Monday, August 20, 2012


The day before we were scheduled to fly out of Clermont-Ferrand we headed two hours southwest to meet up with the Tour de France. Since waiting for the cyclists and watching the race would only require a few hours, we decided to incorporate a trip to Rocamadour in our itinerary. The village has attracted visitors because of the unique setting in a gorge of a tributary of the Dordogne river, but also is well known for its historical monuments and sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Rocamadour and the Dordogne river

The view of the village is most spectacular, and so we stopped in L’Hospitalet to eat lunch while enjoying the panorama of Rocamadour and the valley below. The restaurant had prime real estate with a direct view of the cliffside village, and as we ate on the terrace I could photograph away at will while enjoying in comfort the company and food. We could pick out some of the more famous buildings, for example the church of Notre Dame containing a wooden Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Amadour, the founder of the ancient sanctuary. The terrace next to the church (Plateau of St Michel) was intended as a place for the pilgrims to gather as that is where a fragment of a broken sword is stuck in the wall. Legend has it the piece is from the sword of Durendal, once wielded by the legend Roland during the reign of Charlemagne. Not visible to us of course was the subterranean church of St. Amadour which contains relics of the saint. Most obvious is a château on the very crest of the cliff, built in the Middle Ages and intended as a defense of the sanctuaries.

Our lunch table with Rocamador in the background

L’Hospitalet  has several viewing areas with parking nearby to provide ample opportunity for viewing Rocamadour from different angles and vantage points. We dallied there too long and became pressed for time, so instead of descending into the valley we turned around and headed back to the highway where I hoped to find a good viewing spot to watch the Tour de France go by. We were glad to arrive in Cressensac when we did as otherwise we would have missed the sponsor trucks (which along with the crowd and atmosphere were half the fun!), but we did regret not seeing Rocamadour up close when we had the chance. Friends who have visited said the sights were worth the climb (stairs connect the château all the way to the valley below), and maybe someday we’ll have the opportunity to explore the buildings built into the 400 foot-tall cliffs. However our visit to the area served a reminder that you can’t always do everything!

It was a long day of driving, with 2.5 hours to reach Rocamadour, 30 minutes to find an intersection with the Tour de France, and then 2 hours return trip to Clermont-Ferrand. As we believed this to be our final day in France we thought it well worth the trip, but I would encourage visitors to make this into a weekend trip, exploring the region further and staying at one of the many gîtes in the area. By the time we arrived back in Clermont the adrenaline from the Tour de France atmosphere had all but dissipated, but the excitement at having witnessed something so essentially French lingered. Weeks later we watched Bradley Wiggins win the gold in the 2012 London Olympic Men’s Individual Time Trial cycling event, and were instantly transported back to that country road. Hundreds of people lining the roads, waiting patiently to witness that sudden whiz of cyclists, bicycles and support vehicles, en route to Tour de France glory. Then in a flash it’s over, and the quiet country road is still once again.

Stage 18, in Cressensac: the stage winner Mark Cavendish is visible in the white team Sky jersey


  1. We recently watched one of the Olympic men's cycle races as it passed near where we live in London, so I know what you mean about a flash... blink and you miss it!

    I didn't know Rocamadour, it looks stunning!

  2. This was one of the first places I ever visited in France before I ever moved to Clermont. It is truly one of my favorite places. I was lucky enough to stay at the hotel right in the middle of Rocamadour, with a balcony overlooking the cliff. It was spectacular. I agree with you, definitely well worth the trip!


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