Rocamadour is classed as a Unesco world heritage site and receives around 1.5 million visitors per year. Hanging onto the cliff, in the deep and abrupt canyon of the Alzou river, the spectacular setting is hard to beat.
A primitive chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary existed here in the 10th century, built under the shelter of the cliff. In the middle of the 12th century a miracle was announced and this drew many pilgrims to the site, their donations financing the construction of more chapels. Henry II, king of England, came in 1159 when Rocamadour was well-known throughout Europe. The discovery in 1166 of an intact body, presented as that of Saint Amadour, firmly established Rocamadour as a place of pilgrimage and worship.
But the place went into decline during the 14th century. Later, in the 16th century, the sanctuary and its relics were badly damaged during the Wars of Religion, and then once more during the Revolution. The pilgrimage to Rocamadour restarted only in the mid 19th century when the town was restored and religious buildings constructed.
The village is beautiful, but the centuries-old flow of religious pilgrims has in modern times been augmented by more secular-minded visitors, so now in summer the houses of the main street transform into gift shops, fast food outlets and restaurants.
Go early in the day, and always avoid the heat and the tourists of mid-day in summer. Or visit at night when all have departed. Find a terrace with a view of the sunset and sip your aperos, enjoying the magical view of this amazing place.
Near the château, visit the Rocher des Aigles, a breeding centre for birds of prey – with superb demonstrations of the birds in flight – and also the Forêt des Singes where more than a hundred Barbary apes roam the plateau in freedom, while visitors must stick to the paths.
There is an excellent walk upstream in the valley of the Alzou, passing a number of ruined watermills, culminating in the hair-raising (in wet weather) moulin du Saut. Downstream towards Lacave there is a good walk to the gouffres of Cabouy and Saint Sauveur where the river Ouysse re-emerges and, a little further on, the charming medieval, fortified moulin de Cougnaguet which can be visited between April and mid-October.
Location: 10 minutes drive from Gramat, in a superb setting.