of art and history, is made to be explored. From the Valentré Bridge to the Saint-Etienne cathedral, via the market place and the boulevard terraces, the Lot's first city combines southern atmosphere, historical wealth and gourmet pleasures. As it approaches Cahors, the Lot flows in wide meanderings. It is here, where the river makes one of its beautiful loops, that Cahors was established in Roman times. In the Middle Ages the city became a commercial and financial centre on a European scale. A real golden age to be relived when visiting the old centre, intact and wonderfully alive. The fortified 14th-century Valentré Bridge is the emblem of the city with its three magnificent fortified towers span the river with pride. One can walk through the area, rich in a vibrant past, or approach it by boat while cruising on the Lot. The Valentré Bridge is a UNESCO world heritage site, as is the Saint-Etienne cathedral on the road to Santiago de Compostela. The visit continues in the heart of Cahors, where the red of the brick combines with the grey of the limestone and the ochre of the sandstone. In the small medieval streets we revel in the charm of the small renovated squares and the inventiveness of the secret gardens that grace the city. The Middle Age arcades of boutiques shelter restaurants, cafés and shops. In the shade of the plane trees, boulevard Gambetta, dating back to the 19th century, invites us to take a stroll.
Not to be missed, Cahors market takes on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is said to be one of the finest in France.
The food market is at the gates of the Saint-Etienne cathedral. Take a big basket because everything will tempt your appetite: Rocamadour cheeses, Quercy farm-reared lamb, Perigord walnuts, foie gras, Quercy melon and of course Cahors AOC wines for Cahors is in the heart of the vineyard that has borne its name since the time of François 1st.
This territory is the cradle of a long line of winemaking expertise. At the heart of the wine region, the historic Malbec territory, the major grape variety in the appellation, châteaux and estates open their doors to visitors. A wonderful opportunity to discover what is known as black wine, a wine whose intense colour, subtle hues and strong character you will appreciate.
There is a good selection of cafes and restaurants where you can rest awhile and enjoy a glass or two whilst watching the world go by.
Beynac is one of the most beautiful villages in France and is found on the banks of the River Dordogne, to the south-west of Sarlat. Opposite the Chateau de Beynac across the river is its traditional enemy the Chateau de Castelnaud.
The pretty village of Beynac spreads along the northern bank of the Dordogne river, and up the hill behind, reaching the castle that stands poised above the village and river. The narrow lanes wind up through the traditional Dordogne white and yellow stone buildings - best seen around sunrise if you are up and about early! On the rivers edge you get some lovely views with the river, often full of canoes, a long stretch of wonderful stone houses and rising above the village the imposing chateau of Beynac. As you wind up its narrow streets every twist in the pavement seems to offer another splendid view and another photo opportunity. Even if you decide not to visit the chateau continue right on up to the top of the village as there is a great viewpoint at the top with views over the Dordogne river, The Chateau de Castelnaud and the chateau de Feyrac.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the village, many offering great views as you sit and have lunch on one of their shady terraces. There are also some great little boutiques including one at the top of the village selling some fabulous, unique pieces of jewellry made of enamel on copper. For a different view of Beynac try to come back in the evening when it is beautifully lit and looks like a fairy-tale village.
La Roque Gageac
La Roque Gageac is one of France's most beautiful villages. In a stunning position on the north bank of the Dordogne River, and backed by a steep hill / cliffs, with little to suggest that much has changed there in the last 300 years, La Roque-Gageac is truly the perfect picture postcard village. It is about 8km from the historic town of Sarlat. The golden yellow houses, with their traditional perigord rooves, line the river and spread up the hill behind. While some of the properties in La Roque Gageac are quite modest, there is also an impressive number of grand houses among them. One of the grandest of these is near the road as you enter from Beynac - the 19th century (although it appears older) Château de la Malartrie built in Renaissance style. The troglodyte fort set in the cliffs 40 metres above La Roque Gageac is fascinating, and significant vestiges of the 12th century construction are still standing. The strong defensive position of La Roque Gageac and the fortress whose defences continued to be elaborated up to the 17th century meant that it held an important strategic and defensive position in the area. Just below the troglodyte fort is one of La Roque-Gageac's most impressive buildings - the Renaissance Manoir de Tarde with its round tower and mullion windows. The whole village, but especially the bit near the church, is an interesting 'tropical style' exotic garden that you can wander through as you walk up the hill. The variety of plants is made possible because the cliff behind the village protects it from the cold weather from the north, while the open view to the south ensures it catches plenty of sunshine.
Rocamadour, a medieval city attached to its cliff, with the splendour of stone illuminated by the lights of the setting sun: it's an image, etched in eternity, that will remain in your memory. This extraordinary village will take you to another time, a time when people came from afar to worship the Black Virgin.
The village is built on 3 levels. The hotels, cafes and shops are located in the main on the lower level and besides the usual tourist souvenirs there are a number of decent artisan shops with local arts and crafts. On the middle level is the complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches and at the top is the old chateau (now a hotel) and the ramparts offering a dizzingly high view of the whole village. You can walk the whole way up and down or there are two sets of lifts for those less enegetic.
Rocamadour can get very busy in high season, but by visiting early in the morning when the light is at its best for photography, or in the evening when the whole city is floodlit you can enjoy your visit without the crowds.
The wonderfully preserved medieval village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie hugs the rocky wall 100 metres above the river Lot. Perched above the river, the medieval village fits beautifully into its cliff. It unfurls in an intoxicating cascade of paved alley ways, Gothic facades, fortified gates and hollyhocks. Previously witness to a flourishing ferryboat life, renowned for its wood turners, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a listed site including 13 historic monuments. The village has retained the whole of its heritage, but also its charm. Market stalls, restaurants and cafÃ©s are sheltered from the sun by the shade of Gothic doors, whereas the site is striking in its overall harmony. At the beginning of the 20th century, the village attracted artists, Parisian gallery owners and, from 1950, numerous artists from the surrealist movement. This artistic dimension is still clearly present as evidenced by the contemporary art route, not forgetting the international artists' residence installed in the Maison Daura. The poet and writer André Breton was the one who put saint-Cirq-Lapopie on the map. On the subject of this village where he came to live, he said: "I have stopped wanting to be elsewhere". We easily understand him!
Sarlat is one of he most famous towns in the region and one of the most renowned and visited in France. It is also one of the most attractive. Destined to be besieged by tourists at almost all times of the year Sarlat is a beautiful, well restored town a few kilometres north of the River Dordogne.
The old town, dating from both medieval and renaissance times is a pleasure to visit, especially during the spring and autumn, or early in the morning. If you can catch the early morning sunshine on the yellow sandstone buildings, so much the better.
Before setting off for your walk around Sarlat, visit the tourist office which can provide a suggested walking tour to take in the key attractions. The tourist information office is near to the cathedral.
The Saturday market is worth the trip in itself.
Gouffre de Padirac
If magnificent caves interest you, the Gouffre de Padirac, not far from Rocamadour, are highly recommended.
You will go deep into the earth (by lift or stairs) where you will discover a magical landscape, with a natural 75 metre cave and long galleries formed over thousands of years by a mysterious underground river. You will then go on a 500m boat ride, 103 metres under the earth, where you will reach the Grand Dôme (Great Dome) chamber, one of the most impressive in Europe.
Les Grottes du Pech Merle
Deep in the heart of the Célé river valley near the village of Cabrerets are the world famous caves "Les Grottes du Pech Merle" 'discovered' by two children in 1922 some 20 millenia after the last occupants departed.
Unlike Lascaux, its more famous "cousin" in the Dordogne, Pech-Merle allows visitors to view the original artworks, not facsimiles.
The Pech Merle cave is more than two kilometres long and is spread out over 7 underground galleries. The 20,000 year old paintings cover 300m (984ft) of wall, with about 700 animals, symbols and anthropomorphic figures depicted including human footprints, outlines and hands, horses, bisons and mammoths. The tour takes about 1.5hrs.