Do you ever find yourself reading about a place, or maybe seeing something on T.V. and thinking, “I’ll go there one day?’
Only that day never seems to arrive.
Other things get in the way, maybe more exciting challenges or destinations come along, but that first place is still there in the back of your mind.
It nags at you, always there and maybe every now and then says, “Hey, how about it?”
Sometime on my travels that moment comes when I answer with an emphatic, “Yeah, why not?”
Special places, places I want/need to go are always in my mind.
After arriving in Mazamet, fresh from the Black Mountains I turned my thoughts further North and zeroed in on the ancient city of Cahors.
Cahors has been one of my special “Go To” places for a long time, a very long time.
In many ways the town is very special. It is the capital of the Lot Department and lies on the river of the same name. It’s location is pretty dramatic as it lies on the inside of a sweeping meander/mini-gorge. It’s old, very old, there was a settlement here before the Romans arrived in this part of France around 50BC. The Romans developed the settlement into a thriving city and evidence of them can still be found today in the form of various remains and monuments.
I wanted to visit Cahors for two reasons, an ancient bridge and the region’s wine.
The decision to keep to minor roads was spot on and we were rewarded, having the tarmac pretty much to ourselves. Following a leisurely trundle through delightful countryside, we arrived in Cahors mid-afternoon.
Being an other tourist magnet, though not anywhere near on the scale as Carcassonne, I expected the place to be a bit busy, it was, but nice busy and not affected by awful tatty souvenir stalls; clearly the City elders have much to be thanked for!
We checked into our Hotel, the aptly named Hôtel Terminus, right by the railway station. The place was wonderful, a real piece of 1930’s nostalgia with stained glass windows and wood panelled rooms; the service was right up there too. Add in that my room had a perfect view of the North end of the railway station, it couldn’t get much better; well actually it could as the owner let me put Harls in the garage for the night!
Once sorted it was time to explore, specifically down by the riverside and the bridge I mentioned.
Pont Valentré stands on the Western flank of the city and spans the River Lot. Construction began in June 1308 and the bridge was opened for use in 1350, with the final work being completed in 1378. It has six arches and three square towers. Originally it was fortified at both ends, but sadly today only the Eastern tower survives.
There is a great piece of folklore surrounding the building of the bridge:
It is said that the Engineer in charge of construction was greatly annoyed at the slow progress of the work. To speed things up he made a pact with the Devil to get things moving. The pact said that if the Devil promised to carry out all the Engineer’s orders then the Devil could claim the Engineer’s soul.
Once progress was being made and construction was nearing completion, the Engineer began to regret engaging the Devil. As a last instruction he told the Devil to collect drinking water for all the workers using a sieve; the Devil had been tricked and the Engineers soul was safe.
In revenge for being tricked, it is said that each night the Devil send a demon to loosen the final stone in the central tower to ensure that the bridge is never truly finished and must be repaired everyday.
Between 1867 and 1879 a major restoration was undertaken and the then architect, Paul Gou, had a small Imp carved in stone and set high on the Centre Tower. This ensures that if the Devil should check to see that his instruction has been carried out he will be confused that the stone image is one of his team doing his nefarious work!
Well, it’s a lovely legend.
The Imp is set right up at the very top of the Middle Tower, I couldn’t get a shot of it, but fortunately by the power of Wikipedia I have this image to share; thanks to MathieuMD.
Walking across the bridge was quite magical and reminded me of my visit to Pont du Gard, many years ago. Here was an incredibly old structure still doing the job it had been built for and you can’t ask more than that.
The river was busy, there was a mini maritime festival going on, though it struck me that it seemed more about selling speedboats than anything else! People were having fun though and really that’s what is most important. I loved watching a couple of chaps who were kitted out with water jets and took turns in thrilling people with their gravity defying antics.
On the riverbank I found a lovely collection of model ships and I spent quite some time admiring them and chatting to their builders.
A beautiful model of the old SS France, a ship I remember seeing in my younger days.
Also on the riverbank were grape vines and that nicely brings me onto the famous Cahors Black wines!
Cahors has been a centre of viniculture since medieval times, in fact it was famous for it’s wines long before neighbouring Bordeaux developed it’s wine making industry. The signature wine for the region is the famous “Black Wine” which has its own AOC. The term “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” AOC, translates as “Controlled designation of Origin” and was developed as a way of certifying the geographical origin for wine.
Cahors wine must be made from at least 70% Malbec grape and this is usually supplemented with Merlot and Tannat varieties. As is usual with wine, climate, location, geology and that famous French phrase “Terrior” all play a part to make the wine very, very, rich and gives it it’s deep maroon, almost black look.
It is absolutely gorgeous, velvety and full of dark berry flavours, but don’t drink too much if you want a clear head next morning!
“Gotta keep rolling gotta keep riding…”
Catch you soon.