Stone, Water, and Wine is the motto of Cahors, a medieval gem nestled in a crook of the Lot river in southwestern France. This French town might not be as well known to those outside of Occitanie, but it’s the perfect day trip from Toulouse if you’d like to visit a beautiful historic town in the French countryside. Only one hour away from la Ville rose by train, Cahors is sure to charm visitors with its chalky bluffs, fresh fountains and winding river, and famed gastronomy.
After spending a day in this picturesque town, let me share with you the 10 best things to do in Cahors:
1. Le Pont Valentré
The monument that made me most interested in visiting Cahors is the stunning Valentré bridge, which appears as if it came out of the page of a fairytale. Its three rapunzelesque towers make the bridge seem more like a château than a pathway to cross the river. However, the 14th-century structure was built for defense rather than protecting a princess. It is the most impressive and most beautiful bridge I’ve been to in France though; sorry, Avignon. Did I mention, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site AND a stop on the Camino de Santiago ?
The Legend of the Devil
As with most bridges built in the middle ages, le Pont Valentré has a myth about a devil that helped build it. The legend goes that the bridge’s architect was so desperate to finish the long and arduous task, he enlisted the help of the devil in exchange for his soul. He then ends up tricking the devil by giving him a sieve to collect water to give to the masons. Unable to fulfill his end of the bargain, the devil became angry and every night he steals a stone from the bridge, causing it to have to be repaired each morning.
When to Visit
Cahors isn’t a huge tourist site, but if you want pictures without many people in them, I’d suggest visiting in the early morning. If you visit in the winter like we did, you might even be met with a mysterious fog that lends itself to eerie photography. Luckily the weather cleared up in the afternoon, so we were able to take some shots in the sunlight as well.
2. Farmers’ Market
Farmers’ markets in southern France are superior. So much produce is grown in the south, and when the food is fresh and local, there’s simply nothing better. The Cahors marché is located right in the historic center, next to the cathedral. The market is open from 8 AM to 1 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you’re not visiting on market day, you can find some local specialties at la Halle de Cahors, just across the street. Regional products of the Lot include foie gras and truffles.
Since my boyfriend and I arrived around breakfast time, we picked up a jésuite aux fruits rouges, a pastry made with almond paste and berries from a bread stand. I also purchased a small pot of unsweetened apricot jam, which was delightfully tart and concentrated with flavor.
3. Cathédrale Sainte-Étienne and Cloister
After enjoying the sights, smells, and tastes of the market, consider stopping in the Cathérale Sainte-Étienne. This romanesque/gothic cathedral has two Byzantine-style domes and some lovely stained glass windows. My favorite part of the cathedral was the cloister with its peaceful gardens and seashells on the archways that nod to the Pèlerinage de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle. We had the whole place to ourselves that Wednesday morning while everyone else was at the market.
4. Wander the Medieval streets
At the tourist office, you can pick up a little map that pinpoints the city’s monuments and places of interest. Walking through the little ruelles in search of historical buildings feels like an architectural scavenger hunt. Even if you aren’t a history lover, you still might appreciate the pastel-toned and warm stone buildings that make up the town of Cahors.
After exploring, there is a wide variety of restaurants in Cahors to choose from. We stumbled upon a charming vegetarian restaurant called Marie Colline. Unfortunately, all the tables were full, so if you plan on dining here, I’d recommend making a reservation. Instead, we ended up trying Ti Kaz Kreol, a réunionnais restaurant with an 11€ vegetarian menu that included an eggplant fritter, vegetable curry, and a slice of coconut flan.
5. Look for the Secret Gardens
As we wandered through Cahors, we noticed several small gardens scattered throughout the town. These jardins secrets were fun to spot whenever we turned down a new corner. There weren’t many blossoms or flowers when we visited in February, but according to some locals we talked to, the gardens are magnifiques in the spring and summer.
6. Stroll along the Lot
The Lot is a tributary of the larger Garonne river that runs through the region of Occitanie. It meanders through the French countryside creating peninsulas amidst limestone cliffs. A walk along the banks of the Lot is a perfect post-lunch activity to help digest that rich southwestern cuisine. A stroll on the riverbanks will also allow you to see some more sights like churches and a water mill. Walking along the calm path in the fresh air felt so peaceful after spending so much time in bustling Paris.
La Fontaine des Chartreux
One of the sites of interest along the river is la Fontaine des Chartreux. This natural spring is a limestone resurgence that was once used by Romans. The fountain was a place to worship Divona, the Celtic goddess of water after which Cahors was originally named. You can find the fountain just south of the Pont Valentré on the western side of the Lot.
There are some other Roman ruins in Cahors as well like l’arc de Diane which is the vestige of some thermal baths and the base of an amphitheater in the parking garage near the tourist office.
7. Free Museum at La Maison de l’Eau
In between the Valentré Bridge and the fountain is an old water pumping station that now houses a free museum! Inside you’ll find an exhibition about the history of Cahors, as well as information about other water stations and industrial innovations in France. It may be a small museum, but it is packed with details. Be aware that all of the informational panels are in French if you consider stopping in.
8. River Cruise
One of the downsides of visiting Cahors in the winter outside of peak tourist season is that there are no boat tours. If we had decided to visit in the spring or summer I would have 100% booked a river cruise to see the Lot valley from another perspective (and to get another angle Pont Valentré for photos)! I’d love to see the Lot in the summer when the landscape is even greener and perhaps visit some nearby villages like Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
9. Malbec Wine Tasting
When you think of Malbec, Argentina instantly comes to mind, but did you know this cépage originated in southwestern France? Cahors wine is an Appellation d’origine contrôlée, mostly made from Malbec grapes and often blended with other varieties such as Merlot. The wines from this region are tannic dark reds, but I’d try them for yourself as I’m no sommelière and can only give you a basic description.
In France, many caves and wine shops will offer a free tasting to help you get to know the local vin and let you make an informed purchase. At apéro hour, my boyfriend and I stumbled upon Les Petits Producteurs, a specialty food shop and wine bar. We thought about sitting out on the terrace with a glass of Malbec since it was a warm winter afternoon, but we ended up just buying a bottle to bring home since we tasted six different wines! My coup de coeur ended up being a Malbec-Merlot blend called Mademoiselle from female owned château Tour de Merval.
10. Mont Saint-Cyr
To end the day in Cahors, we hiked to a lookout point on Mont Saint-Cyr. From the Louis-Philipe bridge, it only took us about 20 minutes to walk up the path. It’s an easy hike that kids could do, but the path is rocky and uphill so flat, closed-toed shoes would be ideal. The view is also accessible by car if you would prefer not to hike.
We admired the vista as the sun was setting: a beautiful end to our day trip from Toulouse.
Thank you so much for reading and be sure to follow the blog for more adventures in France!
À la prochaine,