Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cutest French Village: St-Cirq-Lapopie


Want a weekend in a small French village that rates high on the coolness factor? Then you'll definitely want to hit St-Cirq-Lapopie. It's a small French village experience with so many outdoor and countryside things to do that you'll fill your weekend, end to end, and still not do it all. There is no end to the things you can taste, see, experience and do in this cute village in France.

You can find this cute village in southern-central France in the department of Lot, just about 30 km east of Cahors. Each year France has a contest for the cutest village in France, called, "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France". This village has won this prize and they proudly state it on a sign just as you drive in.

Now, you've probably heard of Cahors, which is just west of St-Cirq-Lapopie. Cahors is known for its full bodied heavy red wines, usually made with a lot of malbec (a kind of wine grape). But did you know you could sit in a cute little village up on a cliff side while drinking it? On this trip you'll do this and far more.

Being in the south you're best to try the local dishes endemic to this region of France. Food such as Confit de Canard (roasted duck leg) and Cassoulet (a meat and bean stew). This area is also known for the many kinds of high quality Foie Gras (fatty liver) that they offer. If you're not sure what Foie Gras is then think of a creamy pate made from an obese duck's liver. I, for one, didn't eat it, as I'll admit I don't agree with how they produce it in terms of animal cruelty. But the other people in my group had no such qualms and were having delicigasms over it. So apparently it's quite good if your guilty conscience can support it.

Of course, as previously mentioned, we filled ourselves on wonderful Cahors wine, but this area is also known for its truffles, which you can buy at the local markets in the right season (winter). So, that means you can buy a truffle wine that is really tasty, and it's served as an apero in many of the restaurants. They also had a local cocktail called le Fénelon, made of local wine and various local liqueurs.

There are quite a few restaurants in the village that will serve you these delicacies and more. But be pre-warned: they don't care much about accommodating anyone. If you arrive after 2pm you won't get lunch, so be sure to eat during their lunch hours, which are about 12-2 (give or take depending on the place). We went to one place where they pretty much ignored us and wouldn't move tables together so that we could eat outside. At another, which was empty at 9pm, they said we had to order a full meal or couldn't order at all, so our desire to just sit and have dessert and tea was shot down. I didn't really understand this concept, as some business is better than none, and they were near empty; but I guess it's their business and they can be like that if they so choose. Once you get in somewhere though, the food is great.

This region is also known for its saffron, which is made from crocus stamens. They are hand picked and it takes 200,000 flowers for 1 kilo of saffron. You can do tours of these farms just out side of St-Cirq-Lapopie and even buy some if you like to cook with it.

The beautiful nature and outdoors of this part of France will have you learning bird and plant names. It's made up of long gorges, rivers and wonderful wild life. Just outside of the village canoes and kayaks can be rented . The company drives you up river with your canoe, and drop you off, and you head back down at your own pace and stopping along the way to have a picnic if you planned ahead and brought food. You can also rent bikes near the village, and then go on amazing tours of the country side. We even went running here, and one can go horse-back riding as well. There are hikes you can do too, and at the information center in St-Cirq-Lapopie you can get books with all the local hikes outlined in them and a list of the local flora and fauna for nature lovers who like to identify what they come across.

Not to be missed, either, are the caves that can be seen. There are several in the area. At one you can take a boat through the river in the cave, at another you can try to view the bats that reside within, and Pech-Merle was the best and most authentic if you're looking to see ancient cave-paintings. Contact the tourist office below for a list of the caves in this region that you can check out.

Finally, there is not only medieval architecture in the village, but some amazing buildings to see in the villages nearby. Needless to say I could go on and on about how cool of a weekend trip this village is. You won't be able to do all the possible fun things in one weekend, and may want to go back again and again.

Accommodation:

The first time I went we stayed at a cute bed-n-breakfast in the heart of the village, and our room looked out over the view of the gorge and river. The woman's name is Agnès Dadoun, who decided to change her Paris life and dumped the city for living in this village and running her own place. She's very nice and her place is beautifully decorated. The costs of her place run 75-85 euros a night, depending on the season.
Proprietor: Agnès Dadoun B&B
Number: +33.5.65.31.49.10 or +33.6.12.29.76.55

If you're looking for something a little cheaper than that then we recommend these little cute cabins you can rent just outside the village. It's only about a 20 minute walk into the village, which you can cut over the hill and stay off the road if you like. They have some BBQs that don't work too well, but it was still nice to at least be able to eat in a couple times to save on money.
Proprietor: Anna Andrieu
Number: +33.5.65.31.29.87.
Website: http://lagarenne.lot.free.fr .

For more information about this village, you can contact their tourist information center.
Office de Tourisme
Number: +33.5.65.31.29.06
Website: info@saint-cirqlapopie.com

Getting there:
You can drive there from Paris by heading to Cahor and then use your map to direct you east to St-Cirq-Lapopie.

You can also take a train to Cahor, and then there is a bus that goes out that way, as well as you can rent bikes (30 km ride to St-Cirq-Lapopie) or rent a car.

Car or bike? I guess it all depends on how active you want to be. A car would allow you to really drive around and visit all the caves, though, having a bike would allow you to ride amongst all the canyons and along the river. I suggest having both if you can. You can rent bikes in a nearby village if you need to, though you'd need a car to get there. There are no longer bike rentals in St-Cirq-Lapopie.

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