Les Eyzies à Cahors
An eight day walk through
Aquitaine - land of rivers
This walk crosses the area known as Périgord/Quercy and passes through the centre of old
Aquitaine. The area is now loosely known as "the Dordogne".
The walk follows the GR 36 and visits some of the prettiest and best preserved bastides, not all
of which are on the most frequented tourist routes. It also introduces the walker to two of the
loveliest rivers in France - the Dordogne and the Lot and their tributaries.
Here in its middle reaches, the Dordogne flows between castles, bastides, limestone cliffs and
hillsides. It was, from ancient times an important transport route, accounting for the riverside
development. The Vézère flows from the north east, through Les Eyzies to join the Dordogne a
few kilometres west of St Cyprien.
The Lot, in these lower reaches between Cahors and its confluence with the Garonne, follows a
winding route often with very deep loops such as at Luzech and Puy l'Evêque. These are
known as cingles. The Lot has come all the way from its source in the causse country of the
Cevennes where it is known as the Olt, picking up along the way the Truyère at Entraygues
and the Célé just upstream of Cahors.
It was May 1991 when we did this walk, still quite cold and very wet. Rainy weather may in fact
be a characteristic of May. Another is the number of public holidays in the month.
Access is straight forward - a fast train from Paris to Périgueux and a local train to Les Eyzies.
Les Eyzies, where the walk begins, is
well known as a centre of prehistory
although exploration, excavation and
historical interpretation of prehistoric sites
only began in the 1860's. Since that time
the discoveries in the valley of the Vézère
have greatly increased the world's
knowledge and interest in prehistoric
times. Most of the caves and shelters at
Les Eyzies are open for viewing by the
public and they are extremely popular.
In late medieval times England owned
this area, which caused centuries of war
with France. The upside of that period is
the architectural and cultural legacy that
was left. There are many picturesque
bastides built during the 12th and 13th
centuries, some English, some French
and some that changed allegiance over
the years of fighting. Even more recently,
the region has become a popular holiday
destination for the English, and many
maintain holiday homes in the villages
Périgeux and Les Eyzies
Staying overnight in Périgueux we found a hotel conveniently close
to the station. It had small basic rooms but there was a cheery and
As it was Sunday, most things were closed. Nevertheless
Périgueux is a very fine town to explore. The old quarter is a
fascinating jumble of streets and staircases, lined with interesting
old buildings. The two towered cathedral, St Front, is an imposing
building in an oriental style but, to some tastes, over embellished
with successive restorations. The cathedral square was a perfect
place to sip a glass of rosé and watch French holiday makers
enjoying the first warm days of spring.
An early start for les Eyzies was necessary to be sure of bookings
for cave inspections as, even in May, all inspections were heavily
booked. The 7.13 train ran along in the mist through budding green
forests and arrived in Les Eyzies at 7.45.
The town is a few kilometres from the station at the confluence of
the Vézère and Beune Rivers in a gorgeous valley between huge
limestone cliffs. On the way into the town is the very grand Hotel
Cro Magnon, but there are several others in the town, including the
Hotel des Falaises, which offered a lovely room at the back of the
hotel with a view of the garden, an attractive arched bridge over the
river and distant cliffs.
Those visiting Les Eyzies today would be well advised to make advance bookings for the
caves over the internet. Tours are very limited and depart at set times throughout the day.
We made two tours. In the morning was the Font de Gaume cave with wonderfully clear,
sensitive paintings, mostly of animals. Reindeer and bison were the star attractions. In the
afternoon, in a small group of five, we visited Les Combarelles. Here there were engravings,
some quite indistinct and superimposed over each other - horses, deer, bison, a lion, donkey,
bear and woolly rhinoceros. Both were quite awe inspiring.
Above the town there is an excavated shelter where relics from eleven different prehistoric
periods have been found, including artefacts, bones, tools etc and skeletons. A little museum
next door has well organised displays of all the finds. There is also the large and very
comprehensive National Museum of Prehistory.
The town itself was very busy. Being school holidays, there were many families around. It was
also market day with stalls all along the narrow main street doing good business. Bergerac
wine was being sold from the back of a truck and a lunchtime picnic by the river was a good
opportunity to try a bottle.
The Hotel des Falaises didn't do dinner but one of the others offered confit de canard, a menu
staple in this part of France but always delicious. Walking home under the floodlit cliffs the
sensation was both eerie and magical.
Day 1. Les Eyzies to St Cyprien - 10 km
Day 2. St Cyprien to Belvès - 16 km
Day 3. Belvès to Montferrand - 14 km
Day 4. Montferrand to Monpazier - 15.5 km
Day 5. Monpazier to Lacapelle Biron - 12 km
Day 6. Lacapelle Biron to Duravel - 27 km
Day 7. Duravel to Prayssac - 11 km
Day 8. Prayssac to Douelle - 17.5 km
Day 9. Douelle to Cahors - 7 km
Les Eyzies to St Cyprien
The first day of walking - and it was wet. The GR was a stony path climbing out of Les Eyzies, first
alongside the cliffs, then though woods and forests and occasionally through farmland and
alongside vineyards. In the forests, logs had been chopped and stacked by the side of the road
and, once, there was a glimpse of some deer.
It was not a day for lingering picnics - some bread
in a woodshed on the edge of a hamlet called
Pechboutier sufficed. In mid afternoon St Cyprien
was a welcome sight for two very wet walkers.
St Cyprien offered the choice of a several hotels.
We chose a small establishment, newish and run
by two young men escaping the rat race of Paris and trying hard to establish themselves. They
still had some way to go. A cranky boiler in the bathroom was causing unpredictable problems
and catering for guests who may or may not arrive seemed to present a challenge.
Dinner was consequently very simple - tomato soup, grated carrot, baked beans and a pork
chop - but with everything given French titles and flair it became quite stylish. Soupe du jour,
Crudités, Côtelet de Porc. A good comment by way of apology from one of our hosts as he
served the carrot and baked beans was - "After all, crudités are only crudités".
St Cyprien is charming small medieval town with a huge 12th century church and steep
winding streets with houses all squeezed in at odd angles. It looks quite affluent. The shops
display big jars of confit de canard and Bergerac wine.
recommended a hotel in
Belvès and rang ahead
to make a booking.
St Cyprien to Belvès
Wet again. In spite of this the first hour or so was a very agreeable
walk along the Dordogne to Allas les Mines. The river here was wide
and still and its banks were lined with trees jumping into their new
spring growth. The track then climbed to join up with a network of
minor roads running through woods, high above the valley and with
extensive views. By then it was again raining steadily.
A little borie (stone shelter built by shepherds) provided shelter for
lunch and some weak sunshine emerged from the clouds.
After lunch the GR signs led to a muddy field and disappeared.
Thick red clay clinging to boots, we improvised a route till we
found the signs again and aimed for the distant view of Belvès.
From high on a hill, it appeared more as an illusion as the GR
went right round and around and approached the town from
A bus shelter offered some relief while the rain bucketed down.
This was supposed to be only a 16 km day but it actually took
from 9.30 to 5.00
The Hotel "le Home" lived up to its name and was strategically
placed right on the GR route in the main square of the old town.
We squelched apologetically into a large comfortable room,
leaving muddy footprints everywhere.
The boots promptly
went into the basin for
a wash. Dry clothes
raised morale and
after a beer in a bar
across the road it was
time for dinner in the
This was a wonderful meal - potage, entrée, gigot
d'agneau, salad, cheese and desert (an amazing
frozen orange filled with lemon sorbet). The other
diners included several English groups (this is the
heart of English occupied Dordogne) and a young
French couple (she possibly a former employee
come to dinner with a new husband). There were
no other guests in the hotel.
La patronne, when not attending to hotel
business, spent her time intently stitching
tapestries of rural scenes. This must have been a
long term passion as framed tapestries were hung
throughout the hotel.
Belvès to Montferrand
Belvès is a gem - an English bastide with a covered market, impressive ramparts and narrow
streets lined with very old buildings, mostly used as residences. Pots of red geraniums
brightened up the monotonal colours of the stone buildings. An idea emerged that keen
photographers should carry round a pot of red geraniums to provide instant colour interest.
A sign in estate agent's window proudly advertised - "We speak English - it's only natural" - we
wondered which period of English occupation this might refer to.
Although very cold, it was not raining, so it was a good mornings
walk, through a huge forest which was being alternatively logged and
reforested. Nailed to trees alongside the track were signs warning
"Chasse Interdit" and "Chasse Reservé". Some more deer, survivors
of la chasse, appeared briefly. Hopefully they will survive les
chasseurs . A pile of logs was the driest place for lunch and then it
was a pleasant walk down a leafy forest track to Montferrand.
Just outside the town of Montferrand was Lou Peyrolle, a welcoming
Logis de France hotel. A "chamber économique" had a lovely view up
to the village. Again we were the only guests but would have missed
out the previous night as a group of walkers, tired of camping in the
rain, had booked out the hotel.
The little town seemed to be almost deserted. It clusters round a 12th
century castle with most houses closed up with shutters tightly
locked. There was not much shopping choice. In a tiny épicerie with
shelves going up to the ceiling an obliging old lady found some Dutch
cheese and a bottle of wine. Together we examined some things in
tins to check the use-by date and, on her recommendation, rejected
them. Bread comes on Saturday - today was Thursday.
The hotel provided an excellent meal, spiced with snippets of
information from the owners, an elderly couple, and their daughter.
Monsieur and Madame sat by a fire in the kitchen while their
daughter brought dinner. Questions would be relayed to them and
occasionally one or the other would venture out to inspect these
Apparently there are no abandoned or vacant houses in the village -
local people go to Paris to work but keep the houses for holidays.
Lou Peyrolle is Occitan for a big iron pot a fine example of which, in
fact, rests in the fireplace.
Montferrand to Monpazier
Madame packed a delicious picnic lunch - sausage and cheese
wedged between big slabs of crusty bread.
For the first time on this walk it was a fine day and our sunhats came
out of the packs. This proved to be over-optimistic as the day then got
progressively colder. The walking was again great, hardly any roads
at all, just forests and leafy paths. The forests were being mercilessly
logged - some fast growing tree that withstands chopping down every
couple of years. The main disadvantage of this for walkers is that the
GR signs disappear with the firewood.
Although the weather can be variable in spring it is a wonderful time
to walk. There are spring flowers and new growth emerging
everywhere. The trees are either covered in leafbuds or bright green
new foliage. Across the countryside the fields are being ploughed and
vegie gardens made ready for planting. The early flowers in gardens
have finished but in the countryside primroses, orchids, poppies and
daisies are flowering along the roadside.
Monpazier was tonight's stop and the Hotel de France looked ideal, nestling under the
colonnade of the market square. It was a simple, traditional hotel with big old fashioned
rooms and a restaurant. For once the hotel was fully booked - a group of horse riders had
also made this an overnight stop. The restaurant also full and busy offering a good value
menu. The equestrian group, in particular, were having a great time.
Monpazier is the best preserved of the Périgord bastides. The main square is colonnaded on
all sides, with a covered market in the centre. The narrow streets throughout the town are
laid out in the traditional grid pattern.
It was very cold.
Monpazier to Lacapelle Biron
The morning was fine and crisp but the day
became progressively colder and wetter. It
was easy walking through fields and forests
to Biron castle where we caught up with the
horse riders for an 11.00am inspection of
Dating from the 11th century the chateau is
an enormous place. Now owned by the local
Département, restoration is recreating many
of the original features, particularly the
gigantic kitchens which are really
impressive. From the huge rooms on the
upper floors there are stunning views over
the rooftops towards the surrounding
On the track again, it began raining quite steadily.
A well placed farm shed provided shelter for lunch,
surrounded by old cart wheels and timber. Then it
was on to La Cappelle Biron which we reached by
3.00 only to discover that there were no hotel
rooms available. There was instead a big gîte
d'étape down the road and an apparently highly
reputed restaurant in the other direction.
Fellow guests in the gîte were a French couple -
amateur paleontologists who were exploring some
of the fields and quarries in the area. They were
very wet and muddy.
It was indeed a good restaurant and an excellent dinner came to a suitable finale with a very
fine Armagnac and the return to town of the local Rugby team which had today beaten a
neighbouring rival. The Rugby team celebrated long into the night and, in the early hours of the
morning, the silence was again broken by a procession winding through the town, led by an
accordion playing a haunting little folk tune.
Limestone cliff - les Eyzies
Les Eyzies village
Market - les Eyzies
From the hotel window
St Cyprien - wet day begins
Along the Dordogne - wet day continues
Lunch at the borie
Farm near Montferrand
Covered market - Monpazier
Central square- Monpazier
Walking in the wet
View from Biron castle
View of Biron castle
Lacapelle Biron to Duravel
A long, long day.
We were up and away early in the hope of finding some form of
transport along the way. Tentative attempts to find a taxi in Lacapelle
Biron were unsuccessful but there were hopes of other opportunities.
At the very least we hoped for an occasional coffee stop.
It poured with rain for most of the morning. St Front was a pretty town
but offered no transport and no coffee. So, on to Bonaguil castle, via
some improvised short cuts taken along the sealed roads. Bonaguil
is a knockout - a great towering castle, now in ruins, but built to be
an impregnable fortress. It was, in fact, never attacked and remained
intact until the Revolution.
A break in the rain made it possible to have a picnic lunch admiring the castle. Optimistic hopes
for a bus here were dashed, so we continued on the GR, climbing out of town along a narrow
pathway that had great views back to the castle.
St Martin de Redon followed and still no coffee. So, after 4 km we reached Duravel, an attractive
town with an 11th century church and very old houses. This is now the valley of the Lot and the
Bergerac wine is replaced by that of Cahors.
The only hotel in Duravel was an auberge run by an Englishwoman and constructed in the style of
a badly designed Australian motel with little rooms entirely lacking in character.
Even more disastrous, after the long wet day, there was no hot water to sooth the pain of tired,
sore legs. Dinner was expensive and not particularly interesting. Fellow diners were a German
couple and two tables of very English people who talked loudly and endlessly about their real
estate and who had recommended the hotel to them. We pretended to be French.
Duravel to Prayssac
The water was still cold and the proprietor very embarrassed - "un catastrophe", she said. She
took F50 off the bill but it didn't really compensate.
It was a misty morning, but the rain held off for about an hour. After
a coffee in Puy l'Evêque some other randonneurs appeared, also
struggling along in the rain. A pretty stretch along the Lot was
followed by some ups and downs in the hills at the edge of the
valley. Along this stretch, apparently in the middle of nowhere, was
a notice board with the Council minutes pinned to it. They appeared
to deal with the usual roads, rates and rubbish.
At Prayssac, lunch in the bar of a small local hotel - a bowl of soup
and pichet of rosé - was so good, and the weather so bad, that we
decided to stay the night. This is a real town, rather than one for
tourists. All the houses were neat and well kept with pretty flower
gardens and prolific vegetable patches. This became an afternoon to
enjoy a well earned rest and retire to the bar to observe the locals till
it was time for dinner.
The hotel was run by a very young couple. She, Sylvie, sat in the
bar all day doing jigsaw puzzles. Like the tapestries of la patronne
at Belvès, they then get framed and hung on the walls. He,
Jean-Maurice, knew all about Australia, kangaroos (Skippee) and
rugby (his hero was Serge Blanco). Dinner was punctuated with
discussions about kangaroos and the topics of the moment, the
Rugby World Cup and the America's Cup
Prayssac to Douelle
It seemed appropriate to give le patron a little furry kangaroo carrying
a hastily made banner with a prediction for the World Cup 1991
(France 25/Australia 26). He seemed quite pleased and put it on the
bar as a talking point. (In fact Australia won, France came nowhere.)
The morning's walk was exhilarating - climbing up steep hills from the
river, then taking in wide views over the valley. There was a dolmen at
an archaeological site called l'Impernal (a celtic/Roman/Barbarian
settlement) but to inexpert eyes there seemed only to be piles of
Then a slippery track led down to Luzech and its donjon. This is a
river town, squashed into a bend in the river with narrow little narrow
little streets and alleys running down to the river.
There was just time to buy lunch things before the midday whistle
blew and the shops closed. After taking a short cut to bypass a big
loop in the river we rejoined the track and climbed again to find a spot
among the juniper berries for lunch. Here there was active
recultivation of land for grapes and some fields where old vines have
been allowed to die.
A long steep descent to Douelle led us to the only hotel in town
with another old fashioned room, bathroom and lots of hot water.
Dinner was in the hotel's cave-like restaurant where the patron took
much pride in cooking things over an open fire. The wine list was
amazing, including about 20 pages of Cahors wine.
The most important thing about that day was that it didn't rain.
Douelle to Cahors
It was just a two hours walk across a long and pretty plateau to
Cahors and a triumphant, exhilarating walk across the wonderful
Possibly the prettiest bridge in the world, the Pont Valentré was one
of three that once spanned the Lot at Cahors. Sadly, the city fathers
saw fit to demolish the others, in 1868 and 1907, and replace them
with new cast iron constructions.
Replacing an even earlier Roman bridge le Pont Valentré was built
early in the 14th century to defend the city. Its three slim fortified
towers and six great Gothic arches separated by pointed spurs
contribute to a superb example of mediaeval defensive architecture-
even more so when a mirror image is reflected in the water below.
Legend relates the Devil to the construction. Apparently work was
progressing so slowly that the architect promised his soul to the Devil
in exchange for his help. But as completion neared he tried to trick
the Devil out of the deal. The Devil took revenge, each night removing
the top stone of the central tower.
When the bridge was restored in 1879, that architect made no
promises and played no tricks. Instead he had a little devil carved on
the top of the central tower.
Just near the station we found the Hotel Terminus, with lovely rooms
and an excellent restaurant. We had a celebratory end-of-walk dinner
here and spent some time looking around.
Le Lot near Puy l'Evêque
Luzech and le Lot
Quercy farmland with iris
Le Pont Valentré at Cahors
The Wines of Cahors
The "black wines" of Cahors, so called
because of their dark colour and long life,
have an illustrious history.
The first written record is from the reign of
the Roman emperor Domitian in 96AD. Later
they were very popular in England, exported
there even before Bordeaux appeared on a
map. Over time Bordeaux wines developed a
stranglehold of over those from Cahors as
the port of Bordeaux heavily taxed
The Russian Orthodox church adopted
Cahors wine as its Communion wine and it
is said that Tsar Peter the Great treated his
delicate stomach with this great black wine.
After a gradual decline and the phylloxera
outbreak in the late 19th century, frosts in
1956 were the final disaster. In 1962 there
were only 500 acres of vineyards. A
resurgence came as tenacious winemakers
sought out the original malbec grape, locally
called Auxerrois, and attained AOC status in
1971. There are now over 650 growers
tending 10,000 acres of vines and 2 million
cases are produced each year.
After the walk
Cahors is a significant large town with an attractive mediaeval centre
and a splendid cathedral, flanked by a traditional market place
which comes to life on market day. In the 14th century a local boy
was installed as Pope in Avignon.
To finish the trip as we started we made an
excursion to the gallery of prehistoric cave
art at Pechmerle east of Cahors. The upper
system was discovered at the turn of the
century but the prehistoric galleries remained
unknown till their discovery in 1922 by two
young boys. The cave has been open to the
public since 1926 and is now classed as a
'historic monument'. As well as the cave art,
there are spectacular limestone formations in
the two kilometres of galleries.
We also visited the famous cave at Padirac
which is a huge intimidating hole in the
causse landscape. It remained unexplored
for millennia, presumably because it was too
intimidating. In 1889 EA Martel made the
first descent on a rope ladder. These days
visitors descend 75m in a lift before getting
into small boats to navigate an underground
river system. The river system extends many
km under the causse before it emerges in
the Cirque de Montvalent 12km away to join
the Dordogne. There is no prehistoric art in
Padirac, a visit here is more a fun adventure
trip than an exploration of prehistory.
The Authors in the front row at
A cingle in the Lot near Puy l'Eveque