Cahors, FRANCE (Winter) 2009/10
Cahors Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
With My NEW found friend Wilf, we decided to go on a roadtrip to Cahors to do some exploring and of course, he some 'Busking'. Cahors (pronounced Cahor) is the capital of the Lot department in south-western France. The river Lot runs through Cahors, spanning 430km approximately from the Massif Central to Bordeaux.
Cahors is strategically situated in a horseshoe like loop of the curvaceous river Lot, surrounded by hills. To the north the roads lead straight to Paris, to the south straight to Toulouse and on to the passes of the Pyrenees and the bustling ports of the Mediterranean. To the west, following the line of the river, lies the great wine producing city and port of Bordeaux. To the east, the wild and beautiful Causses and the foothills of the Massif Central.The city has had a rich history since Celtic times, though it has declined economically since the Middle Ages and lost its university in the eighteenth century. Today it is a popular tourist centre with people coming to enjoy its mediaeval quarter and the unique 14th century fortified Valentré bridge - the symbol of the town. Building began in 1308 and was completed in 1378. The legend associated with this bridge is one of the most fully realized of all Devil's Bridge legends, with a carefully developed plot, complex characters, and a surprising dénouement. When the bridge was restored in 1879, the architect Paul Gout made reference to this by placing a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of one of the towers.
Pont de Valentré
This medieval masterpiece is the city’s hallmark and said to be the most photographed sight in France, outside Paris. In the Middle Ages it was a well-worn part of the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela and is still used for the purpose even today. A splendid example of fourteenth century architecture, built with the aid of the devil… or so they say. It took a long time to constuct the bridge and the architect began to get a bit impatient, he even feared he might never live to see it finished. So what is a frustrated medieval architect to do? Enlist the assistance of the devil of course. The devil promised to help, in exchange, naturally, for the architect’s soul. However as the project neared completion the architect began to have second thoughts �" not too surprisingly �" and tried to back out of his obligations. The devil therefore took his revenge by sitting on the central tower, and as the masons laid the last stone on the final day, the devil removed it at night. It happened over and over again. The devil is still there today, carved in stone and clinging to the tower, so if you cross the bridge, take care!
Additional Main sites of interest are:
- Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, a national monument.
- Saint-Barthélémy Church, dating from the 14th century.
- Maison Henri IV or Hôtel de Roaldès (fifteenth century).
- Daurade quarter with:
- Maison Hérétié (14th-16th centuries)
- Maison Dolive (17th century)
- Maison du Bourreau (13th century)
- The barbican that once defended the Barre Gate.
- Tour des pendus.
- Palais Duèze.
- Tower of Pope John XXII.
- Collège Pélegry.
- Arc de Diane, a relic of ancient Roman baths.
Cahors was prominent in the Middle Ages and saw considerable conflict during the Hundred Years War and the later Wars of Religion. It was also infamous at that time for having bankers that charged interest on their loans. The church in these times said that using money as an end in itself (usury) was a sin. Because of this Cahors became synonymous with this sin, and was mentioned in Dante's Inferno (XI.50) alongside Sodom as wicked.
Pope John XXII, born Jacques Duèze or d'Euse, was born in Cahors in 1249, the son of a shoemaker, and it was the home of Dutch poet Ankie Peypers (1928-2008), winner of the 1962 Anne Frank-award. In the 2007 Tour de France, Cahors was the start of stage 18.
The history of the wine is also tied to that of the Lot River. Since its introduction by the Romans, its trade passes by this dangerous yet navigable route. In the 18th century, around 10,000 barrels of wine passed through Bordeaux to leave thence for the north of Europe, the Antilles and the Americas.
Cahors is a red wine from grapes grown in or around the town of Cahors, France. Cahors is an Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) which forms part of the South West France wine region. The dominant grape variety in AOC Cahors wines is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine, and which is known locally as "Côt", "Côt Noir" or "Auxerrois". It is supplemented by up to 30% Merlot and Tannat.
Similar to many other winemaking regions, Cahors was hit bad by The Great French Wine Blight in the late 19th century, when the vines were attacked in the phylloxera epidemic. In the case of Cahors, this happened in 1883-1885.In February 1956, Cahors was hit by frosts which wiped out almost all the vineyards of the region, which thus needed to be replanted en masse. In this replanting, Malbec became more dominant than it had been before. Cahors was awarded AOC status in 1971.In recent years, the popularity of varietal Malbec from Argentina has likely contributed to a resurged interest in Cahors wine, which is France's foremost example of Malbec-dominated wine.
The Secret Gardens
The city of Cahors has created a tourist path; marked by acanthus leaves, to enable you to visit some of its beautifully laid out and enclosed gardens. Start at the foot of the Pont de Valentre, and walk back in time to the days of the crusades, when pilgrims would come to Cahors in order to cross the river on their way south to Santiago de Compostela or Jerusalem. The medieval gardens include the plots of the Augustinian friars, the Moorish gardens and the charming cloistered garden of Henri IV.
Ready for a relaxing lunch or a delicious dinner? Here are one or two suggestions from the dozens of restaurants.
The Balandre restaurant at the Hotel Terminus is reputedly one of the best in Cahors. A little formal perhaps and predictably expensive.
For lunch try the Bordeaux on the Boulevard de Gambetta. It’s always very busy and serves good, inexpensive food.
For an early dinner, take potluck. Stroll eastwards along the riverbank from the Pont Louis-Philippe towards the old quarter, there are lots of little restaurants here. Divona is a good one, so is the Bistrot de Cahors.
If you’d like to eat outside try one of the cluster of little restaurants at the end of the Rue Saint Urcisse. If they’re all full �" a tad unlikely �" book a later table and while away a pleasant hour or two outside one of the cafés. Sip your Kir or Pastis and listen to the shrill screech of the cicadas, the wonderful, evocative sound of warm southern Europe. Bon Appetit!
Cahors really is an enchanting old town. With its ancient quarters and medieval bridge, cobbled streets, secret gardens and leafy boulevards, wonderful cafes, restaurants and relaxed street life.
It has it all.