Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
If on holidays in the Midi-Pyrénées region or on your way to Santiago de Compostella between Figeac and Cahors don’t miss to visit this impressive yet charming village. Perched on a 100 m high cliff overlooking the river Lot it is absolutely impossible not to feel attracted by this small and unspoiled village. If some people call it a “museum-village” because of its well preserved Middle-Ages houses and thousands of visitors its 200 inhabitants will tell you another story made with real people who don’t feel like living in an amusement park!
From Cahors it’s only a 30 km drive to get to Saint Cirq Lapopie. Actually the “q” at the end of Cirq is a silent letter and the word is to be pronounced like “seer” and even expert linguists don’t really know why this “q” was added to the original Saint Cir! The village was named after Saint Cyr a 3 years old child who was killed with his mother Saint Julitte during the Roman persecutions against the Christians in the 4th century in Asia Minor. The relics of Saint Cyr were venerated in the church of the village. The original Romanesque church was replaced by a Gothic one where a stained-glass window showing the mother and her child can still be seen today.
On the road from Cahors you will be able to see four “Chateaux des Anglais”. Those “English Castles” are fortifications built during the 11th and 12th centuries in the cliff to give shelters to local people when their villages were attacked by groups of bandits or foreign armies. They were still in used during the Hundred Years’ War and bore that name since then. From bend to bend along the road the village slowly reveals itself stretching on top of the cliff beetling the River Lot: time to get your camera at hand!
After leaving your car in one of the car parks at the entrance of the village get ready to walk up and down the narrow and twisting pedestrian streets. Along the centuries several aristocratic families lived in Saint Cirq Lapopie in castles or fortified houses until late 15th century when they were abandoned and used as “stone quarries” by the villagers to build their own houses. You will see many sculpted stones or mullioned windows adorning humble homes. You can still climb the rock where the castles were built and get a wonderful view over the village and its steeps flat tiled roofs and the Lot below with its mills, its locks and its towpath.
During the 20th century many artists came to live in Saint Cirq Lapopie. In the 1950’s André Breton Leader of the Surrealism Movement bought a house in the village and many of his friends came to visit him. Earlier Pierre Daura a Catalan painter lived in the village from 1930 till 1939 and restored a block of houses that are still dedicated to art and put up artists who can create in complete tranquillity. These houses are open to the public for special exhibitions during the summer. There are still eleven artists who live in Saint Cirq Lapopie year-round and you can spot their houses by the red flag hanging from their roof. Don’t hesitate to go in their ‘gallery-house’ to discover their work.
In the Rignault museum you will be able to visit a typical local house with its original furniture. Emile Joseph Rignault was a 20th century art collector and he bequeathed his house and collections to the village. The house garden is a quiet and lovely place from where, once again, you’ll get a beautiful view over the countryside.
Since the Middle Ages craftsmen live in Saint Cirq Lapopie: skinners, potters as well as wood turners and woodcarvers where renowned. At the beginning of the 19th century there were at least 38 wood turners making mostly taps for barrels of wine. These taps were very popular among wine makers in Bordeaux and they were carried by boat along the Lot and the Garonne to this famous vineyards area. Nowadays there is still one woodcarver working in the village named Patrick Vinel, don’t miss to visit his shop where the Vinel family works for five generations. The small medieval shops with their arched windows are still used by many craftsmen: potters, craftsman in wrought iron, carpenters, a blacksmith, jewels or hats makers keep alive these village activities.
Every Wednesday afternoon from 4 pm till 8 pm in summertime, a market takes place on the main square of the village. It’s a great opportunity to discover and taste local produce: truffles, foie gras, cheeses such as the Cabecou a creamy goat milk cheese, wines from the Cahors area, saffron and even a local beer! Make your choice.
The Cenevieres Castle is only 6 km from Saint Cirq Lapopie and is worth seeing. The 81 years old Marquis de Braquilanges will be happy to take you on a guided tour of his castle perched on the cliff surrounded by a loop of the river. In the Medieval part of the castle you will visit the dungeon, the kitchens, the prisons, the chapel. You will continue your visit in the Renaissance part of the castle with its gallery adorned with frescoes, its big living room with its colourful ceiling, the alchemy room and the bedrooms. And of course the large terraces overlooking the valley of the Lot are not to be missed.
For more information: www.saint-cirqlapopie.com/patrimoine
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny