Cahors is a town of the Midi-Pyrénées, hot and sultry, nestling in the all but all embracing loop of the river Lot. Straddling the river is the fourteenth century, fortified bridge of Valentré, a UNESCO heritage site (like so much else in this department). Only three tall towers span the river on this bridge. A previous bridge, sadly pulled down, had five, but it is graceful and elegant and a rare survivor of an era when such bridges were common. Its building is associated with a legend concerning the devil whose cheeky representation you can see carved on the middle tower.
The town was serviced by a huge Roman aqueduct, every bit as large as the Pont du Gard, traces of which can be seen in the surrounding hills of the Vers valley. The cathedral was the first to adopt cupolas, the domes copied from crusading sorties to the Middle East and it is one of a select few in the region to sport a Toulouse tympanum on its north door, where a benign God is surrounded by delicate angels of much grace and symmetry. In the shadow of the courtyard at the rear you’ll find one of a series of small gardens dotted around the town, each representing, in some way, the monument to which it is attached. This one, the Jardin Bouquetier sports flowers grown for the altars of the cathedral, their colours rich with religious symbolism.
Wine and Vineyards of Cahors
The red wine of Cahors, the oldest in the world and which the Romans called ‘black’ because of its rich tannic depths, was exported all round the Roman empire. It was the wine of popes and kings and is today enjoying a renaissance. Drink it with some duck confit or better still a small round disk of Rocamadour goat’s cheese. Oun y a pa et bi Lou rey pot beni – where there is bread and wine a king may come, runs an old Occitan proverb, for the Lot has its own language, the language of the troubadours. Add in a Rocamadour cheese and this is even more true. The two flavours have a mouthwatering affinity.
West of Cahors, following the Lot downstream, you can visit many of the chateaux vineyards that grace the river, including those belonging to Alain-Dominique Perrin of Cartier fame at Caillac- Lagrezette; the Queen of Denmark at Caîx, and the doyen of them all, the Jouffreau vineyard at Clos de Gamot. The wine makers used the river to transport their wine down the Lot into the Garonne and thus to Bordeaux and the rest of the world. The gabarres plied their trade up and downstream, giving rise to a whole river culture of quays and shrines at various strategically dangerous points.
Helen Martin is the author of Lot:Travels through a limestone landscape in SW France (Moho books)