Transcript 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



[00:00:15] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, Episode 484, quatre cent quatre vingt quatre.

[00:00:22] Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we take a conversational journey through the beauty, culture, and flavors of France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:31] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the Lot Department, which stands out for its remarkable blend of historical sites and natural beauty.

[00:00:44] We’ll guide you through the dramatic landscapes of Rocamadour, the depth of the Gouffre de Padirac, the lovely painted cave of Pech-Merle, and more. So much to enjoy in the Lot. Which is in the Southwest of France, by the way, it’s just an hour away from Toulouse, really.

Podcast supporters

[00:01:02] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, and I’m writing a new one, a food tour of Paris.

[00:01:18] You know, I love food, right? I didn’t get big by hating food. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:01:23] But you could also take a day trip with me around the Southwest in my electric car, and you can browse all of that on my boutique

No Magazine segment today

[00:01:34] Annie Sargent: There will not be a magazine part of the podcast today because I was in Paris all week writing my new food tour, so I don’t have any new patrons to thank today. But remember that to join the wonderful community of patrons and francophiles who support this podcast and have kept it going for 10 years now, you can go to, and to support Elyse, go to

[00:02:07] And please do not fall for the join for free crap that Patreon is doing these days. It doesn’t help you or me. You’re not going to get a thing extra from me, and I don’t get any money from you, which I do need the money because this is an Indie podcast. Okay?

Annie and Elyse: Exporing the Lot Department

[00:02:36] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Elyse. Bonjour Annie.

[00:02:38] Annie Sargent: What a great topic we have today, but I will let you make that joke because I know you’re itching.

I love it a lot in the Lot

[00:02:44] Elyse Rivin: I am itching. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it. We’re going to talk about the Department of the Lot. And there is such a lot to say about the Lot. Uh huh. Uh huh.

[00:02:58] Annie Sargent: I love it a lot.

[00:02:59] Elyse Rivin: I love it a lot.

[00:03:00] Annie Sargent: I love it a lot in the Lot.

[00:03:02] I love it a lot, in the Lot, on the lot, everywhere in the Lot. Beautiful place. Okay. Don’t turn us off yet. We’re done with the corny jokes. Now we have to have some actual interesting things to tell you about the Lot. And I will let Elyse take it away, I’ll interrupt as little as I can stand.

[00:03:19] Elyse Rivin:

The Lot Department

[00:03:19] Elyse Rivin: I would really like to begin by saying, I know that France is a gorgeous country, and I have seen maybe three quarters of it.

[00:03:27] There’s a part of it I haven’t seen yet, but I’m not sure if it’s the part I actually want to go to.

[00:03:30] Annie Sargent: Oh, stop it.

[00:03:31] Elyse Rivin: Well the flatlands up north, you know, next to that strange country called Belgium. But anyway, but I have to say that, sincerely, the Lot is one of my most favorite places to go. It is a department that is of course in the southwest, that is north of Toulouse, it’s east of Bordeaux, a little further east of Bordeaux than it is north of Toulouse. I’m sure that many of you, if you’ve traveled in the southwest of France have spent a little bit of time in part of it. It’s a famous department. It is filled with amazingly, numerous things to see, historical things, not nature things. The cliffs, the rivers, it’s a very special kind of climate.

[00:04:16] It’s part of what is called the coasts and the coasts are what are called limestone plateaus. I won’t go into the details because I can’t even explain the erosion, but I know it has to do with erosion from millions of years ago.

[00:04:28] And so a good part of the department, which is actually a department that was carved out of two ancient areas called the, one was called the Quercy, which most people may not know the name, it actually comes from an old word, they think it’s from the Latin word for oak because it’s filled with live oak trees, like in parts of California.

[00:04:48] And the other part that’s in the more of the southwest, is actually carved out of the old Dordogne area. So it’s a department that has three rivers going through it that are very important for Lot, the Dordogne, and another river called the Célé.

[00:05:11] Annie Sargent: Okay. So that’s a minor river, right?

[00:05:14] Elyse Rivin: It’s, a medium-sized river. It’s actually a tributary that goes into the Lot, comes out of the Massif Central.

[00:05:22] And it has, it’s not a super small river, it’s really what I think we could say is a medium-sized river.

[00:05:29] It has a bunch of villages and things along the way, and it’s whereon one end, the Figeac is.

[00:05:34] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s the river that goes through Figeac.

[00:05:36] Elyse Rivin: That’s the river that goes to Figeac, right? It’s actually, it comes, it goes north, and it kind of goes east afterwards, you know. Whereas the Dordogne, is the northern part, and the Lot comes to basically the southern part, but pretty much they all run east west in the department.

[00:05:50] But it’s an area that, you know, everybody has their preferences in terms of land, and geography.

[00:05:56] It was one of the first places that I discovered in my first travels in France a long, long time ago, and I had what the French call a coup de coeur.

[00:06:06] Annie Sargent: Yeah, definitely. It’s stunning.

[00:06:08] Elyse Rivin: It’s stunning and…

[00:06:09] Annie Sargent: Well, okay, let’s be real. We’re recording this in January. It is dreary weather. Of course, it’s not as nice and dreary weather as it is the rest, you know, in the spring and summer, but it is a beautiful, beautiful place.

[00:06:23] Elyse Rivin: It’s a beautiful place. It’s very dramatic. And a good part of it is land that’s relatively dry.

[00:06:28] The coasts are, because of the fact that it’s mostly limestone, it’s not a rich soil, so a lot of things don’t grow in this area.

[00:06:37] Annie Sargent: Right, let me also interrupt to say that Causses

[00:06:43] Elyse Rivin: Say it again? Is C-A-U-S-S-E.

[00:06:48] I think it just translates as plateau, but I’m not sure.

[00:06:51] There are a whole bunch of them in the parts of the central part of France. And so there’s a part of the Lot, which is a relatively big department, that is green. That’s the part that’s really where the Dordogne River is, and it’s much more bucolic and very beautiful.

[00:07:05] Very, very beautiful. But then there’s the other part that’s much more dramatic. And for those of you have heard of, if you haven’t already been to places like St Cirq Lapopie, that is where you are on the Lot River and it’s extremely dramatic.

[00:07:18] So altogether, it turns out that it’s one of the most visited departments in France, which is not surprising, but it has very few people living in it.

Cahors, the biggest city in Lot Department

[00:07:28] Elyse Rivin: It’s really one of the most rural in the sense that it has very few inhabitants. The biggest city is Cahors, which is the head city of the department, and it has 22.000 people.

[00:07:40] Annie Sargent: Wow, I didn’t realize it was that few people in Cahors. 22.000?

[00:07:44] Elyse Rivin: That not quite even. I mean a little bit. Oh wow. Yeah, it’s really…

[00:07:48] And then the next biggest two little towns are 3.000 something.

[00:07:53] Annie Sargent: That’s a village.

[00:07:54] Elyse Rivin: And then you have villages, you know, and then you have hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of these little villages.

Podcast episodes about Lot Department

[00:07:59] Annie Sargent: And somehow we’ve managed to do three episodes already about these towns in this department. We did episode 62 was about Cahors. So it’s all about the history, blah, blah. St Cirq Lapopie is gorgeous, but it’s very, very small. That’s episode 43. And we talked about Rocamadour, gorgeous, gorgeous, dramatic looking village. That was episode 338.

[00:08:23] So the point of this episode today is kind of give you an overview of all the things that you might want to visit in the Lot Department. We already did one about the Aude Department. And I think it’s good to have an overview of a department, even though really, in reality, if you drive from, you know, the edge of one department and you go into another, absolutely nothing changes.

[00:08:46] This is just a, it’s like driving from one state to the other. No bells go off. No, nothing happens. You just happen to be in a different department. I mean, we have to, you know, we have to group things in areas in a way that makes some sense to French people anyway. And that would be the departament.

[00:09:02] Elyse Rivin: And so it, of course, this is a way, if you look things up, and I looked up many, many different sites in the last couple of days to sort of cross check some of the information, I have been to the Lot a lot, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.

Lot, the department with the most beautiful villages in France

[00:09:14] Elyse Rivin: I’ve been to the Lot a lot. And I really do love it, and I’ve been to much of it, I don’t know if I’ve been to every single village, but it’s interesting to know that it is one of the departments that has the most villages classified as most beautiful village in France.

[00:09:30] Annie Sargent: Oh, how many of that is that? 10. Okay. Well, that’s right up there with the Aveyron, which also has a lot.

[00:09:37] Elyse Rivin: And I think the next, I think the next after that is already going up to Alsace or something like that.

[00:09:42] Annie Sargent: Oh, yeah, Alsace is chock full of them, as well.

[00:09:44] Elyse Rivin: Is chock full of them as well. Right. Yeah.

Prehistoric Caves, Pech Merle

[00:09:46] Elyse Rivin: It has prehistoric caves. Of course, the most important one that is the most famous one is Pech Merle. And Pech Merle is, I’ve just been back in the last few months to visit it.

[00:09:57] It was my, this is like talking about your childhood, my adolescent romances. This is my first prehistoric cave. Oh, I’m going to have a fit. It was my first prehistoric cave. It was a long, it’s a long story, for those of you who want to know about it, I’ll tell you another time. But anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it.

[00:10:17] It is one of the few that is still all the genuine actual drawings and footprints and marks and engravings. It is an enormous, enormous, enormous cave. You drive along the Lot and then you kind of make this detour and you go up into these hills where it’s all this very dry limestone and live oak.

[00:10:35] And there you are. And it is really rather exquisite and rather impressive.

[00:10:40] A word to those who are interested in anything prehistoric, Annie and I have both been to Lascaux, three, four, five, six, God knows how many now… No, it’s really one, two, three,

[00:10:48] four. A lot. A lot. I’ve been to Niaux which is in the Ariège, been to a bunch.

[00:10:53] I’ve been to just about every prehistoric cave that is visitable in France. This, of course, you have to have a reservation, but this one is really quite spectacular. Yes.

[00:11:02] Annie Sargent: Yes, so, this is one that stands out as far as accessibility, I think. It’s a little bit easier to do than Niaux, for example. Because Niaux, you have to walk a kilometre and some just to get to the paintings. Whereas at Pech Merle, you go down about fifty steps, you walk a little ways, but then there you are.

[00:11:30] Elyse Rivin: I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s 50 steps, but it’s definitely been set up so that there are steps and railings everywhere.

[00:11:37] Annie Sargent: Yes, and there are railings.

[00:11:38] Elyse Rivin: And it’s completely developed. It’s not, I wouldn’t say it’s well lit, but you can see where you’re putting your feet. Whereas in Niaux, you do this with a tiny little flashlight and you know, it’s more difficult for people that have access, you know, difficulties moving.

[00:11:56] But Pech Merle is great, when you approach, they have a parking lot, but you must reserve in advance. I would say this is one that you would probably want to reserve two or three months in advance. It’s not quite as difficult to get tickets as Font-de-Gaume because it’s not a national monument. I don’t think it’s a national monument at Pech Merle. I think it’s a private cave.

[00:12:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah, anyway. But it’s very nice, it’s very well done. There are tours in English. They give you a little debrief when you arrive, before you enter the cave, then you probably spend 20 minutes inside of the cave? 50. 50? Oh, I didn’t realize it was that long.

[00:12:42] It went went fast, I guess.

[00:12:43] No, you spent almost 50 minutes inside the cave, because you do go kind of up and down and around, and now they have you stop at each of the places, and she or he will show you the things.

[00:12:53] Of course, these are all guided visits. No, it’s almost an hour.

[00:12:56] We hope to take the people of the bootcamp in 2024. I need to make the arrangements, but yes, we want to take bootcamp members there.

[00:13:04] And I know we probably won’t be able to do the whole group at once because there are restrictions as to how many people can enter at the same time, and they space things out.

[00:13:16] So this is one that you need to reserve, but if you search for Pech Merle Cave, you will find it easily, and there’ll be a link in the show notes as well, but it’s really one of the highlights of the department.

[00:13:30] Elyse Rivin: It has a little museum. It has a little snack place. I mean, it’s in the middle of what is this very lovely, kind of dry forest.

[00:13:37] I would describe it that way.

[00:13:39] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And you can totally have a snack, or a light meal or a picnic there. Yeah. There’s stuff for all of that.

St Cirq Lapopie

[00:13:45] Elyse Rivin: And it Is very close, as you go along the Lot River to the very famous village of St Cirq Lapopie, and I’m just going to say very, something very briefly about it, because I think a lot of people have visited, and if certainly have heard about it, it is really one of the most spectacular and beautiful villages in all of France. And France, we know, has probably a thousand gorgeous villages, really.

[00:14:08] It was voted most beautiful village in France a few years ago, and it is absolutely unbelievable, and spectacular. It’s perched in several levels going up to the top of this cliff. And you can easily do St Cirq Lapopie and Pech Merle in the same day because both of them are on the road that goes along the Lot River, which you get to really by going through Cahors, which as I mentioned is the only real city in the entire department, you know.

[00:14:36] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and a small city at that.

[00:14:38] Elyse Rivin: And a small city, although I have to say that it is quite charming. It has the famous medieval bridge that is the only still intact, fortified bridge left from the Middle Ages in France, with this little devil holding a finger on the stone. And it has a very small, but very interesting little medieval Renaissance section that is slowly being rebuilt and restored.

[00:15:02] So every time I go, I see there, what buildings that were once in ruin are now all fixed up, and it’s very charming. It has a great market, has a super great market on Saturdays. It’s one of those producers that come from all over. This is an area that has lots of farms that produce goods, and so this is, this is all the southern part of the department.

[00:15:22] You can go on many, many of these departmental roads, and in the show notes, there’s a list of some of the other villages that you can visit that are absolutely gorgeous. All of them have a spectacular point of view, they’re either along the river down below, or they’re perched up on high above on a cliff.

[00:15:39] Some of them have chateaus that are visitable, some of them it’s just the gorgeous architecture of the Lot, which is very typical of this area, which is this very kind of mellow pale yellow limestone. It’s not white-white, like Bordeaux white. It’s just very beautiful. It gives a nice soft color to it with this very beautiful brown tiles.

[00:15:59] And these very steep roofs. Why steep? Because they do get a lot of rain actually in the winter time.

[00:16:05] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm.

[00:16:06] Elyse Rivin: And if you go East, all the way to the other end of the department,before you, and I’m going to let Annie talk about the northern part, which is part that she actually knows better than I do.

[00:16:16] But if you go all the way east and you follow along the city, which is actually a road that is lovely. Again, these are meandering roads, you have to have plenty of time. This is no big auto route. There’s no big auto route that crisscrosses the Lot. You have to really give yourself the time to do this and make stops along the way and take pictures or whatever.


[00:16:33] Elyse Rivin: But you get to the very charming, small town, let’s, or small city if you want to call it, of Figeac. So I take it back, it is the only one that has actually more than 3.000, but it’s about 9.000 people in Figeac.

[00:16:47] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. Figeac is a small town. It has a fair bit of industry though, because quite a few Airbus subcontractors are in Figeac, so they have a lot of engineering jobs and kind of project management for airplanes kind of jobs. I know this because I, for a short time, I did English over the phone with these people.

[00:17:10] And so I would get them to tell me about their job.

Figeac, home of Champollion and the Museum of Written Languages

[00:17:14] Elyse Rivin: But it’s of course famous being the home of Champollion, the man who translated, deciphered, more or less correct, I think the Rosetta Stone. And so it has, besides having a very beautiful old Renaissance city centre, very well restored, it has the wonderful Museum of Written Languages, with a huge reproduction of the Rosetta Stone.

[00:17:35] It’s a lovely spot to visit. It’s a little bit out of the way compared to much of the other stuff that you can visit and see in the Lot, but it is really very lovely.

[00:17:45] Annie Sargent: Right. And we did an episode about Figeac that was episode 143. So it’s an old one. And it’s a really great museum as well. It’s really interesting. It’s very modern. It’s been renovated not very long ago. It’s not the dusty museum that you sometimes find in small towns like this.

[00:18:03] It’s a very well worth museum to visit, I think.

[00:18:07] Elyse Rivin: I agree with you. I think it’s lovely. If you’re fascinated by writing systems, languages, it’s a lovely, very modern museum. It has audio guides in many different languages. It’s really charming. And Figeac is charming. It is a bit on the extreme eastern side of the Lot department. But you can plan out your visit in a way that if you’re going to spend a few days in the Lot, which is certainly something I would suggest, you can make a visit to the Figeac and then kind of work your way back towards the western part, where there are lots of beautiful little villages, and then go up towards the northern part, which is where the Dordogne River actually goes through it, and then you get toRocamadour and Padirac.

Rocamadour and Padirac

[00:18:46] Annie Sargent: Right, right. And I’ll be talking about those. But before I get to them, I want to say that, when you are, and this is exactly what we’re going to do with the bootcamp, so never say that I don’t spill any secrets. What you do is you go to Pech Merle, the Painted Cave, and you spend, oh, two, perhaps three hours there, and then you go to the village of Bouziès, which is just down the hill by the river. And there they have Les Croisières de St Cirq Lapopie, is what it’s called, and you can by boat go between Bouziès and St Cirq Lapopie, which is lovely.

[00:19:27] Last time I was there, we couldn’t do it because it was full and we would have had to wait. So I’ll put a link in the show notes of where you can reserve this in advance if you know you’re going to go. But you can also walk the path. So they have a path called Le Chemin de Halage de Bouziès, this will all be in the show notes, where you walk along, and so a chemin de halage was a place where either beast or man pulled boats. And I don’t remember if that one was beast or man.

[00:20:03] Elyse Rivin: I remember that the, one time I did it, which was with a group, they said that at first it was men, and then after a while they used mules or horses.

[00:20:16] Annie Sargent: Okay. Yeah. And this is before the boats had power, you know, motors. And it’s just a beautiful, beautiful walk, and many parts you have rock above your head because they carved out a piece to make this happen. There’s a piece of art, there’s an art installation on the side. I know I have photos of it, but I don’t remember what it’s called right this moment, but there’s this beautiful kind of metal art that’s installed along the way at some point. And you can make your way all the way to St Cirq Lapopie that way. I did not go all the way, did you?

[00:20:56] I did, but I didn’t go from Pech Merle, I went from Bouziès. Bouziès is on the other side side of the river.

[00:21:02] I’m not sure if it’s on the other side of the river. But the river doesn’t go all the way up to Pech Merle. The river goes to the bottom of Pech Merle. Right, and Bouziès is the town that’s at the bottom. And then from Bouziès, you can walk to St Cirq Lapopie.

[00:21:19] Elyse Rivin: Then you look up and you go, Oh my God, I’ve got to walk up to the top.

[00:21:24] Annie Sargent: Did you do that? I didn’t.

[00:21:25] Yes. Yeah. Well, this was only about 10 years ago, but I was in a really good shape to say here.

[00:21:31] Good for you, I never did it. So anyway, so it’s a really, really fun day. And lots of French people do this. I don’t think that I see a lot of foreign visitors.

[00:21:42] Elyse Rivin: Not doing the Chemin de Halage, I don’t think so.

[00:21:46] Annie Sargent: They probably don’t know about it.

[00:21:46] Elyse Rivin: Or they rent a boat and they just do a little boating on the river, which is something of course that you can do in this part of the Lot.

[00:21:52] Annie Sargent: But kids love this. I mean, you know, a little boat, you walk in this beautiful path, they get, you hear a lot of squealing.

[00:22:00] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. Absolutely, squealing, squealing. I’ve just been around a squealing baby for a few days, I know about squealing, yes.

[00:22:08] Annie Sargent: Yes. Okay. So, we’re not going to go into details about Cahors, but let’s just say a few things. It’s a town. You said, yeah, there’s a a beautiful market. There’s a gorgeous market.

Wine: Cahors

[00:22:19] Annie Sargent: There’s very good wine in Cahors, although it’s a very specific type of wine that we’ve talked about on the podcast a few times.

[00:22:26] It’s great to go with kind of hearty, meaty meals, right?

[00:22:33] It’s not the sort of wine that, I mean, it’s very flavorful and pretty heavy flavor, but also I think it’s like 13, 14 degrees alcohol. It’s also pretty strong.

[00:22:43] Elyse Rivin: I’m not sure about the alcohol. I did put a little bit in the show notes. If people are interested in the history of wines, the main grape in the Cahors is Malbec, which was exported to Argentina, among other places, where people think that the Malbec comes from Argentina, but no, it comes from Cahors. And it is, in fact, one of the most ancient red wines in France, and it has a very long history, and it was basically made to disappear from the international scene as a wine by the British.

[00:23:16] One of these days, we’re going to do the a hundred years war and we’re going to talk about things like that, you know, and the Black Prince and everything. It has a fascinating history and yes, it is a very full bodied, very flavorful, lots of good taste of almost cherry. Strangely enough, I’m not a big fan of red wines, but I love this wine.

[00:23:33] I absolutely love it.

[00:23:34] Annie Sargent: I like Malbec as well. I think it’s one of the best.

[00:23:37] Elyse Rivin: And it is really a wine that just comes from this area. That is really what the Cahors area is known for, besides the other foodstuffs that are known in this area. But Cahors is basically the county seat of the lot. So it has a very small but very charming old historic center.

[00:23:53] It has this very famous bridge, the Pont Valantré, which is really kind of fun to go and visit, and take a picture.

[00:24:00] Annie Sargent: Sure. Yes.

[00:24:01] The cathedral isn’t bad. The inside, I remember the inside, the stained glass windows were very modern, so I think they must have gotten broken or something.

[00:24:10] Elyse Rivin: They are, but it’s a very unusual church, like the churches in the Perigord area that has a dome. It has 2 domes, so it’s an architecture that’s very special in relation to what you typically see in this area where we are here. It’s a very interesting, very old cathedral.

[00:24:25] Annie Sargent: It’s not as striking as the one in Perigueux, but I can see why it’s a similar kind of style.

[00:24:31] Elyse Rivin: But basically Cahors is a place that is a good place to stop very, I would say, briefly before you go and explore further either north or east or zigzagging to your way into these wonderful surprise little villages that are on these departmental roads along the way.

[00:24:48] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah. Only small roads in the Lot really. And, you know, take your time. You’re going to have to drive 70 kilometers per hour. And don’t think that’s like the same as miles.

[00:25:00] Elyse Rivin: No, and 70 will be fast. Believe me, you know.

[00:25:03] Annie Sargent: Yeah, most of the time it’ll feel fast, so, and very often there’s not anywhere to pull over really, and it is not an easy driving place, but if you like to drive hilly, you know, switchback kind of places, you will love it.

[00:25:20] Elyse Rivin:

Vacation Homes and places to rent

[00:25:20] Elyse Rivin: And there are lots of gorgeous little villages. Interestingly, it is a department that has not a huge population, but it is a department that has an enormous percentage of vacation homes and places to rent. And people should know this because if you’re interested in spending several days, this is a place where you can either get a gîte, or do an Airbnb. Lots of people who have second homes rent out for part of the year. You have lots of these beautiful old stone houses that have been restored along the way.

[00:25:49] Annie Sargent: Yeah, if I was looking for a place to stay in the Lot, well, other than Cahors and Figeac, where I’m sure they have several hotels, not a ton of them, but they might have 2-3 hotels. I would look for either a B&B or a Airbnb or a Gîte de France. I’m sure they have a ton of them. Yeah, and Gîte de France used to be mostly for long term rentals, but anymore they will just rent to you for a week…

[00:26:21] Elyse Rivin: Oh, even long weekends.

[00:26:22] You know, I mean, every owner can decide what they want to do, but these are places, it’s a department in an area that does get hot in the summer, and so many of these places, because they are designed for bringing tourists, and will have swimming pools. And you can swim in the river, you can swim in the Lot, in certain parts, and you can swim in the Dordogne, also. This is one of the things that you should know about if you’re thinking of making a stay in one of these areas, you know.

[00:26:46] Annie Sargent: Right, but if you’re going in the middle of the summer, get a place with air conditioning, you will die.

[00:26:51] Elyse Rivin: And swimming pool, a swimming pool.

Regional Park of the Quercy

[00:26:52] Elyse Rivin: And so if you go north, you go in north end of the department, it gets into the more rugged part, believe it or not. In the center of the department is an area that’s called the Regional Park of the Quercy, which is the name of one of these plateau areas.

[00:27:09] Annie Sargent: That’s Q-U-E-R-C-Y


The Black Triangle of the Quercy Coast

[00:27:11] Elyse Rivin: And it’s filled with trails for biking and hiking, and it has a lot of nature expositions, and there are people who take you around. And it, it also is an area, to my great surprise, that is considered to be one of the best places in all of France where you can do stargazing. It’s called the Black Triangle of the Quercy Coast.

[00:27:35] Annie Sargent: Oh, wow.

[00:27:36] Elyse Rivin: Like the name of a new movie. Oh, you know, and apparently there is so little light contamination, in spite of the fact that you have these little villages dispersed all over the place. They have places where they have set up telescopes and they have animators and you can go and do a whole lot of stargazing and stuff like that right in the center of the Lot at the same time.

[00:27:59] Annie Sargent: So this is probably the sort of thing you can just search for. I’ll see if I can find links to events like this. I mean, this is not every night, it’s once in a while.

[00:28:06] Elyse Rivin: No. Right, and in fact, one of the sites I discovered, it’s closed in the wintertime anyway.

[00:28:11] Annie Sargent: Yeah, most of these places, you really don’t want to go in January, February, March perhaps, but you know, it’s best to go April through October. Yeah.

[00:28:24] Elyse Rivin: And then you have some of these villages. I’m just going to mention the names of them. If you love beautiful old villages with stone houses, churches, ruins of chateaus, or chateaus that are actually in a state where you can visit them, perched on top of a cliff or down below a river, you will have your fill in the Lot.

[00:28:46] A couple of them are places that I discovered and found absolutely magnificent. One of them is really up in the northern end called Autoire. It’s very small, it’s spectacular and surrounded by cliffs where you can do these hikes. You have Cajarc, which turns out to be one I haven’t visited, but where a lot of famous people actually have, or had summer homes, including Georges Pompidou, who was the president of France.

[00:29:11] Like, thank you very much. It’s also the centre Cajarc of the market for saffron, which is one of the products, or one of the, I don’t, product isn’t really the right word. One of the..

[00:29:22] Annie Sargent: Crops?

[00:29:23] Crops, thank you, of the Lot, which is of course very exotic at this point because, it used to be very, very important and now, of course, I think it’s just a sort of specialty crop. But it turns out to that Cajarc is where you can do some shopping for real genuine saffron.

[00:29:38] Nice.

Martel, home of the truffle market

[00:29:39] Elyse Rivin: There’s a small town that’s beautiful on the northern end of the department called Martel, which is known for its seven towers, and it is the home of the truffle market.

[00:29:49] Annie Sargent: Aha. Nice.

[00:29:51] Elyse Rivin: Do you like truffles, Annie?

[00:29:52] In small quantities. Mm.

[00:29:54] Annie Sargent: I like truffles, I like truffled oil.

[00:29:58] If you make an omelette, when your omelette’s all done and nice and dry, I like my omelettes really dry, you just put a tiny bit of truffle oil over it.

[00:30:07] Ooh, it tastes good.

[00:30:08] I have to admit that I’ve only tasted it once or twice, and I’m not sure I know exactly what it really tastes like a truffle.

[00:30:15] Oh, I know what it tastes like, but I can’t describe it.

[00:30:18] It can be very strong.

[00:30:19] I don’t like strong truffle, but if it’s done with flair, it’s good. It will make any vegetable, like a plain old vegetable, like a zucchini, or aheaven forbid, like spinach… Yeah.

[00:30:35] Broccoli, it doesn’t go along, but of course, I don’t really like broccoli, so nothing goes along with it.

[00:30:39] Elyse Rivin: Okay. We’ll stay with omelets and truffles. I think that’s the best.

[00:30:43] Annie Sargent: I think omelettes with a tiny bit of truffle oil over.

[00:30:45] A little bit of cheese with truffle? Perhaps.

[00:30:48] Elyse Rivin: That’s a specialty around this area for Christmas.

[00:30:50] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and probably then. Oh, no, I lie, I’ve had brie with a truffle mixture in between the brie, oh, that’s really good, huh?

[00:31:00] Yes. yes, yes, and I don’t even, and I don’t even like brie that much.

[00:31:04] But you have to, you don’t want to let that brie run. That brie needs to be eaten within half an hour out of the fridge. It’s like one of these serving secrets, some brie you want them to run, some you do not.

[00:31:15] Elyse Rivin: Okay, I’ll let it run away from me. I’ll let it go somewhere else. Really.


[00:31:20] Elyse Rivin: Another village that I find gorgeous is a village called Carennac, which is also going north, towards Rocamadour and has a beautiful, beautiful Benedictine Abbey. And a magnificent, magnificent château. So, there are just a whole bunch of them.

[00:31:36] There’s a list you will be able to see and you can take a look on the map and you can sort of plot out where you want to go and what you want to do.


[00:31:44] Elyse Rivin: As you get further north, you get to the very mysterious and very dramatic Rocamadour.

[00:31:51] Annie Sargent: Yes, so this is where I take over, because…

[00:31:53] This is where she takes over.

[00:31:54] Elyse Rivin: All that

[00:31:55] Annie Sargent: Rocamadour is my jam. So, I have must have gone to Rocamadour and nearby, Gouffre de Padirac several times as a kid, for sure, because it was one of my mother’s favorite outings. We would go for the long weekend or something. And by the way, if you are going to be in France during one of our many long weekends coming up, beware, French people like to go out on long weekends, and so things are going to be very, very busy.

[00:32:22] But so, Rocamadour, as you approach, you see this beautiful village in the cliff, on the side of the cliff. Now we did an, a whole episode about it, it was episode 338, where I even have details in the show notes for that episode about where you should park, because it’s not very easily accessible since it’s so hilly. So you can park at the bottom and walk up.

[00:32:47] But, you know, the knees don’t like that too much anymore, so I tend to try and park on the top, and take the… You can take the elevator from the bottom as well. There’s an elevator. It costs a few euros, but it’s well worth it, the elevator. And it is gorgeous, there is a pilgrimage route if you want to do that.

[00:33:07] Elyse Rivin: It takes you to an old church that was very, very small. Carved in the rock.

[00:33:11] Annie Sargent: Yes. yes, yes. It’s very nice. So I would say that if you go to Rocamadour, it’s a good place to stay, and I would recommend that you stay away from Rocamadour where you have the view of the village. If you’re in the village, you cannot see the village.

[00:33:30] So, you know, stay away from Rocamadour. Most of the hotels, so these hotels are not very, very large because most of the year, they don’t have a need for a lot of hotel rooms, but in the big busy months, they get full very fast and you pay a premium when you go in the busy months. So, work that out well in advance, especially if you’re going in May when we have the long weekends.

[00:33:55] But anytime you go to a place like this that’s very touristy and doesn’t have a lot of accommodations, you can plan on, you know, difficulties finding a room, and paying a premium for it. I mean, that’s just how it is.

[00:34:09] Elyse Rivin: Just to make sure, if you can listen to the episode on Rocamadour, but when Annie says that it’s hilly, St Cirq Lapopie is steep, but this is beyond steep.

[00:34:19] This is cut into four levels on this huge 150 meter high cliff. And it is absolutely amazing to see.

[00:34:29] Annie Sargent: And the other thing my mother liked to do when we went, oh, there’s another thing now, there’s La Forêt des Singes, so the forest of monkeys, where the monkeys are trained, really, I mean, they’re macaque monkeys, variety of macaque, I don’t know which ones. And they will come to you because they know you have peanuts.

[00:34:47] When you enter, they give you a bag, a small bag of peanuts, and they tell you not to give them anything else, because if you enter the property with anything else, the monkeys can smell it. I mean, they want the peanuts, but they also want whatever else you might have, and they can get a little bit aggressive.

[00:35:02] Elyse Rivin: Yes, macaques can.

[00:35:03] Annie Sargent: Yes, so don’t enter that with any food other than the ones that they give you. And I think they really should stop giving because, you know, kids get kind of pushed around by the monkeys if the parents are not careful, et cetera. So that’s something where I went several times as a kid.

The Gouffre de Padirac

[00:35:20] Annie Sargent: And also you have The Gouffre de Padirac, which is a favorite of mine. So this is… a gouffre is a… I think you say it’s a chasm?

[00:35:30] It’s a chasm, right. It’s a chasm. It’s a vertical, it’s like a well in the sense, you know, it’s a vertical hole that goes down very deep. It’s a giant well.

[00:35:40] Yes, but it’s a natural well, and so to get in, you have to take some steps to begin with. And then there’s different levels, you know, they make you stop here and stop there. And then you get into an elevator that takes you to the bottom. And it’s not a very long elevator ride, but there is an elevator.

[00:36:01] And then, or perhaps you can do the whole thing by foot. I don’t recall if you can do the whole? I remember getting in an elevator, so probably everybody gets in on the elevator.

[00:36:14] At any rate, you get to the bottom and it’s 103 meters. So that’s probably, what?

[00:36:21] Elyse Rivin: 350 feet?

[00:36:23] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so how many stories is that? If it was a building. It’d be a 10 story building or something?

[00:36:29] Elyse Rivin: It’s pretty deep.

[00:36:31] Annie Sargent: It’s into the ground and you get to the bottom and you walk around the cave a little bit and you see some beautiful cave formations just like any other cave and then you get to some boats, some flat bottom boats. And they have gondoliers, I guess, that will take you around, in the underground river and it is so fun. And as you’re about to exit, they at some point they take… they flash a…

[00:36:58] It’s like Disneyland.

[00:36:59] They take your photo and then you can buy the photo when you exit. And so I have photos of me at that spot a few times, you know.

[00:37:07] I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s peaceful. It is a place where a lot of tour guides will bring people. And so it is full of bus loads of tourists.

[00:37:19] So this is something that you have to plan in advance.

[00:37:22] Do not just pull up and hope you get a ticket. You won’t. So, look online, buy your tickets at least a couple of weeks in advance. If it’s high season and a long weekend or something, then, you know, book as soon as the tickets are available.

[00:37:40] They do close for the winter a little bit, so it’s possible, like, I looked at Pech Merle just yesterday, so Pech Merle is closed this time of year, which is January, early January. But their website doesn’t work either, which is weird. So you can’t even buy tickets. You can’t buy tickets now. So they, when they come back to work, which I believe is March, they will then reopen the sales.

[00:38:05] But this is normal for, this is par for the course in France, things close in the winter months, and especially rural France like that. So Padirac is kind of like that as well, although I didn’t go looking for tickets yesterday, but I’m sure you, you need to do this a little bit ahead of time.

[00:38:22] It happens thatPadirac and Rocamadour, because they’re so very close to each other, they get masses and masses of tourists, which interestingly enough, I mean, Pech Merle gets tourists, but it’s not like Rocamadour. It turns out that after Mont Saint Michel, it is the second most visited site outside of Paris.

[00:38:38] Is that right? That doesn’t surprise me. You know, we’ve said this a lot about Carcassonne, you know, don’t go on a long weekend or any weekend in the summer really, because it’s so full of people. Rocamadour is that sort of place.

[00:38:54] So it would be better, like if you have your druthers, I would take people there in April, perhaps in October.

[00:39:03] May, except for the long weekends, you know.

[00:39:06] Yeah, May, the long weekends are going to be very busy, very busy.

[00:39:09] And they have busloads, I mean, these are places that have busloads of people because it is still considered a sanctuary and a lot of people go there and they have two music festivals in the summer. So it’s a very big tourist attraction.

[00:39:21] Yeah.

[00:39:22] And well deserved because it is beautiful and it’s extremely picture worthy, like you can’t take a bad picture in there. It’s lovely, lovely. So yes, I do recommend you go, but timing is important.

[00:39:36] And this area, which is really getting, if you take a look at the mapof how, of course, the department of the Lot, which everything is kind of cut up, all of these were created at the time of the Revolution anyway,

Martel, Gourdon

[00:39:46] Annie Sargent: But we are getting to the northern end of the department, and this is where you have the town of Martel, where you have another town, which is right on the edge, actually going into Dordogne, which is called Gourdon which, it’s not as exquisite because part of it is old and very pretty, but it’s more of a town.

[00:40:03] It’s industrial.

[00:40:04] Gourdon is industrial.

[00:40:06] Elyse Rivin: It’s got a very, I’m not sure how industrial it is, but I know it’s famous for its market.

[00:40:10] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:40:11] Elyse Rivin: It’s a place that has a certain amount of accommodations of the kind of things you would look for in a city.

[00:40:16] Annie Sargent: All right. So it has restaurants and hotels and things.

[00:40:19] Elyse Rivin: Pharmacies, you know, I think a clinic, you know, that kind of stuff. This is at the northwestern edge of, of the department. But from there you can kind of go in every direction, you go west into the Dordogne and just, you know, north into the Corrèze and all of that.

[00:40:33] And this area is very wild. The part of the Lot that is the wildest in terms of it not being very domesticated is this northern part of the department. And it has some of these very strange little beautiful villages hidden away. So it’s kind of fun if you’re interested in exploring and not knowing exactly where you’re going to wind up, if you have a place to stay and you just one day want to go driving around, this is a kind of a fun thing to do, you know?

[00:41:00] Annie Sargent: Well, and of course, seeing that it’s only a couple of hours away from Toulouse, this is something I’ve started to offer as a day trip,you know, kind of a day thing we can do from Toulouse. Go to Pech Merle in the morning, St Cirq Lapopie in the afternoon, Cahors on the way back, get some wine, come home.

[00:41:17] This is a whole full day. This is a very full day. You have to, you know, be ready to go at eight in the morning, you’re not going to be back in your hotel until eight at night, but it’s a very full, beautiful day that I offer as a private guided visit as well.

[00:41:31] If you’d like to do that and stuff like that, you can see at And I’m hardly the only one who offers this. It is obviously something that a lot of people do.

[00:41:43] But the Lot is just beautiful. It’s just beautiful. If you want to go biking, it’s not surprising to see people doing not so long, like long distance biking, but you see people riding around with panniers, you know, stopping here and there to camp overnight.

[00:42:03] It is not an uncommon sight. And so drivers expect that around the corner, there might be some bikes. And so you just, you drive slowly, you drive carefully.

[00:42:13] You have to be zen driving the country roads in the place like the Lot.

[00:42:16] And you can go rafting as well, as you noted, there’s raftingthere.

The food and drink

[00:42:21] Annie Sargent: The food and drink.

[00:42:22] We didn’t, talk about that. So let’s get to the food and drink. Yeah.

[00:42:25] Elyse Rivin: Very important. Well, we’d mentioned the Cahors wines, of course, which…


[00:42:28] Elyse Rivin: We also mentioned the truffles. And the truffles. Is it produced locally?

[00:42:32] Truffles are actuallyone of the specificities of the Causse, is that strangely enough, it’s covered with live oak.

[00:42:39] Now, I lived in California, so I’m, I know what it’s like, land that has live oak. It’s apparently minerally poor, it’s not very… but it’s typical that truffles grow under the live oak.

[00:42:50] You know, and of course now they have dogs trained so that the little piggies don’t eat them, you know. They give the dog a nice bone and then they, you know, dig up the truffle, although I just saw a report on television the other day that said that this year there’s been too much rain, and so they’re rotting underground, which is a catastrophe for the people who make their money by going truffling.

[00:43:13] And going truffling is a very old tradition in France and people have places that they know where to go. And even though it’s a very complicated thing, it goes back a long time in the history of France, but the people take their truffles that they found to this market, like atMartel, where they sell them. Very often can be up to a thousand euros a kilo for truffles. I mean, it’s a lot.

[00:43:35] So this year, apparently, there’s a big problem because they’re all kind of getting too wet inside. But this is where the truffles grow in this part that’s relatively dry with the live oak and everything like that.

[00:43:47] And so yes, it is local.

Goat cheese

[00:43:48] Elyse Rivin: And there’s also the famous goat cheese, the Rocamadour.

[00:43:52] Annie Sargent: Ah, of course!

[00:43:54] Elyse Rivin: Which I love. Le Rocamadour c’est bonne!

[00:43:56] So they look like hockey pucks.

[00:43:59] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:44:00] Elyse Rivin: That’s exactly what they look like, you know.

[00:44:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah, but when it gets in your mouth it’s a lot nicer hockey puck to the teeth.

[00:44:05] It melts in your mouth better than a hockey puck does, you know, yes.

[00:44:09] Elyse Rivin: Definitely.


[00:44:10] Elyse Rivin: And walnuts. That’s the other thing that’s strange is that there’s the famous, and I love walnuts, there’s a famous walnut of Quercy, which is also something that grows in this strange kind of climate and on these limestone plateaus. And so you have walnuts and walnut oil, which is absolutely delicious.

[00:44:29] I absolutely love it. It’s not cheap, but it’s just absolutely delicious. And every year I buy a kilo or two, a bag of thewalnut of Quercy. There are two regions of France that grow walnuts, one of them is near the Alps, and this was the other one. This is the area.

[00:44:42] Dordogne also has walnuts, no?

[00:44:44] Yeah. Well, I think it’s the Quercy kind of overlaps.

[00:44:47] It’s kind of like goes both sides, you know? Now they’re, of course, they’re grown specifically, but they were actually just a natural tree, I mean, that grew in the area. Then they grafted them to make them more, more edible. So, there’s the cheese, there’s the truffles, there’s the saffron, there’s walnuts.

[00:45:03] And of course they have this wonderful walnut cake that they make. Hmm,

[00:45:07] Annie Sargent: And the Rocamadour cheese, what you do is you let it get to room temperature and then you put a tiny bit of honey on top and you sprinkle some chopped up walnuts.

[00:45:20] Ooh, ooh, ooh, it’s delicious. I’m telling you, it’s delicious. And that with a glass of Cahors wine and you’re in good, you’re happy as can be.

Melon of Quercy

[00:45:29] Elyse Rivin: I’m just thinking one more. Oh, yes, the melon of Quercy, which I love.

[00:45:33] Which one is it?

[00:45:34] It’s like a cantaloupe.

[00:45:35] It’s delicious. I love it. But it’s pink inside. It’s orangey inside. Yes. And it’s one of the, there are three regions of France that produce a melon that Americans would consider to be like a cantaloupe.

[00:45:47] Okay. And this is considered to be the best. It’s the sweetest.

[00:45:51] There are melons from Provence, right, the Cavaillon, but the melon of Quercy, I’m not sure why, comes at the end, I think, of the season, but it is considered to be absolutely delicious.

[00:46:03] That’s probably their problem, because by the end of the season, you’ve eaten so many melons, you’re not ready for more, especially if it’s really expensive.


[00:46:10] Elyse Rivin: And they have lamb. And, for those who are meat eaters, there is the lamb of Quercy, which is a specialty of the area. You can have a nice meal from just the things from this area. Big surprise, you can have a nice meal in the Lot.

[00:46:24] In the Lot, and not have anything that doesn’t grow in the Lot. Well, after a few days, you’d want something else. Of course.

[00:46:32] Yeah. Get your little green salad in there somewhere, you know. Oh, come on.

[00:46:36] Take advantage of being in this area and do yourselves a favor and go explore because there are some villages that are just absolutely gorgeous. And besides seeing the mainstays, the St Cirq Lapopie and things like that, that everybody goes to, and they are gorgeous, of course, but they’re with zillions of people most of the time, you would be surprised at how gorgeous some of these other villages are with their chateaus.

[00:47:01] Yeah, go see the other ones. We have a short list here but you said there’s 10 of them, I don’t think you put all 10 show but it’s easy enough.

[00:47:08] You know plus beau villages

[00:47:09] Right.

[00:47:10] Lot Department.

[00:47:11] And even the ones that are like small towns, big villages, they’re just beautiful as well. You know, you just go around the corner and you go, oh gosh look at that.

[00:47:22] Annie Sargent: Just go, people just go.

[00:47:24] Merci beaucoup, Elyse.

[00:47:25] Elyse Rivin: You’re welcome, Annie.

[00:47:27] Au revoir.



[00:47:28] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2024 by AddictedToFrance. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.


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Categories: Occitanie, Toulouse Area