Lot Valley Attractions
The river Lot is a river relatively little known outside France, though its valley has stretches of scenic beauty which fall little short of the grandeur of the Tarn valley.
The Lot rises at an altitude of 1,400m/4,600ft on Mont Goulet in the Cévennes, flows through the whole of the southern Massif Central and after traversing Quercy joins the Garonne in the Agenais (the region round Agen) after a total course of 480km/300mi. In earlier times it was an important navigable waterway, linking Auvergne and the town of Cahors with Bordeaux. It is now popular with canoe and kayak enthusiasts, who find excitement in traversing the gorges between Espalion and Entraygues - though the less expert will do well to keep below Entraygues.The scenery of the Lot valley alternates between the gently beautiful and the wild and rugged. The roads which run through the valley give visitors an excellent opportunity of enjoying the scenery of this most characteristic of French rivers and seeing its towns and villages.The most striking section of the valley is in the Gorges du Lot, the succession of gorges which, particularly between Estaing and Pont de Coursavy, challenge comparison with the gorges of the Tarn. Here the valley is caught between walls of rock some 300m/1,000ft high. At Entraygues-sur- Truyère the Lot is joined by the Truyère, with the impressive Gorges de la Truyère, which cut through the hills of Auvergne to the Viaduc de Garabit, interrupted by a number of imposing dams and beautiful artificial lakes; for much of the way, however, the road runs at some distance from the river. There is also a dam in the Gorges du Lot, at Golinhac, near Estaing.
Mende (alt. 730 m/2,395ft; pop. 11,792), the Roman Mimate, in the upper valley of the Lot, is a good starting point for an exploration of either the Lot valley or the Gorges du Tarn. Above the town rise the steeply scarped slopes of the Causse de Mende, more than 300 m/1,000ft high. The Cathedral of St-Pierre is mainly 14th C.; the towers were added 200 years later. The interior is richly decorated, with Aubusson tapestries of 1708. In the Middle Ages Mende possessed the largest bell in Christendom, weighing 25 tons, but this was destroyed in 1579 during the wars of religion and only the clapper, 2.15 m/7ft long, survives.The narrow Pont Notre-Dame over the Lot dates from the 14th C., having successfully withstood the river's spates for nearly 600 years. The Musée Ignon Fabre, a historical museum, is housed in a 17th C. building with a fine staircase.From Mont Mimat there are fine views of Mende and the Lot valley.
Espalion (pop. 4,400) is a picturesque and attractive little town, with an old bridge spanning the Lot. The Vieux Palais is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. The church of St-Jean now houses the Musée du Rouergue et Joseph Vaylet (objets d'art, ethnography). The little Romanesque church of St-Hilarion has a fine tympanum.Outside the town is the Château de Roquelaure, from which there is a marvelous view of the Lot valley. Below the Château is a Romanesque chapel, with a 15th C. "Entombment" and a 16th C. "Pietà".
The old-world little town Estaing (pop. 610) is charmingly situated at a point where the Lot valley opens out a little. The river is spanned by a 15th C. bridge. Above the town is an elegant 15th-16th C. château, from the terrace of which there are fine views. The 15th C. church contains the relics of St Fleuret.
Entraygues (pop. 1,267) lies in a fertile hilly region at the junction of the Truyère and the Lot. It is a charming old town; particularly attractive is the Rue Basse, which has preserved its medieval aspect almost intact. The Truyère is spanned by a Gothic bridge.
Conques (pop. 500) lies in the rocky Gorge de l'Ouche, its old houses huddled round the beautiful church of Ste-Foy (11th-12th C.), a well known place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and still one of the most visited churches in France. Over the west doorway is a Last Judgment which is one of the great masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture. The interior is also very fine. The church treasury, in an adjoining building, contains a rich collection of sacred art of the ninth-16th centuries, notably the gold reliquary of Ste Foy. The abbey to which the church belonged was, between the 11th and 13th centuries, an important staging-post on the "Way of St James", the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela. After the destruction of the abbey by Protestants in 1561 the church, partly destroyed by fire, was neglected and fell into disrepair, until it was discovered by the writer Prosper Mérimée in the mid 19th C. and restored after he had drawn attention to its plight.The defining feature of the town church is the octagonal crossing tower.
Figeac (pop. 10,482), situated on the river Celé a short distance from the Lot, was on the old pilgrim road to Santiago. The town has preserved some charming old quarters. In the Hôtel de la Monnaie, a fine Gothic building, is a museum of local history. The oldest parts of the church of St- Sauveur date from the 11th C., but it was much altered in later centuries. Figeac was the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), who first deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics.Above the town is the church of Notre-Dame du Puy, originally built in the 14th C. but, like St- Sauveur, much altered in later periods.
St Cirq-Lapopie, France
St-Cirq-Lapopie (pop. 200), magnificently situated on a crag above the Lot, is a picturesque little village of lovingly restored old houses. In the Middle Ages it was a village of wood-turners. Near St-Cirq-Lapopie is the cave of Pech-Merle.
Cabrerets - Pech Merle Grotto
Near St-Cirq-Lapopie is the cave of Pech-Merle, a prehistoric cult site, discovered in 1922, with evidence of human occupation 20,000 years ago - painted or incized figures of bisons, mammoths (of the Aurignacian period) and horses.The 1,200 meter-long cave is made up of seven rooms, including the famous main cave. The cave is part of the Pech-Merle Prehistory Center, along with the Amédée-Lemozi Museum.
Lacave Caves have several galleries, each given separate names, including the Chaos Room, the Tarasque Room, the Snow Corridor, the Three Fates Room and the Organ Room, to name a few. The Great Dome Room is 60 meters high. There are also numerous limestone formations, including the Spider-footed Pillar, which has the biggest helictites in Europe. Also impressive is the 2,000-square-meter Room of Marvels.
Presque Caves, St Cere, France
Five kilometers from the town of St Céré are the Presque Caves. The caves were discovered in 1825 during the construction work for Highway 673. It was not opened to the public, however, until 1922. The main gallery of the caves was formed by a now-extinct river. Enormous stalagmite pillars, limestone formations and flowstones remain, in all shapes, sizes and various colors.
St Cèrè Festival
This annual month-long festival runs from mid-July to mid-August and includes over 40 events, ranging from choral and orchestral concerts to operas.Since it's inception in 1961, the festival has focused on young French performers, who stage their works in the courtyard of the famous Château de Castelnau, as well as other historic sites in the region.
Rocamadour - Merveilles Grotto
Merveilles Grotto is 45-meter-long and includes petrified tree roots which pierce through the cave ceiling. Limestone formations and stalactites can also be seen throughout the cave. More important are the paleolithic decorations, including negative handprints, paintings and drawings of horses, stags and felines.
Opening hours: Apr 1 to Jun 30: 10am-12pm, 2pm-6pm
Jul 1 to Aug 31: 9:30am-7pm
Sep 1 to Nov 30: 10am-12pm, 2pm-6pm
Jul 1 to Aug 31: 9:30am-7pm
Sep 1 to Nov 30: 10am-12pm, 2pm-6pm
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €6.00, Group discounts €5.00, Child 11 & under €4.00
Useful tips: Open for groups by prior arrangement.
Guides: Guided tour included with admission.
Typical Visit: 35 minutes