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Cahors, France is a Medieval City in the Wine Country


Cahors, France

Cahors, France

Phillip Capper
Tucked into a rounded nook of the Lot River, Cahors is a lovely medieval city almost entirely surrounded by water. At the heart of wine country, the city’s most memorable landmark is the Valentré bridge and the nearby ramparts.

Portions of the city, especially on the western edge, are a tad grungy and graffiti-covered. The city’s main thoroughfare, Boulevard Leon Gambetta, is pleasant for a stroll, as is the medieval neighborhood just to the east of the road. The city has a dearth of decent hotels, however, with even three-star accommodations lacking in character. Fortunately, the rates are appropriately low.

Cahors and a Deal with the Devil

It took seven decades in the 1300s to build Valentré bridge. Legend has it that the builder made a pact with the devil to help in the completion of the bridge.

At the end of the work, the builder tried to go back on the pact by refusing to place the last stone onto the bridge. In the 1800s, during a restoration of the bridge, a carving of a devil was added to the top of one of the three towers.

Cahors History and Geography

Cahors experienced its heyday in the 13th century, when Lombard bankers and international tradesman descended on the town. It was a center of Europe’s financial activity. Pope John XXII was born here, and he founded the now-defunct University of Cahors in the 1500s.

The city’s ramparts were beefed up in the mid-1300s, and the city’s most famous landmark—the Valentré Bridge—was built.

During the 19th century, many of the city’s key structures were built, including the town hall, theater, courts and library. The main thoroughfare, boulevard Gambetta, evolved into a bustling street with the city’s twice-weekly market.

Interesting Cahors trivia: Although you will find a boulevard Gambetta in almost every French city, Cahors has the best claim to use the name. Popular French leader Léon Gambetta (1838-1882) was born here. You can find a statue of Gambetta at Place François Mitterrand.

Getting Around Cahors

The nearest major airports are in Toulouse and Rodez, both of which have rail connections to Cahors. Alternately, you can fly into Paris and take the train (five hours by day, seven hours overnight) to Cahors.

The French rail system visits some of the larger villages. A rental car is the best bet to explore this area. Even if you just plan to stay in Cahors the whole time, you may want to rent a car for a day to visit area vineyards.

While visiting Cahors, it is rather simple to park in the city center and walk to most attractions of interest. There is some sloping along boulevard Gambetta, but the uphill climb isn’t too steep. Most of the city’s attractions are in a compact area fanning from the main street through town.

Sightseeing in Cahors

  • You could hardly visit Cahors without seeing the city’s trademark image: the Valentré Bridge. A unique example of medieval defense, it has three towers. Follow the signs throughout the city center. The bridge is located at the northwest corner of downtown. Don’t forget to look for the devil statue atop one of the towers.
  • Musée Henri Martin (located at 792, rue Emile Zola in Cahors) features the works of its namesake painter. The museum also features an exhibit on the city’s most famous son, Léon Gambetta.
  • Shop for this region’s famous “black diamond” with the area’s truffle markets. Limogne hosts a truffle market Friday mornings from December to March, and Lalbenque’s market features truffles Tuesdays from December to March.
  • The Lot is famous for its various mills, or “moulins” in French. There are windmills, such as Moulin de Seyrinac (located in Lunan), a working 15th-century mill open for tours. There are various water mills, such as Moulin de Cougnaguet, a lovely fortified mill open for tours.
  • Wine aficionados should not miss a chance to visit a local museum devoted to wine. Chantrerie (located at 35, rue de Chantrerie in Cahors) has exhibits on methods used to develop the local wines.
  • Saint-Etienne Cathedral (located on the rue de Chantrerie in Cahors) is a lovely example of gothic architecture. The cathedral is also home to a museum of religious art. Its most interesting relic, called the “holy cap” or “cap of Christ,” was brought to Cahors by Bishop Géraud de Cardaillac. Having returned from the Holy Land in the 12th century, the cap is said to have covered Christ’s head in his tomb. The museum also contains interesting murals and tapestries.
  • One of the major allures of the Lot are the wonderful painted caves, providing a unique opportunity to see the artwork of early man. The Centre de Préhistoire de Pech Merle features wonderful paintings and engravings dating back more than 20,000 years. There are nice examples of horses, bison, mammoths and human figures. There is a cap on the number of visitors at 700 daily, so it is important to call ahead for a reservation or book online (especially in the peak summer season).
  • The Grottes de Cougnac (located in Payrinac) also has some fine drawings of deer, mammoths, human outlines and symbols. It boasts the oldest figure drawings remaining open to the public.

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