Rocamadour The Dordogne and Lot
It’s the end of July 2022 and we’re a couple of weeks into a 2-month tour. If you haven’t joined us before, welcome to this printed version from our travel diaries. This blog has us arrive at the intriguing pilgrimage site of Rocamadour in the Lot region near the Dordogne in South West France.
Rocamadour is somewhere we’ve been years ago in our first motorhome. Unless the memory has faded too much, we recall it being packed like sardines, yet fascinating all the same.
To start with, it’s worth mentioning this Summer is hot, very hot. It’s also good to know that so far, this region is still really motorhome friendly, just as it was 17 years ago when we were last here. So, overall there’s plenty of Aires to choose from, although they are now much more regimented.
A fab campsite find
Now, we’ve just left Sarlat in the Dordogne and are heading towards Rocamadour in the late afternoon. To begin with, our plan is to stay the night at Souilliac.
However, we soon change our minds after driving to the Camping-Car-Park on the edge of town. Despite driving in through the barrier, the Aire and the surroundings just didn’t appeal. So, we make the decision to drive out and move on to Rocamadour, one of the main attractions both for the Dordogne and Lot.
Nigel’s driving, so I look for somewhere else to stop the night, preferably within walking distance to Rocamadour centre. Then it just so happens that we pass the most rustic looking campsite ever.
At first we’re not sure if we’re pulling in at a private Aire or if it is actually a campsite. So, we pull over to try and work it out.
After a quick check on an App we come to the conclusion this place is a low cost campsite within a 10 minute walk to the centre.
Well, this sounds and looks perfect. For us, the simpler the campsite the better and on first glance it reminds us of an Aussie outback camp. Of course, that means we’re in!
Basic but brilliant – Rocamadour The Dordogne and Lot
Soon, we realise Camping Les Champagnes is a superb location for visiting Rocamadour. First of all, we pay for a pitch at the small reception. On the wooden terrace they sell local farm produce, which is a really nice touch. At just 14 Euro a night this campsite is working out cheaper than the Aire in Rocamadour.
It’s funny because recently, we do think it’s often cheaper to stay on a basic campsite with facilities than an Aire without any! How times have changed over the years. Of course, this is mainly because so many Aires are now fee-paying. Whereas years ago, when we first started vanlife, Aires were more often than not free or very low cost.
We have a spacious, rustic pitch amongst some greenery from small bushes. In fact, the whole site is spacious and there’s plenty of pitches available despite being peak season. For us, the arid non-uniform layout and old fashioned amenity buildings make it a perfect low-key stay.
Sometimes, a site is so much more homely when everything is somehow more earthy and untouched.
The streets of Rocamadour
After dinner we walk the 15 minute countryside track that starts immediately outside the entrance to the site. This route takes us between fields where Deer roam in the distance. Before long, we emerge above the centre of medieval Rocamadour itself, where modern shops and car parks for visitors are located.
Surprisingly the streets are really quiet with shops closed and car parks relatively empty. We find a path leading from the top of Rocamadour into the lower historic area and begin the walk towards the main attractions.
Rocamadour is basically a village on a cliff face. Not only is it fascinating to see, but it’s also an ancient pilgrimage route, ending in a sanctuary church complex right in the centre.
Where is everyone?
Hold on though – where is everyone? Crikey, this is the end of July and it may be evening, but we feel alone here! I’m guessing Rocamadour is a place where people visit during the day. We remember it being full to the brim on our daytime visit all those years ago.
Tonight, it’s quite magical. There’s plenty of shops and restaurants in the lower village that we’re walking through, but many are closing for the night.
It seems so early, the sun is just going down so life here obviously stops as the moon comes out. The stone coloured buildings and quirky architecture add interest to the central narrow street.
On one side is the cliff face, with the car parks and modern village above, whilst on the other is countryside further below, at the base of the valley.
As the few stragglers get up to leave the remaining open restaurants, we find ourselves at the staircase to the sanctuary.
The Sanctuary – Rocamadour The Dordogne and Lot
We climb the steep stone steps – 216 of them and find a central terrace area outside the doors to the sanctuary. Here there’s a few more people mingling and taking in the sacred spot.
The doors to the chapel are open and inside the dimmed light makes for a calming presence. There’s actually 7 chapels here, the Basilica Saint Sauveur is UNESCO World Heritage and dates from the 11th century.
One thing we notice is the detail in the facades of the site, it’s an intriguing mix of decorative features and intricate detailing.
Outside on the terrace are two priests, almost guarding the chapels where confessions can be had for those who feel the need.
This evening, you can almost feel the sense of calm enveloping these walls. The sense of achievement from those pilgrims who still walk this route must be profoundly moving.
A Long Walk back
We stop at intervals to take in the views and by now the sun is setting. There’s beautiful reflections from the orange tinged sky as the subtle tones glisten over the village.
We’ve come to a dead end, after a locked gate beyond the sanctuary keeps us from going any further.
At this point, it means walking back through the village and up to the higher level of the modern parts.
Then we pass a lift, taking pedestrians up the cliff, so cutting out the longer walk back. We think we’ll use it, simply to save time and the last glimpse of daylight hour.
Unfortunately for us, it’s just closing, so our easy route back goes with it!
Instead we bite the bullet and walk back the way we came. Don’t get me wrong, to be honest it’s not that far or difficult. However, it does mean our final bit of exploring is done in the dark.
The Castle and Aire
Back above the medieval centre, we stroll the newly refurbished walkways.
We remember the last time we came here, the paths and car parks were simple dust. All these years later there have been some really big improvements.
Walking along the wide paths leading to the castle provides lovely views of the old Rocamadour below, as well as tree-lined hills beyond.
The path is lit and leads to the main car parks and visitor information including the Aire.
It’s a good sized motorhome Aire and no longer dirt parking, but it’s pricey. I can’t remember the exact price but it’s dearer than the campsite stay.
The castle looks so beautiful at night, all lit up and surrounded by gardens. As expected at this time of night it’s closed, but it must make an interesting visit in daylight hours when you can walk the ramparts. Apparently the castle itself isn’t open for visits.
For now it’s time to walk back to the campsite, torch in hand for the long country track ahead. We wonder whether to stay another day, but choose to move on tomorrow to our next destination. Yes, next up on this adventure is a fascinating gorge walk among endless cascades of the clearest blue waters. So be sure to subscribe for the next episode!