Our favourite highlights in the Upper Lot Valley
A holiday in the Lot Valley offers some fabulous scenery, beautiful medieval villages, historic monuments and a superb gastronomical experience.
The Lot river flows for 500km starting at Mont Lozere and flowing into the Garonne River before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. As it flows it passes through the fertile farming lands of Aquitaine, the high plateaux of the Aubrac and the beautiful wooded valleys of the Lozere.
Visit the Lot Valley
To get a flavour of this enchanting region we started at the beautiful historic village of Conques and meandered our way through some of the highlights to finish our tour with the wolves of Gevaudan.
Set high up in the hills of the Cantal department Conques is one of France's most beautiful villages. Its houses are a mix of stone and half-timbered medieval houses and the lovely slate rooves typical of the region. The town is perched on the hillside overlooking the river Dourdou.
At the heart of the village is its magnificent abbey, a UNESCO listed monument as part of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Inside the treasury is one of France's most important religious artworks, the reliliquary of Saint Foy.
We stayed the night in the lovely Moulin de Cambelong where Michelin starred chef, Hervé Busset served us up a wonderful dinner full of the flavours of the herbs and flowers that Hervé goes out to pick every day.
Marcoles and Mourjou
The next day we took a leisurely wander around the medieval village of Marcoles. With its stone houses, traditional slate roofs and narrow cobbled streets Marcoles is a step back in time. Neighbouring Mourjou has a chestnut museum highlighting the importance of the abundant chestnut trees in this area to the local economy. Sadly production has dropped dramatically since its heyday in the late 19th century but the attractive trees are still very common and chestnut products are widely sold. The Auberge de Mourjou has a whole menu dedicated to the chestnut. Don't miss their chestnut ice-cream.
Near to Mourjou is a wonderful pottery, Le Poterie du Don, in the village of Fel. The acclaimed potter Suzy Atkins has set up her studio here and produces ceramics which are used and exhibited throughout the world. The building is an ultra-modern award winning building and as well as Suzy's own work, and works sold under the 'Poterie du Don' label, there are always exhibitions of other notable European potters.
Following our excellent chestnut-based lunch we headed off to Vieillevie and worked off some calories by canoeing down the River Lot. This is a peaceful section of river to row on and a lovely way to see the Lot Valley. As we rowed we saw families of water birds with their young and a couple of herons. All seemed very unconcerned by our presence.
There are stretches that are totally calm and suitable for the whole family, but if you want a bit more excitement some stretches have faster water and grade 2 passages. Lots of fun and thoroughly recommended. Note that children have to be over 8 years old for these stretches.
There are lots of farms producing delicious cheeses and offering cheese tasting. In Vieillevie there is the Ferme de la Vidalie which has a whole wall covered in awards it has won for its delicious creamy goats cheeses.
Vieillevie itself is a lovely, sleepy village sat on the banks of the river lot. The village is dominated by the Chateau de Vieillevie which was built in the 11-13th century and also has a lot of Rennaissance features. At the foot of the chateau is the hotel de la Terrasse with reasonably priced rooms and an excellent restaurant. Its terrace looks over the river. Idyllic for a summer evening.
Estaing and Laguiole
Day 3 took us back over the border from Cantal into Aveyron. Here one of France's most beautiful villages, the village of Estaing, awaited us. With lovely medieval streets, a castle belonging to Giscard d'Estaing, a 15th century church holding the relics of St Fleuret and a gothic, stone bridge which is UNESCO listed as part of the Pilgrim Way to Santiago de Compostella, there is plenty to admire.
An afternoon visit to the Forges de Laguiole gave us an insight into the making of the superb Laguiole knives which are famous throughout the world. It is possible to walk through the workshops and see the craftsmen at work. All of the Laguiole knives are beautiful and knives from their collectors series are often given out to important visitors to France. Whilst some knives are very expensive others are more affordable - bring your cheque book you are sure to want to buy one!
We then drove across the incredible scenery of the Aubrac plateau which is a bit like a Scottish moorland stretching out for miles and a stark contrast to the green, wooded hills and valleys that are typical of the scenery of the Auvergne. We had now passed into the department of Lozere
A couple of hours in the relaxing Spa of La Chaldette in Brion and we were ready for our next gourmet extravaganza at the very comfortable hotel of Chez Camillou in Aumont Aubrac. We had a really superb meal during our stay here.
On our final morning of this superb, short tour of the Lot Valley we visited the wolves of Gevaudan. Near to the village of Sainte Lucie there is a park covering 15 hectares in which over a 100 wolves live in semi-freedom. Whilst walking through the park you will be able to see Siberian, Canadian and Mongolian wolves and the excellent guide gives an insight into the lives and social organisation of the wolves.
Whilst there something sparked the wolves into howling in unison, an unforgettably eerie sound.
As well as the wolves the park is in an excellent position offereing superb views over the heavily wooded hills and valleys. The scenery here really is fabulous with deep valleys and steep hills as far as the eye can see.
A brief insight into what the Lot Valley has to offer. I for one will be back soon for a more extended visit.
Note: this feature follows the upper part of the Lot river. We have a separate article about the river between figeac and Cahors further downstream: see Lower Lot Valley