Gramat Travel Blog

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View from above the abbey of Rocamadour, Lot, France

My husband had gone to Gramat to work with the Centre d'Etudes de Gramat a few times, but this was my first trip there with him. It was also our first trip to Paris together; he had been once without me, and I had been a few times without him.

Gramat is a small town in the Lot departement in southwestern France. On this trip we flew into Paris and took the train immediately to Gramat. This was a short trip, so we stayed at the company's favorite hotel, Le Relais des Gourmands, which luckily for me is a 2-star Michelin-rated relais, and to date is one of my favorite places in the world to eat.

St Cirq Lapopie
It is run by Gerard and Susy Curtet. By the time our train came in it was already quite late, and we hadn't eaten and the kitchen was already closed, but Susy happily drummed up a ham and butter (oh my god, the butter) sandwich and asked how Alex's boss was and we knew we were at home away from home.

Alex worked during the day, so after I had poked around the little town center I realized that not much sightseeing was going to get done on foot. This region of France is on a plateau, through which rivers cut deep ravines, and in between rivers lie some of the richest farmlands in France. This is the home of duck, foie gras, cassoulet, chestnuts, walnuts, truffles, and wine. This is a gourmand's dream come true.  I needed to rent a car. At this point I had only taken one semester of French, and being in a small town in rural France didn't help my nervousness about the task at hand.

Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux
There was one little gas station at the edge of town that rented cars so I went in and tried my best. It was comical, really, as it took maybe 5 minutes for me to explain how long I had had my US driver's license, but the lady at the counter (and the two other people in the shop who tried to help) were so, so kind and patient, and in the end I had rented my first car in Europe.

The most popular thing to see in the area is Rocamadour (that's funny, this Wikipedia link has a photo from the exact same vantage point as in my photo above!). From the approach you don't see it coming until the very last minute - any rise in elevation goes unnoticed, until all of a sudden there's a giant hole in the ground (like the Grand Canyon, but obviously much smaller...and greener) with a city built into the cliffside. It's a truly beautiful place, rocky and green, but is a bit of a tourist trap, as pilgrims and coach tourists pour in by the busfull. I made the mistake of parking at the top of the abbey, not knowing that most of the town (and the best point at which to appreciate the situation of the town) is in the bottom of the causse. I did not recognize this mistake until I had to hike back up the cliff to get back to my car. To get to the abbey I passed the stations of the cross, which had some pilgrims making the route on their knees as they do in places like Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes to the west. The town itself is very cute, truly medieval, but lined with souvenir shops and a little train that shuttles pilgrims up and down the cliffside (another trait it shares with Lourdes).

Another breathtakingly beautiful site in the region is the town of St Cirq Lapopie, again on a cliff, this time in the Lot river valley. I got a very good feel for the beautiful Quercy countryside because I got lost on my way to St Cirq and ended up taking the tiniest country backroads to get there. The river valley has a road the runs along the river on the opposite bank from St Cirq which goes through beautiful little towns lined with flowers and rocky tunnels. Eventually you spot the city perched impossibly up the cliffside. It too is full of flowers, medieval buildings, but with less crowds and a view of the whole pastoral vista of the valley, with farms, little bridges and roads, and the river winding through it, with a few kayakers here and there.

I also made a stop at a nicely preserved castle, whose name I can't remember for the life of me. Oh, Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux. It tops a hill overlooking the lands that were presumable owned by it's medieval owners, and was fairly recently owned by an opera singer who furnished the rooms with all kinds of beautiful, if incongruous, antiques.

I have certainly fallen in love with this part of France, as has Alex, and from what I understand a growing number of Englishmen looking for vacation homes. The most frustrating part of this particular visit was that food shops abound, but I was only staying in the hotel (and Gerard does make the best cassoulet I've ever had) (and croissants) and couldn't justify buying a whole confit duck leg sticking out of a ramekin of fat. That problem was remedied on my next visit, when I had access to the kitchen at AASC's rental gite.

Photos from Gramat and Paris:

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View from above the abbey of Rocam…
View from above the abbey of Roca…
St Cirq Lapopie
St Cirq Lapopie
Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux
Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux
456 km (283 miles) traveled
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photo by: coolbean98