The Lot lies at the northern extremity of the Midi-Pyrénées region, which stretches from the confines of the Dordogne Valley to the highest peaks of the Pyrenees, forming the heart of South-West France. The region comprises eight départements created during the re-organisation of government after the Revolution, each one with a chief city or Préfecture.
Although small, just over 5 200 km 2, with a low population density (on average 32 people per square kilometre), the Lot has a rich and varied heritage with differing landscapes, architecture, farming practices and traditions. It can be divided into five main areas, plus the major river valleys, each with its own distinctive personality. The underlying geology of the Lot explains this variety; graduating from the ancient granite rocks of the hills bordering the Massif Central in the east, through the wide limestone plateau in the centre of the Lot, to the gently undulating chalk slopes of the south-west. Two great rivers, the Dordogne in the north and the Lot in the south, cross the département, winding their way east – west to join with the Garonne. In the north-east, the Ségala is the highest, coolest and most well-watered area, with granite hills sloping steeply down into valleys carved out by fast-flowing streams. Its name comes from the Occitan word for rye, as in the past, this was the only grain which would grow in the local conditions. Chestnuts also made an important contribution to the diet. Running along the western edge of the Ségala, the Limargue is very different: composed of sandstone hills separated by deep, fertile valleys rich in marly clays, mixed farming has always been practised here, with both arable land and cattle pastures. It is no accident that the main town, Figeac, is renowned for the beauty of its old houses built in the fine-grained local stone. The central two-thirds of the Lot is dominated by the limestone plateau, or Causse, where fields edged with dry stone walls undulate towards the wide, flat horizon. Much of this area is covered by the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy. In the north west lies the Bouriane, around its lovely mediaeval chief town, Gourdon.
Limestone still predominates, but here it is coloured honey-gold by scattered deposits of ochre – iron ore. Thickly-wooded hillsides, hidden coombs and small villages invite you to venture up the next slope, around the next bend… The Quercy Blanc, so called for the colour of its white chalk bedrock, occupies the south western corner of the Lot. With its white stone houses, fields of lavender and lovely Romanesque village churches, it has a sunny, bright, undeniably Southern feel to it. In the north, the Dordogne river carves its way majestically through the limestone plateau, forming tall cliffs which cradle a fertile plain composed of a mosaic of fields and orchards. One of the mightiest mediaeval fortresses in southern France, Castelnau-Bretenoux, stands guard over these rich lands. Further south, the upper reaches of the Lot valley are wilder, quite narrow in places, but as the river winds away beyond Cahors, the scenery becomes more open; gentle slopes dotted with castles, villages and the omnipresent, orderly rows of vines, which provide AOC Cahors wine. The one thing that these diverse landscapes have in common is their unspoiled natural beauty: the Lot has conserved much of its traditional rural heritage, giving it irresistible charm and character.
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