Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in The Lot
Welcome to our Summer travel diaries series where we’re about to explore the most beautiful village in France. By the way, that’s officially, so the expectations are high, just like the July temperatures. The hilltop village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the Lot region is our destination and it looks incredible.
The first couple of weeks of our tour at the end of July 2022 have mostly been in The Dordogne. Now our campervan wheels are entering the lush forests, medieval hilltop villages and dramatic gorges of the Lot. To be honest, it resembles Tuscany, but with a little more rawness than its Italian counterpart.
First we stop at a beautiful village called Loubressac and what an idyllic place this is. We manage to park easily in a large mixed parking on the edge of the village. As sleepy as it seems, there’s an upmarket feel here and passing Bentley’s and well dressed diners give the game away further.
There’s a mix of rustic stone buildings and ultra narrow streets where floral displays adorn the stonework. In addition, there’s really lovely countryside views from the outer perimeter of the village. Here, we take an opportunity to just soak up the views and enjoy the peace and quiet on offer.
No wonder Loubressac is voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, and unsurprisingly, it’s won awards for the magnificent floral displays around the village.
We notice several walking routes and ponder whether to explore further out beyond the village. Instead, we choose to move on, just so we can reach Saint-Cirq-Lapopie this evening.
The surprise village of Autoire
Back in the campervan, our drive takes us through the gorgeous countryside of The Lot. This area is less touristy than the neighbouring Dordogne region, yet offers some beautiful scenery.
Autoire is another dreamy village, full of character and located against the backdrop of deep gorges. It’s a village that we just happen to drive upon and feel a stop is needed to take a better look.
Luckily there’s an Aire beside the town but it’s full, so we have to take a side spot under a tree and hope for the best. Half the Aire has been taken over by travellers and the Gendarmerie has been, placing police tape round the caravans.
There’s a walk to some cascades which we notice a sign for, so decide to go and explore on foot. Autoire itself is really pretty and busy too. It’s obviously a popular tourist spot, although it feels very low-key at the same time.
The buildings are full of character, with a small main square and a few eateries scattered round. Beyond the centre we take the footpath for the cascades, leading on a dirt path passed a beautiful turreted building.
After about 20 minutes we arrive what looks like the cascades. The only reason we’re not sure is because there’s no water, well actually there is but it’s a trickle.
So, that’s a disappointment, nothing much to see but it’s a pleasant enough stroll all the same. We notice another walk that leads up to the gorge somehow, but it’s too hot now for anything energetic.
By the way, did I mention the temperatures in July are in the 30’s? If not, then yes, expect it hot in these parts.
The Aire at Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Now we’re driving through the Vallee´du Fele´an area of unspoiled hamlets and endless countryside. This gorge route beside a river, leads us to our stop for the night, below the gorgeous hilltop town of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Situated beside the River Lot is the most brilliant Aire we’ve seen in a long time. Following the signs for the plage or beach – yes the river has a beach section, we soon find the road splits to the right and left.
There’s motorhomes parked up on the left under some small trees, but this is away from the water, so we follow the road to the right.
Lo and behold, overlooking the river, this is the best Aire parking and just our cup of tea. It’s actually marked out with parking bays spaced out overlooking a grassy area which leads to the water. There’s a few spaces free, so we choose one and pay the 12 euro fee at the ticket machine.
This is how Aires used to be, with a relaxed non-barrier area and welcoming outlook. Of course, it’s still just a parking area, so there’s also cars parked and occasional dust from passing traffic, but it’s great!
A little further along is a beach cafe and adjacent toilets and hot showers. So for just 2 Euro you can take a very long hot shower, which of course we do. I don’t care what people say, but a motorhome shower is not a great experience.
Next, we sit and watch the world go by, as families and alike enjoy the glorious location in the hot summer sun. This is simply idyllic.
Circular Walk with a difference Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in The Lot
Direct from the Aire parking area is the start of a walk we’ve wanted to do this trip. It’s a circular loop, taking in the riverside path along the Lot River which we found in a Lonely Planet walking book. Here, the sections of cliff have been carved out of the rock to form a unique tow path, making it a rather big attraction.
It’s a immediately obvious that this is a beautiful route, as we join a country path leading us away from the river before winding back beside it.
Soon, we come to a large, rustic old stone building with a sign offering cafe´and cola, here we take a break. We’re greeted by two ladies who are making art works on an outdoor bench. There’s oddments of furniture scattered upon the grass and colourful parasols giving extra shade amongst the small trees.
We speak briefly, mainly asking for the loo, after which we’re both shown through the interior building works to an upstairs bathroom where just a toilet remains. The rest of the building is threadbare, in the throws of a major renovation and one that surely will be superb once finished.
A stunning route along a carved out cliff
We wave goodbye to the French hosts and re-join the path. Before long the cliffs either side of the river become more prominent and as pleasure boats glide by on the still water, we catch a glimpse of the famous tow path ahead.
The cliff here has been carved out to form a flat stone path with large rocky overhang overhead. It forms a beautiful part of the route right beside the river with a metal bridge resembling a swing bridge in the distance.
This is one of those places that almost seems a little undiscovered still – why? Well, not only is it fairly quiet, but its surroundings are so peaceful too, I think we’ve hit the jackpot with this gorgeous route.
A little further on we reach another Aire and large parking area before arriving at a small village. It’s here that the way veers away from the river, taking us on an uphill route through woodlands. For a moment we’re a little lost, but soon find our way and a marker post helps us find the right path.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie hilltop village with style
By now we’d been gone about an hour and a half and are about to emerge out of the countryside into the very busy top car park of Saint-cirq-Lapopie.
The hilltop village is obviously hugely popular and we soon find out why. Not only is it a beautiful location, perched on a high hill above the River Lot, but the medieval architecture and quaintness make this a must see find.
It’s so good, in 2012 it was the best village in France and we can instantly see how. Soon, we’re strolling through very narrow, shop lined streets, making our way downhill through the centre.
It’s an arty sort of place, with plenty of interesting pottery shops and crafty type sellers lining the streets. There’s also lots of restaurants and a brilliant view point which we climb up to catch the views.
The outlook is gorgeous, spanning the River Lot and its gorge location whilst enjoying all the greenery of the surrounding countryside.
Looking better from the river bank
We’ve been out for a few hours now, so our lunch beckons back at the van. As our stomachs grumble, our feet move quicker, down the hilly path which leads back to our riverside Aire.
The village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is one that looks equally as good from below. From here, there’s a mystical, fairytale appeal and it looks simply beautiful perched above the river with a clear blue sky above.
In the middle of the day, everywhere here is bustling. Either with activities on the river or locals and tourist alike, enjoying lazy picnic lunches.
Now it’s time to move on through The Lot region of France towards more sleepy villages along this stunning river route.