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Best Perched Villages In The Lot: Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour

Rocamadour, France

Make a stop to see two perched villages in the Lot department—Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour. They have provided the most stunning photographs I’ve ever taken. You can easily tie in a visit to one or both of these villages en route between Toulouse and Sarlat.

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1. Toulouse-Sarlat Route: Via The Perched Villages In The Lot

A popular route for many who want to travel between the south of France and the Dordogne is to take the Autoroute A20 (Toulouse-Sarlat). It’s a fairly quick 200 kilometres, 2.5 hour drive; however, I detoured a bit further east and travelled through the Lot department so I could see these two most stunning perched villages: Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour.

Both of these villages are located in the of the Lot department within the Parc National Régionale des Causses du Quercy.  The Lot is an area of France that is not visited as frequently as other regions such as Provence, Normandy, or the Côte d’Azur. It is one of the least densely populated departments.

2. Best Routes To Photograph Saint-Cirq-Lapopie And Rocamadour

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Some of the best photos that you will take of these cliffside “Villages du Lot” will be from a distance. In both cases you’ll be heading up the autoroute A2 from Toulouse.

(a) How To Get To Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

You can approach Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (on the D8) from either the east or the west. Either take the D22-D10-D8 and approach the town from the west or take the D117-D42-D8 and approach the town from the east. D8 becomes the Route de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and I prefer the eastern route to get the best photos (see next photo).

While you can drive through the town, you will not be able to park in the town. There is parking at the top of the village or down below.

(b) How To Get To Rocamadour

Heading to Rocamadour on the A20 you will pass Cahors. Take the D32 road and approach Rocamadour from the east. You will be in awe of the village which seems to hang onto the edge of the hillside. I kept pulling over to take photos. 

At various locations within Rocamadour (described later in this post) you’ll get exceptional views of famous religious sites and of the medieval buildings clinging to the side of the hill.

3. Visiting Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, France

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is located on a cliff, 100 metres above the Lot River. You’ll love taking photographs of this medieval village as you approach it. What stands out as you drive into town is Eglise de Saint Cirq Lapopie, a 16th-century church and historic monument that has a well-maintained interior. It was dedicated to St Cyr who the town is named after.

(a) Significant Honours

It is not only one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (Most Beautiful Villages of France) but it was also voted the Favourite Village Of The French in 2012. Located east of Cahors, it is part of the French Way (Camino Francès) section of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James).

The entire village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is classified as a historic monument and therefore the medieval atmosphere of the 14th century is retained and this is what makes Saint-Cirq-Lapopie so special. The well-preserved homes and buildings built on the cliff and throughout the town are connected by narrow and sometimes steep cobblestone paths. Most of the town is pedestrian-only.

In the early 20th century, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie transformed into a popular, busy artist’s colony with writers, poets, and artisans rejuvenating the small village. One of the most famous summer residents was surrealist poet and writer, André Breton.

Today, it’s much quieter (population is only around 200) but you’ll find lots of art galleries, and gift shops with local crafts. Traffic from tourists increases significantly in the summer.  It has been said that in some years the numbers rise to about 400,000. I did not stay the night but did stay for lunch. 

(c) Nearby Cahors and Pech Merle

If you do stay, you’ll be close to the capital of the Lot department, Cahors and it is certainly worth a visit. Popular attractions in the city include the medieval quarter and the Valentré bridge that was built in the 1300s. 

Nearby there is also Pech Merle cave, which is like Font Gaume in the Dordogne as it is one of the few prehistoric caves in France that still has original paintings from over 20,000 years ago and visitors are permitted inside. [Note: photography is not allowed].

4. Visiting Rocamadour

Rocamadour Village

Rocamadour is in the northern region of the Lot and in the Dordogne valley. Seeing La Cité Médiévale de Rocamadour perched on the side of a limestone cliff will take your breath away. While it is an imposing presence from afar, within the village there are spots that are equally breathtaking too. I have visited Rocamadour twice and could easily go back.

(a) History

As you walk around the town you discover that it is a very religious town from the middle ages with numerous shrines, statues, buildings and structures that were constructed in the 1100s. 

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Rocamadour fell into disrepair due to the French Revolution, invasions, and lack of pilgrimages visiting the village. It was pretty much in ruins until the mid-1800s when restorations were finally made to the sanctuaries.

Rocamadour is a Cité Réligieuse and has a population of 628 (in 2015) yet attracts over 1 million visitors a year. It has been a major religious centre and pilgrimage site for centuries.  When UNESCO designated the Camino de Santiago route in France (St James’ Way pilgrimage route) a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, Rocamadour’s Saint-Sauveur church and Saint-Amadour crypt were included in the list.

(b) How To Visit Rocamadour: Do A Circuit 

Rocamadour Route-Key Sites

My route (click on the image above to use the interactive map*) took me from the top of the cliff to the bottom of Rocamadour and back up. It was a circular route so you could do it either way. Just keep in mind that it is a steep hike up from the lower village to the château on the top of the hill. The entire cliff rises about 150 metres (492 feet). There are other options to get around. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions at the end of this post.

As you will see, I added in dinner before returning to the Chateau.

  • Château de Rocamadour
  • Croix de Jerusalem
  • Chemin de Croix-a lovely tree-lined route
  • Sanctuaries and chapels
  • Le Grand Escalier to the main village
  • Porte Salmon gate, down the main streets, Rue de la Couronnerie/Rue Roland le Preux to Porte du Figuier, the other main gate
  • Voie Sainte (Holy Way)
  • Le Hotel Bellevue Restaurant
  • Château de Rocamadour and to my hotel

(c) Château de Rocamadour

Chateau de Rocamadour
View from Chateau de Rocamadour

Château de Rocamadour was directly across from my hotel on the esplanade in L’Hospitalet, which is a commune in Rocamadour.  Only the ramparts of Château which is perched right on the cliff, are accessible to the public. A 2 € coin will get you through the turnstile.

You are at the highest point in Rocamadour and can get excellent views of the village and the Alzou river and gorge (canyon) from this location. You can really see how the houses just cling to the side of the hill. 

The Château is a good starting point for your tour of Rocamadour as there is lots of parking and it’s all downhill from here. I suggest walking down; however, if you aren’t up to it, you could take the lift (elevator) all or part way down. [See note in the FAQ section about the elevators].

(d) Walk Down Chemin de Croix (Way Of The Cross) 

Croix de Jerusalem, Rocamadour
Croix de Jerusalem, Rocamadour
Chemin de Croix, Rocamadour
Chemin de Croix, Rocamadour

The pathway down to the sanctuaries is called the Chemin de Croix. The Croix de Jerusalem is at the very top and the Chemin zigzags and meanders through the trees and at each bend along the way you’ll come upon one of the “14 Stations Of The Cross” which are shrines, grottos, and caves that have been turned into oratories (chapels) and depict scenes from the Passion of Christ. The one at the bottom of the hill tell about the condemnation of Christ and the one near the top of the hill depicts his death.

Station Of The Cross At The Bottom: “Condemnation of Christ”

Chemin de Croix station: “Condemnation of Christ”, Rocamadour
Chemin de Croix station: “Condemnation of Christ”, Rocamadour

Station Of The Cross At The Top: Grotto du Saint-Sépulcre 

Grotto du Saint-Sépulcre-Chemin de Croix, Rocamadour
Grotto du Saint-Sépulcre-Chemin de Croix, Rocamadour

The station, Grotto of the Holy Sepulcher,  is one of the most impressive grottos which was carved into the overhanging rock and supported with grand pillars. If you can zoom in on the photo, at the very back you’ll see a painting of Jesus who has died on the cross in Jerusalem.  This scene was showing his place of burial.

(e) Cité Réligieuse de Rocamadour-Sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Rocamadour

Cité Réligieuse de Rocamadour
Cité Réligieuse de Rocamadour

Eventually you’ll reach an area where there is a group of 8 sanctuaries and chapels overlooking the courtyard below. It is at the half-way point on the cliff and important religious relics are housed in these buildings.  Two of the most important buildings are the Basilique Saint-Sauveur and Chapelle Notre Dame.

Basilica Of Saint-Sauveur

Basilica Of Saint-Sauveur, Rocamadour
Basilica Of Saint-Sauveur, Rocamadour

The church of Saint-Sauveur is designed in the Romanesque and Gothic style and  became a basilica in 1913. It is called Saint-Sauveur (Saint Saviour) a translation of Jesus’ name meaning “the Lord saves” (saving people from their sins).

Chapelle Notre-Dame

Stairs leading to Notre Dame Chapel, Rocamadour
Stairs leading to Notre Dame Chapel, Rocamadour
Black Madonna in Chapelle Notre-Dame, Rocamadour
Black Madonna in Chapelle Notre-Dame, Rocamadour

When a body was found in the Chapelle Notre-Dame in 1162, it was believed to be St. Amadour (although many also say the legend is totally false as he has also been described as a hermit.

A wood statue, the famous Black Madonna, also known as the Black Virgin (Vierge Noire de Rocamadour) and Lady of Rocamadour, was a significant discovery.The story goes that it was carved by St. Amadour in the 12th century, and he was supposedly the “servant of Mary, mother of Jesus”.

From that moment onwards, the chapel and statue have been important to Rocamadour’s history. It has been said that many miracles have taken place and therefore it has been a spiritual stop for pilgrims. 

In addition to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, the chapel also has a miraculous bell that hangs from the chapel’s ceiling. It is said to ring on its own when a miracle occurs, such as a sailor’s life being saved. The wooden statue and the bell are two items that pilgrims want to see the most.

Crypt Saint-Amadour 

During the War of Religion (1562–98), the body of Saint Amadour was burned and the relics of the intact body were kept in a crypt. In 2016 they were exhibited in the Basilica on the 850th anniversary of the discovery of the body. The other chapels include:

  • Chapelle of Saint-Michel
  • Chapelle Saint Blaise-Divine Miséricorde
  • Chapelle Saint-Anne
  • Chapelle Saint Louis-Notre Dame de l’Ovalie
  • Chapelle Saint-Jean Baptiste

Le Grand Escalier des Pèlerins, Rocamadour

Le Grand Escalier des Pèlerins, Rocamadour
Le Grand Escalier des Pèlerins, Rocamadour

When you leave the sanctuary courtyard you’ll take the Grand Escalier-the Great Pilgrim Staircase down to the village. Pilgrims would climb the 216 stairs of this staircase on their knees, passing through Porte Saint-Martial and finally reaching the sanctuaries and chapels which are on two levels.

(f) Rue de la Couronnerie/Rue Roland le Preux

Main street in Rocamadour
Main street in Rocamadour

At the bottom of the Grand Escalier, the medieval buildings from the 12th and 13th century, boutiques, souvenir shops, and restaurants line the street, Rue de la Couronnerie which turns into Rue Roland le Preux. At each end are gates, Porte Salmon and Porte du Figuier.

After exiting Porte du Figuier, take the Vote Sainte-Pilgrim’s Path heading northeast to L’Hospitalet for more views and dinner. Be careful. There isn’t a sidewalk so you’ll be walking on the road. Eventually you’ll see a car park on the left, before you  reach Hotel Bellevue. This is a great spot to take photos of the east side of the Rocamadour, the Basilica, and the shops on the main street. 

(g) Where To Eat Dinner In Rocamadour

View of Rocamadour from Le Hotel Bellevue
View of Rocamadour from Le Hotel Bellevue

Le Hotel Bellevue Restaurant was recommended to me by the owner at the hotel I was staying at in Rocamadour and it did not disappoint. Their absolutely delicious prix fixé menu consisted of vegetable soup, lamb and a hazelnut cake. With 2 glasses of wine, dinner was a very reasonable 28 €. I highly recommend this restaurant. Great service and an excellent meal.

The added benefit of this restaurant is its location. Just north-east of the Château, you can get excellent photographs of Rocamadour’s Château, Basilica, sanctuaries, and main street from a different vantage point. 

(h) Where To Stay In Rocamadour

I stayed at Relais Amadourien for a couple of reasons: free parking, close to all the sites, and excellent reviews. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was modern, and the room was quiet (with a nice view). I had the excellent buffet breakfast which included fresh, warm croissants, pain au chocolate, cereals and fresh fruit. The price for the one night was very reasonable (under $100 Cdn).

(i) Attraction Near Rocamadour Worth Seeing

On my way from Rocamadour to Sarlat, I decided to stop at Gouffre de Padirac, the most amazing underground cave system that has a river below. It is located just a half-hour drive northeast of Rocamadour. If you’re in the area, a visit to this place is a must (and be sure to order tickets ahead of time as they are limited). Here is a link to my post about Gouffre de Padirac.

5. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Rocamadour AOC
Rocamadour AOC
1. Is Rocamadour cheese related to the village?

Rocamadour is also a goat cheese that has been granted the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). Rocamadour AOC is made with raw, unpasteurized goat’s milk and is produced in the Appellation area of Rocamadour following the traditional methods. 

This small, round, and flat goat cheese (approximately 36 grams) has a very short aging process of less than 2 weeks. It is sometimes called “Cabécou de Rocamadour” as it is part of the Cabécou family of goat cheeses. [Other goat cheeses include Cabécou de Périgord). The cheese is mild with a slight nutty flavour. Its appearance and texture is ivory, soft and creamy, and it is often served on toast and with salads.

2. How far is Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from Toulouse?

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is 126 kilometres or 1 hour 50 minutes from Toulouse.

3. How far is Rocamadour from Toulouse, Sarlat, and Gouffre de Padirac?

Rocamadour is:
-163 kilometres and 2 hours from Toulouse
-50 kilometres and 1 hour from Sarlat
-17 kilometres and 22 minutes from Gouffre de Padirac

4. Where is the Lot department?

The Lot is located in the Occitanie region of southern France. The department is one of the smallest of the 96 departments in mainland France with a population of 173,828 (2017) that is sparsely populated in a fairly large area (5,217 km²).  

It borders on the Dordogne department where Sarlat is located. The other departments that are on is border are: Lot-et-Garonne, Aveyron, Tarn-et-Garonne, Cantal, and Corrèze.

Both Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour are in the Causse du Quercy Regional Natural Park (Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy). It is a UNESCO GeoPark with walking and bicycle paths, caves, rivers and limestone plateaux.

5. If someone can’t do a lot of walking uphill or downhill are there elevators? Other means of getting around?

Yes. The two elevators are called the “L’ascenseur Incliné” and they run between the 2 locations: La Cité (bottom) and Château (top) of Rocamadour. The first elevator only runs partway, between the Château to the Sanctuaires. The second runs between the Sanctuaires to La Cité Médiévale. To do the two elevators you’ll need to buy two tickets to travel between the very bottom (La Cité) and the top (Château) of Rocamadour.

Another way to avoid the steep climb is to take the tourist train, Le Petit Train de Rocamadour from the valley. It takes you through the town to the medieval city. I’ve read that the ride is short and only takes you to the first level, the courtyard, not the Château. There is also little commentary. It runs from April to the end of September leaving from Porte du Figuier. The cost is 4 €  (roundtrip) or 3 € (one way) for a daytime tour and 7 € for an illuminated evening tour (2021).

6. Where can you park in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie?

There are 6 paid parking lots on the outskirts of the village. Many people choose the lot at the top of the village. The cost is about 5 € per day. There is no parking within the village proper.

7. Where can you park in Rocamadour?

Much of Rocamadour is pedestrian-only. There are large parking lots up top in L’Hospitalet where some are paid and some are free parking (especially for hotel guests). Look for “Parking du Château”. Parking is also available in La Vallée (the valley below the town) and it is free.

8. How long should one spend in Rocamadour? in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie?

I’ve stayed twice in Rocamadour and with each, I only stayed one night as it was en route to Sarlat or other places. Passing through and only visiting for a few hours really won’t enable you to take your time to explore the village. I’d say, stay at least one night.

If you stay longer, you could visit Grotte Préhistorique des Merveilles (Prehistoric Cave of Wonders) in L’Hospitalet and use Rocamadour as your base to do an excursion to the lovely town of Autoire or Gouffre de Padirac.

As for Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, you could spend 1/2 day wandering through the streets; however, there are hiking routes from the base of the village that look interesting, so staying one night would also give you extra time to explore. And you could tie in an excursion to Pech Merle. However, it’s likely not the best choice if you’re looking for things to do at night. It’s a small town after all. Head to a bigger town, like Cahors. 

9. When is the best time to visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour?

Both of these Lot villages will be overrun with tourists in the summertime, so if you can visit in the shoulder or off-season, this would be best (ie. May, June, September, October). Weekdays would also be preferable to weekends. Keep if mind that if you go off-season, many businesses and restaurants could be closed so you might have a hard time finding a place to eat. Not impossible, just harder.

If you’re interested in discovering more hilltop villages, check out Gordes in Provence and Beynac-et-Cazenac in the Dordogne. The photographs of these popular sites will also not disappoint.

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Best Perched Villages In the Lot, France

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