The “Lot”, a bewitching French department (Part two) – Meanderings through France n° 186
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
After last week discovery of Rocamadour and the L’Ouysse Valley let’s go back to beautiful Lot and wander along its charming small roads. Our route will take us today to the chateau of an opera singer, to three of France’s most beautiful villages and to a great restaurant set in a tiny village of a remote countryside area.
Carennac, a jewel of the Dordogne Valley
Partly destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War Carennac village was rebuilt during the Renaissance and its architecture is a successful mix of both medieval and Gothic styles. Carennac’s history really began with the building of a priory in the 11th century of which we can still admire today the Romanesque Saint-Pierre Church and its impressive tympanum depicting a symbolic vision of the End of Days.
Next to the church the beautiful cloisters still has one medieval side while the three others were rebuilt in the 15th century the pure French Gothic style. Close by Carennac castle stands proudly on top of a steep slope overlooking the Dordogne Valley. It was first built for the Abbot of the priory and now is a museum where superb 17th century painted walls and ceilings can still be seen.
This castle probably is the most impressive medieval fortress of the area and you will see its huge silhouette on top of a hill from far away. With its high ramparts and nine towers built with local red stones it really looks indestructible. If its walls could speak no doubt that they would have a lot to tell! Founded in the 12th century it took an active role in the Hundred Years’ War. The Castelnau family turned it into a more comfortable residence when the conflict was over. Mullioned windows were created allowing floods of light in the former dark rooms and a rich decoration brightened up the reception halls. When the last Castelnau died in 1715 the chateau was abandoned and started to fall into ruin. In 1851 a big fire destroyed the last remains of the apartments.
Charmed by these romantic ruins a famous opera singer of his time Jean Mouliérat, bought the chateau in1896 and put all his energy and money to restore it. A lifetime achievement! Today guided tours allow us to discover Jean Moulierat’s apartments decorated in a neo-Gothic style that was so fashionable in the late 19th century.
Loubressac village, another gem of the Dordogne Valley
Discovering Loubressac in the sunset light is a memorable show. This medieval village also perched on top of a hill was built with local sandstones of different colours that give it a unique and fascinating appearance. Its small cobbled streets, stone houses with mullioned windows, balconies, outside staircases and small courtyards are full of charm. The visit ends near the village’s castle, a private property that is not open to the public, to get a wonderful view of the surrounding panorama once described as the most beautiful one of the whole region.
Nestled in a natural cirque looking like a green haven Autoire well deserves its “France Most Beautiful Village” label. With their typical Quercy architecture its houses are truly superb. Dark pitched roofs, light ochre half-timbered façades, turrets, dovecotes, manors, castles, the fountain ornate with bronze dolphins, the fortified church all gathered in just one small village is quite amazing. Autoire even has its iconic dessert called the “Malakoff”, a floating island cooked in liquid caramel. There really is something for every taste in Autoire!
“Au Déjeuner de Sousceyrac”, an unpretentious restaurant for a 1-star cuisine!
This hotel and restaurant has been at the heart of this small village’s life for over a century. Unlike its stern looking stone façade would make you imagine this restaurant is a warm and welcoming place. Mr and Mrs Lagnès know what hospitality means and you will have a wonderful meal with a not less wonderful value for money.
After working at the “Ritz” and the “Tour d’Argent”, Patrick Lagnès came to Sousceyrac to passionately cook local products, reinventing local recipes with a touch of magic. Foie gras meats seafood, duckling perfectly matches with chestnut honey, an apricot crémeux melts in chocolate… each dish is a culinary marvel and you’ll live the place making yourself the promise to come back. Patrick Lagnès has rightfully earned his first Michelin star in 2008 and kept it ever since. A well deserved recognition!
More and practical information about Lot: www.tourisme-lot.com/en
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes