Travels through the Lot Valley

Lot Valley near Puy-l'Eveque

Regular readers will be aware the the Lot Valley in the South West of France features frequently in these pages – in many ways the essence of “deepest France”, it is less crowded than the Dordogne to the north and yet offers a wide variety of landscapes, pretty villages, great cuisine – and is home to the often under-rated Malbec-based wines of Cahors. Hence an essential recent purchase has been the revised edition of Helen Martin’s Book Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in SouthWest France, which is packed with insights, history and information on the Lot département (46) as part of the River’s journey from the Massif Central to its meeting with the Garonne near Aiguillon (47 Lot-et-Garonne, Aquitaine).

Helen has kindly allowed us to print an extract of the section on Cahors and its wines…….
Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in SouthWest FranceThe Lot: Travels through a Limestone Landscape by Helen Martin

Chapter 8 The Lot Valley: West of Cahors
Below Cahors, the valley of the Lot belongs to the vignerons and the vineyards of the black wine of Cahors, châteaux-country in fact, but in times gone by it also belonged to the bishops of Cahors, who worked and played but mostly – in that great Christian tradition – fought along its banks.
Downstream of Luzech, the really wild cliffs you see to the east of Cahors become a thing of the past, replaced by gentler, graceful slopes, albeit with a certain grandeur to them, that, even though they may end in cliffs, are less formidable and are called cévennes. The river idles its way through the countryside in deep loops, or cingles, and was used as a major artery for transporting goods from the thirteenth century.
Along its banks grow the vines, and it was mostly the wine from these vineyards which used to be sailed downstream to the Garonne and Bordeaux and from thence to the world. The wine of Cahors may have had its ups and down in more recent times, but the Romans were making wine here in the third century and it had something of a reputation even then, so this river trade is very ancient. Finally, though, and in spite of the efforts of competitive Bordeaux wine-makers, it was phylloxera which put paid to the wine, and thus the trade, in the 1880s. By the time it had revived again, there were better means of transport. But even when the river was at the height of its usefulness, transportation was not always guaranteed. You would be surprised to know how many times the Lot froze right over in winter; the end of the eighteenth century was a particularly critical time – in 1766 it was frozen solid for two and a half months.
In the early nineteenth century, on a river much improved with the passage of time by locks and aids to navigation, 300,000 tonnes of freight was carried down it each year, including an astonishing 90 million bottles of wine – three times the number produced today. However, just as it was phylloxera that killed the river’s wine trade, so it was the coming of the railway that killed the river as a serious form of transport. In more recent years, though, it is coming to life again as leisure craft ply their way up and down, no doubt bringing new problems of pollution.
The villages along this western stretch of the river, unsurprisingly enough, are notable for their wine-producers’ houses – usually big and square with bolets or pigeonniers and sometimes both. You will notice, also, the use of decorative brickwork, the bricks being produced along the valley. (more…)

Continue ReadingTravels through the Lot Valley

Paris – Nice Cycle race

The start of the cycling season in France is marked by the somewhat mis-named Paris-Nice race which runs from 8 - 15 March 2020 . Mis-named because although it does…

Continue ReadingParis – Nice Cycle race