Spend your holiday in the Dordogne - Lot region
The Lot department, in the southwest of France, borders the Corrèze to the north, the Cantal to the northeast, the Aveyron to the southeast, Tarn-et-Garonne to the south, the Dordogne to the northwest and finally Lot-et-Garonne to the southwest.
Keep in mind, however, when looking at the tourist classification, that large parts of the Lot are considered part of the Dordogne region.
The borders of the Lot department align with the borders of the former Quercy region, a large limestone plateau where the rivers Dordogne, Célé and Lot snake through. In many places they wore out splendid gorges.
Various rivers flow through the Lot department. The rivers Dordogne and Lot, with numerous tributaries such as the Célé, Vers and Vert, criss-cross the landscape.
These rivers run from east to west, from the Massif Central to the Atlantic coast. The Dordogne flows in the northern part of the Lot department and the rivers Célé and Lot towards the south.
In between lie rugged and vast limestone plateaus, including the plateau of Gramat. These high plains of limestone with sporadic villages, plenty of forest and meadows are on average 300 metres high and are known as the
Causses. The rivers were originally of great importance for transporting goods by boat. Due to large parts along the river being very violent, the boats, la Gabarre, were dismantled at the final point and brought back to the start by horse and cart.
Several different types of landscapes adorn the Lot department:
- The Ségala in the northeast is a region with a hilly relief, featuring summits as high as 780 metres. It is an area rich with flora and fauna and deep gorges.
- The green Limargue and the Causses are limestone high plains. A large portion of this is an official nature park.
- The Quercy blanc, south-west of Cahors, consists of small agricultural valleys.
- The sandy, tree-lined Bourian region.
- The beautiful valley of the Lot; the most stunning area lies between Cahors and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
The most important cities in the Lot department are the capitals Cahors and Figeac.
The history of Lot
The Lot department displays long traces of history. Silent witnesses such as prehistoric petroglyphs and paintings, Celtic tombs (dolmens), Gallic fortifications, Roman art, medieval fortified towns (bastides), monasteries and castles can be found everywhere. Many of the
villages and towns were under the influence of three main Quercy families during the Middle Ages, and for a long time afterwards. These families were:
- the Turenne family
- the Cardaillac family
- the Castelnau family
These families not only owned the most important castles, but also appointed their relatives as bishops (from Cahors) and abbots of the main monasteries.
Bastides in the Dordogne / Lot region
The characteristic French bastides are fortified towns that were built during the Middle Ages. These were mainly setup to encourage the rural population to settle in market places. On both banks of the rivers, bastides were built as defensive strongholds during the 100-year war between France and England. Whenever one of the two parties acquired an area, they built a small fortified town with a rectilinear street plan to defend the conquered area.
Cahors has about 20,000 inhabitants. The old part is built on a peninsula surrounded by the river Lot. The many alleyways and beautiful architecture lends a hand in giving Cahor a genuinely pleasant atmosphere.
This ancient capital of Quercy played an important role in the Middle Ages because of its lively trade and university.
The Valentré Bridge is the city's symbol and was built in the 14th century. The construction is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. What makes it so special is its three 40-metre-high fortress towers. This feature alone makes it a bridge unlike any other in the world! Stop and marvel at the bridge from the banks or water.
Other landmarks worth seeing:
- the Vieille Ville with its Olivier-de-Magny square has beautiful old houses
- the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne with two domes, a exquisite Romanesque portal and a carved tympanum
- the Musée Henri-Martin.
- the many amiable shopping streets
The Lot is an area where prunes and walnuts are grown, where pigs snoop for black truffles, where goose foie gras (foie gras) is made, exceptional lamb (Label rouge) is sold, where traditional goat cheese (Rocamadour) is made and where 2000 years of famous Cahors wine from grapes are pressed.
Cahors wines, renowned world wide
The Cahors wine region extends spans over 3850 hectares and is mainly located in the Lot valley and the calcareous Causse. The Cahors wine is one of the oldest wines in France. It is a distinctive red wine with an intense and powerful flavour. Although it becomes more refined with age, this wine can also be consumed young. Ideal for red meat, Cahors wine also matches regional specialties such as foie gras, confits, quercy lamb, truffles and Causses cheeses like Rocamadour.
Truffles are a type of fungus that grows underground, especially near oak trees, also known as truffle oaks. This rather unsightly black mushroom is so fragrant that it's earned the nickname the perfumed soul of the region. The maximum weight of this black diamond, a reference to the exceptionally high price that must be paid for it, is roughly 100 grams. The truffle is detected with the aid of pigs
or dogs. The most famous truffle market is held in Lalbenque (near Cahors) from December to March, every Tuesday afternoon at exactly 14:00. It's reminiscent of a theatre show, as hot shots from the finest restaurants in France (mockingly referred to as matadors) come to purchase truffles from unworldly farmers who, with their baskets filled to the brim, stand side by side in a row.
Before trading starts, the truffles are examined, felt and weighed with the hand. Something is written down, mumbled, and a careful yet satisfied smile can be seen on the faces around you. Right at the moment-suprême, when the church clock strikes exactly 14:00, deals are immediately turned into deeds and within fifteen minutes the market is over. The actual transactions take place in alleys and on porches. The basket contents are exchanged for thick wads of banknotes. Afterwards, they all drink a hearty glass of prune (plum brandy).
This cheese is a specialty from the village of Rocamadour and the Causses du Quercy. The Rocamadour, often in the form of a slice, can be eaten at different ripening stages. Whether it is creamy with a subtle taste or a little drier with a more pronounced aroma, the Rocamadour tastes simply amazing in every case. It can also be eaten warm, for example with a salad.
In June, Rocamadour is host to the cheese festival, a marvellous gastronomic event.
The Bleu des Causses
The cheese variety known as "Bleu des Causses," formerly called Bleu of Aveyron, has been awarded an AOC and AOP status. This cheese, made from raw cow's milk, has blue veins, similar to the Roquefort. It is a popular cheese with a long tradition.
The Bleu des Causses is matured for three to six months, has a natural crust, and a beautiful ivory colour with blue-green fungus stains. It compliments a salad or omelette, but it's especially after a meal with a piece of bread and a glass of Cahors or Marcillac wine, that this cheese truly comes to life and expresses its unique character.
The Quercy lamb has, like certain types of wine, a protected status for a specific area. The breeding area is limited to the Lot and a few neighbouring departments.
The lamb is slaughtered in Gramat between the 60th and 150th day, and must weigh between 12 and 21 kg.
The popularity of Quercy lamb dates alls the way back to 1770 thanks to its tender meat and subtle taste. The pink meat with nice white fat even possesses a "Label Rouge" (agricultural certificate that stands for quality from France). Delicious when barbecued or prepared in the oven; is generally drunk with a glass of wine from
the region. Every year in August, the village of Cressensac organises the feast for the Quercy lamb. This again give rise to the opportunity for locals and tourists alike to have a taste!
Pescajoune is an authentic specialty from the Quercy region. The best way to describe it is like a pancake with dough made from wheat and buckwheat flour, with a dash of prune brandy. Apple slices are added and then baked in a pan with butter. You can also replace the brandy with rum, orange blossom or vanilla. There are variants with pear or plum. Delicious as a dessert or together with a cup of coffee, the pescajoune can also be fried in cubes.
For many tourists, the rivers are a big challenge to see when in a canoe or kayak. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at many spots along the river, perfect for a day trip or trek. Quietly paddle next to steep cliffs and pebble beaches along the banks surrounded by nature practically untouched. Many canoeists have spotted kingfishers in their natural habit, and have experienced a unique vantage point of the beautiful castles from the water. On the water, you can discover the area from a completely different aspect.
From the rental location, various distances are possible whereby often the choice can be made to be brought back from a point downstream by minibus or from the location to a point upstream.
In order to sail the river in peace, you can also opt for a cruise in a Gabarre. The river can also be easily followed by bicycle or car.
Holiday hikes in the Dordogne / Lot
The Dordogne / Lot is a great hiking area. There are relatively flat areas and parts where there are more differences in altitude, so more than enough options to choose from. Panoramic views can be seen from the higher altitudes.
In the villages, hiking trails have often been laid out from the centre (Le Bourg: centre of the village, village square) (Petites Randonnées, Circuits) which lead past the more beautiful parts of the surrounding area and return to the starting point. There are also the Grande Randonnées, these are the longer routes that also lead from village to village. From the next village, you can follow another Grand Randonnée. All routes are very accessible.
Les plus beaux villages - authentic French villages
Together with the department of Aveyron and Dordogne, the Lot has the highest number of "plus beaux villages de France." These are places that stand out because of their beauty and are therefore placed on a special national list. They are for the most part restored medieval or fortified villages that have retained their original authenticity. St.-Cirq-Lapopie is the best known, and has even stood at Nr. 1 of the most beautiful places in France.
Amazing gardens and parks
There are several beautiful parks and gardens in the region, some of which are crowned as Jardin remarquable (special garden). Every park and garden has its own unique atmosphere:
- Les Jardins de la Butte in Gourdon
- Les Senteurs du Quercy in Escamps
- Jardin Médiéval in Cardaillac
- Jardin Médiéval du Barry in Salviac
- Le Jardin Bourian in Degagnac
- Les Jardins Secrets in Cahors
- Le Jardin des Cinq Sens in Capdenac
- Le Jardin des Sens and Castelfranc
- Espace Promenade Durable de la Clède in Gourdon
A visit to the market (Le Marche) is extra special. It has everything from commercial tourist stalls to farmers selling their own produce. The market also serves as a meeting point for residents of the area to catch up with family and friends, exchange the latest news and to buy fresh products. From eggs to live chickens and chicks, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, olives and herbs, walnut-based products, exceptional bread, fresh goat's cheese, but also clothing, household and exotic goods. All in all, it's a colourful collection of people, market stall holders and tourists. As a tourist, you can't help but feel the warm hospitality, the fun, and the continuous bustling.
The flea markets and vide-greniers, flea markets and markets for antiques and curiosities are also worth a visit. Anything and everything can be found here, and you're always accompanied by a pleasant crowd. Time, date and place are usually announced through posters or flyers behind the windscreen wiper. The local tourist office also has this information. Bargaining is a habit. Even if you don't speak the language, you can come a long way with sign language or a piece of paper. Often there are also artists or musical groups at these markets, who only add to the atmosphere.
Cycling in the Lot
You can cycle along large parts of the river, where since 2009 a route has been officially designated for cycling. The Véloroute vallée du Lot starts in Cahors and ends in Aiguillon. You'll cycle on the normal roads more often than not, which means cars, motorcycles and other cyclists are also present. The route is divided into 3 stages: from Cahors to Albas, from Albas to Fumel and from Fumel to Aiguillon.
Because of the greater differences in altitude, the stretch from Cahors is more difficult to cycle, but definitely worth it. It takes you past a stunningly beautiful town such as Saint-Cirq-Lapopie where you can cycle or hike over the old towpath that has been cut into the rocks.
During the cycle tour through the Lot valley, you will pass many nice villages, castles and other cultural heritage sites such as the fortified town of Castelfranc, the harbor village of Grézels or Castelmoron with its beautiful half-timbered houses. In addition, you'll cross the AOC Cahors wine region, a perfect way to round off a long day of cycling with a good glass of red wine from the area.
Swimming in the Dordogne/Lot
You can swim practically anywhere in the rivers of the Dordogne region: while discovering the area, find a nice beach and enjoy the cool water. Pay close attention to the current as it can be quite strong at times.
In addition to the major rivers there are also many small creeks and streams: perfect for families with toddlers and preschoolers: they can play in the water where there is absolutely no risk of drowning. If you notice a little stream somewhere, follow it for a bit as it will certainly lead you to a nice spot.