Where in France do you think has a population of just 600, but attracts more than a million visitors a year?
The beautiful village of Rocamadour, set in the Lot department of the Midi-Pyrenees region, near the Eastern border of the Dordogne department is actually today the second-most-visited site in all of France, second only to Mont Saint-Michel!
It may be a small village, but Rocamadour is worth visiting for so many reasons.
The location itself is absolutely breathtaking and if for nothing else, would be worth the trip. Set precariously into limestone cliffs overlooking the canyon of the Alzou, the village is indeed built vertically out the rock face of the mountain.
The views from the medieval castle’s ramparts overlooking the valley are spectacular. The fact that the town is pedestrians only adds to the quality of the surroundings.
It has also been a major site of Christian pilgrimage for centuries.
Rocamadour became a pilgrimage destination after 1166 when the miraculously preserved body of an hermit (thereafter named Amadou), Amator of the Rock (he who loves rock) – gave a new impetus to the pilgrimage and inspired the daring construction of 7 churches and a monastery clinging to the cliff-face just above the town. Some claimed he was Zaccheus of Jericho, an early Christian hermit.
Zaccheus was said to have brought with him to Rocamadour a statue of the Black Virgin, though the statue is generally dated to the 9th century. With the double attraction of the tomb of Zaccheus and the statue, pilgrims began to flock to Rocamadour. Within a few years of the body being found, numerous miracles started being credited to Rocamadour and its reputation as a pilgrimage site was set!
For eight centuries, devout pilgrims have crawled up the Grand Stairway of Rocamadour on their knees, doing penance. Today, not many still make it on their knees, but you can walk up the stairs or pathway, or even take the elevator. Those who walk the path pass the 12 Stations of the Cross.
Many notable people visited Rocamadour over the years, including St. Bernard, St. Dominic, St. Louis, King Louis XI, and possibly even Charlemagne, on his way to battle the Moors in Spain.
In the heart of Quercy region, Rocamadour is also the perfect base to explore the region: the prehistoric paintings of the Grotto of Marvels, Grotto Lacave with its famous’ black light, the Padirac Chasme, one of the most remarkable and famous grottos in the world, some of the ‘most beautiful villages of France’ (Turenne, Autoire, Loubressac), the old city of Cahors are all within driving distance.
Prehistoric attraction parks such as Prehistologia and Prehistoparc are also close-by.
Last but not least, as with all good things in France, Rocamadour is also a gastronomic centre and annually hosts a Fête des Fromages which is the largest cheese festival in the south of France. 10,000 visitors attend every year! Local specialties such fois gras, truffle pâté, confits and magrets of duck and goose, Roquefort cheese and lamb can also be purchased all over the village or tasted in the amazing local restaurants.
To summarise, if you are holidaying in the south west of France, I cannot recommend enough a trip to this beautiful village.
Please leave us your comments below if you have already visited it and let us know how nice you thought it was!