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Chapter Twentyfive

Day 70

Lauzerte – Cahors

Walking up the short way towards the town there is a mid-week market going on in the main street of the lower part of town. Situated along the sides of the road there are shops and a restaurant and cafe. To walk to the upper medieval town you can walk around the road on the outside or take the steps which lead to the main square at the top, both ways are fairly steep but it is well worth the effort. There are veiwing points at various stages and these give wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. Walking in from the far side and the road you come first to an arched entrance and along quaint little streets and then to the main square ‘Place des Cornieres’, which is a real gem with its lovely buildings and old church of St.Barthelemy. The buildings have been very tastefully restored so as to preserve the ambience of the town. To one side of the square is the ‘Cafe du Commerce‘ with tables inside and also in the square outside and offers the perfect place to sit and soak in the atmosphere of this lovely square over an excellent cup of coffee. Having a chat with the owner, Rene, he speaks excellent English, he brings us a glass of a local soft drink ‘Chasselas de Moissac’ made from grapes delicious and refreshing, do try it if you are in this area. Visiting the interior of the church we find that there are a few different altars and it is a lovely church with some beautiful statues, One of the things we find very interesting is that there is a map of ‘Les Chemins de Compostelle en Europe’ the Pilgrimage routes of Europe all of which lead to St.James in Santiago di Compostella in Spain. We walk back down towards the lower town along the narrow streets, stoppping every few yards to take photos because something else has caught our eye and then visit the small church of ‘Notre Dame de Carmes’ at the end of the town before we go back to the motorhome for lunch.

We drive the short way on to Cahors and first impressions of the town are that it is a busy and interesting place. There are small, traditional streets with old buildings and houses and large monuments and statues. We need to park up and see a map of the town to get our bearings as to where everything is to look at. Cahors is situated on an iathmus formed by a meander of the River Lot so following the river bank brings you to the Pont Valentre where there are several parking places. The Pont Valentre is an outstanding example of medieval defensive architecture with three fortified towers and six arches.The ‘Consuls de Cahors’ decided on the building of the bridge in 1306 and in 1308 the first stone was laid. Walking across the bridge you can see the fast flowing river below which today is a swollen torrent bringing trees and debris with it and carrying it over the weir. On the far side of the bridge is the‘Maison de l’eau’and from here the path leads to the ‘Fontaine des Chartreux’ which was originally the sacred spring of ‘Divona’. In the 1st century BC the city of Cahors was founded under the name ‘Divona Cadurcorum’. The rocks form a cavern inside which the water is clear and blue and you can not see were it is coming from but it flows out and over the stones into another smaller ‘lake’ with a stone bridge and steps that lead nowhere before flowing under the road bridge and into the river Lot. Walking back across the bridge we carry on up the Rue President Wilson towards the centre of town. There is a large and modern hospital just before we reach the small park ‘Square Jouvenel’ with its fountain and statue of Neptune in the middle. The large open space of the ‘Allees Fenelon’ contains the entrance into the underground carpark at the first level down you are able to see the remains of the old Roman Ampitheatre which was discovered when the car park was being built. At the corner of the ‘Place Mitterrand’ is the main Tourist Information Office. We go in to ask for a map and any information about Cahors, the girl behind the desk, Leslie, is very helpful and not just hands us the leaflets but also explains where they are and the best way to get to them. It is lovely when you find that people are so helpful and friendly. www.tourisme-cahors.com From here we head towards the old town, which really is ‘old’. There are tiny little streets and the houses still have the wooden beams which show outside the brick and stonework. Through the old town and facing the river is the ‘Maison Henri IV’ and a little further on is the vast ‘Cathedrale Saint-Etienne’ and its Cloisters. Having been built between the 12th and 17th centuries has given the Cathedral its present mix of styles. On entering there is a gust of cold air to greet you and the interior is very dark but beautiful, and the large altar stands out in the light from the stained glass windows. There are several side altars and a chapel to St.Anthony. Towards the front is a side door leading out into the cloisters with a central garden beautifully laid out and is dedicated to Our Lady.

Coming away from the Cathedral we head back towards the modern side of the city and along the Boulevard Gambetta, the main thourghfare of Cahors. Here you find shops of all discriptions and cafes. Public buildings are situated along the Boulevard Gambetta such as the new Town Hall, the Law Courts, the Library and the Theatre. This area of the citycarts the offzz has a very lively feel to it. Another thing that we have noticed about Cahors is that there are public toilets situated all around the city and along the river banks and that they are also nice and clean, this is an important thing that visitors to the city need and look for.

We head back towards the Pont Valentre where we are parked, as we get back one of the little horse drawn carts that offer rides around the city is just passing by and finishing for today, the two little horses look a bit tired but still break into a fast jog as they near the end of their trip. Around this part of Cahors there are also quite a few Vignerobles selling direct to the public and we noticed that one also had local ‘Cidre’, explains why there have been so many apple trees in the countryside.

After our evening meal some of the group went back into the centre to sample a little of the nightlife and a beer, also a good opportunity for some night photos of the lovely fountains in front of the Gambetta statue which are all lit up .
Cahors is a city we would certainly recommend a visit to and we also have found it to be one of the friendliest places that we have visited in France.

Day 71

Cahors – Rocamadour – Gouffre de Padirac

Leaving Cahors after breakfast the road takes us through the National Park as we make our way towards Rocamadour. Along the route there are some fantastic views across the gorges and canyons of the area. Close to our destination we pass by a farm with absolutely loads of geese and there is a farm shop selling local foods and wines. Only a short way on is Rocamadour and the first sight of the castle, the churches and the village clinging to the side of the mountain is breathtaking, how on earth did they manage to build it in the first place. The village where we first drive in offers parking places and shops and there is a Tourist Information Office where we arm ourselves with a map of the area and a book on what is here, it actually takes two attempts to get into the Tourist Office as the first time they are just closing for luch a little early, and with plenty of people still inside and letting a couple in just ahead of us they lock the door as we approach and shake their head, I have to mention this as when I say that the people have been very friendly and helpful, such as in Cahors for example, I really do mean it, it is not just a pleasantry, here they were not. The leaflet does not give a lot of information hence we had to buy a book. At the far end of the village is a small ancient church and the ruins of the hospital that once offered shelter to the pilgrims who came here. There are also fantastic views across to the castle and sacred town. Unfortunately the weather is not being kind to us and it is a little misty and very wet. After lunch we head of to the castle and pay our €2 entrance to climb up to the ramparts from where there is an amazing view over the canyon and the town below. The castle can not be visited and is private. If you are not feeling up to the walk down then there is a lift available, €2.50 one way or €4.10 both ways. We decide on the walk and take the walk along the steep pathway which is the way of the cross. There are huge caves in the rocks as we walk down. Coming to the ‘Holy City’ we enter by the ‘Porte St.Martial’. The origins of Rocamadour is a complete mystery as no documentation exsist to give us a clue, but we do know that pilgrims visited Rocamadour in the 9th century but why there has been mass pilgrimages here no-one knows.

Rocamadour is part of the Santiago de Campostella pilgrimage route. We walk along the tunnel into the heart of the Holy City and come out next to the Basilica Saint-Sauveur. Inside the Basilica one can see the rock face which forms the walls at the rear of the church and the main altar to the front with a side altar to Our Lady. It is very dark inside and it is quite a large interior. Wooden steps go up to a gallery at the very back. A small set of steps take you up and into the Notre Dame chapel with the statue of the Black Virgin on the altar. It is a smallish chapel with a large altar on which stands the statue of the Black Madona and child. Again the rear walls are formed from the rocks of the mountain side. High up on the ceiling hangs a small bell which has the title of the ‘Miraculous Bell’, it is said that when sailors are in difficulty of being shiowrecked and pray to the Madonna and promise to come here to Rocamadour then the bell will ring of its own accord, when this happens the time and date are taken and when the pilgrims come to give thanks it can then be verified, this has happened several times. There are many plaques on the walls giving thanks to the Virgin for miricales performed and there are also models of ships hanging up. Going out of the chapel we come to the main square off which are several more chapels and the crypt of Saint-Amadour. Saint-Amadour’s tomb can be seen to the side of the square in which he was discovered completely in tact and he is now buried in the crypt bearing his name. Down a couple of sets of stairs take you down into the crypt where exposition is being held and people sit in silent prayer. It is a simple chapel but lovely and dispite the rain light floods in from the window next to the altar.

Back up the steps and into the square we head up the steps on the far side to take in the views from the walkway over the canyon and down the mountainside before heading back down and past the gift shop and the museum which is closed due to work being carried out. At the far gateway are a few shops and a cafe which has an outdoor balcony with tables and chairs from which there is a fantastic view so in we go for a coffee and are lucky enough to find an outside table under cover from the heavy rain which has been falling all day, we rest our weary feet for a while. From the Holy City there are 216 ‘Pilgrim steps’ which take you down to the lower level and the village full of small gift shops and shops with local products. In the past pilgrims would have ascended these steps on their knees.

The lower level of Rocamadour is a quaint street filled with shops offering goodies from the area. Chocolate shops, cake shops, little cafes, butchers, pottery and much, more. We wandered along and spotted the lift which takes you back up to the top, should we take it or walk? there is a statue of the Madonna inside the open kiosk and we took a photo, oh dear! a very irate woman started to shout at us and tell us we needed permission to do so! maybe she owns it I don’t know, she then proceeded to close all the shutters so that no-one could see anything, oh well we shall walk. Not very friendly.
The road back up to the top of the town and where we had parked is called ‘The Holy Road’, it leads back to the ruins of the hospital. The walk is not very long and again gives great views, although today the clouds are below us and the rain is still pouring down. Thank goodness for umbrellas. Must buy some wellies. Before long we reached the top and were in need of a nice warming cup of tea.

The place where we had parked had several vans parked there but whether or not it is an official Aires I do not know. At the centre of the town there is a toilet block and an outside tap. The tap was working but you had to pay to go to the toilet. We decided to carry on and go to the ‘Gouffre de Padirac’ where we are wanting to visit tomorrow. It is not very far about 5 miles and on arriving we park up for the night.

Day 72

Gouffre de Padirac – Loubressac – St.Cere -Bretenoux – Curemonte -Collonges la Rouge

We were up nice and early to start our visit to the subterreanian caves of Padirac. They open the doors at 09.30 and by the time we got there at 09.40 there were already a couple of coaches and several cars there. Near to the entrance there is a vast hole in the ground which makes you feel dizzy as you look down. Paying our entrance fee we take the lift ( you can walk if you want) down to the first level which is where you can see to from the top. A set of steps and then another lift takes you down into the depths of the earth ready for your visit. There is a short walk to the boats that will start you on the adventure and all around you can see the calcification of the water dripping on to the rocks and creating the most amazing shapes. Small boats take visitors along the clear blue waters amid this fantastic landscape. The chasm of Padirac is considered to be one of the greatest interesting geological sights in France. The caves were discovered by E.A.Martel in 1889, he made his decent along with the aid of six other men into the 75 metre deep hole and discovered the opening that lead to the river and the underground chambers a further 28 metres down. Further investigations are still ongoing today. Numerous archeological finds have been discovered, some of which are on display in the main entrance hall. The water running down must be what gives the ‘Fountain Gallery’ its name, and it is here that you follow the footpath along. The boats take up to 11 people and the guide along the ‘Riviere Plane’ which is between 0.5 4metres deep and the arches reach, in places, up to 50 metres. The boats glide along the 500 metres of the ‘Riviere Muette'(silent River). The boat takes you to the ‘Lake of Rain’ where there is a constant patter of water dropping, here you see multi-coloured stalactities of which the ‘Great Pendant’ is the most spectacular, it is just hanging there almost touching the water. Ending the first boat ride you are met by your next guide who walks along with you and explains what there is to see along the way. The pathway follows the river bed over giant rocks and past an enormous stalagmite column of 75metres high and 6metres in circumference. After this the walls narrow and this is called the ‘crocodile track’. There are another set of steps this time going up (150) and this takes you up to what looks like a wonderfully decorated swimming pool with fabulous curves and smaller pools set around, strange but beautiful structures are set about the pool as though decorated by an interior designer, but no designer could make something as beautiful as nature has here, and the curves have been created by the flow of the waters which have created a natural dam named ‘Les Gours’. After 1,100metres you turn back and start to retrace your steps, past a bust of Edouard Alfred Martel, and continuing along the staircase you come to a small lake suspended 27metres above the Grand Gours Lake. Here you are in the ‘Great Dome Chamber’ the ceiling of which rises 94metres above the level of the river. This is said to be one of the highest and most beautiful caverns in the world. Coming back to the boats they take you back to the stairs or lifts which bring you back to the main entrance.

There is a constant temperature of 13oC and the water temperature is around 12o C. The tour last about 1hour and 30mins. It is advised that you have a rainproof coat and hood for the visit. This is a trip that we would certainly recommend.

An early lunch and on to Loubressac only about 5 miles away. Driving through some absolutely beautiful countryside with softly undulating hills and sleepy little villages we come to the village of Loubressac. This is classified as one of the most prettiest villages in France. There are plenty of parking places at the village but today, in the rain, there are not many people about. The views from the houses, especially on the outside of the village are spectacular. At the centre is a small garden area with a war memorial and all around are some of the prettiest houses and gardens. The whole place has obviously been very well thought out as the whole village has a symetry to it instead of a collection of different houses put together. All the houses have been lovingly restored but not spoilt and it is a joy to walk around and admire them. Inside the Archway is the church of St.John the Baptist, a very old church with a wonderful high altar.T he streets are spotlessly clean and some of the houses seem to be closed up, which make me think that they could be holiday homes, and why not it is a perfect place for a quiet, peaceful holiday. Below us as we look over the view we can see the clouds gathering and cutting off the scenery from us. There is a castle in the distance on a hilltop but this also disappears under a cloud as we watch. On a sunny day this would be an idyllic spot to be.

Our next stop today is at Saint-Cere and as we pull up in the Aires situated just a short walk from the town centre the skies brighten up. The Aires have water and emptying facilities and there is a campsite signposted. On a hill above the town stands the castle which today houses the ‘Atelier-musee Jean Lurcat’. The town of Saint Cere is situated in the valley of the Bave, one of the tributaries of the Dordogne. The origins of Saint Cere are to be found in hills above the town where Saint-Laurent-les-Tours was the small settlement built in the Middle-ages and protected by the castle. We head along the Rue de la Republique which is the main road of the town and brings us out at the Tourist Office next to the ‘Mairie’. We find the lady to be very helpful in not only giving us a walking route with the history of the town but also maps and information of all of the Dordogne area. The history leaflet of Saint-cere is numbered and the route is marked out so it makes sure that you don’t miss anything out. The route takes us through the medieval streets with the beautifully preserved houses. There is the street of the butchers, one still has the slab on which he cut up his meat when serving his customers. In the centre is the ancient church of Saint Sperie, near to which is a statue of the martyr. The route continues along and over the river on the ‘Quai des Recollets’ to take in the monastery, an old mill waterwheel and a former convent all situated along the riverbank. At the end of this road you find yourselves back in the Place de la Republique opposite the Tourist Office. We found this was a vey good way of seeing the town and at our own leisure.

Leaving Saint Cere we again drive through the lovely countryside that is so typical of this region. We pass through the pretty village of Bretenoux and stop for a while alongside the river. One of the group decides to head off for a few photos while the rest of us relax and let him! It is a lovely spot on the river and there is a nice campsite opposite with a large swimming pool. The streets have the old half-timbered houses and it gives the impression of being a lovely peaceful town but with all the facilities associated with a town. We have been told that if we go close we must visit the village of Curemonte and so we head off in that direction. Stopping in the tiny square next to the church and getting out, we all agree that this is one of the quietest places we have ever visited, all we can hear is the birds singing. The houses are of stone and beautifully renovated and looked after and there are wonderful views all round. The main square and the main part of the village is along the small passageway at the side of the church, I can see why we were told to visit as it is a lovely place. It is starting to get a bit late now and we are heading to Collonges la Rouge to stay the night so we need to head off in that direction, not too far away. At Collonges la Rouge there is a very good Aires in easy walking distance from the village and very quiet, with all facilities. There is also a campsite nearby and gites are available. Collonges la Rouge, as the name suggests, is different in as much as the buildings are built of red stone so this will be interesting to see, and even though we though we take a quick peep we leave the main sightseeing until morning.

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