Lot Valley Attractions

Saint Cirq LapopieSaint Cirq Lapopie

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.


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, France

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".

Estaing, France

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, France

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, France

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, France

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.

Cahors, France

Cahors (pop. 21,432), picturesquely situated in a bend on the Lot, was the old capital of Quercy and in medieval times an important commercial and university town. Its most important monument is the Pont Valentré (1308-1380), with three 40m/130ft high towers, an outstanding example of a medieval fortified bridge (restored in the 19th C). Beyond the bridge, under a crag on the Lot some 400m/440yd south, is the Fontaine des Chartreux or Source de Divonne, which supplies Cahors with drinking water.

Cathedral of St Etienne

A short distance northeast of Place Aristide-Briand (in which is a monument to Léon Gambetta, 1838-1882) is the Romanesque/Byzantine Cathedral of St-Etienne (11th-15th C.), with a fine Romanesque north doorway, originally the main entrance, dating from the first building phase. The facade is 14th century. Fine paintings in the choir and on the dome. On the south side of the church is a Flamboyant-style cloister (16th C.).

Maison de Roaldès (Municipal Museum)

The Maison de Roaldès, in Place Henri-IV, dates from the late 15th C. (restored 1912). Henry IV is said to have lived in the house during the siege of Cahors in 1580. The former Bishop's Palace now houses the Municipal Museum (mementos of the politician Léon Gambetta, a native of Cahors).

Tour Jean XXII (Tour St Jean)

Just off Place de-Gaulle is the 34m/112ft high Tour Jean XXII, a relic of an old palace. Farther north, on a crag, is the Tour St-Jean, which, like the Barbacane, the old Guard-House (15th C.), was part of the town's defenses. In the highest part of the old town is the church of St-Barthélemy (14th C.).

Musee de Plein Air du Quency

At Cabrerets, between Figeac and Cahors, is the Domaine de Cuzals, with the Quercy Open-Air Museum. Here, on a site of 200 hectares/500 acres, farmhouses and farm buildings from all over Quercy have been re-erected. There are also a number of thematic collections (country life in the 19th C., folk art, local crafts).

Château de Bonaguil

Near Duravel, some distance from the Lot, is the massive castle of Bonaguil, a magnificent example of military architecture of the turn of the 15th-16th centuries, still impressive in spite of the damage it suffered during the French Revolution.

Villeneuve-sur-Lot, France

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (pop. 22,801), in the Middle Ages one of the most important towns in the region, has preserved two town gates dating from that period. The bridge over the Lot was built by the English in the 13th century.

Ste Colombe de Villeneuve sur Lot - Lastournelle Caves

The Lastournelle Caves are said to have been created over 25 million years ago, when the Aquitaine plateau was being formed. They were discovered in the 19th century by a well-sinker, but the entrance was not found until 1955. Two years later, the caves were opened to the public.
They are made up of seven rooms, including the pillar room, named after its long stalactites and stalagmites.
The caves are located in Lot-et-Garonne, between Agen and Velleneuve-sur-Lot.

Castella - Fontirou Cave

Fontirou Cave began forming over 30 million years ago. It was discovered accidentally in 1905, when a cow stepped into a natural chimney. Although the cave is quite small, the seven rooms currently open to visitors include all kinds of colored stalactites. There is also a paleontological collection on display.
The cave is 300 meters from the Fontirou Prehistoric Park.
Address: RN 21, F-47340 Castella, France

Lacave Caves

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.
Address: Centre International d'Exchanges Musicaux, 64 rue Saint-Honoré, F-75001 Paris, France

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.

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