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Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, France


Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a historic village in France. Pre-historic cave paintings, roman ruins and gothic castles are ready for the traveller to explore whilst in France. An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983 with small group educational tours for senior couples and mature solo travellers.


From atop its cliff, the French medieval village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie has been looking over the valley of the Lot for centuries now. The Gallo-Romans, and perhaps even prehistoric people before them, were attracted to this rocky headland as their home. Situated on a steep cliff 100m above the river Lot, it served as a strategic defensive location during the Middle Ages, with the village and its castle successfully defending off numerous attacks. Since then, the village has been host to a great deal of merchant, trade, labour, and artistic activity, which continues until today. Anyone and everyone who stops at this place, 17 miles (30km) from Cahors, in the centre of the regional nature reserve of the Causses de Quercy, is struck by its beauty. Indeed, the heritage-listed medieval and renaissance buildings, cobbled lanes, arcade shops, intimate gardens, and unspoiled views of the Lot Valley have rightfully earned it its official classification as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

This article explores the history and attractions of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, much of the information extracted from Stéphane Bern’s The Best Loved Villages of France. It is part of our series on French villages, each with its own unique history and culture. Odyssey Traveller visits these villages on our various tours of France, each taking you on a journey through different periods in history and exploring the rich tapestry of these places and the people who have lived there. On each tour, we examine the various cultures and economies that have shaped these villages, including their agriculture, trade, and merchant activity. In doing so, we delve into the wealth and philanthropy that has come out of these places, represented today in the art of their museums and galleries, as well as the palaces and homes built in these periods. Each village we visit will offer a unique snapshot of the past, showcasing the lives of the people who lived there and how they created vibrant and thriving communities. Join us on a journey through time to discover the beauty and history of these enchanting French villages.

Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie as part of our  Secret France Small Group Tour for senior travellers. This tour gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breath-taking architecture, and admiring beautiful scenery.

Medieval street of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

History of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie has been inhabited since the Gallo-Roman times, but it was not until the Middle Ages that it began to develop properly. The Duke of Aquitane built a castle here on a cliff overlooking the Lot River, which soon became the property of the Lapopie family. Then in the 10th century, the site became a part of the powerful viscounty of Quercy, formed by four local feudal dynasties: the Laopoies, the Gourdons, the Cardallacs, and the Castelnaus. A town developed underneath the fortress as an important regional centre – its popularity largely due to its position on one of the important pilgrimage paths to Santiago de Compostelle across France.

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie served as strategically important site during times of conflict in the Middle Ages. The castle stood above capable of seeing long distances, while the town’s streets and shops below stood protected by two fortified gates. During its time, the fortress did its job well, successfully fending off Richard the Lionheart, the English during the 100 Years War, and the Duke of Aquitaine.

Eventually, in 1471, Louis XI decreed the fortress be destroyed due to the fear it would one day fall into enemy hands and never be retrieved. Nevertheless, under the succeeding reign of Charles VIII, the local lord Raymond de Cardailac received compensation for the damage inflicted and had it rebuilt. It then later played an important role in the French Wars of Religion as a safe haven for protestant refugees, as well as a scene of brutal warfare. The Catholics, however, would emerge victorious here in 1580 and destroy the castle.

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie / Matias Callone (Flickr) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The village below entered a new era of prosperity after the Wars of Religion, with the local economy flourishing around wine and the wood industry. A powerful guild of woodturners, in particular, emerged around this time. Their workshops produced all sorts of products, including moulds, buttons, bowls, cups, barrels, taps and valves. They were also responsible for manufacturing responsible for manufacturing barrel taps, on which the bourgeoning wine industry was reliant. Wealth also came from the village’s leatherworkers and ironmongers (today these activities are being revived in active workshops and by means of a museum).

The construction of arterial locks, canals, bridges, and towpaths on the Lot River in the 17th century also boosted the economy through trade and agriculture. The river became thriving hub of activity as garbares (flat bottomed boats) transported wine, tobacco and local produce to Cahors and Bordeaux. As one walks down the towpath today, with its wonderfully picturesque backdrop, one can imagine the trade that would have once flourished on the river.

The village would begin to change from the early 20th century, after artists began to discover the site. Beginning with two art dealers, Emile Vinot and Dospeh Rignault, artists such as Henri Martin and Pierre Daura soon followed to settle in the village. This brought renewed interest to the village, with tourism boosting after the Second World War.

Perhaps most significant for the growing reputation of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie was the strong impression it made upon André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, who made it his home from the 1950s. He wrote upon first discovering the village: “Ablaze with Bengal fires, Saint-Cirq appeared to me as an impossible rose in the night-time. Next morning, I returned, tempted to settle in the heart of this flower… I stopped wanting to be elsewhere.” He went on to acquire the old Auberge des Mariners (the Sailors’ Inn). Other painters, poets, and writers – seeking inspiration amongst beauty, in which their imaginations can run free – have continued to settle here since.

Attractions of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Today the remains of three ruined castles stand on a protruding cliff at the highest part of the village. Atop the cliff are enjoyable views of both the village as well as the Lot Valley, with its mills, dams, ports, locks, and towpath.

In the middle section of the rocky outcrop, just below the castles, an impressive 15th century fortified Gothic church dominates the whole ensemble. It was designed by the master craftsman Guillaume Cappelle, based around the apse of a previous Roman style church. Remints of 12th century decorative acanthus leaf carvings and fragments of 13th century painted murals can still be seen today.

Saint-cirq-lapopie gothic church

From here you can head back down the steep and narrow winding streets of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, built into the side of the cliff, to reach the village’s historic centre. The lanes are lined with magnificently restored houses dating back to the Middle Ages, some half-timbered and some built of the yellow stone typical of the region, along with brown-tiled roofs. Their charm is enhanced by perfectly maintained corbels and steep-pitched roofs. Many also have small, terraced gardens, adding to the surrounding beauty. Thirteen of the buildings are listed as historical monuments.

At the village’s centre, you’ll find picturesque arcades, lined with shops with wooden frontages, installed in the same places as the boilermaker, skinner, and woodturner workshops of their ancestors. A number of cafes and restaurants also rest in the shade of the sun underneath intriguing doorways – the restaurants are particularly renowned for their high-quality French cuisine.

A variety of cultural and artistic attractions too can be found. One notable spot is the Rignault Museum – housed in the La Maison Rignault, a former guardhouse built into the village’s fortifications – is home to a fascinating display of historical items. It also hosts a variety of artistic and historical exhibitions – and it has a lovely garden with breath-taking views over the river valley.

Rignault Museum in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

The artists that have moved to the village, meanwhile, have taken over several of the village’s old buildings and turned them into galleries and studios. The Maisons Daura (international artists residences) and the Maison de la Fourdonne cultural centre are not to be missed. Several of the village’s small shops and boutiques are also run by artists and artisans.

Nearby Attractions

Numerous attractions can also be found nearby Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Just below the village is the river Lot. Follow the ancient too path along the river, in part carved into the rockface, for an exceptional walk past an assortment of old mills and buildings. The pathway itself, carved by hand in the mid-1800s, is covered in the intricate artistic carvings of seashells, sand dollars, and other designs.

A short distance east of the village, there is also a leisure island complete with a river beach. Meanwhile, cruises along the river are offered from the small village of Bouzies, just a few minutes away from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. These cruises reveal the unique history of this area.

The Perch Merle cave is another place of interest nearby. It features a major collection of prehistoric cave paintings = one of seven such caves found in the Lot and Célé valleys. There’s also a cave dwelling along the River Lot dating back to the 14th century. Composed of caves and stairs which lead to the top of the cliffs, it was used as a watch post by the English and offered a safe and secret way to escape from the area.

Several castles are also dotted around Sain-Cirq-Lapopie. The imposing renaissance Castle of Cénevières raises high with lovely views across the Lot valley, while various other castles, referred to as the Castles of the English, are built in inaccessible places in the cliffs along the Lot and Célé valleys.

Tour of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, France / AronMSzabo (Wiki Commons) / CC BY-SA 4.0

Odyssey Traveller visits Saint-Cirq-Lapopie as part of our 25-day Secret France Tour. This tour is chance to see a new see a new side of this wonderful country and enjoy a travel experience like no other. Designed with the mature traveller in mind, this group holiday gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breathtaking architecture, and admiring beautiful scenery. From Zurich the tour will move south towards Sare before returning north to Paris to finish. With the chance to take in quaint villages, sample great wine and learn more about the history of France, Switzerland, and Spain, this will surely be a memorable vacation.

The regions of France can further be explored during our 23-day Provincial France Tour and our 24-day Rural France Tour. Escape France’s bustling cities to visit the country’s beautiful rural towns and picturesque medieval villages, basking in the fairy-tale natural beauty, Roman and Imperial heritage, and World Heritage Sites.

Articles about France published by Odyssey Traveller.

The following list of articles, represents some of the articles published by Odyssey Traveller for mature aged and senior travellers to maximise their knowledge and enjoyment of France when visiting;

External articles to assist you plan your visit to France.

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