Last update: Feb 20, 2023 @ 3:16 pm

Rocamadour, France: Cliff-hanging Village that You must Visit Once in Your Life

The 3rd most visited place in France after the Eiffel Tower and Le Mont St Michel! The holy village of Rocamadour is built on three levels, a historical and mythical location where ancient stone buildings, imposing towers, and a castle combine to create a unique setting on the edge of the Alzou Canyon in the Dordogne Valley.

Located in the Lot department, just bordering the Dordogne department, you can reach Rocamadour in just 3 hours from Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a beautiful French city worth visiting. With its airport and train station, Bordeaux is a great starting point for a road trip. Toulouse could also be your other hub city.

In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of France’s most popular tourist locations, the village of Rocamadour has long served as a significant stop for pilgrims traveling the “Camino de Santiago,” or otherwise known as the “Way of St James.”

An old local proverb that describes the 120-meter-tall Citadel of Faith well is “homes on the river, churches on the churches, rocks on the rocks, castle on the rock.”

Porte Basse, Porte du Figuier, Porte Salmon, and Porte Hugon are the four exquisite arched stone gates that lead into the holy city of Rocamadour.

On the lowest slopes is the settlement that is below the monastic structures. The main street is completely car-free and is lined with lovely gold stone homes and lauzé roofs. It also has a variety of quaint eateries and unique shops.

As you might expect, the finest view of the village is from one of the many observation points in the nearby village rather than from inside the village itself; therefore, making a quick stop to see this before entering the village is practically required.

This community is as small as it seems, with a total population of 645. Due to the lack of activities available, you might spend the entirety of your vacation simply soaking in the scenery and exploring the hamlet carefully.

A Thousand years of History

Where the sanctuary is today, an incorruptible body was discovered and buried in 1166. This discovery made Rocamadour one of the four most significant pilgrimage sites in medieval Christianity, drawing kings and commoners.

The complex of religious buildings located halfway up the cliff is separated from the lower town by the 216 steps that make up the Great Staircase. The sanctuary, which consists of 8 chapels, is constructed around the main courtyard.

The centerpiece of the visitor’s journey is the Chapelle Notre Dame and the Vierge Noire monument. The Black Madonna carved out of walnut tree wood in the 11th century, has long attracted pilgrims seeking miracles from all across Europe.

It is said that whenever the Virgin performs a miracle anywhere in the world, the iron bell overhead will ring on its own. The boats dangling from the ceiling are a nod to the fact that many historical miracles had to do with sailors in danger at sea.

The Romanesque-Gothic Basilique Saint-Sauveur, inscribed on the UNESCO list, is situated next to the chapel. Just below the basilica in the medieval city lies the Saint-Amadour Crypt.

In the past, pilgrims would climb the 216 steps to the sanctuary on their knees as penance. Today’s tourists are more focused on climbing to the top without passing out . There is no need to worry, though, as two lifts connect the lower town to the castle for less active tourists.

The Benedictine monks began compiling the Book of Miracles, which contains 126 verified miracles, in 1172.

By order of Bernard de Ventadour in 1223, Rocamadour became a separate village. The introduction of a “Charter for the Uses and Customs” increased economic activity near the Benedictine monastery.

King Louis IX (Saint-Louis) traveled to the Sanctuaries in 1244 with his mother, Blanche of Castille, and his siblings to request the happiness of France. As a result, the pilgrimage assumed national significance. Eight sanctuaries make up the shrine: a basilica, six chapels, and a crypt.

The Notre-Dame Chapel

The center of the shrine is this chapel hidden beneath the cliff. It represents the culmination of the journey to Rocamadour. The Black Virgin of Rocamadour is the principal object of pilgrimage at the shrine. For almost a thousand years, pilgrims have held it in high regard.

A very old bell from the ninth century also hangs from the church’s vault. Every time a miracle took place, it rang by itself. For instance, sailors who were lost at sea prayed to the Black Virgin of Rocamadour.

A rock that fell from the cliff in 1476 demolished the sanctuary. Denys de Bar, the bishop of Tulle, ordered a Flamboyant Gothic reconstruction. You’ll notice a fresco from the 13th century on the chapel’s outside wall. It represents a macabre dance and is nearly whole.

The Saint-Michel Chapel

The shrine’s St. Michael Chapel, half troglodytic, is its highest sanctuary and nearest to the sky. Since the chapel was carved out of rock, neither a roof nor a western wall was present.

The chapel was closed to visitors throughout the Middle Ages because Benedictine monks solely used it. A 13th-century picture decorates the semi-dome apse. It shows Christ in glory with the four Evangelists penning the Gospel, St. Michael weighing souls on the left, and seraphim escorting souls to heaven on the right.

Church of Saint Louis

The chapel, originally devoted to King Saint Louis, who visited Rocamadour as a pilgrim, is now reserved for rugby players. Prayers are held for those who have been hurt or lost their lives during or after a game.

Others include: Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Chapelle Saint-Blaise, Chapelle Sainte-Anne, Crypte Saint-Amadour, Basilique Saint-Sauveur.

Insider tips

1. Visit Rocamadour in the morning or off-season for less crowds

Stop at a viewpoint before going into the village at l’Hospitalet. This will be an opportunity to see the ruins of the medieval hospital.

2. Book a guided tour of the village with a “Guide Conferencier”

You could contact the local tourist office to ask about guided tours of the village. The history of this place is so rich and captivating, a walking tour with a Guide Conferencier (licensed guide) will make your visit of Rocamadour an experience that you will remember forever.

You could also join our eight-day Bordeaux & Dordogne tour, which includes a half-day in Rocamadour with a guided walking tour. Some of the two best regions to see in France are included in this itinerary. The name of one of the greatest towns in France is Bordeaux, the name of the most famous wine region in the world and the source of many of the best wines. Anyone interested in wine and French culture must go there. You may be familiar with the Dordogne but may not know much about it. It is regarded among foodies as France’s capital of foie gras, truffles, and duck.

Excursions to a truffle farm, an art and light performance in an ancient German U-boat base, castle visits, wine tastings, market shopping, and exploring the recreated prehistoric cave with new friends and native French guides are just a few highlights.

Hot air balloon festival rocamadour

3. Go during the hot air balloon festival

Observing a hot air balloon glide through the air has an ethereal quality. They evoke a sense of exploration, romanticism, and many vintage appeals.

Thirty balloons from all over Europe launch in front of the Rocamadour UNESCO World Heritage Site every weekend in September. You’re in for a spellbinding spectacle as these beautiful aircraft take off in a celebration of flight in front of the medieval splendor of the historic city.

The Montgolfiades of Rocamadour is a two-day festival held on the final Saturday and Sunday in September. They are named after the French engineers who, in 1793, completed the first successful hot air balloon ride in history. More than 30 balloons gently frame Rocamadour’s town, sanctuary, and castle towers as they slowly ascend into the air. Bring your camera because the scenery is picturesque and you will undoubtedly get some wonderful images.

The meadows at the bottom of the Alzou canyon and l’Hospitalet, the town above Rocamadour, are the ideal locations to view the balloons take off. Although temporary parking lots are set up specially for the event, it becomes rather crowded, make sure to arrive early.

It’s a no-cost event. There are several restaurants to select from if you want to eat on-site, but make sure to make reservations.

4. Try some Rocamadour cheese

First mentioned in the 15th century, it was called ‘cabécou de Rocamadour’ before the name was shortened to ‘Rocamadour’ after the village situated in the center of the Appellation area. Rocamadour is irresistible when thickly spread on a lightly toasted piece of bread with some honey, in salads with walnuts, or even warmed.

5. Make time during your stay to visit the Gouffre de Padirac

Located less than half an hour away from Rocamadour, experience the unbelievable underground journey of the Gouffre de Padirac. Nakednamed the Devil’s Hole, it is one of the biggest chasm of Europe. You can go down into the cave using the convenient elevators or using the stairs to see the underground river, two lakes and a magnificent dome room full of incredible stalactites.

You will be able to flow on the turquoise water on a flat barge tour to the Grand Dome Room where you will gaze at the incredible beauty of nature’s work. While on the barge the boatman will give you crucial information about the formation of the cave. This is the main attraction of your visit, something very unique that you will remember for years.

Special evening tours are also available. Just as famous cave explorer Édouard-Alfred Martel did in 1889, you will be able to experience the Gouffre to its fullest extent with lamps to illuminate your path in the silence, darkness, and cool.

Make sure to reserve your ticket online ahead of time, a limited amount of visitors are allowed each day and tickets tend to sell out quick in the summer.

If you are looking for a restaurant, the Auberge of the Gouffre next door is a great place for a French meal when visiting.

Other Places to Visit Nearby

Southwest France is home to the Dordogne region also called Périgord. It is not as widely known or visited by foreign tourists as other regions of France, but it ought to be given how much this lovely region offers.

The region has more caverns than any other region in France, as well as several medieval villages, castles, and spectacular cathedrals. Indeed, the Dordogne region is home to several caves containing prehistoric art, some of the best in Europe.

Additionally, it boasts wonderful cuisine and wine, hospitable residents, lovely weather, and various activities.

Who would have imagined that one of France’s most picturesque areas could be reached in just two hours by car from the Bordeaux airport? Périgord is the place to go if you want to experience real French culture.

Rocamadour is a great destination for Americans as people don’t know about it. Still, a trip to this village is worth a thousand miles of travel and should be added to one’s bucket list.

Want to visit to Rocamadour, France?
Check out our Bordeaux & Dordogne small group tour!

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