If you are living outside of France, you might have only just discovered Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. That’s understandable. After all, it doesn’t have the same recognition as Annecy, Paris, Reims, Lyon, Avignon, or Strasbourg because it’s just a tiny village without any world-famous landmarks.
But don’t let that discourage you to visit the village! Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a beautiful off-the-beaten-path destination in France that offers a unique getaway experience. This preserved medieval village, dating back to the 13th-century is worth visiting for its harmonious blend of timeless charm and natural beauty. In fact, over the years, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie has even attracted many creatives, including writers and painters — all attracted by its charm.
Perched on a rocky hill overlooking the Lot River, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is nestled within the Parc Naturel régional des Causses du Quercy, a UNESCO Global Geopark that’s home to stunning rivers, rugged limestone plateaus, and breathtaking chasms. Visiting Saint-Cirq-Lapopie can also means going to adventure!
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In this blog post, I’ll tell you the best experiences that you can find in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which are the main reasons why I think this village is worth a visit. To give you a sneak peek of what this village has to offer, below is a photo taken on a bright summer day.
Although Saint-Cirq-Lapopie may appear enticing based on my introduction, the journey to the village is less so. In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge when planning a visit to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Among the major cities in France from which you’ll most likely be coming, Toulouse is the closest to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. It’s 1.5 hours away by car.
You can also travel to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from Toulouse using public transportation. First, take the train to Cahors. From Cahors, hop on bus #889 to get to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. The total travel time is a minimum of 3 hours, considering the need to match train and bus schedules. You can check the official website of SNCF for more information, like updated timetables and schedules.
I won’t convince you to go to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, especially if you don’t prefer renting a car, driving, or hiring a driver. Although there are buses and trains, their availability is limited.
If you are traveling by car, there’s little to no problem getting to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. However, if you plan to drive yourself, just be sure to have all the requirements for driving in France and you must be at least familiar with the driving rules there.
Concerned about the hassle of reaching Saint-Cirq-Lapopie? Consider it against the fantastic experiences that await you in the village, which we’ll explore next.
Easier way to get to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: A whole day tour from Toulouse.
1. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie’s Charming Village
Are you looking for a destination that will take you away from your work and worries? Do you want to discover a completely new place that can help you escape from stress for a while?
If that’s what you’re looking for, the enchanting and well-preserved village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is just the place.
This village, which has been around and maintained for over a countless of years, will take you to a place where wonder replaces worry. How so? Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it lives up to that reputation. The charming houses will make you feel like you’ve stepped back into the Middle Ages. Surrounded by quaintness, you’ll feel far removed from any negativity from home or work. Come and free your mind to focus on what’s best for you!
Here’s the beauty you can see when you visit:
What caught my eye in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie were the Maisons à Colombage, or half-timbered houses. These types of houses are typically found in northern France, so it was a surprise to see them in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, which is in the south. Interestingly, while Saint-Cirq-Lapopie does have timber-framed houses, they don’t look exactly like those in the north. The materials used are more similar to those found in other southern French villages.
(To get an idea of what the houses in northern France look like, check my article about Colmar, a town in Alsace in northeastern France)
That being said, I believe Saint-Cirq-Lapopie boasts a unique and beautiful architectural style, blending elements from both northern and southern French houses.
In my opinion, the harmonious blend of wood and masonry in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie’s buildings makes it a must-visit destination, particularly for those with an appreciation for architecture or a fondness for exploring quaint locales. The experience of meandering through its cobblestone streets, flanked by charming houses, is sure to delight.
What’s more, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a car-free village, which adds to its old-world charm. You might see a car or two, but they’re likely owned by locals. Apart from the village center, there are two specific places in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie that I recommend you visit:
- Eglise de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
- Castle Ruins of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Eglise de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
The most noticeable historical landmark in the village is the Eglise de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. This grand edifice pays tribute to Saint Cyricus, the youngest martyr in Christian history.
The moment you get near Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, it catches your eye. Upon closer inspection, its Languedoc-Gothic architectural style becomes apparent.
The Eglise de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is nestled in the village center. A quaint square lies before it, offering a picturesque view of the delightful houses.
Castle Ruins of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
In the past, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie was known as a stronghold in France. At the village’s highest point, a fort or castle stood, offering a panoramic view of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and the Lot Valley.
The castle was a crucial structure for the inhabitants of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the past.
For many centuries, it served as a fortress, protecting the medieval village from adversaries. Notably, it shielded Saint-Cirq-Lapopie during Richard the Lionheart’s conquest and throughout the Hundred Years’ War. However, it was completely demolished on the orders of King Henry IV during the Wars of Religion. Although it no longer exists, one can still envision its past significance and function.
The stunning panorama of the Lot Valley and the picturesque Saint-Cirq-Lapopie village is sure to ignite your imagination. Picture yourself as a guard or viscount overseeing Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in times gone by. From this vantage point, you can see the heart of the village and observe people going about their day.
If you’re near the church, there’s a path leading to the castle ruins, providing a convenient shortcut.
2. Dramatic Viewpoints From Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
The castle ruins provide just one of the spectacular viewpoints in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. However, there are two additional spots that I’m sure you’ll want to check out.
In my opinion, these magnificent views make a trip to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie worthwhile, as most of the scenery is beautifully natural. It’s an entirely rejuvenating sight that can evoke a sense of wonder, which is so good for us.
Porte de Rocamadour
The gate known as Porte de Rocamadour is situated to the east of the village center of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. It’s likely named Porte de Rocamadour due to its role as a passage for those journeying between Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour.
Rocamadour is another beautiful village in southern France. It is a famous pilgrimage site, included in a group of UNESCO Sites called Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Porte de Rocamadour is a dramatic viewpoint in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie because its location has a beautiful perspective of the medieval village. The view near the gate is at postcard level. And it should make you feel like you’re a wanderer who stumbled upon a magical village, seeking to see the beauty of the world.
If you’re currently in the tourist information office, just follow the main lane running in the village center. You must pass by the Le Cantou restaurant and continue walking east (do not take the path to the road).
Vènes Cirque – Lookout Point
Just a short distance from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie lies the Vènes Cirque viewpoint. It’s a stunning scenic location that you can reach with a quick hike from the ancient village.
swipe the 360° image below to see more views
To put it simply, a cirque is a natural landform resulting from erosion and limestone dissolution. While glaciers usually carve cirques in alpine environments, the Vènes Cirque was likely formed by the fluvial activity of the Lot River. From the lookout point at Vènes Cirque, you can marvel at the awe-inspiring view of a cliff naturally sculpted into a half-circular dip, reminiscent of an amphitheater.
Starting from Porte de Rocamadour, a 15-minute hike east along Les Vezes Road will lead you to this viewpoint. Just before the curve in Les Vezes Road, a small path on the left will take you there.
3. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie‘s Scenic Hiking Trails
One more reason to add Saint-Cirq-Lapopie to your travel list is the picturesque hiking trails surrounding the village. These trails offer more than just scenic views. As you hike, you’ll encounter artworks, beautiful rock formations, and historical landmarks!
There are several trails starting from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, but the most renowned is the Chemin de Halage, a towpath that runs alongside the Lot River.
Stretching approximately 5 kilometers, the towpath that links Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Bouziès is a unique attraction that sets this location apart.
Its distinctiveness lies in its construction – it’s not just a regular hiking trail, but a path hewn from the rocky cliffs beside the Lot River. As you traverse this semi-tunnel towpath, you’ll be captivated by the stunning cliff faces, their beauty amplified by their reflection in the tranquil waters of the Lot River. Accompanied by the soothing sounds of flowing water and chirping birds, your journey on the towpath promises to be a truly immersive nature experience.
I can’t help but highlight the cliffs that you’ll encounter along the towpath. These massive rock formations showcase the inventive hand of nature. The spectrum of hues, from amber to white and black to gray, splashed across these dizzying cliffs, is simply a spectacle.
Here’s an interesting tidbit! Did you know that the towpath was established in 1845 to enable horses to pull boats laden with goods upstream?
It’s remarkable to think about how this path was carved out using the civil engineering technology of the time. Originally designed to facilitate the transport of goods, the towpath was constructed to be easily navigable. As such, you can anticipate a relatively easy and undemanding hike along this route. However, while parts of this trail are paved, it’s still advisable to wear comfortable walking shoes for an enjoyable experience.
Beginning your hike from the heart of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, you’ll initially encounter a downhill path. Be prepared for a roundtrip journey to Bouziès that typically lasts between 2.5 to 3 hours. However, there are ways to reduce this duration, which we’ll explore as we delve deeper into the reasons for visiting Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
4. Wonders in The Towpath from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
In addition to the towering 70-meter-high limestone cliff walls, the towpath also boasts man-made wonders.
These marvels along the towpath or Lot River add to the allure of a trip to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. They present intriguing insights into art, engineering, and history. If you’re planning a hike from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie to Bouziès along the towpath, here are the attractions you’ll encounter in order:
- Ganil Lock
- Sculptures of Daniel Monnier
- Old Railway Bridge
- Château des Anglais
Living in an archipelago, I’ve never observed rivers being used as channels for transport in our nation. In contrast, we tend to use the sea and terrestrial routes for moving goods and people.
Locks, such as the Ganil lock on the Lot River, were a new sight for me.
Essentially, locks are structures used in water navigation that create a sort of enclosure for boats in a canal or river. They can adjust the water level, enabling boats to navigate up and down a river or canal. If you hail from regions where waterways aren’t prevalent, the Ganil lock might be one of the most fascinating discoveries on your trip to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Located roughly halfway along the towpath hike, the Ganil lock was constructed over a century ago and remains operational today. If you visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and hike the towpath during the peak season (summer), you’ll have the chance to see the Ganil lock in action.
swipe the 360° image below to see more views
Whether you’re strolling along the towpath or cruising on a boat, you’ll have the opportunity to observe how lock operators manage the passage of boats through the Ganil lock. These operators employ traditional techniques, showcasing the rich history of cruising on the Lot. Witnessing this process is quite a spectacle, especially if it’s your first time.
Sculptures of Daniel Monnier
Did you know that a section of the towpath carved into the cliffside has been shaped twice?
The initial carving was done to facilitate the transportation of goods. The second time, it was to add an element of surprise and fascination for those using the towpath. And what might that surprise be? An artwork, sculpture, or relief etched into the walls of the excavated part of the towpath. I won’t spoil the surprise by showing you a picture of the artwork on the towpath.
The relief was crafted by Daniel Monnier, a renowned artist hailing from Toulouse. His masterpiece beautifully captures the essence of the Lot River, with elements representing birds, water, fish, fossils, and local flora and fauna.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into the history of this sculpture, there’s an informative article on Atlas Obscura that provides a detailed account. However, be warned – viewing the images in the article might take away from the surprise of seeing it in person on your trip to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. The choice is yours!
Old Railway Bridge
Once you pass the section of the towpath that’s carved into the cliffside, you’ll find yourself in a forest. Here, you can easily spot the old railway bridge. It arches over both the towpath and the Lot River, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find it.
swipe the 360° image below to see more views
While the old railway bridge may not seem particularly special at first glance, it does offer some excellent opportunities for photography. The symmetrical elements of the railway become apparent when viewed from above the bridge’s anchor.
To reach this vantage point, there’s a small, inclined path next to the old railway that you can ascend. However, exercise caution as the path can be sandy and strewn with loose stones, making it potentially slippery.
Château des Anglais
Bouziès marks the end of the towpath for those who begin their hike from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. The town boasts a selection of shops and cafés, providing a perfect opportunity to refuel after your journey.
Upon reaching Bouziès, it may seem like there’s nothing left to discover. However, one more surprise awaits you! It’s the Château de Anglais. This castle stands out from the rest due to its unique construction. Why is it so special? Because it’s seamlessly built into a cliff cavity, anchored securely in a huge limestone rock.
Built as a refuge for locals during attacks, mainly from the English (hence the castle’s name), Château de Anglais stands as a testament to strategic defense. Its position not only shielded the inhabitants but also allowed for ambush attacks on invading armies traveling along the road below. Quite a clever setup!
If you’re in Bouziès and wish to view Château de Anglais, head towards the metal bridge or cross the Lot River. But be aware, its location might make it a bit tricky to spot at first glance.
swipe the 360° image below to see more views
Today, visitors can only behold Château de Anglais from the outside. Its interiors aren’t accessible.
5. Relaxing Boat Ride to And from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Given our previous discussion about the Lot River and Ganil Lock, you might have already guessed that boat tours are an option for visitors to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. If that’s what you were thinking, you’re absolutely right! Gabare, the traditional boats of Lot, regularly sail back and forth on the Lot River between Bouzies and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
During the peak season, from July to August, the operations are in full swing.
Visitors who journey to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and hike the towpath during these months have the opportunity to round off their trip with a boat ride on the Lot River, back to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. This unique boat ride is one of the reasons that make a visit to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie worthwhile.
It’s not just about witnessing the magnificent cliffs and the wonders along the towpath that I mentioned earlier, but also about enjoying a tranquil boat ride on a traditional vessel along the Lot River.
The Gabare is a flat-bottomed boat designed to have a draft that only sinks to a depth of 70 cm (The draft refers to the portion of the hull submerged in water). It’s specifically built to accommodate the river’s dam, known as “causeways.” One distinctive feature of the Gabare is its reliance on a long hemp rope, attached to the mast, for propulsion, rather than using a sail.
Managed by Les Croisières de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, the Gabare boats offer more than just a scenic tour of the River Lot. This company provides you with the unique opportunity to rent your own Gabare and even offers instructions on how to operate it. For a touch of fun, they also host pirate-themed boat rides, which are sure to delight the little ones!
During your cruise on the Gabare, you’ll journey past the Ganil Causeway Lock, Château des Anglais, and the Old Cargo Port. You’ll have the opportunity to observe the workings of the Ganil lock. Much like the experience of exploring Saint-Cirq-Lapopie’s medieval village, this Gabare boat ride offers another glimpse into the past, albeit in a different setting.
Here is the website of Les Croisières de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie to reserve and book a ticket.
Saint Cirq Lapopie Visiting Tips
So, that’s it! Those are my five reasons to visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. I hope I’ve given you a clear picture of what you can expect in Saint Cirq-Lapopie. So, if you decide to visit, let me give you some tips which I think might be useful when you visit this beautiful village.
Before you go: Should your travel plans to the South of France include a visit to only one charming village, know that there are other options besides Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Domme, Gordes, Saint Paul de Vence, and Eze are equally enchanting hilltop villages that offer breathtaking views of the natural landscape. For a change of scenery, you might also find Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Aigues-Mortes, Carcassonne, and definitely Chamonix worth a visit. For a summary of these villages check out my post about the Most Beautiful Villages in The South of France.
How Long to Visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
One of the first questions that might come to mind is, how much time should you allocate for a visit to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie?
Given its compact size, as evident from the photos, you can thoroughly explore the village in about two to three hours, or half a day if you prefer a more leisurely pace. This includes admiring the architecture of the houses, visiting the scenic viewpoints within the village, and stopping by the gates that offer the most iconic view of the village. You can also squeeze in a quick meal within this timeframe.
However, if you’re visiting during summer and the weather is pleasant, spending an entire day in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie could be a great idea. You could have every beautiful experience offered by this beautiful village. A day in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie would allow you to incorporate some hiking and a boat ride along the river Lot into your itinerary.
While I wouldn’t typically suggest spending more than a day in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, an overnight stay can offer a unique experience. Imagine the charm of witnessing a medieval village come to life at the break of day, or enjoying breakfast with a view of the picturesque village. If you’re a photography enthusiast, capturing the sunrise in this enchanting locale could be an opportunity you wouldn’t want to miss.
If you’re considering an overnight stay, you can find the best hotel deals in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie here.
When to Visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie might not be on every foreign tourist’s radar, but it’s a major attraction locally, welcoming a staggering 400,000 visitors each year! In fact, this petite village was named France’s favorite in 2012. Consequently, it can become quite bustling with tourists during the peak season in the summer.
If you prefer a more serene visit with fewer crowds, you might want to consider visiting in May during the shoulder season. However, it’s worth noting that some experiences like the Gabare boat ride might not be available then. To fully immerse yourself in everything this picturesque village has to offer, consider planning your visit for the summer months of July and August.
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