Guide to Cahors in the Lot Valley of France

Cahors in the Lot Valley
Cahors in the Lot Valley. Getty/

Tucked into a rounded nook of the Lot River, Cahors is a lovely medieval city almost entirely surrounded by water. At the heart of wine country, the city’s most memorable landmark is the Valentré bridge, the nearby ramparts, and the cathedral.

The city’s main thoroughfare, Boulevard Léon Gambetta, is pleasant for a stroll, as is the medieval neighborhood just to the east of the road. 

Cahors makes a great stop if you're on a barge cruise on the route through Gascony.

Cahors and a Deal With the Devil

It took seven decades in the 1300s to build Valentré bridge. Legend has it that the builder made a pact with the devil to help in the completion of the bridge.

At the end of the work, the builder tried to go back on the pact by refusing to place the last stone onto the bridge. In the 1800s, during a restoration of the bridge, a carving of a devil was added to the top of one of the three towers.

The bridge is dramatic with its three massive towers which had portcullises and gates to close against the enemy. 

Cahors History and Geography

Cahors experienced its heyday in the 13th century, when Lombard bankers and international tradesman descended on the town, transforming it into a center of Europe’s financial activity. Pope John XXII was born here, and he founded the now-defunct University of Cahors in the 1500s.

The city’s ramparts were beefed up in the mid-1300s, and the city’s most famous landmark—the Valentré Bridge—was built.

Cahors was one of the stops of the famous pilgrim walking routes to St James in Spain

During the 19th century, many of the city’s key structures were built, including the town hall, theatre, courts, and library. The main thoroughfare, boulevard Gambetta, evolved into a bustling street with the city’s twice-weekly market.

Interesting Cahors trivia: Although you will find a boulevard Gambetta in almost every French city, Cahors has the best claim to use the name. Popular French leader Léon Gambetta (1838-1882) was born here. You can find a statue of Gambetta at Place François Mitterrand.

Getting to Cahors

The nearest major airports are in Toulouse and Rodez, both of which have rail connections to Cahors. Alternately, you can fly into Paris and take the train (five hours by day, seven hours overnight) to Cahors.

The French rail system visits some of the larger villages. A rental car is the best bet to explore this area. Even if you just plan to stay in Cahors the whole time, you may want to rent a car for a day to visit area vineyards.

When visiting Cahors, it's best to park in the city center and walk to most attractions which are in a compact area fanning from the main street through town.

Sightseeing in Cahors

  • Top of the list has to be the city’s trademark image: the Valentré Bridge, located at the northwest corner of downtown. 
  • Shop for this region’s famous 'black diamond' in the area’s truffle markets. Limogne hosts a summer truffle market on Sundays at 10 am from mid-June to mid-August; the winter truffle market runs from the first Friday in December to March (every Friday from 10.30am), and Lalbenque’s market features truffles on Tuesday afternoons from early December to March. 
  • Wine aficionados should not miss a chance to visit a local museum devoted to wine and food of the region. La Chantrerie (35, rue de Chantrerie) has exhibits on methods used to develop the local wines. This is the place to discover the main dishes of Quercy cooking: foie gras, truffles, Cahors wine, walnuts, fruit, and Quercy lamb.
  • Saint-Etienne Cathedral (rue de Chantrerie) was consecrated in 1119 and is typical of the churches of this part of Périgord, with a nave with no aisles but with two big decorated domes to carry your eye upwards. Its most interesting relic, called the 'holy cap' or 'cap of Christ', was brought to Cahors by Bishop Géraud de Cardaillac from the Holy Land in the 12th century.  The cap is believed to have covered Christ’s head in his tomb. 
  • Musée Henri Martin (located at 792, rue Emile Zola) features the works of its namesake painter. The museum also features an exhibit on the city’s most famous son, Léon Gambetta. It is currently closed for renovation.

Where to Stay in Cahors

More Sightseeing in the Lot Valley

  • The Lot is famous for its various mills (moulins). Some of these, such as the 15th-century working watermill the Moulin de Seyrinac (located in Lunan), are open for tours. And try to get to the fortified water mill, the Moulin de Cougnaguet, a little further away
  • One of the major attractions of the Lot is the painted caves, providing a unique opportunity to see the artwork of early man. The Centre de Préhistoire de Pech Merle features wonderful paintings of horses, bison and mammoths and engravings dating back more than 20,000 years. There is a cap on the number of visitors at 700 daily, so it is important to call ahead for a reservation or book online (especially in the peak summer season).
  • The Grottes de Cougnac (located in Payrinac) also has fine drawings of deer, mammoths, human outlines, and symbols. It boasts the oldest figure drawings remaining open to the public.

Edited by Mary Anne Evans

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