The trouble with writing about “hidden” corners of France, is that you run the danger of sharing the secret with too many others. Places which I felt were “real France”, quiet, peaceful and unspoilt, have often changed in the last 20 years, becoming commercialised, crowded and bland. But, somehow the location and geography of the upper Lot Valley probably make this less likely.
Although I have made many visits to the lower Lot, especially around the town of Cahors and the Cahors AC vineyards, I had only ventured up-river once – and that was to the picturesque village of St Cirq-la-Popie – perched high on the limestone crags overlooking the valley about 20 miles distant. The valley even here is quite different to the lower Lot where the river, although still pleasingly curvaceous, tends to be wider.
Few vineyards are to be found upriver from Cahors, but the countryside of the Upper Lot and Célé valleys is spectacular – and quieter. The limestone crags and cliffs dominate the landscape offer breathtaking views – and although the roads are often narrow and distinctly bendy, this tends to have the effect of entering a land where time runs more slowly, where nature makes itself felt – and that is miles away from the tourist centres of the Dordogne. And the journey keeps unfolding as you head on up the valley – another 90 miles in our case.
In 2008 our objective was to get to meet with an American couple who had 3 cottages to rent near Entraygues-sur-Truyere ( 12 Aveyron, Occitanie). Although we had been in contact by email, I was intrigued to discover how and why 2 Californians had settled in one of the lesser-known parts of France.
The journey up the valley provided at least part of the answer – this is a truly beautiful part of France – the valley becomes narrower, but still offers delightful villages, stunning views and plenty of opportunity to enjoy the river – whether just sitting on the bank in the shade or being more energetic with canoes or kayaks. Entraygues-sur-Truyere, which translates as “between the waters” – i.e. the river Lot and its tributary the Truyere – is everything you expect of a small rural French market town – with its bridges over the river and narrow streets – and the essentials – a bank, boulangerie, hotel, bar etc – and the quiet air of a place at peace with itself – especially on a hot summer afternoon.
The other reason for choosing this spot also became clear when we found the cottages. up a narrow track above the river a few kilometres out of town. We discovered a haven of tranquility – with delightful hosts and some wonderful holiday cottages – well, appointed, cleverly and carefully restored – but above all secluded and deep in the countryside – yet just a few miles from all the conveniences of the town – and in an area rich with local artisans producing wine, cheese, wine. pottery…… The local wines, Vins d’Entraygues et du Fel VDQS, had to be tasted of course (along with some wonderful goats cheese made by one of the neighbours)! The vineyards are often terraced high on the sides of the valley, and production is small – mostly drunk locally. The white we tasted from Domaine de Mejanassere was a blend of Chenin Blanc and Mauzac grapes – a light, refreshing dry wine with a pleasing floral nose and exotic fruit finish; the red (Gamay, Fer Servadou, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Savignon), whilst being a tad “rustic” was perfect with some local saucisson. Somehow these uncomplicated straightforward wines were a great match for the time and place!
There is something about the place that seems to instill some sense of peace and contentment – the world of autoroutes, big business and conflict seems, and is, a long way away – whilst nature imposes its own sense of order to things – whether it be the landscape, the river or the weather.
It is certainly an area I intend to return to – there is so much to explore, especially guided by two people who know the area well, and are keen to share it with others. Their ambitions include developing artists retreats (with a studio planned) and themed stays based on the local food etc.