Rocamadour in the Midi-Pyrénées is a dramatic village built on a cliff face, famed through the centuries as a place of pilgrimage and for its Rocamadour goats cheese.
A popular destination with 1.5 million visits every year, Rocamadour is built on the cliffside of a canyon with the river Alzou flowing below. The village was built in the Middle Ages after the discovery of what was believed to be the body of St Amator. Often seen as synonymous with Zaccheus in the Bible, who climbed a tree to see Jesus and whose wife wiped Jesus' brow as he carried the cross, it is said that St Amator left Jerusalem and, after the death of his wife, he lived here as hermit for a short while before he died. After the discovery of St Amator's body, it was claimed that several miracles happened and the site began attracting pilgrims. As the healing powers of Amator's remains became known, the area was named Rocamadour as the 'rock of Amator' and visits and donations from King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine helped the site to grow into a village with several shrines and places of worship. The village soon became an important stop on the pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago.
At the top of the cliff are the château and 7 chapels whilst the village is built below where it climbs up the cliff-face, a breathtaking feat of engineering. The main attraction of the chapels for pilgrims and tourists alike is the statue of the Black Madonna, carved from black wood, which is housed inside the Chapelle de Notre-Dame, a 12th century Romanesque chapel sheltered by an overhang of rock. The Basilica of St Savuer and the Tomb of St Amator are both UNESCO listed World Heritage sites that are not to be missed whilst the château and its ramparts provide a fantastic vantage point for a spectacular view of the village and canyon below. Enter into the beautiful village through stone gateways and walk up through its main street lined with impressive medieval houses. For those with the energy, take the 216 steps of the Grand Escalier, the pilgrims' steps, to reach the chapels and château at the top. In the Middle Ages pilgrims would walk these steps on their knees as an act of penance although there is now a lift for those preferring an easier route. Guided group tours are available and once at the top of the cliff, you can watch bird demonstrations with several different types of birds of prey including eagles, vultures, falcons and hawks allowed to swoop and fly through the canyon.
If you would like to buy something to remember your visit, there are souvenir shops on the main street. The Rocamadour goats cheese, protected by the AOC, is a delicate cheese made from raw goats milk that takes the flavours of juniper and other native flowers and herbs in the area as the goats are raised in the natural surroundings of the plateau. Other tastes to try are Quercy lamb, also farmed naturally on the plateau, duck and its products such as foie gras, magret and confits as well as Le Croustilot bread, all perfect with local Cahors wine and available at the market in Gramat, a town less than 15 minutes away. Nearby are several caves carved out of the limestone, including the Lacave caves and the Paridic caves where you can travel in a boat along the underground river! There are several goat farms nearby that children will love and lots of cycling and walking routes to enjoy the outdoors in this wonderful rural area.
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