Rocamadour is a picturesque village that clings to the side of a cliff overlooking the Alzou River. It has been a renowned Christian pilgrimage site since the Middle-Ages. Both its religious importance and spectacular scenery have qualified Rocamadour as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Grand Site of France (of which there are only 46).
The small town of near 600, located near the Lot/Dordogne border in Southwest France, attracts over 1 million visitors a year. After completing my chores at my nearby farm stay, I arrived in Rocamadour mid-morning on a Friday at the end of May, and it was packed! I can’t imagine what it is like during the peak summer season.
Getting To Rocamadour
Fortunately, I approached Rocamadour from the east side and parked in P1 – Parking de l-Hospitatlet. In my opinion, this is the best way to approach the cliffside town. The parking lot is a just a few blocks from the visitor center on the right and from a magnificent viewpoint of Rocamadour on the left. Pop in the Visitors’ Center for a brochure, check out the Vestiges Chapelle across the street, and then take in the viewpoint.
Rocamadour’s Main Street
After admiring Rocamadour from afar, pass through Porte de l’Hôpital and descend Au Fond de la Côte to Rocamadour’s main street, Rue de la Couronnerie which is pedestrian only and lined with gift shops and restaurants. There is also another Visitors’ Center here. After strolling the likely crowded street, pass through Porte Hugon and climb the Grand Stairway to the religious complex.
Religious Complex and Sanctuaries
There are 216 stairs that the pilgrims used to climb on their knees while reciting their rosaries. Should the stairs be too daunting, purchase a ticket to ride the funicular to the sacred basilica, chapels, and crypt. Visitors who take the stairs arrive on a small terrace, called Plateau of St. Michel, centered in between all the religious structures.
On the terrace level, visitors can see three chapels. Another set of stairs descend one level to the crypt below Basilica of St. Sauveur which contains relics of the saint. One level above the terrace features the basilica, the Palace of Bishops, the Tomb of St. Amadour, and the Chapel of Notre Dame.
Chapel of Notre Dame
While the basilica is the largest structure, the Chapel of Notre Dame is the most important holy shrine. The chapel is located next to the Tomb of St. Amadour, discovered in 1166, which contained an undecayed body of the hermit St. Amator, for which Rocamadour is named. Pilgrims come to the chapel to worship the statue of the Black Madonna and the bell above it known for many miracles on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
I was fortunate to visit the Chapel of Notre Dame just as a service was ending. I got to listen to the parishioners sing and then see the Madonna perched above the altar as well as the bell which hung from the ceiling.
Château in Rocamadour
After visiting the religious complex, follow the path up the cliffside past 14 stations marking Jesus’s journey to the Cross of Jerusalem. Be sure to take in the view of the château on the top of the cliff. The château, which stands on the site of a fort which once protected the sanctuary, provides magnificent views of the Alzou Valley for an entry fee of 2 euro.
From the château, follow the upper path and street back to the parking area. The walk between each attraction takes about 15 minutes and is not terribly suitable for the physically disabled.
Other Places to Visit
Gouffre de Padirac
A short drive away is Gouffre de Padirac, one of many caves in the Dordogne and Lot valleys. Finding caves fascinating, I regret having not visited this one, but I had my sights set on a few others and had to be selective with my short week in southwest France.
The benefits of visiting Gouffre de Padirac is that tickets may be purchased online which is not the case for some of the others. Also, the 1.5 hour tour includes a boat ride!
Rocamadour, though crowded, is a spectacular sight to see. It is an easy drive from Sarlat-la-Canéda, a great base for exploring the Dordogne Valley. ETB
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