Visits to historical sites
Atelier de la Rose
Place du village
tel : 05 65 24 66 36
cell : 06 87 82 33 18
“...to lovers of beauty, to lovers of history, to those whom the French call people of cultivation, this land has everything to offer. Let them come here, and beauty and history will fill their minds as water fills a spring.”
Freda White, ‘Three Rivers of France’.
From Lascaux to Lautrec, from painted and engraved Paleolithic caves to the foundations of modernism, South-West France is rich in outstanding examples of creative endeavour over 25,000 years.
Culture Quest is the name for Sally’s service of personal, cultural tours or visits to historic sites. This service not only ensures you find the key sites, but also those fascinating and forgotten corners that the casual tourist usually never comes across.
Within easy reach of Montcabrier are medieval chefs-d’oeuvre of the Romanesque at Moissac and Conques, the pilgrim city of Rocamadour, world-famous Paleolithic sites, and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in the heart of Albi. These visits take a full day each. Shorter visits can take you to see the Seven Deadly Sins mural paintings at Martignac, the Valentré Bridge at Cahors, the fabulous 15th-century castle at Bonaguil, sculptor Ossip Zadkine’s museum at Les Arques and the numerous dry-stone cabins called ‘cazelles’ or ‘gariottes’.
Culture Quest often gives you time to explore ancient streets on foot and even to do some shopping. These are indicated in the list below by the phrase “+ walk”.
Prices are per person (3 people max) and include personal guidance, transport and entry fees where appropriate. Larger groups are possible. Meals and refreshments are not included.
1) Montcabrier – a guided walk (20 euros per person); about 2 hours. Montcabrier has a special charm of its own and it is a good introduction to bastides or medieval ‘new towns’. It has survived despite a bitter conflict with the ‘seigneur’ across the valley during the 100 Years War. Sally will tell you the ‘Montcabrier Story’, taking you round the village and its surrounding woodland to reveal some of the features that many tourists might miss: a natural arch, an artificial cave, dry-stone cabins and ramparts.
2) Bonaguil – a drive + visit (100 euros for 1 person; 65 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 2 hours. Lawrence of Arabia said of this building: “It is so perfect that it seems almost ridiculous to call it a ruin.” The tour offers you a chance to explore the mystery of a castle caught between the bright light of the Renaissance and the shadows of earlier times.
3) Prehistory, painted horses and hand prints – a drive + visits to 2 sites + walk (170 euros for 1 person; 100 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 6 hours. The cave at Pech-Merle is known worldwide for the quality of its Paleolithic drawings, paintings and engravings, some of which date back some 30,000 years. The tour includes a brief visit to St. Cirq Lapopie. This prominent site has attracted artists and writers from many lands and has been called “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
4) Cahors and the Valentré bridge – a drive + walk (130 euros for one person; 80 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 4 hours. Explore the old cathedral quarter of this quiet county town and learn the legend of the famous Devil’s Bridge (Le Pont Valentré). The visit is topped off with a bird’s eye view of Cahors. Your return route takes you through the vineyards of the Cahors wine region, with the option of stopping at one of them to taste the local produce and buy a bottle (or two).
5) Seven Deadly Sins mural paintings and the river boatmen’s quarter – a drive + visit to 2 sites + walk; (80 euros for one person; 50 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 2 hours. Discover Puy l’Evêque’s old trading quarter by the river as well as the Seven Deadly Sins mural paintings in a sleepy hilltop hamlet.
6) The Road to Gourdon – a drive + visit to 2 sites + walk (110 euros for one person; 70 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 3 hours. The road that starts in the Thèze valley and continues to Gourdon links a castle, a ruined abbey, traditional farm buildings and an artist’s studio, now a museum. The studio belonged to the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine, who chose this region in preference to his former Paris home. His adopted village, Les Arques, has been made famous by Michael Sander’s book ‘You Can’t See Paris From Here’. Picturesque Gourdon is impressive as you approach it by road and has a panoramic view of 360° from the site where its mighty castle once stood.
7) Medieval ‘New Towns’ – a drive + walk (90 euros for one person; 60 euros each for 2 to 3 people; about 2 hours. This is Sally’s introductory tour of bastide villages. Some are French, others originally English – and each one is different. Here is town planning at its most picturesque… and only some seven centuries old!
8) Moissac – a drive + visit (120 euros for one person; 75 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 4 hours. The tympanum of the abbey church and its cloisters are recognised internationally as a prime example of Romanesque sculpture and, in particular, of the Toulouse school. The route to and from Moissac has been specially chosen to take in interesting countryside and charming villages.
9) Conques and its perfect ‘heaven and hell’ tympanum – a drive + visit (180 euros for one person; 110 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 8 hours. The abbey church at Conques and its collection of reliquaries are unique, having survived many wars and the Revolution. The tympanum attracts visitors from all corners of the planet. Sally has chosen the best approach to reveal the site, nestling in the Aveyron hills.
10) Toulouse-Lautrec – a drive + visit to 3 sites (180 euros for one person; 120 euros for 2 to 3 people); about 7 hours. Set in the former bishop’s palace, the museum has the most extensive Toulouse-Lautrec collection in the world. It is next to the imposing pink brick cathedral, built to reassert the power of the Roman Catholic Church after the defeat of the alleged heresy known as “Albigensian” or “Cathar”. This itinerary also allows time to stop at two medieval villages of great architectural interest.
11) Rocamadour and the Black Virgin – a drive + visit to 2 sites + walk (140 euros for one person; 90 euros each for 2 to 3 people); about 5 hours. Rocamadour is a spectacular pilgrim city where medieval kings came to do penance. You will also see the Black Virgin and visit a nearby fortified 13th century mill that is still working.