Lot et Garonne: six reasons to visit
The Lot meanders for 500 picturesque kilometres from the slopes of Mont Lozère to the mighty Garonne river at Aiguillon, south-east of Bordeaux. Enjoy castles and canoeing, forest adventure and fun festivals in an unspoilt landscape that’s packed with variety.
1. Drive your own cruise boat
The Lot is navigable for around 150km, mostly through the departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne. Hire a self-drive river cruiser from Bouzies, east of Cahors – no experience necessary and full tuition given – to enjoy playing admiral for a few hours. There’s no nicer way to get close to the wildlife along the river and soak up the atmosphere of historic villages such as St Cirq-Lapopie, voted favourite village in France by the French. Or take a guided river excursion with commentary to learn about the history and traditions of the area.
2. Play soldiers in a medieval castle
Few children – or their parents – can resist a good castle and the Lot Valley has more than its fair share of solid medieval fortresses. One of the most beautiful is the Château de Bonaguil, built high on a rock between two river valleys. And ask at any local Tourist Office about live action displays and medieval festivals that take place along the valley in summer at towns and villages such as Estaing, Monflanquin and Gavaudun.
3. Messages from the past
One of the Lot Valley’s most unusual – and moving – visitor attractions is the cave complex of Pech Merle, near to the confluence of the Lot and Celé rivers. Just imagine the children whose prehistoric footprints have been fossilised in the solidified mud of the cave floor and the artists who created coloured handprints on the walls – spine-tingling stuff for all ages! Further east in the architectural gem that is Figeac, learn about the history of written communications at the Champollion Museum, housed in the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion – the first person to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics from engravings on the Rosetta Stone.
4. Family fun in the great outdoors
Walkers, cyclists and horse riders can enjoy getting close to nature in a landscape that varies from riverside trails to rugged hills, cool forests to rolling farmland. Look out for the traffic-free Voies Vertes or Green Lanes, and the quiet Véloroute bike routes. Tourist Offices stock maps, outdoor guides, and details of bike hire centres. Try some family fishing in the lakes at Golinhac and Castelnau-Lassout, as well as along the Lot and its tributaries, or hire canoes or kayaks. A number of multi-activity centres also offer mountain biking, climbing and canyoning.
5. Have fun at a festival
Fire-eating, archery and medieval warfare aren’t the only activities to be found at festivals in the Lot Valley. Every year in late May, people come from all over France to watch herds of honey-coloured cattle parade through the tiny village of Aubrac as they make their way to the flower-strewn summer pastures of the high plateau. Expect cows with decorated holly trees on their heads; displays of local agriculture and crafts; and much music, merrymaking, and moo-ing! Flocks of sheep are also walked from the Lot Valley onto the mountain meadows of Cantal in early June.
6. Get close to wolves and bison
There are several wildlife parks dotted throughout the Lot Valley, but two of the most unusual animal encounters involve creatures not generally associated with central France. The European bison who roam free through the reserve at Sainte-Eulalie are part of a joint project with Poland where animals live both in a reserve and wild in the forest. Take an unforgettable ride in a horse-drawn carriage to see them here in complete safety. And don’t miss Les Loups du Gévaudan, a wolf park in the mountains at Sainte-Lucie with more than 100 individuals from around the world. Wolves are shy creatures but you won’t be disappointed with the view from the elevated platforms. Then chill – and thrill – to the legend of the mysterious Bête du Gévaudan, supposedly a wolf which terrorised the area in the 18th century.
Plus…Mills in the Lot-et-Garonne
As one might expect given the many rivers and canals in this area the Lot-et-Garonne is covered with many fine examples of water mills. There are also a considerable number of windmills. There is a useful website with details of the mills worth visiting. Although it is only available in French, the interactive map is easily navigated to find the places nearest to you.
The Lot has a temperate climate, dominated by the Atlantic with mild winters and a long spring / autumn, although the summers can be very hot and are drier than the Dordogne.
For further ideas visit: www.lotvalley.com
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to Lot et Garonne:
- Puy l’Evêque
- St Cirq-Lapopie