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Set majestically against a sheer cliff overlooking the Alzou canyon, is the medieval village of Rocamadour.  With a population of just 630, it is the 5th most visited site in France, attracting 1.5 million tourists each year.

There are many reasons why this tiny village has such a world-wide reputation.  To begin with, it is stunning to behold!  Rocamadour is a marvellous balancing act. Built into the cliffside on successive levels, it clings dramatically to the rock face, high above the canyon.

Inhabited since the Paleolithic, the present settlement developed from the 12th century and quickly became a major pilgrimage destination, luring kings and bishops alike.

Built on the site of a shrine to a Madonna, the shrine became famous for its healing powers, and soon became a stop on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Campostela.  Pilgrims crossed the whole of Europe to come and pray there. The village also housed the relics of Saint-Amadour, a famous hermit who sought solitude in Rocamadour.

At the bottom of the cliff, you enter the village via the stone fortified gateway of the Porte du Figuier and follow the Rue de la Couronnerie through to the Porte Salmon.  With so many tourists, Rocamadour's one and only street is now alive with boutiques, restaurants and predictably, a few souvenir shops.  However, make sure you walk right to the end to discover some impressive medieval houses that have stood the test of time. 

Once you’ve wandered the paved street, there are a series of monumental flights of steps - 233 in all - leading up to a little square.  As you climb The Grand Escalier, think of the pilgrims who would traditionally climb these steps on their knees. 

Off the little square are a number of chapels and sanctuaries including the Chapelle Notre Dame - home to the much-venerated Black Madonna, a slim elongated silhouette in blackwood.  And the basilica Saint-Sauveur; the Saint-Michel chapel; the Palace of the Bishops (Palais des Eveques) and three chapels.

Continue onwards and upwards along the shady path towards L'Hospitalet, the final destination for the pilgrims.  Standing guard over the sanctuaries and village is the Château.  You can visit the ramparts which provides a stunning panorama over the village. 

And if all those endless stairs and ramps concern you .. don't be put off visting this remarkable site.  There is an easy alternative.  Start at the top and work your way down.  Thankfully, there is a lift that can take you most of the way back up again.

Rocamadour is classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as part of the St James’ Way pilgrimage route and the routes of Santiago de Compostela. 

If you are in The Lot region, Rocamadour really should be on your “must see” list.


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