France. What comes to mind when you think of France? Perhaps Paris, The Eiffel Tower, Champagne, wine, brie, camembert, baguettes, crepes and croissants?
Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux attract millions of tourists each year, as do the wine regions of Champagne, The Loire and Bordeaux. A lesser known region, but just as beautiful, delicious and fascinating is the region of The Lot in the mid-South-West of France about halfway between Toulouse and Limoges. The Lot is the name of the river that runs through the region, heralding from Cevannes and feeding the Garonne near Aiguillon.
A bit of an Intro
The main town of The Lot is Cahors, The Lot River flows straight through the town centre. 100’s of small villages and farmhouses scatter The Lot’s lush, green countryside. The landscape is hilly and has many forests, giving way to valleys where you find small streams which you cross then climb back up to plateaus with views across neighbouring hills.
I was fortunate to be able to stay with a friend in the tiny village of St Sauveur La Vallee, about 30min drive north of Cahors. St Sauveur consists of about 8 houses and a Mairie (mayor’s office), with a population of ~11 during the Summer and 3-5 in the winter. Many home owners are foreigners and spend half the year in France and the other half in their home country. The village gardens are filled with an abundance of flowers, herbs, vegetables, strawberries, lavender and more. The frequent snail and the occasional mole hill pops up every now and then. Many a sunny day are spent in the garden.
St Sauveur, and the entire region, is very peaceful and friendly. I’d met all the villagers within about a day and they were all excited to welcome a new visitor to the village and invite my friend and I for an aperitif.
I felt so relaxed. The flavour and quality of the food, wine and produce in the region was exceptional, and I dare say had something to do with feeling relaxed.
Food of The Lot
The Lot is the home of the delicious Foie Gras. You can barely drive 5km without seeing a sign for a FoieGras maker. There’s also plenty of other duck products like confit canard, cassoulet, pate, smoked duck, gizzards and more.
In Autumn, you may get lucky with a forage in the undergrowth and find some precious truffles! Rocamadour goats cheese (small wheels of brie-like goats cheese) and originates from Rocamadour, in The Lot. The cheese was given AOC status certification in 1996.
Just about everywhere in France has a speciality wine variety, The Lot is no exception. Malbec is the master variety of the region, resulting in some deep, full-bodied red bottles as well as delectable Roses.
Weekly local markets, and even the supermarkets (there are a few, although distinctly less than in Australia) are teaming with fresh, local and seasonal vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats wines and of course freshly baked baguettes, croissants and petit fours.
Wherever you choose to dine in The Lot, you will not be disappointed. Local cafes and restaurants proudly offer a menus featuring local delicacies, produce and wine. From Rocamadour cheese, foie gras and Malbec tasting platters to duck gizzard salads, truffle oil sirloin steak and strawberry crepes.
Historical Significance of The Lot
The region also has great religious significance on the Camino de Santiago (the pilgrim trail to St James) which is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St James in north-west Spain. One of these routes, the Via Podiensis, passes through The Lot region. The Sanctuary of St Mary in Rocamadour and the town’s Monastery and pilgrimage churches were/are a major point for pilgrims on the path. Cahors was the next stop on the path but many took a detour to Saint-Cirq Lapopie to admire it’s exceptional views.
Rocamadour and Saint-Cirq Lapopie are spectacularly imposing, built precariously upon cliff faces and are absolute engineering and architecture works of art in my mind. Best enjoyed by walking through the streets up the hills (don’t take the lift!).
More recently, The Lot was a prominent centre for the French Resistance action during WWII. Many locals harboured/hid Jewish refugees in their country homes, while several associations organised acts of sabotage and passive resistance against the Nazis. The Musee de la Resistance is a free museum in Cahors where you can learn about the daring, deadly resistance schemes plotted and carried out in The Lot – among some of the most successful in France.
The Lot is best visited in the Spring/Summer months, it’s easiest to get around if you have a car or bike with you, or if you’re with a tour group.