Rocamadour – Grand Site of the Midi Pyrénées

February 26, 2014 by · Comments Off on Rocamadour – Grand Site of the Midi Pyrénées
Filed under: France, Lot and Dordogne, France 

Rocamadour – in the Midi Pyrénées

Rocamadour is the second/third/fourth/fifth (depending on which list you read) most visited site in all of France with about 1.5 million tourists annually.
It is a medieval village and one of the “Grand Site Midi-Pyrénées” and is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rocamadour : Grand Site of Midi Pyrénées Video

Rocamadour from across the valley and our bike route

Rocamadour from across the valley and our bike route










Rocamadour is a destination on our Lot & Dordogne Discovery Bike Tour. It is also one of our longest and most challenging routes so really only cycling fit guests make the whole route, some stop half way and wait for a lift.

Our guests leave our center base to cycle the 49k following quiet roads passing through Concores and then a nice flat section for about 20k stopping usually for a coffee break in Saint-Germain-du-Bel-Air. Then it’s on to Montflaucon where the flat section stops and the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy starts, which as you may have guessed starts to become more of a challenging route for a cyclist.

However at Montflaucon there is a café/bar Le P’tit Bouchon and Le Cloitre restaurant, so this becomes the first pick up point in the minibus for those not comfortable with the route ahead! The village is small enough that guests can stop at either for a lunch time drink or full meal and we will still find them!

Then into the national park proper and a spectacular journey including four climbs (or is it five, there’s always a debate) but each not too long, before you descend into the Alzou Valley and spectacular views of Rocamadour across the valley. This route is hardly used as most tourists come from the other direction and never see what I consider to be the best view of Rocamadour.


Rocamadour from our bike route

Rocamadour from our bike route


















Our guests freewheel down into the car park at the bottom and make their way up to the Cité Medieval and if they want to climb 216 steps up the “The Grand Escalier” (once climbed by pilgrims on their knees sometimes with small stones strapped to them). However there is a lift to the top and the views of the valley from the other side.
















For more details about Rocamadour follow the link below or come on one of our tours?

Our Lot & Dordogne Discovery – History Mystery & Chateaux Bike Tour

Rocamadour – Grand Site of the Midi Pyrénées

The original Malbec Cahors wine on our cycling tours

February 21, 2014 by · Comments Off on The original Malbec Cahors wine on our cycling tours
Filed under: France 

A short history of Malbec Cahors wine

Malbec wine has recently become more popular principally through the marketing of the Argentina variety. This is mainly grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina originally for the US market because of its less tannic and full bodied than the Cahors versions. All Argentinan Malbec vines were brought from the Cahors region in around mid 19th century when Miguel Pouget brought grapevine cuttings from France.

Malbec Cahors the black wine







Malbec Cahors vineyards were first planted by the Romans in most of the Lot department but now just extend along the western side of the Lot Valley. Their height of popularity was in the 12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine married  Henri Plantagenet in 1152.

In 1310 the wines of Quercy (the original larger department of the Lot and the Lot and Garronne) accounted for 50% of all exports from the Port of Bordeaux – some 85 million litres of wine, most of which was for English consumption.

However Phylloxera in the 1860s destroyed nearly all the vines in the Cahors area over the next 10 years.

Because of the rise in popularity of the South American Malbecs the original “black wine” of Cahors is now making a comeback. In order for it to be a Cahors wine it must have a minimum of 70% Malbec grape content. There are only two other grape varieties allowed to be added to the wine, they are Merlot and Tannant.

 Malbec Cahors glass

On our cycling tours we visit Malbec Cahors wine chateaux for tastings one of these being Chateau Chantelle (at the end of the day, so no cycling afterwards). Our table wine each evening is supplied by Chateau Chantelle a family run business on the borders of the river Lot in the Lot Valley.

Their website (in French):  Domaine de Chantelle

Most chateaux have three levels of wine, the first is normally called Tradition, the Chantelle version is 70% Malbec and 30% Merlot produced via stainless steel tanks.

Their next is a Prestige which is the same mix as before but kept in used oak barrels for at least a year.

Their top wine La Passion 100% Malbec and from their best grapes from old vines at a higher elevation and kept in new oak barrels for at least a year.

All are eminently drinkable but of course the best is the 100% Malbec, but (this is crucial) it must have time to breathe. In fact I would open in the morning for an evening drink with your meal.

La Passion 100% Malbec Cahors wine

We occasionally run Malbec Cahors wine tours via minibus one of which was reviewed by The Guardian (UK) newspaper.

See if you can find an original “black wine” of Cahors to give yourself a true taste of the south west of France.

Author: John Despard

The most beautiful villages in France

February 14, 2014 by · Comments Off on The most beautiful villages in France
Filed under: France 

We visit 10 of the most beautiful villages in France!

The French are justifiably proud of their beautiful villages and have created an award system to recognise them. This is called “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France“or The most beautiful villages in France. At the last count there were 152 listed throughout France. Here is a link to the complete list:

The Lot and Dordogne have their fair share of these beautiful villages and in fact Lot Cycling Holidays visit 10 of them within our bike tours.

On our Lot & Dordogne Discovery – History Mystery & Chateaux Bike Tour we visit no less than four on our first day of riding!
First to be seen is Castelnaud-la-Chapelle overhanging the confluence of the Dordogne and Céou rivers. In the 100 years war between the English and the French most of the time this was on the English side opposite another most beautiful village of France Beynac-et-Cazenac.
This village is on the banks of the Dordogne and was once besieged by Richard the Lion Heart.

Beynac most beautiful villages in France



















Further south along the river Dordogne you come to La Roque-Gageac there are ruins of the stone slab or brown-tiled roofs houses built into the south-facing cliff. During the summer traditional flat bottomed boats called gabares take tourists up and down the river. These were originally intended to transport goods in the 19th century.

La Roque-Gageac beautiful villages in France

La Roque-Gageac










Overlooking all the previous villages is Domme, perched on a high cliff with fantastic views across the Dordogne valley. This at one point was a knights templar stronghold and in the centre square you can visit the grottes where rumour has it they stored valuables.


Our Lot Valley, Vistas and Villages Cycling Holiday has just one Plus Beaux Villages de France in its itinary but, it was voted The Most Beautiful Village in France by the French in 2012!
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is perched on a cliff overlooking a meander of the Lot and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. It also has a fortified church and all the houses are “protected” so they look as though nothing has changed since the 12th century.

This village is also on the Grande Randonneé (national footpath) to join the St James Way pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

St Cirque Lapopie beautiful villages in France

St Cirque Lapopie














Other villages on our bike routes are:

Belvès is a medieval town on a rocky spur above the Nauze Valley west of  Castelnaud-la-Chapelle  There are 7 bell towers and has trogadite “Habitations Troglodytiques” medieval cave dwellings from the 12th century.

Monpazier a bastide town is known as a “Grand site national”, it has 32 listed buildings and was founded by Edward I of England in 1284

Autoire is a picturesque village on a limestone plateau and gets its name from the river Autoire where just outside the village are fantastic waterfalls.

Carennac in the north of the Lot on the banks of the Dordogne, renaissance houses with sculpted windows and brown roofs surround an 11C Cluniac priory.

Loubressac offers a fabulous panoramic view of the Dordogne valley and the surrounding castles, medieval houses built of ochre stone and capped with pointed roofs.








Author: John Despard

The Lot Valley South West France

February 10, 2014 by · Comments Off on The Lot Valley South West France
Filed under: France, Lot Cycling holidays 

The Lot Valley in the Lot Department

The Lot Valley actually runs across five department of south west France. From its source in Lozère through Cantal, Aveyron, the Lot and ends around Fumel in the Lot-et-Garonne. The river itself continues onwards where it joins the river Garonne and on to Bordeaux and the Atlantic. In all about 500kms in length.
These departments have joined forces to promote the Lot valley as a whole but to my mind the best part of the valley is actually in the Lot department (probably because I know this section best).

Lot Valley Map

There is a velo route (bike route) from Cahors in the east to Fumel in the west, a section of this from Cahors to Puy L’Eveque. This was the old site of the Cahors Bishops Palace.  This bike route has been named the Cahors Wine Trail as it passes through the main Cahors vineyards which straddle the river Lot. These vineyards were originally planted by the Romans and despite various diseases and hard frosts still remain, although extensive replanting has taken place. There used to be vines all over the Lot department but now they are mostly along the Lot Valley where the majority is of the Malbec variety. In order to be a Cahors wine they must be at least 70% Malbec (if not 100%) and then only Merlot and Tannat grapes varieties added.

From Cahors east there is an old tourist railway complete with tracks that were last used in 2005 after which it was moth balled until in 2010 a final decision was made to close permanently. Our Lot Valley Vistas and Villages bike route follows alongside this from Vers in the west to St Cirque Lapopie in the east. St Cirque Lapopie was voted the most beautiful village in France by the French in 2012. It is an ancient hilltop village with magnificent views along the Lot Valley in both directions. It’s a shame that the old railway line has not been converted to a bike route; it would be a fabulous route and a real tourist attraction in itself. There is always talk of it but no progress so far.

Velo Route in the Lot Valley


More detailed velo route maps online

Again our bike routes follow these, one of them ends at Douelle an old port on the river and another starts at Luzech and ends at Puy L’Eveque. Both of these cycle routes with us include wine tasting at the end of the day.

This probably why I prefer this section of the valley as it includes the vineyards.

Official website of the Lot

Everywhere I run there’s another Gariotte

February 4, 2014 by · Comments Off on Everywhere I run there’s another Gariotte
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

What is a gariotte or gariote?

These are small dry stone buildings that were quickly and roughly built from approximately the beginning of the 19th century in the Quercy area of the south of France. Other types of these are all over the south of France but the Gariotte is specific to the Quercy region and especially the Lot Department.

The word actually comes from the Occitan language which was the language of most of the south of France (and beyond) right up to the beginning of the 20th century. Gariòta is the Occitan word but in quercynois (a local patois version of Occitan) it is garioto.

Small Gariotte









So I run regularly in the forest backing onto our house across the trails some of which are well marked including the old GR652 (Grand Randonée) which is a feeder for the St James Way to Santiago de Compostela. This passes about twenty old gariottes that are really just ruins. But if you go off the old ancient stone walled cart tracks onto either just footpaths or even better follow the very old stone paths there are numerous gariotttes some of them in quite good condition.

stone wall









Last week I actually discovered one that was totally intact with its entrance and floor in fairly good condition. This was half way down an old overgrown walled cart track with oaks growing around a cluster of perhaps a dozen stone buildings. Unfortunately I was on a quite long run and was travelling light with no phone or camera, but I now know where it is and will take a photo next time I run that way.










I suppose within about 10k of our house there must be at least a 100 of these gariottes.

Well why were they built?

OvergrownStone Walls









It was built as a shelter at first for the labourers tending the vines for their tools and supplies and also as a shelter in inclement weather. But later with the diseases during the late 19th century most of the vines died and grazing sheep became the norm and they were used as shepherd huts.

Where did all the stones come from?

Well with the use of more modern ploughing equipment (still by horse) it was possible to plough deeper, unearthing more stones from the limestone rock beneath most of the Lot. They were so numerous (and still are) they had to move them, so why not build things with the stones. It was normally the women who built the dry stone walls and the men who built the shelters.

I would love to go back in time and see all the stone walls and buildings in their prime.

French Wiki on Gariottes

Long detailed explanation of the Occitan Language

Author: John Despard

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