What better way to spend a warm sunny day than by taking a boat trip on the river Lot from Bouziès to Saint-Cirq Lapopie.
The river Lot is navigable over 75 kilometres between Luzech and Larnagol and meanders over a total distance of 485 km from its source at Mont-Lozère, joining the Garonne at Aiguillon.
For centuries, the Lot was an important river traffic thoroughfare, where barges and flat-bottomed boats up to 25 metres long would carry up to 36 tons each. Gabarots, smaller boats, reached seven metres long.
The stretch of the river between Bouziès to Saint-Cirq Lapopie, however, is arguably one of the most picturesque and interesting parts of the Lot valley with its meandering water course from the Chateaux des Anglais, along the foot of the Rocher de St. Cirq Lapopie past gigantic limestone cliffs which rise up from the river and where a towpath is cut into the rock, a sort of half-tunnel two metres high and about 300 metres in length.
Built in 1845, to avoid accidents due to the treacherous currents, the towpath was used for horses to tow barges or flat-bottomed boats, taking local goods towards Bordeaux. Products would include Cahors wines, dried plums, the production of wood turners and particularly taps for wine barrels.
In 1926, the Lot was downgraded as a navigable river and has been extensively redeveloped for recreational boating since 1990 and around this time Daniel Monnier, an artist from Toulouse, began the now famous bas-relief carving into the side of the towpath.
After navigating the lock at Ganil, we arrive at the village of Saint-Cirq Lapopie which is perched on a cliff 100 m (330 ft) above the river and is not only one of the major beauty spots of the Lot valley, but is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
In the Middle Ages, Saint-Cirq Lapopie was the main town of one of the four viscountcies that made up Quercy. It was divided between four feudal dynasties, the Lapopies, Gourdons, Cardaillacs and Castelnaus. The village was dominated by a fortress made up of a number of castles and towers.
Below the fortress, the village streets lead down to fortified gates. Many historic houses have stone or half-timbered fronts going back to the 13th-16th centuries. The houses are narrow and have steep tiled roofs. The gabled houses fronting on the street are separated by a narrow space called an entremi, which carried away rainwater and waste from sinks and latrines.
Some street names have kept the memory of the crafts that were once the wealth of Saint-Cirq Lapopie. Hide merchants in the Rue de la Pélissaria, metalworkers in the Rue Payrolerie, and boxwood turners, or roubinétaïres, with workshops producing button moulds, trenchers, goblets and spigots for casks.
Many painters came to live and work in Saint-Cirq Lapopie. First the Post-Impressionist Henri Martin, then the Surrealists with the poet André Breton, who said he would not want to live anywhere else.
The Fort of St. Cirq Lapopie, overlooking the village, is also steeped in history. It was the built at the perfect place to prevent invasion and attack. Oldoric, Viscount of St. Cirq, built the first castle here in the tenth century. From the thirteenth century onwards three noble families shared the Fort while constructing the gradiose chateau we see today in the village.
The Lapopie part of the castle was built on the highest part of the rock, known as “le rocher de la Popie”, which was eventually abandoned by the Lords in the sixteenth century.
Although the castle of St. Cirq Lapopie is now a relic of history it is still possible to climb the stairs to the ruin and take in the breathtaking view over Lot valley.