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Lot Valley France: Exploring one of France’s lesser-known regions in a motorhome

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saint cirq lapopie lot river

Lot Valley France

We’ve travelled across most of France in a motorhome, taking time to get to know the places that many French would never have set their eyes upon.  I do honestly find it very difficult when others ask me to tell them of our favourite places to see in France.  I really haven’t found too many places I don’t like.  Sure, some are more difficult to access in a motorhome.  The French Riviera is one that we will continue to avoid for that very reason.

Occasionally, however, a small village might take us completely by surprise.  As we continued our motorhome touring in France as part of our journey into the south-west, we happened upon the Lot River.  As much as I had loved Bordeaux and Cognac and places on the west coast like Cap Ferret, the Lot River became a clear favourite very quickly.

The Lot River in France is not known as a tourist destination, and you’d be hard-pressed to find too many people who were familiar with the area at all.  But they should be.  The small winding roads that follow the Lot River allows for the discovery of small villages, some with barely any people in them, but with a great story to tell. 

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Lot River France itinerary France view

There are so many incredible locations to stop along the river, and wild camping here is very easy to come by and there’s always France Passion locations for motorhomes too. The Lot River spread across several administrative departments in the region of Occitanie is also home to its fair share of the officially recognised most beautiful villages in France.

Read our full 20 day motorhome itinerary for south-west France

We spent three fantastic days in the Lot Valley region, stopping everywhere we could and exploring the small towns and villages.  Here’s our mini itinerary of places to see in the Lot River.

3-day itinerary Lot River region France

Day 1 Cocumont to Lacapelle-Cabanac

Castelmoron-sur-Lot

It didn’t take long to be blown away.  We entered the Lot River region at Castelmoron-sur-Lot, an unfortunate sounding name in a way for such a beautiful village.  On approach to the town, the river, its bridge and the people who sat along its banks blew me away.  So much so, that I knew we had to return here.  During the summer months, the small beach along the river draws the crowds. 

Back in the 1700s, it was a town that thrived on its position on the Lot River.  It survived the French Revolution and during the 19th century, the beautiful suspension bridge that I referred to earlier was built across the Lot River.

Castelmoron-sur-Lot
Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Casseneuil

Casseneuil was another new place to explore and it seemed we were going to do it all on our own.  With its narrow cobbled lanes and houses dating back centuries, there was barely a soul to be seen.  We walked, ever so quietly through the streets, fearing we might wake the town up from its slumber.  

Known as the city of water because it is surrounded by three rivers, around 2,400 people live in this medieval village.  The population hasn’t changed for approximately 20 years. It’s full of the traditional half-timbered houses.  So many of the buildings here are original or have been carefully restored.  I was fascinated at those with clay packed out between the timber. 

Lot River house made from clay
House made from clay

Tip: When visiting very small towns and villages, if they have markets, they will quite often be closed by 1 pm, some even earlier.  This will also be the same for boulangeries.  Alternatively, they might close for a lunch break between 12-1pm.  We always buy our lunch provisions during the morning to ensure we have everything we need before they all shut.

France Lot River buying lunch goodies
Buying our lunch supplies from a village

Note: There is a very good Aire des Service at Le Temple-sur-Lot

Villeneuve-sur-Lot

Despite loving the tiny towns, it’s good to be able to break them up with a few larger ones like Villeneuve-sur-Lot, home to around 25,000 people.  Villeneuve-sur-Lot is yet another medieval city, proudly boasting two gateway and watchtowers in the inner city. 

Porte de Paris
Porte de Paris

It also has several bridges of historical significance.  The Pont des Cieutats, built in the 13th century joins the two halves of the town.  The Pont de la Liberation was completed in 1919 to provide better access to the town and reduce the impact of having only one bridge.

Pont de la Libération
Pont de la Libération

Villeneuve-sur-Lot is a bastide town that was built up and fortified back in the Middle Ages.  Bastide towns like this are common in the Lot River region.  A feature of such a town is a grid-like design, featuring a central square as the heart of the town.  Place Lafayette is the main square here. Cobblestones and archways dominate the urban landscape here with a fountain holding pride of place in the middle.  Cafes and boutiques underneath stunning buildings, many with wrought iron balustrades, line the perimeter.

place lafayette
Place Lafayette

On the outside of the town (away from the river), there are many cafes and bars. It’s also a great spot for people watching.

Tip:  If you are in a larger motorhome I’d recommend parking on the outskirts and either walking or riding in.  

Overnight motorhome stopover in Lacapelle Cabanac

We stayed overnight in Lacapelle Cabanac at the France Passion location of Chateau Lacapelle Cabaanc, home of a 17th-century chateau and vineyard.

Read more>> France Passion motorhome overnight stopover

france passion goodiesDay 2 Lacapelle-Cabanac to Cahors

Tournon d’Agenais

There’s a good smattering of hilltop towns in the Lot Valley.  Tournon d’Agenais, a walled town built in the 12th-century is small enough to walk around in one-two hours, depending on your speed.   Access to the town is via a winding road, but note there is not much car parking available at the top.  Alternatively, you can walk from the bottom and up a set of steep 200 steps.   

The centre square, Place des Corniers is a good place to start and there is a very good tourist office here, underneath the City Hall.  Opposite the City Hall, the belfry clock tower boasts a lunar clock.  You can take a tour up inside the clock tower to admire the inner mechanisms of the clock.  There are a few museum artefacts on display as you climb the stairs.

The square also has an ancient water well.

tournon
Place des Corniers

Take a walk to the end of Rue du Jardin Public where you will find a small garden on the site of a former church.  From here you get a great view over the surrounding countryside.  It’s also a quiet little spot to enjoy some lunch or a coffee.

Note: There is a small amount of parking at the top of the hill and you can be lucky enough to fit a large motorhome in here.  

Puy L’évéque

This medieval town held an important role in the strategic defence of towns along the Lot River.  With a fortress at the top, possible approaching attacks could be seen in either direction.  Today all that remains of the fortress is one tower.  It sits alongside the Saint-Sauveur church.

Puy L’évéque is a postcard-perfect town, where the best view of that town in its entirety is from across the river.

Puy Leveque
Puy L’évéque

It’s another town perfect for taking a slow stroll, with the inner sanctum a mix of red brick and the quintessential European terracotta-tiled roofs.  The laneways are narrow and winding, often uphill.  Poke your nose into one of the many small shops along Grand Rue or take a break in the cafes.

Jardin Suspendus is a garden hidden away and really only known by locals.  It’s worth seeking it out, if only for the amazing view across the town to the Lot River.  Opposite the town, turn right from the bridge and walk down to the main building you can see on the waterfront for lunch with a great view.

Lot river at Pey Leveque
The beautiful Lot River at Puy L’évéque

Such a compact town means parking is limited.  We found a great spot just near the bridge to safely park the motorhome.  It is just a short walk across the bridge to start the walk up the hill into the town.

parking at Puy Leveque
Parking at Puy Leveque

Castelfranc

Just outside of the main streets of Castelfranc, we found a quiet spot by the river for lunch.

lunch in castelfranc
Lunch in Castelfranc

Douelle

Douelle is quite a popular town along the Lot River due to its easy access to the river, especially for watersports.  If you are looking to do a barge cruise in France, this is also the location of many of the barges and hire companies.

Interested in barge holidays in France?  Read about our journey on the Savannah on the Canal du Midi or our time aboard the luxury barge Renaissance on the Loire Valley canals.

douelle
Riverfront at Douelle

Cahors

Cahors is the unsung city of the Lot Valley.  Occupying an area on the curve of the Lot River, it is almost completely surrounded by water.  It is the largest city we’ve encountered on our journey and has a great vibe.  For those who have heard of Cahors previously, it will more than likely be because of the UNESCO protected bridge.  The Valentré Bridge is a striking piece of architecture.  Built as part of the city’s strategic mechanism, it has three enormous towers.  Two anchor the bridge at both ends, whilst one in the centre ensures coverage of all directions of the river.

Valentre Bridge
Valentre Bridge

The image below shows the size of the towers when compared to me standing at the top of the stairs.  In their heyday, the arches were filled in with portcullis, to enable them to keep the enemy out.

scale of Valentre Bridge

Like many old European towns, Cahors is divided into the new and old town.  We spent most of our time of course in the old town which was packed full of medieval buildings and those amazing half-timbered and clay houses.  Dotted in amongst it all, Cahors’ secret gardens can be found.  As part of the city’s community efforts, old areas that had become defunct or underutilised were brought back to life with the addition of small gardens.  

The Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, with its mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, is an imposing structure in the heart of the old town.

cathedral cahors

The tree-lined main street of Boulevard Gambetta is one of the busiest streets and a great place to stop in one of the many bars and cafes.

Overnight motorhome stopover in Cahors

We stayed overnight in Cahors at the Ludo Rolles Park and Ride for free.  It was just out of town but close to the Pont de Cabessut.  It took us about 20 minutes to walk into Cahors.  The city of Cahors have the Park and rides located all around the city and they also offer a shuttle bus, access to the normal public transport system or walking access to the city.  For more details click here.

Motorhome parking in Cahors is difficult close to the city and I wouldn’t try to drive one over the river.

  • The closest authorised motorhome spot close to the city is very small, is a little tricky to find and usually fills up very quickly.  For more details click here.
  • There is a larger aire that is further out, but it is more like a large car park.  For more details click here.
  • There are also a lot of areas on the north side of the river where you could park along the river for free.

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Day 3 Cahors to Salles-Curran (Lac de Pareloup)

Even without any one particular place to be, the journey along the Lot River, following its bends and curves is a pleasant one.  The limestone cliff faces rise up in straight lines from the road, leering over the top of us in some situations. It reminds me a little of the Gorges du Verdon road that we traversed a year ago,  a little further to the east. Houses are built right on the roadside, or even into the rock.  I just kept thinking that you would have to be very mindful of not sticking your head too far out the front door!

lot river road

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

We passed through small towns like Laroque des Arcs, Vers and Saint-Gery, heading towards Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, the town that very quickly became my favourite of all in the Lot Valley region. Perched right on the edge of a rockface about 100 metres above the ground, this town commands attention from afar. As we climb the hill atop its winding roads, we get glimpses of this jaw-droppingly beautiful city. It’s enough to make us pull over to admire it.

view from along the road of saint cirq lapopie
View from the road

Its name is a mouthful but it’s one that will be etched forever in my memory banks, although having now spent so much time here, I’m happy just to call her Lapopie for short.  There’s a kind of familiarity and warmth that is released when I say that name.

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is part of the exclusive list of villages in France known collectively as Les Beaux Villages de France.  Simply put, it is one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Further to this, back in 2012, the French people voted it as their most favourite village in the entire country.  From that day, Saint-Cirq Lapopie has been able to do what many of these tiny locations along the Lot River have not. 

The media that highlighted this accolade meant that this once unknown town became the flavour of the month and year.  Each year, this town of just over 200 people, gets upwards of 500,000 visitors.  That’s quite a lot to fit in this handkerchief sized space.

saint cirq lapopie lot river Lot Valley France

In the peak holiday season, coming here can mean having to stand in line for quite some time to get a seat at a restaurant.  The number of carparks at the bottom of the hill gives a snapshot of the expected visitor numbers.  

Tip: Visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the shoulder seasons if you can, or if in peak, get into the town early, and make a reservation at a restaurant as soon as you get there.

From every angle, this town is as beautiful as when I first laid eyes on it.

At the top, explore the remains of a chateau that once had the best seat in the house.  Whilst not much remains, you’ll get an extraordinary view over the river and farmlands in the distance.  Next door, the Saint-Cirq church is worthy of a visit. 

church saint cirq lapopie Lot Valley France

There’s also a wonderful view over the top of the houses, many with very steep roofs.  Some are so huddled together up steep streets that their roofs actually extend into their neighbour’s back garden.

The cobbled laneways are home to many artisans who are pleased that their ancient crafts can still be appreciated by the passing crowds.  There are also several great providore stores here, so a little bit of food tasting and purchasing of goodies to take back to the motorhome was necessary.

We walked back and forth from several of the restaurants here, attracted to something different each time.  Finally, we made a decision to eat at La Tonnelle, a lively looking bistro with outdoor seating in a garden under the grape vines.  It seemed a perfect spot on a bright summer’s day to kick back and enjoy some of the local’s hospitality.

With duck confit on the menu, I was able to make my choice quickly.  A moist duck leg arrived, completely swamped with the largest mountain of potatoes I had ever seen.  They were delicious but there was no way I was ever going to be able to consume them all.  Stirling opted for one of the restaurant’s special platters, an ‘Assiette Epicurienne”. 

If I thought my meal was large, my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw this next plate come to our table.  This was a plate to celebrate duck and it didn’t disappoint.  A confit duck leg lead the way, alongside a duck terrine and smoked duck.  An enormous piece of rich foie gras sat atop another pile of crispy potatoes and was joined by a piece of fried foie gras.  A small piece of chevre and a fresh salad helped to cut through the richness.  

Tip:  The assiette is best as a sharing plate for at least two people.

duck meal at la tonnelle
Assiette Epicurienne

Parking a motorhome at Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

As you can imagine, parking is not going to be easy in a town that is largely pedestrianised and extremely small.  However, given the notoriety of this town now, the local authorities have provided some excellent car parking facilities.  Closer to the top, there is the possibility of parking smaller campervans.

We parked at the bottom in a large dedicated carpark (P1/P2) where you can also stay overnight for a small charge.  We then walked up the hill, stopping along the way to admire the beautiful view.  If you are travelling with someone who has mobility issues, I’d recommend dropping them off at the top first, before coming down to the carpark.

Overnight motorhome stopover at  Lac de Pareloup

After quite a long day, most of it spent in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, we took a drive away from the Lot River to a remote France Passion location.  By the lake, we were able to kick back in perfect serenity and raise a glass to a wonderful day, and a wonderful three days in the Lot Valley region.

Distance travelled through the Lot Valley France

Drive along the Lot River France

Starting location: Cocumont

Ending location: Salles-Curran (Lac de Pareloup)

Day 1: 122 km

Day 2: 83 km

Day 3: 187 km

Total km: 392 (average approx 130 km per day)

 

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