Of all the places I visited when staying in the Dordogne, the place I was most excited about seeing was the medieval town of Cahors. Not only does the town lend its name to my favourite type of wine, but its famed medieval bridge, the Pont Valentré, had been on my French bucket list since I was a child when I came across it in a book about France and was captivated.
Nestled in a bend in the river Lot, Cahors is the capital of the Lot region (to the south of the Dordogne) and dates back to the 1st century BC. Despite its early origins, the town came to prominence during the medieval era and its old town is home to some spectacular, well-preserved medieval buildings.
On arriving in the town, we parked the car in the centre of Cahors, and immediately made our way down to the old town. There we spent a fair bit of time wandering up and down the narrow warren of streets, admiring the medieval and Renaissance buildings.
Our first stop was the magnificent Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. An architectural gem, the 12th century cathedral is beautiful and has undergone regular and extensive rebuilding over the centuries, resulting in a glorious mix of architectural styles. The cathedral proudly boasts two massive domes over the nave, the largest in south-west France.
We headed inside to explore the interior of the cathedral, admiring the nave, the domes and the stained-glass windows, before heading to the cloisters. The pretty cloisters are centred around a small, neat garden and offer great views of the cathedral. There you can see the cathedral from lots of different angles and I was able to gain a much better appreciation of its architecture. The domes, in particular, stood out with their round navy slate roofs sitting atop the smooth cream stone and dark stained-glass windows.
Having fully explored the cathedral, we moved on to the part I was most excited about, the incredible Pont Valentré. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont Valentré was built in the 14th century and took some 50 years to complete. The striking 172m-long bridge features three Gothic towers that boast great views over the Lot. In the 19th century, the bridge was restored by the architect Paul Gout who commissioned Antoine-Cyprien Calmon, a local artist, to carve a small stone devil into the middle tower.
The devil represents an old legend around the construction of the bridge – according to the tale, the original architect sold his soul to the devil in return for help building the bridge. If the devil failed to help the architect at any point, their pact would be broken. So the architect decided to try to get out of the arrangement by tricking the devil and in revenge, the devil made sure the last stone laid on the middle tower kept falling off.
The bridge is fantastic and an incredible piece of engineering. The towers really command your attention, there’s great attention to detail and it’s very well-preserved for its age. It’s quite unlike any other bridge I’ve seen, so needless to say, I was really impressed by it.
The only thing I didn’t like were the large number of elderly tourists, who as soon as I pointed my camera at something would walk in front of it and not move. If I was one of those people who spent ages lining up my shot, I’d understand people getting fed up and walking in front of the camera, but I’m pretty much a point-and-shoot girl (as evidenced by many of my photos), and I found it rude and unnecessary. It wouldn’t have killed them to wait a couple of seconds. But after lots of patience and waiting about, I finally managed to get a few elderly tourist-free shots.
After spending quite a bit of time exploring every facet of the Pont Valentré, we headed back to the car for a tour of the Lot Valley – and its wineries. Once we left Cahors, it didn’t take long before we hit upon the first wineries and we soon stopped at one. I was in seventh heaven as we wandered around, tasting the glorious bottles of cahors and marvelling at the sheer size of some of the bottles – some were enormous!
A few purchases later, we continued our tour of the valley, snaking our way along the banks of the Lot, crossing the river every so often as we followed the winding roads. The Lot Valley is home to some picturesque old towns and villages, and even if there weren’t lots of lovely wines to sample along the way, it would make for an incredible drive as it’s so pretty and peaceful. It was a really lovely way to end a fantastic day out.