A gravity-defying hilltop village overlooking the Alzou Canyon in the picturesque region of Occitanie, southern France. Despite being the size of a pocket square, there is a wide array of things to do in Rocamadour. Time to delve into this medieval treasure trove.
Medieval Rocamadour in France rose to fame as far back as the 12th century when the perfectly preserved body of St. Amadour was found in the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna. Both layman and nobility flocked to the city to pray in the Sanctuary, oftentimes as many as 30.000 pilgrims a day
Over the centuries Rocamadour slid down the slippery slope of decline: A 15th-century disaster crushed the Notre Dame Church, the burning of St. Amadours body by the Huguenots and, of course, the devastation of the 18th-century French Revolution. Today it has a mere 600 inhabitants but welcomes over 1.5 million (!) visitors yearly.
Plan your visit to Rocamadour
WHERE TO STAY
HOW TO GET AROUND: Getting to Rocamadour with public transportation is arduous. I recommend renting a car to visit Rocamadour and the surrounding Lot department. Find the cheapest rate.
TOURISM OFFICE ROCAMADOUR: 5066 Rue Roland le Preux, 46500 Rocamadour, France. Open daily between 10.00 and 17.00 PM with a break between 12.30 PM and 14.00 PM.
Is Rocamadour worth visiting?
There are over 150 officially recognized ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (or Prettiest Villages in France), Rocamadour is one of them. Aside from that Rocamadour is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for being part of the St James’ Way pilgrimage route. The short answer therefore is, yes!
Noteworthy is the fact Rocamadour is surrounded by plenty of swoon worthy castles, prehistoric caves (Lascaux, Gouffre de Padirac) and a host of other picture-perfect villages (Brantôme, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie). Therefore not only is Rocamadour worth visiting but so is the rest of the region!
How long does it take to visit Rocamadour?
The village of Rocamadour in France is minuscule. It can easily be visited at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Personally, I would however recommend spending at least one full day and one night in Rocamadour.
Most people will visit Rocamadour for a few hours during the day. If you spend the night, you have the wonderful added benefit of having the city to yourself before 09.00 and after 18.00 when the tour groups and day tourists have left.
24 hours will give you ample time to explore the many little chapels & churches in the Sanctuary, to hike up to the Rocamadour Castle and to find the various viewpoints over the city (to be enjoyed with a glass of local wine preferably).
7 things to do in Rocamadour
The medieval village of Rocamadour is built on three levels: The village of Rocamadour near the river, the religious sanctuaries in the middle and the Rocamadour Castle on the hilltop. These form the core attractions of Rocamadour.
How to get to the three levels: The lower level is connected to the sanctuaries by the l’Escalier des Pèlerins (Great Staircase) or a lift that takes you to the Porte Saint-Martial entrance. The sanctuaries in turn are connected to the castle via a second elevator, or by walking the Chemin de la Croix
1. Explore the one-street village of Rocamadour
The tiny village of Rocamadour starts at the Porte du Figuier (Fig Tree Gate) and ends at the Porte Basse (Lower Gate). Halftimbered houses line the one-kilometer stretch of the main road running between both gates. The observant will notice this central axis bears two names, starting off as Rue Roland le Preux for the first half and turning into Rue de la Couronnerie after Porte Salmon (Salmon Gate).
As is to be expected with any major tourist attraction, the village is choc-a-bloc with a multitude of shops selling a variety of souvenirs, cafés and tiny restaurants. The highlight for me was strolling through the village just after sunrise when the storefronts were still closed and the streets empty aside from a few early birds.
WHERE TO EAT: We had dinner at Hôtel Beau Site, which has a nice terrace and (a few) vegetarian-friendly options. La Maison de Famille serves pancakes, galettes and salads and has plenty of vegetarian options.
2. Explore the Sanctuary of Rocamadour and the 6 chapels
The Sanctuary of Rocamadour was one of the three most important pilgrimage sites in the Middle Ages, right after the Holy Land and Santiago di Compostella. It is built atop the village of Rocamadour and just below the hilltop castle, precariously hanging on the side of the cliff.
How to get to the sanctuary
Either walk the 216 stairs of the l’Escalier des Pèlerins (Great Staircase) which leads you through the impressive Porte Saint and into the main square of the sanctuary, or opt to take the elevator which drops you on the back end of the sanctuary at Porte Saint-Martial.
What to see in the sanctuary of Rocamadour
Within the Sanctuary you will find a complex of six chapels, one church and the crypt of Saint Amadour. All of which are free to visit. The tourism office has a brochure with detailed information about each of the chapels, or read up on them online.
Walking through the Porte Sainte you immediately come to the Parvis (main square). On your right-hand side, just outside Saint Anne Chapel, you will spot a little ledge, the perfect spot to sit down and admire the astounding architecture of the Sanctuary.
The famous statue of the Black Madonna is inside the Notre Dame Chapel. The entrance to which can be found at the top of the central staircase. A small sign by the door requests visitors not to take pictures of the statue.
After you finish visiting the Notre Dame Chapel, walk out and look to your right. Here you will find the tomb of Saint Amadour (not to be confused with the crypt which is number five on the map) as well as the Durandal sword (look up). Continue walking straight under the arch to a tiny little lookout that offers some picturesque views over the Porte de Sainte.
Note: When entering the various chapels, be mindful to wear modest clothing as they are still considered active places of worship.
3. Walk the Chemin de la Croix to the Rocamadour Castle
Head out of the sanctuary via the Porte Sainte, past the elevator station, on your left-hand side you will see a little stone with a plaque “Chemin de la Croix”. This walkway leads you all the way to Rocamadour Castle on the top of the hill.
The path climbed steadily through a forest patch and is lined with 14 little shrines, each of which represents one scene from the Passion of Christ. Even the most agnostic visitor will want to take this path, be it only for the exceptional viewpoints along the way.
Aside from the chapels, the walk passes by the Saint-Sépulcre caves that were once a quarry and now serve as a small place of worship. The caves were closed off by an iron gate when we visited. The end of the path is marked by the Cross of Jerusalem, which according to legend was bought all the way from Palestine.
4. Catch the best views over Rocamadour from the Castle of Rocamadour
At the very top of the cliff, overlooking the Rocamadour Sanctuary sits the impressive Rocamadour Castle. Built for defensive purposes in the Middle Ages and extensively restored during the 19th century. The castle itself is not open to the public but part of the original defensive wall (rampart) is!
Entrance to the ramparts costs €/$2 (to be paid in cash) before entering. The ramparts offer the best views over the entire village of Rocamadour and the valley beyond. Note, they do not offer the best views of Rocamadour (this honor is reserved for L’Hospitalet, see number 5).
How to get to the castle
Drive: Parking P2 is right behind the castle.
Walk: Walking up to the castle from the village of Rocamadour takes about 20-30 minutes.
First, take the l’Escalier des Pèlerins (Great Staircase) to the Sanctuary. At the top of the staircase, you have two choices, either turn left (towards the Porte Sainte and the sanctuary) or turn right and follow the covered walkway along the sanctuary which offers some wonderful views. Both paths will lead you to the Porte Saint-Martial.
From the Porte Sainte-Martial, make your way up the Chemin de La Croix (or take the elevator).
Elevator: To get to the castle from the village will require 2 elevator rides. The first will take you from the village to the sanctuary, the second elevator ride will take you from the sanctuary (Porte-Sainte-Martial) to the entrance of the castle. You can opt to take one elevator and walk the rest of the way. Simply ask at the elevator ticket counter.
5. Watch the sunset over Rocamadour
On the opposite side of the Alzou Valley, overlooking the village of Rocamadour lies the tiny village of L’Hospitalet. This hamlet was founded in the 11th century and served as a hospital for the pilgrims walking to and from Santiago de Compostela.
We ended up staying here during our stay as it was easier to park the car as well as better value/money. It also happens to have the very best viewpoints over Rocamadour. Head to the little parking of the Hotel Bellevue around sunset (or sunrise). There you will find two stone benches from which you have an undisturbed view over the Alzou Valley and Rocamadour in the distance.
Good to know: L’Hospitalet is connected to Rocamadour via a road called the Sacred Way. An easy 12-minute walk takes you from one to the other and offers some of the best views over Rocamadour. We ended up driving the route as there was no dedicated footpath along the way so it felt a little dangerous to walk.
6. Take a balloon ride over Rocamadour
From Easter to All Saints (first weekend of November) you can explore Rocamadour from the air, that is to say from a little basket dangling off a very large hot air balloon. This experience does not come cheap, a 45-minute flight costs upwards of €/$ 200 per person.
Two companies offer balloon rides Rocamadour Montgolfières (website in French) and Dordognes Montgolfières (this website is available in English). I desperately wanted to fly up in a hot air balloon over Rocamadour, alas the weather decided differently during my visit.
Nice to know: Every last weekend of September the annual Rocamadour Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place.
7. Additional things to do in Rocamadour
The main things to do in Rocamadour are without a doubt strolling around the village and exploring the sanctuary. If you find yourself with a bit of free time on your hands you can add on a trip to the
Grottes des Merveilles (Caves of Wonder), La forets des singes (Monkey forest) and Chapelle de l’Hospitalet (Hospitalet Chapel).
Where to stay in Rocamadour
PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: Logis Hôtel Le Belvédère($$)
Set in L’Hospitalet, Logis Hôtel le Belvédère has ample on-site parking, is good value for money and has the best views of Rocamadour.
Best Location: Hôtel du Lion d’Or – If you are looking for a small hotel in wall of the Medieval village of Rocamadour than the 2-star Hôtel du Lion d’Or is a good option. On-site parking available.
Most Sustainable: Hôtel Les Esclargies – Travelers looking for a peaceful B&B have come to the right adres. Located just outside of the village of Rocamadour, on-site parking and bicycle rental available.
My reco for inside the village: Hotel Beau Site – Rocamadour – We had dinner in this hotel and the service was impeccable. Location-wise you cannot get any better than this!
Things to do around Rocamadour
There are plenty of wonderful places to explore around Rocamadour. From picture-perfect medieval villages to castles that will make you dream of Prince (or Princess) Charming and underground river cruises in a cave. All within two hours drive from Rocamadour Dordogne.
Visit the castles in Dordogne
Rocamadour is located in the Dordogne Valley, which among others is known to have a lot of snapshot-worthy castles, dripping in history. In fact, the department of Dordogne is rumored to have a staggering 1001 castles, the origin of many can be traced to the medieval Hundred Years’ War between France & England.
A few of my favorite castles include Beynac Castle, Hautefort Castle and Puyguilhem Castle all of which we explored during our one-week road trip through the neighboring region of Nouvelle Aquitaine (where the department of Dordogne is located).
Visit storybook villages in Dordogne and Lot
Voted one of the prettiest villages in all of France. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is located in the Causses de Quercy Regional Nature Park. This tiny medieval hamlet was originally built as a stronghold, 100 meters atop a cliff overlooking the Lot river. These days the village has a mere 10 inhabitants and can be considered more of a picturesque open-air museum than a thriving village. Read full guide to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Medieval Brantôme was built within the confines of the Dronne river. The town started thriving when the gargantuan Benedictine Monastery was built in the 8th century AD. It is a little further out from Rocamadour (a 2-hour drive) but well worth the visit. Read more about Brantôme.
Najac was also given the official title of “Most beautiful village of France” like Rocamadour and it is not hard to see why. Built atop a hill with sweeping vistas over the Aveyron river, dominated by the partially ruined Castle of Najac. A tiny village with timbered houses and medieval cobblestone streets. Unlike Saint-Cirq-Lapopie it still has a modest population of 2000.
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
Most certainly one of the coolest places to visit around Rocamadour. The Gouffre de Padirac is the largest chasm, recorded to date, in the world. The chasm is a whopping 77 meters deep and 33 meters long and continues into an intricate underground cave system with its very own river.
The highlight of the visit is without a doubt the short cruise on the underground river where your captain doubles as a tour guide providing more insights into the caves. 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.
Book your tickets in advance. During the summer months (July & August) the tickets sell like hotcakes making it impossible to visit without a prior reservation.
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.
Practical information for visiting Rocamadour Lot
How to get to Rocamadour in France?
RECOMMENDED – TRAIN + DRIVE: We took the highspeed train from Paris to Bordeaux (2h30) and ended up renting a car for a 10-day road trip around Nouvelle Aquitaine and Lot (where Rocamadour is located). It is not the most sustainable way to travel, but getting to all the little towns by public transportation was sadly not possible. Budget roughly €/$85 a day for car rental (including insurance)
Check the cheapest rates for car rental in Europe.
TRAIN: The nearest train station is Rocamadour-Padirac located 4.6 km northeast of Rocamadour. From here grab the bus 876 (direction Padirac) or 877 (direction Biars-sur-Cère). Check routes.
FLY: The nearest airport is Brive-Souillac (BVE) Airport which has limited flights from a number of locations including the Paris Orly airport (ORY). The nearest international airports are Toulouse–Blagnac Airport (TLS) and Bordeaux Airport (BOD), neither of which have direct connections to Rocamadour. Count about 4.5 hours to get from Toulouse Airport to Rocamadour and 6 hours from Bordeaux Airport to Rocamadour via train. Calculate your route in advance.
Parking in Rocamadour
There are 5 official parking in Rocamadour, indicated on the slightly blurry map above. Let’s run through them so you have an idea of where to park when visiting Rocamadour. Please note you will need to pay a fee at a parking meter for all five of these parking lots (daily fee between €/$6).
P1: Parking de l’Hospitalet – Accesible for motorhomes, vans, cars and busses. A 10-minute walk from the historical village of Rocamadour.
P2: Parking des Ascenseurs – Accessible for motorhomes, vans, cars and busses. This parking lot is right at the top of the hill, behind Rocamadour Castle. It is reasonably large and very close to the entrance/exit of the lift (see below).
P3: Parking des Garennes – Accesible for cars. A 10-minute walk from the historical Rocamadour village and close to the Forêt des Singes.
P4: Parking du Garroustié – Accessible for vans, cars and small motorhomes. A 25-minute walk from the main street of Rocamadour but close to the Forêt des Singes.
P5: Parking La Vallee – Not accessible for vehicles that are high or long (e.g. motorhomes, busses and large vans). A 10-minute (uphill) walk to the entrance of Rocamadour.
How does the lift in Rocamadour work?
Where to purchase tickets: Rue Roland le Preux (indicated on Google Maps as “Lift Rocamadour”)
Price: Between €/$3.20 (to the sanctuary and back) and €/$6.20 (to the Rocamadour Castle and back)
Opening hours: Summer 09.00 – 19.00; Winter 09.00 – 18.00
Medieval hilltop villages are not known for their accessibility. They usually entail plenty of strenuous steep alleys and innumerable steps. Surprisingly Rocamadour is the exception to the rule. With 2 sets elevators, one can easily get from the center (Rue Roland le Preux) all the way to Rocamadour Castle, without having to take any stairs.
Purchase your ticket at the ticket booth on rue Roland Le Preux. Elevator one takes you to the Rocamadour Sanctuary, while elevator two takes you from the Rocamadour Sanctuary to the front of the Rocamadour Castle (indicated as “REMPARTS” on the above map). To get back down, simply take the same set of elevators.
Note: The remparts or Rocamadour Castle walls do involve a (limited) amount of stairs.
Best time to visit?
Between mid-April and mid-October Rocamadour tourism peaks to a staggering two million visitors. In a village the size of a pocket square this means a lot of bodies squashed together in a tiny space. Do yourself a favor and avoid visiting Rocamadour from June to September. As is often the case, shoulder season is your time to visit March, April, May, October or November.
We visited in mid-October and practically had this beautiful village to ourselves. There were no cues to visit the Sanctuary, the hike up to the castle was peaceful and we had our pick of restaurants to dine in. The average temperature was a comfortable 22°C (77°F).
Map of things to see and do in Rocamadour
This interactive Google Map contains all the places mentioned in this Rocamadour guide, including the places to visit around Rocamadour. Simply click on the link for more information or take a sneak peek at the below screenshot.
To conclude on things to do in Rocamadour France
The village of Rocamadour Dordogne is officially known as one of the 150 most beautiful villages in France, and frankly, it is not hard to see why. It is the perfect trifecta: Hilltop castle, awe-inspiring religious complex hugging the rock façade for dear life and cascading medieval halftimber houses.
Rocamadour is well worth spending a day exploring, though best avoided in peak season when the tiny streets turn into a hard-to-navigate sea of people and finding parking requires a true stroke of luck.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING FRANCE
Jura Region (NE France): Discover the hidden gems of Eastern France
Dordogne (SW France): Travel guide for the village of Brantôme
Lot (SW France): Travel guide for Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Nouvelle Aquitaine (SW France): One-week road trip guide