Show Notes for Episode 484: Exploring the Treasures of the Lot Department

Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Cahors
  • Cave of Pech Merle
  • Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
  • Rocamadour
  • Gouffre de Padirac
  • Martel
  • Figeac


Distances: Toulouse-Cahors is 110 km (north), Montauban-Cahors 61 km, (north) Bordeaux-Cahors is 233 km (east), Paris-Cahors 560 km (south)

THE LOT is a department in the southwest of France, created in 1790 during the Revolution. It is composed largely of what was the ancient region of the Quercy and a small piece of the Perigord. A part of the Lot is covered by what are called the Causses: limestone plateaux carved out of ancient seas that have created wonderful cliffs, caves and waterways.

The southwest part of the Lot is greener with rolling hills and the Dordogne River, while the Lot and the Célé go through a more dramatic landscape.

Crisscrossed by the three rivers, the Lot, the Dordogne, and the Célé, it is filled with magnificent ancient villages, chateaux, religious sites, prehistoric caves, markets, and places for doing water sports like rafting, or hiking or biking.

The Lot is unique in France in that it has over 80 sites for subterranean diving in caves, the second richest area in the world, after the Yucatan!

One of the most visited departments of France, with over 3 million visitors per year it is also a department that is largely rural, the largest city is Cahors, with only 22,000 people. Parts of the Lot are uninhabited, because the Causses are very dry and not much can grow there, but the region is filled with beautiful old houses and so over 20% of the homes there are vacation homes.


Cahors: a small, charming city with the famous Pont Valentré, the last of the fortified medieval bridges still entirely intact. Cahors also has an incredible, strange cathedral with domes, and a cloister, surrounded by an entire medieval neighborhood which is slowly being restored There are some Roman ruins that attest to the oldest history of Cahors as a site for a magical underground source that the Romans venerated, attributing magical powers to the divinity Divona.

The Prehistoric Cave of Pech Merle: One of the most spectacular prehistoric caves in France, it is also  one of the few to still have its original drawings, carvings, footprints and handprints:   it is a huge cave and it is a must to visit for anyone interested in prehistory. (Reservations obligatory!)

St Cirq Lapopie: Voted the most beautiful village of France a few years ago, this vertical, medieval village, perched on top of the cliffs overlooking the Lot River is truly spectacular, and gorgeous. It is known as the artists’ village because it was “rediscovered” and inhabited by a group of artists and writers at the beginning of the 20th century. Well restored, with the typical Lot style of architecture, lovely yellow limestone and brown tiled roofs, it has a magnificent view over the river, a romanesque church from the 1100’s and with its ancient narrow streets, its shops and crafts, it is real treat to visit.

Rocamadour: Rocamadour, in the northwestern part of the Lot is not just another medieval village. It is a breathtaking ancient site, a major stop on the pilgrimage route to Compostelle. It is famous for its physical, geographic situation – carved out of the cliffs, in four levels  going up from the river, altogether over 150 meters high, with an ancient troglodyte church carved out of the cliff  on the middle level. The pilgrimages that started in the 1000’s, going to pay respects and to pray to a black madonna, considered to help fertility, continue, and  visitors come to it from all over the world. Rocamadour is the second most visited site outside of Paris with over 1 million people each year. Besides the religious pilgrims there is a famous music festival of sacred music every summer.

The Gouffre de Padirac: The Gouffre, or Vertical Opening, leads to an enormous underground river that is over 103 meters below; the river runs for over 40 kilometers and a small part of it is visitable  by little boat. One of the most spectacular natural phenomena to visit in France, it is very close to Rocamadour, on the Quercy Causse, at the extreme northern end of the Lot department.

Martel: is a large village also on the northern side of the Lot with a gorgeous old city center, and a famous market where the truffles found in the old live oak  forests are traded. The village of 7 towers is totally charming.  Situated in the Valley of the Dorgogne it is an ideal place to stop and visit.

Figeac: The home of Champollion, the decoder of the Rosetta Stone, is a lovely small town on the eastern side of the Lot , on the Célé River. It has a charmingly restored Renaissance city center and the wonderful Champolilon museum of languages and writing.


The Lot Department has one of the largest concentration of villages classified as the Most Beautiful Villages of France. This ancient region was fought over and occupied by the English as well as the nobles of France for centuries, and its remoteness led to there being many monasteries and churches built in out of the way places. Most of these villages and chateaux have been preserved and restored to the great delight of all who visit the region. Often very dramatically situated, either perched on top of a cliff, or in a tiny  valley with a cliff overhanging it, there are endless surprises to be had by driving along one of the departmental roads. Besides the most famous; St Cirq LaPopie, Martel and Rocamadour, there are many other villages, such as:

 Autoire, magnificent, totally restored medieval dramatic village surrounded by high cliffs and hiking trails, in the northern part of the Lot. t is very beautiful and very quiet with several auberges, restaurants and gîtes.

Capdenac-le Haut, high above a meander of the Lot, in the center south.

Cajarc : Situated on the Lot River, is a charming small medieval village that is the center of the cultivation of safran in the Lot area. The Causse of Cajarc gave its name to the village which was, for a long time a small port on the river when most of the trade was done by flat bottomed boat. The Via podensis or Route de Compostelle goes through Cajarc too. Famous for being the vacation home of some major celebrities; Françoise Sagan, George Pompidou, Coluche

Cardaillac with its 12th century chateau.

 Loubressac perched above the Dordogne

Carennac with an ancient Benedictine Abbey, its gorgeous chateau and is beautifully situated along the Dordogne River

Marcilhac sur Célé, not far from Pêch Merle is in the center of the department, part of the Regional Natural Park of the Quercy Causse. Besides having lovely ancient houses it is in the center of an geoparc of Unesco and has a an ancient Benedictine church with some early frescoes.

GRAMAT:  This large village or small town spectacularly perched up high on the cliffs of the Gramat Causse which is the wildest of the four Causse in the Lot.

THE REGIONAL PARK OF THE CAUSSE: was created in 1999 with over 176,000 hectares (over 387,000 acres) of land. This area is a preserved area with a specificity – and a flore that is unique, scrub oak, live oak (which gave the region its ancient name, Quercy, from the Latin for Oak), dry, high plateaux and limestone cliffs and formations. It is ideal for hiking, and for biking as well. A good part of the Causses is where truffles can be found.

The Animalier Park of Gramat: On the Gramat Causse, there is a huge animal preserve in the Dordogne Valley close to Rocamadour. It covers over 42 hectares – almost 100 acres. It is a great place to visit with family – children. There are over 1000 animals including wolves,lynx, bisons, otters, deer


There are many places where you can rent a kayak or a small boat to do part of the river. One of the bases is at Cahors, another is a small boat basin just beneath St Cirq Lapopie, but there are others as well on the Célé and on a stretch of the Dordogne. Summer water sports are a very popular feature of a stay in the Lot


We can’t talk about this part of France without talking about its specialities in food and drink

The Causse, dramatic and arid, are the territory for two specialties of the area: the Black Truffle and the walnut. Both of them thrive under the live oak trees of the causses. The truffles are famous and every year the market/auction takes place in Martel and Gramat for the Lot truffles.

The Walnuts of Quercy are famous and usually abondant. One of the specialties of the region is a walnut cake made with the nuts, but they are also used to make a wonderful walnut oil.

Safran, the world’s most expensive spice, is grown in the center of the Lot area and in the MIddle Ages made some villages rich. It is now a crafts product, pure and very expensive.

The famous Rocamadour: little round goat cheeses that are delicious, shaped like hockey pucks and that can be from mild to strong depending on how long you keep them.

There is a famous melon, the Melon de Quercy, which is delicious. A kind of canteloupe with an orange flesh it is absolutely sweet and delicious in the summer

The Quercy region is also famous for its lamb and for its foie gras.

Wine:   Cahors

The dark, rich taste of Cahors wine is one of the specialties of the region. Made in majority from the Malbec grape (which has been exported successfully to Argentina) this flavorful, aromatic red wine was, for centuries, the favorite of the French kings. Francois I had barrels of the Cahors wine brought to his royal residences, and considered it to be the king of wines.

The history of the Cahors wines is largely intertwined with the rivalries between France and England and when the English took over control of Aquitaine, they favored the wines of Bordeaux and overtaxed the Cahors so that they stopped being exported or produced in quantities.

Once considered to be among the oldest of red wines in France, with grapes introduced perhaps by the Romans, it is only in the last 50 years that its reputation has come back. Still produced in small quantities, the Cahors wines are a great find for those who love a rich, red wine

As you can see, the Lot is rich in history, geography, and is a magnificent area to visit and stay in for a few days. Varied, sometimes dramatic, interesting whether your interests are cultural, sports and outdoors, history, or just plain good living, THE LOT HAS A LOT FOR YOU!

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Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area