When we were in the flea markets of Paris, we would come upon stalls of ancient furniture – tables of thick, dark slabs of wood that immediately inspired visions of wayside travelers, tankards in hand. No doubt, Quentin Tarentino could have produced a lively, tavernesque scene among those furnishings.
Such imaginative scenes come to mind in exploring many medieval villages of France. Ancient ramparts and fortifications, thick stone walls, turrets and towering riverside views inspire thoughts of the inhabitants who braved winters, celebrated summers and thwarted attacks.
One idyllic region for discovery is the Lot Valley area. Our good friends in Paris recently wrote of an Australian couple, who found their dream village in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. With all of the zeal and energy of youth, they purchased a medieval property in this historic village in the mid-Pyrenées; and they shall set about the task of completely restoring the manor – what many of us imagine but few have the time, energy and funds to accomplish!
Yet, in the end, they will inhabit one of the most beautiful and historic villages of France … described as a medieval jewel poised above the River Lot. A Gothic church, a cliff side museum and several castles mix with lovely old houses of stone and wood with steep tile roofs, that date as far back as the thirteenth century.
Today passageways of shops preserve the very artisan craftsmanship that contributed to the wealth of the village – skinners and coppersmiths, wood turners and ceramists. At the foot of the village, mills and dams, locks and towpath remind us of that entrancing age of river commerce that characterized the region.
Visitors explore the fort ruins for panoramic views of the valley and discover the same stunning views from the terraces of the Renaissance castle at Cénevières. The Châteaux de Cénevières is one of the area’s most historic monuments and is now open to the public. From the small village of Bouziès, just 4 kilometers from Saint-Cirq, tour boats and rental houseboats provide enchanting access to this magnificent river that meanders all the way to the River Garonne at Aiguillon.
Whatever your country of origin, you might find yourself much like those Australians, with an eye toward settling in the area. Another who did so was a famous surrealist.
“It was in June 1950 … that I first saw Saint-Cirq, blazing with Bengal Fire, like an impossible rose in the night. It was love at first sight and the next morning, I returned to the temptation, to the heart of this flower – it had ceased to flame, but remained intact. Above any other place in the world, in America or Europe, Saint-Cirq is my one place of enchantment: the one fixed forever. I stopped wanting to be elsewhere.” – André Breton, leader of the surrealist movement, September 3, 1951. The painter lived out all the remaining summers of his life in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, until his death in 1966.