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Cahors

C
ahors presents an attractive day trip or detour with its medieval center and surrounding vineyards. Take a themed walk or quiet donkey cart ride and let the historic Valentré 'devil's' bridge tell its classic Faustian tale. Explore the architecture, secret gardens and St. Etienne cathedral in the old town. Or hop on a bus and explore the vineyards, chateaux and villages along the river Lot.


Cahors was the capital of pre-revolution Quercy and now of the Lot département. Founded by the Romans, Nostradamus studied here, and while in Cahors make sure you sample some of the famous 'black wines of Cahors', you will be drinking history. Produced from Malbec grapes grown along the river Lot since Roman times, it made its way to the court of the Russian Czars.

Detourism or Day tripping


Arriving at the train station of Cahors, less than an hour from Brive, you can take a bus to explore the vineyards (see below) or walk into town. The train station is located in the 'modern' part of town and you have the option to follow the indicators to the tourist office to get to the old town, or walk to the close by Valentré bridge.



Around the Valentré bridge


The Valentré Bridge (1)
Icon of Cahors this 700 years old bridge was classified historic monument in 1840. The construction started in 1308 and finished by 1385. It is the best preserved example of a 'military architecture' bridge in France. The defensive system is based on 5 gates under 3 towers and 2 gatehouses. What catches the eye is the lack of machicoulis on the central tower. This is the subject of the Faustian tale:


Legend has it that the architect had to overcome great technical difficulties, so much so he called-in (or accepted) the help of the devil. In return for his soul, the devil assisted in the drawing and construction of the bridge on the agreement that the architect's soul would be his upon completion... The bridge was however never 'completed' … the devil being a bad loser attacked the central tower.

In 1879 a sculpture of the devil was added to the central tower as a reference to the legend. The statue is still there today.



La Fontaine des Chartreux (3)
The birthplace of Cahors, the Fontaine des Chartreux (a large natural well where an underground river comes to the surface), was a holy site dedicated to the Celtic goddess of water: Divona. Archaeological research brought to the surface roman coins dating back to the first centuries before and after Christ (yes, that strange habit of throwing coins into fountains goes way-back).


The Roman's decision to founded Divona Cadurcorum (see section on roman heritage) next to it was a typical decision based on the Roman worldview, as it was for the Christian order of the Chaterhouse to build their monastery right on top of it, that is how it got its current name. Since 1853 it has been supplying Cahors with drinking water, first through the pumping station now known as the Maison de l'eau (see below), and since 1926 through the electric pumps installed in the little building next to the well.



La Maison de l'eau (2)
The former pumping station was constructed in 1853 and doubled in size in 1869 to supply Cahors with drinking water from the Fontaine des Chartreux. After the installation of the electric pump it became redundant and was finally abandoned in 1971. Now this piece of industrial heritage is open to the public showcasing some of the cast-iron machinery that takes you back to the age of steam.


The space was renovated to provide space for an exhibition showcasing the history of the water supply, and an exhibition on 'Toilettes & Hygiène' from antiquity to modern times. It is somehow amazing how the French seem to always find an excuse to exhibit paintings of female nudity and orientalist imagery through the ages...



Donkey carriage rides
To discover the medieval district of Cahors through a 1h15 carriage ride pulled by lovely donkeys. Be surprised by the beauty of the historic streets of Cahors, at the donkey's pace. Rides start from the Parking des Soupirs a 100 meters to the south of the Pont de Valentré (500 meter from the station). Departure times: 11h00, 13h30, 15h00, 16h30 and 18h00.



From the bridge, turn right and find a small park from where you can reach the old town through Rue R. Sindou - Rue des Capucins - past the hospital a water feature will guide you to the square with the underground Parking de l'amphitheatre with the tourist office and the Villa Cahors Malbec to the left of the Gambetta statue and fountain.

The old town of Cahors


Medieval town
This is the main attraction of Cahors, the old town can be found between the Boulevard Léon Gambetta on the west and the river Lot on the east. Its moat, wall and gates disappeared under the boulevard, but for the rest the original structure of small streets, alleys and courtyards has been well preserved. A program of restoration has been ongoing and some buildings stand out, but much remains a bit raw and to be discovered.


Worth special mention are the Jean XXII tower (5), Chateau de Roi, Maison de la Rue Daurade and the Olivier-de-Magny square. The Saint-Etienne cathedral (6) has a shrine dedicated to St. Perboyre who after 4 years in Macau crossed into China in 1839. Despite his disguise, he was arrested, tortured and put to death on a cross by the Qing authorities in 1840. When visiting the cathedral look-up to admire the round decorated dooms and make sure not to miss the cloister on the right towards the back. Towards the river you find the Hôtel de Roaldès (also know as Maison Henry IV), Maison de Patrimoine, and the Hôtel de ville.



La Villa Cahors Malbec (7)
Although there are plenty of restaurants, bars, terraces and shops where you can buy and sample Cahors wines around town. This visitor information and wine tasting center next to the tourist office invites the visitor to discover all about the wonderful wines of Cahors and their history. Run jointly by the Tourist Office and the Union of Cahors Wine Professionals it offers wine tasting and background information.



Roman heritage
Cahors was founded by the Romans, who named it Divona Cadurcorum, at the time occupying most of the peninsula. As in so many places, much of the Roman buildings were 'cannibalized' after the fall of the empire. Today very little dating to roman times is visible; the Arc de Diane (9) stands a bit lost in the modern section of today's town, the ruins of the Roman amphitheater (7) can be found (and visited) in the underground car park next to the tourist office, entrance at the back of the Gambetta statue.


Interesting to note is that construction work in 1953 revealed the fundaments of the thermal baths dating back to the first or second century. This was part of a larger infrastructure including an aqueduct which brought drinking water to the city. Starting from the oppodium of Murcens 18 km north, following a 33 km trajectory including tunnels, arched bridges and in other places hacked in the cliff-sides. Parts of the structure have been excavated and are now protected as historic monuments, none of it is visible inside the city.



The ramparts
The city of Cahors has a clear medieval old town still recognizable today. The wall, moat and gates that ones protected this part have been demolished to make space for the Boulevard Léon Gambetta. A second (or first line of) defense has however been largely preserved. These ramparts run from the river on west to the river on east of the peninsula, that way creating an island protected largely by the river, and the wall. The ramparts date back to the 7th century and were reconstructed and improved upon in the 12th and 14th. On the eastern side the Barbacane and the St.-Jean (or hanging) tower (4) form an interesting cluster of buildings. Enclosed you will find the Closelet des Croisades garden with plants that were brought back from the middle east like the Rose of Damascus, Myrtle, Agapanthus and peach.



The Secret Gardens of Cahors
Explore these 30 little gardens with their evocative names: The Garden of Inebriation, the Little Garden of the Poor Clares, the Garden of the Ladies of Cahors... etc. The Jardin de la Sorcière et du Dragon (the Garden of the Witch and the Dragon) is an enclosed garden with plants connected to sorcery and witchcraft. Get a free map from the tourism office.


Exploring the vineyards of Cahors


The wine of Cahors

Prestigious with centuries old tradition, cultivation was introduced under the roman empire, and the wine featured on the wedding banket table in 1152 when Alenore d'Aquitaine married the future king of England. But as emperor Domitien had done to protect Italian wines, in 1373 the Guyenne 'highland' wines (notably Cahors) received extra taxation to protect the Gironde wines (Bordeaux).


Production peaked in 1870 with 40-60.000 ha before phylloxera destroyed the vineyards. By 1947 the Malbec grape was reintroduced for Argentine stock to the community of Parnac. Although the appelation Cahors (AOC since 1971) only produces one type of wine, and the wine is centered around a single grape variety, there are distinct differences in soil and hence the terroir and characteristic of the wine. The Malbec grape; also known as Côt, locally known as Auxerrois or around the world just as Cahors (still popular in Russia, but today grown on the Crimea).

The majority is grown on the old alluvial soils (up to 200,000 years old) of the terraces and relief above the river Lot, whereas there is also wine produced closer to the river where soils are still being deposited (or less than 20,000 years old), as well as higher up the slopes of the cause. Vines in the valley of the Lot produce more grapes that make a lighter vin de rivière; ready to drink in 2 to 3 years. The vines on the terraces produce the classic dark velvet Cahors wines that age over 4-5 years (the first three years on the barrel). The calcium rich red clay of the cause (500,000 to a million years old) produces a very strong wine so rich in tannins it takes about 10 years to lose its 'fire'. Cahors wines have a minimum 70% Malbec with some Merlot (for fruit, alcohol and rondeur), Tannat (to improve colour and aging).



By public transport

The vineyards are located outside the city of Cahors, and most tourists would drive their own car to visit the chateaux. Alternatively you can use bus line 913 (Cahors to Monsempron Libos) which leaves from the Cahors train station and passes: Douelle, Parbac, Luzech, Albas, Castelfranc, and Puy-l'Evêque. These places have vineyards located along the river, which makes for a nice hike if the weather allows. For the real enthusiasts there is a Departmental farm in Anlars-Juillac, an experimental/research farm that houses the mother plants of the Malbec variety.


Cruise on the Lot

There are 'full day cruises' on Fridays in July and August with lunch onboard, passing through locks and than transfer to a coach to visit the Chateau de Cayx, Queen Margareth II of Denmark's holiday home, tasting their wines and the option to visit her castle and gardens (that is, if the Queen's not in). Return to Cahors by bus, after a wonderful day. Reservations obligatory.



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