Saint-Cirq Lapopie – The ‘pearl of the Lot Valley’ a wondrous, cliffhanging beauty of a village in the Lot… by Sue Aran and Janine Marsh
“It was in June 1950, as we rode by car…that I first saw Saint-Cirq, blazing with Bengal Fire, like a rose in the night…It was love at first sight…Above any other place in the world, in America or Europe, Saint-Cirq is my one place of enchantment…I stopped wanting to be elsewhere” – André Breton, writer and one of the founders of the surrealism movement
Saint-Cirq Lapopie, officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, lies within the Parc natural régional des Causses du Quercy in the Lot. It’s an area known historically as Aquitania Prima, the ancient Quercy region in southwest France, composed of the Lot, Lot-et-Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne départments. Here’s what to see and do in Saint-Cirq Lapopie…
The historic Village of Saint-Cirq Lapopie
The best way to reach it is via the road from Cahors, just 18km to Saint-Cirq (pronounced Saint ’Sear’). The route is lined with cliffs and threads its way through the majestic Lot Valley. Then suddenly medieval Saint-Cirq is above you, perched almost 100m above the Lot river, looking like a mirage.
Saint-Cirq, enclosed by fortified gates and punctured by picturesque bridges, is small but perfectly formed. Once a castle crowned its heights, perfect for seeing long distances, it made the town a defensive stronghold. Built in the 8th century by the Duke of Aquitaine, the castle became the property of the Lapopie family and did its job well. Even Richard the Lionheart couldn’t capture it. But those defences worked too well, and afraid that it would fall into enemy hands one day and never be retrieved, Louis XI of France ordered its destruction in 1471. From the ruins there are beautiful views over the rooftops of the village.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, nicknamed the ‘pearl of the Lot Valley’ was the first village to be crowned “favourite village of the French” by the France Télévisions program in 2012. There are more than a dozen historical monuments and clifftop cobbled streets, hollyhocks grow out of cracks in the pavement bordering the ancient houses, cafés, charming restaurants and artisan shops.
A place to wander
The 16th century Gothic church, l’Église de Saint-Cirq is topped by a mighty bell tower, above a chapel built during the Gallo-Roman era. Beautiful 13th to 16th century stone and half-timbered houses (13 of which are registered historic buildings) line the steep winding streets.
The River Lot curls its way along the bottom of the limestone cliff. Head to the bottom of the village for a 3-mile walk along the river. You’ll be glad to know it’s flat, and well worth the effort for the beautiful scenery. You can rent a boat or take a guided river tour from the tiny port.
The 17th century locks of the Lot river helped the village to prosper commercially as garbarres (flat bottomed boats) transported local produce, tobacco and wine to Cahors and Bordeaux. The village was famous for its craftsmen woodturners and it’s said that they collectively invented the wooden taps for wine barrels! Today the village is home to many artisans and galleries and boutiques line its medieval streets.
During the middle of the 20th century, the pointillist artist, Henri Martin and the Catalan artist, PIerre Daura loved to holiday in Saint-Cirq, as well as the American photographer Man Ray. The surrealist writer, André Breton spent his summers here and his former 13th century house, the oldest in the village and a former sailors inn, now hosts the International Centre of Surrealism.
Over many thousands of years humans have left their handprints, quite literally, in the Quercy region. Some of the earliest traces of cave dwellers dating back to 25,000 BC, can be found in the Grotte du Pech Merle, just below Saint-Cirq. The caves are still open to the public, unlike the famous caves of Lascaux, a 100 km northwest, which have been closed since 2006.
Take a break
There are plenty of places to take a break, watch the life of the village going on, indulge in the local cuisine and a glass of the full-bodied red wine the area is famous for. There’s a tiny wine museum which showcases local produce and wines including tastings. For an authentic taste of the Lot, Le Gourmet Quercynois will satisfy your soul. In a 17th-century house, regional specialities star – duck, truffles and their renowned apple pudding which features pastis and plum liqueur in puff pastry served with salted caramel ice cream.
Tip: Drive to the upper parking lot unless you’re a seasoned climber, as the lower parking lot is quite a strenuous hike to the village proper.
Stay at: TBC: Le Moulin-sur-Célé opens its doors in the summer of 2023. An exquisite holiday home in a magical setting, surrounded by glorious countryside and vineyards in the Lot Valley. Less than 30 minutes from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Cahors and the wonderful Rocamadour, Le Moulin-sur- Célé is a destination in itself, a private refuge, perfect for families, couples and friends in a sublime natural environment with pool, tennis court and private sandbank along the river. Find our more: lemoulinsurcele.com
Tourist office: cahorsvalleedulot.com
What to see close by
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is in one of the most beautiful parts of France and surrounded by many beautiful villages and towns set in glorious countryside
Sarlat – a time warp town that makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time…
Rocamadour – a cliff top marvel
Bergerac – medieval wine town that’s well worth a visit
Cordes-sur-Ciel – the little town with its head in the clouds
Villefranche-de-Rouergue a medieval town on the Pilgrimage route with a marvellous weekly market…
By author Janine Marsh, Editor of The Good Life France and Sue Aran of French Country Adventures.
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