Walking along gently sloping alleys, lined with stone and half-timbered houses, it feels like the hands of time have somehow stopped ticking hundreds of years ago in the tiny village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Voted one of the most beautiful villages in France over 10 years ago and to this day a true pearl of the Lot Valley in this author’s humble opinion.
My knowledge of France and its geography is quite simply appalling. Therefore when my travel partner suggested we cruise around the Lot department after finishing off an assignment in the neighboring Nouvelle Aquitaine region, she was met with my, very, very, blank stare.
A quick Google search revealed both where this mysterious department was located (a few hours drive away) and the many marvels it contained. Hilltop castles, underground rivers in vast cave systems and a vast amount of storybook villages. Chief among them, the undeniably charming Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the Lot Valley.
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Plan your visit to Saint Cirq Lapopie and the Lot Valley
WHERE TO STAY
- Where I stayed: Hôtel-Spa Le Saint Cirq
- Most Sustainable: Hôtel Les Esclargies
- Best Views: Maison Lapopie
- Further out: L’Ancienne Forge de Cregols
HOW TO GET AROUND: Getting to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie with public transportation is possible though I do recommend renting a car to visit the surrounding Lot department. An electric charging point is available for cars on the parking right next to the restaurant Le Saint Cirq Gourmande, though it was out of service when we went. Find the cheapest rate.
TOURISM OFFICE SAINT-CIRQ-LAPOPIE: Place du Sombral, 46330 Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, France. Opening hours depend on the season (off-season only open on Friday and Saturday between 09.30- 17.30 with a break for lunch 12.30-13.30)
Where is Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in France
Region vs Department: France is made up of 13 administrative regions, which in turn are split into smaller chunks known as departments.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is located in the Occitanie region, in the Lot department deep in the folds of southern France. To be a bit more precise roughly 25 km (15 mi) east of Cahors, 57 km (35 mi) south of Rocamadour and 130 km (81 mi) north of Toulouse.
5 Things to do in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
The unassuming cobblestoned village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is home to a mere 200 inhabitants. Strolling through this medieval hamlet, it is hard to imagine the town once held no less than 3 medieval castles within its walls, was home to a prosperous river trade and world-renowned woodturners (the artisans making wooden barrels which held wine and all sorts of other goodies).
While all but one castle perished, the heart of the town, made up of 13th and 16th-century houses, has weathered the storms of Mother Nature and Father Time beautifully. Inspiring the likes of André Breton, the founder of the surrealist movement, and many other artists for countless centuries. To this day, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is brimming with galleries and little shops run by local artisans.
Time to tap into that creative energy and discover the many things to do and see in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Stroll around the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Sweeping views over the Lot Valley, winding, cobblestoned alleys and half-timbered houses make Saint-Cirq-Lapopie look like is was pulled straight from the pages of a storybook. The village is the size of a pocket square, yet contains 13 historical monuments in its folds.
As tempting as it might seem to put on your explorer hat, hold that thought and make a pit stop at the tourism office first. They have a great (free) brochure with a map plotting the aforementioned historical monuments, complete with a brief description of each monument. Map in hand, dive into Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and wander around the hilly streets.
MUST SEE MONUMENTS: Moulin D’Aulanac, André Breton house, La Fourdonne Maison The Wine Museum (for obvious reasons), Rignault Museum, Daura houses and the Château de Saint Cirq Lapopie.
TOURS: If you are in the market for a guided tour rather than reading off a brochure, options are a pricy €/$120 VIP Tour held yearlong – to be fair the price is a flat rate for 1-20 people, or during the months July and August a twice-weekly 1.5-hour tour priced a modest €/$8.
Good to know: July & August a little market is held every Wednesday evening from 16.00-20.00 at the “Camping de la Plage” below the village. A handful of merchants sell local products of the region.
Visit the Eglise Saint-Cirq-et-Sainte-Juliette
Towering over the village, keeping a watchful eye out for both marauders and sinners, stands the imposing Eglise Saint-Cirq-et-Saint Juliette. Dedicated to the youngest martyr in Christianity, Saint Cyricus, canonized at a mere 4 years old, and his mother Saint Juliette.
What was once a Roman church, underwent a complete rebuild in the 16th century and is now a Languedoc-Gothic masterpiece. Though truth be told, the austere interior was a little disappointing for my personal taste. But that most likely has to do with my love for the sumptuous baroque churches in Palermo. The entrance is free of charge.
Take a river cruise down the Lot Valley
Tickets & Operating Hours: Official Website (only in FR)
Gliding over the Lot river, perched on the deck of a little boat learning about the history of the region from a gregarious local guide. Sounds like my kind of tour! Sadly, when we visited the season had ended and this tour was no longer on offer. The season runs from the beginning of April to mid-October.
Throughout the tour, you pass by the 7 marvels of the Lot Valley including the Chemin de Halage, the ancient trading port of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and the impressive English castle at Bouziès carved into the rock façade. Park your car at the large (well-indicated) car park in Bouziès and head for the Bouziès mooring (Port fluvial de Bouziès) to start the tour.
Clamber up the walls of the Saint-Cirq-Lapopie castle ruins and take in the views
Walking out of the church, head up to the “Rock of Lapopie” to get the very best views over the Lot Valley and the slanted rooves of the village. The Belvedere was constructed on the ruins of the once-impressive 11th-century La Popie Castle. Imagine the views they must have had from their bedroom window!
Aside from dramatic views, the platform has some great information panels which explain the many marvels found in the majestic Lot Valley. Take a closer peek and see if you can spot the Chemin de Halage, more on this neat architectural feat later on.
Grab a drink and enjoy the view
What better way to drink in the view than…with a drink! Le Saint Cirq Gourmand is located just outside the historical center, on the main road aptly named Grand route. A small parking lot sits next to the bar, though due to its compact size, it is not found on any official tourist map.
This charming roadside bolthole serves a limited menu of snacks made from locally sourced ingredients and a variety of cold and warm drinks. We wanted to enjoy the sunset here, yet were met by a closed door as the bar is only open from 10.00 to 17.30.
The little outside seating area overlooking the town was still set up though. If you come later than 17.30, bring your own snacks/drinks and simply enjoy the view from the castiron seats in front of the bar.
Alternative viewpoint: The viewpoint Bancourel near parking 5 is another great spot to take in the views. Wooden benches have been placed so visitors can enjoy a scenic picnic.
Where to stay in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: ($$) Hôtel-Spa Le Saint Cirq
Surrounded by vineyards and an outdoor pool with views over Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Where do I sign? Add to that wonderful hospitality and well-equipped spa made this one of the best hotels we stayed in during our trip—free on-site parking.
Gîtes de Cantagrel: A locally run B&B set in an old farm, surrounded by verdant scenery. The farm produces biodynamic vegetables and oils. Check rates and availability
Maison Lapopie: Located in the heart of this village, Maison Lapopie is a storybook French B&B with the very best views around. Check rates and availability
L’ Ancienne Forge de Cregols: Located 4 km (2.5 mi) from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in a beautifully restored 18th-century blacksmith workshop. Free on-site parking. Check rates and availability.
Things to do around Saint Cirq Lapopie in the Lot Valley
The Lot department has a lot of wonderous places to visit, some of them might ring a bell while others remain shrouded in mystery. For brevity’s sake, I added in a sprinkling of my favorite spots. If you are lucky enough to be spending a fair amount of time in the area make sure to also check out Cahors and Figeac in the Lot department and/or Brantôme in the neighboring Nouvelle Aquitaine region.
Visit majestic Rocamadour
Distance from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: 57 km / 35 mi
Medieval Rocamadou, like Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, was voted as one of the most beautiful villages in France. One glance will be enough to see why. The hilltop village is known for its Sanctuary which clings to the cliffside for dear life and somehow has managed to stay there since the 12th century. It continues to be an important pilgrimage site and one of the most visited places in France after Paris.
Getting to Rocamadour from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie by bus is possible, but will require a stopover in Figeac. The travel time is estimated at 3 hours, while driving takes under an hour.
Read More: Delve into an in-depth guide of the village Rocamadour.
Walk the Chemin de Halage in Bouziès
The Chemin de Halage or towboat path is an interesting, entirely man-made feat of architecture. The picturesque walkway hugs the Lot River for 4.5 km connecting Bouziès to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (Place du Carol).
The towboat path was carved out of limestone rocks in the mid-19th century. It ensures safe passage for the local flat-bottomed boats laden with barrels of Cahors wine traveling to and back from Bordeaux. Anything to keep the wine protected!
We parked in the Bouziès parking and hiked in the direction of the village Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Passing an ancient bridge over the Lot river atop which an absolute railway track is perched, the evocative carving by Toulouse artists Daniel Monnier depicts the fauna and flora in the Lot Valley, as well as the Ganil Lock. The hike is easy and accessible for kids as well as adults.
Head down into the Gouffre de Padirac
Entrance Fee: €/$19.50
Opening Hours: Website
What to wear: Bring a jacket and wear proper footwear (we wore sneakers which were just fine)
Length of visit: 1.5 hours
An unexpected highlight of my trip to the Lot was a visit to the Gouffre de Padirac, the largest chasm in the world. The chasm itself is a staggering 33 meters long and 77 deep, after which it continues into a myriad of underground caves through which a river flows.
The visit includes a well-put-together audio guide and a short cruise on the underground river where a local guide doubles as a boat captain and provides more detailed information about the cave. No pictures or video is allowed when on the boat. The official reason is for safety reasons, though it felt more like a strategic ploy to encourage tourists to purchase their souvenir photos.
Pre-booking is strongly recommended in July and Augusts as tickets tend to sell out fast.
Word to the wise: Make sure to go to the bathroom before you start your tour as there are no toilets in the caves and a continuous sound of running water.
Vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
The Lot region is known for foie gras, duck, cured meats, truffles, cheese, chestnuts walnuts and prunes. It is not super vegetarian-friendly truth be told, but nevertheless, we enjoyed a really great vegetarian meal at Restaurant Le Gourmet Quercynois. The service was impeccable, the portions generous and the food delicious.
I had a starter of fresh salad topped with goat cheese and pain d’epice (spice bread) followed by a mouthwatering potato gratin with a mushroom omelet and green salad on the side.
Practical details for visiting Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
How to get to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from Paris
TRAIN: From Paris Austerlitz take the intercity train to Cahors (5h30 ride time), here hop on the regional bus 889 at Cahors station (40 min ride time). Your end stop is Tour-De-Faure – Le Port, right in front of the historical village. Total time to get there is 6h30. Check the cheapest fares.
How to get to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from outside of France
FLY + RENT A CAR: If you are intending on visiting more of the Lot area, renting a car might be the best option. The nearest airport is Brive-Souillac (BVE), a small airport with limited flights, Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (TLS) is a larger international airport. Both have a car-rental service on site. Check rates.
Alternatively, fly into Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and head to the Toulouse train station (Matabiau Gare Sncf). Multiple trains run hourly between both locations (18 min train ride). At the train station, you can take the direct bus to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie mentioned above.
Parking in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
For being such a tiny hamlet, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie has an impressive amount of parking lots. Which, considering the majority of visitors tend to come by car, is very practical. Parking is clearly indicated. The above map gives you an approximation of where the various official parking places are versus the village entrance.
Parking fees for cars/motorhomes is fixed at €/$6 a day (parking P2, P3, P4, P5, P6) and free on parking P1. The first half hour of parking is free, after which the parking fee needs to be paid at the parking meter. Between 19.00 and 08.00 AM parking is free.
Motorhomes are not permitted to stay overnight on any of the official parking lots.
Best time to visit the village Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Since winning the 2012 accolade of Most Beautiful Village of France (overseen by Village préféré des Français), the village receives over 200.000 tourists a year. Many of them descend upon Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the summer months, July and August.
As is the case with most popular destinations, shoulder season is the way to go. Thanks to its southern location, temperatures turn mild fairly early in the year with March recording average temperatures of 15°C/59°F. T-shirt weather continues until the end of October (19°C/66°F) and even through November if you are lucky.
We went near the middle of October and ended up having such good weather, I had to run to the pharmacy to buy sunscreen. After which, we threw on a bikini and spent an afternoon sunbathing at our hotel. It is noteworthy to mention that the year we visited was an unusually warm autumn, October is usually well past bikini season.
Visiting the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a worthwhile excursion
The village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie wholly warrants the accolade of the most beautiful village in France. The stone houses lining windy, hilly alleys with dramatic views over the Lot valley are simply something else.
This medieval pearl is well worth a visit, outside of the main tourist season. July and August see the hamlet bursting at the seams, while the other 10 months of the year are surprisingly tranquil. We spent one full day exploring in the middle of October and practically had the streets to ourselves.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING FRANCE
South West France: One-week Nouvelle Aquitaine Guide
South West France: A full guide to Rocamadour
South West France: Must visit castles in Dordogne
South West France: Prettiest villages in Dordogne to visit
South West France: An in-depth guide to beautiful Brantôme
Eastern France: Complete guide to the Jura & Doubs Region