A medieval city built into a cliff? Rocamadour is the type of place you dream about.

Walking through Rocamadour, it’s easy to be transported back to a time when kings and queens ruled France. In fact, as an important pilgrimage site, many kings and queens did indeed come to Rocamadour during the Middle Ages.

Some of the royal pilgrims to Rocamadour.  Blanche de Castille came in 1244 and Charles IV in 1324.

Celebrating 1,000 years of pilgrimage – “Because nothing is impossible with God.”

Climbing up the steep steps from the main street to the church, we could imagine French peasants centuries ago going up on their knees.

When you reach the top, you are greeted by the church entrance, and through it, more stairs that open into a courtyard where there are seemingly endless possibilities of where to go next. Into the various commemorative shrines, down the dark stairs to a prayer chapel, up the main staircase to the church, to the left up higher into the cliff, through a tunnel to the other side of the cliff, and don’t forget the gift shop! There were staircases and balconies everywhere, beckoning exploration. The different options were slightly overwhelming to someone like me who didn’t want to miss an inch.

The left side of the courtyard leading higher up the cliff. All the options were impossible to capture in one picture!

After going to the various shrines at ground level, Vlad and I went up the stairs into the church.

Sitting in front of the altar, we kept repeating “Can you believe the kings of France sat right here a thousand years ago??!!” I could imagine them exiting the church, standing at the top of the steps in all their finery, with adoring crowds below in the courtyard. (I will admit that we got a little carried away with the Kings of France line of thinking. “I bet the kings of France [you know what] in that same toilet! I bet they washed their hands in this sink!”) But all joking aside, the place was awe inspiring.

After sufficiently exploring around the courtyard, we went up the stairs to the left to more balconies where there were less people.

Afterwards, we went through the tunnel that led to the other side of the cliff and to the true site of pilgrimage: a steep winding path leading straight up the mountain in a zig-zag form, the end of each zig(?) being marked by a Station of the Cross. For some reason I thought there were only 12, so you can imagine how delighted (and out of breath) I was to discover that there are actually 14!

Look straight above this station to see another

But the path truly serves its purpose. Halfway up, just as I’m thinking how hot and tired I am and how I don’t want to do this anymore, I am confronted by a picture of Jesus carrying the cross. “Well at least I’m not carrying a heavy cross to my death. This walk isn’t so bad after all.” Humbling. I could even add to that not going up on my knees, the traditional way.

Halfway up! A Nativity scene carved into the cliff.

Once you make it to the top you’re rewarded by having to pay 2 Euros to enter the church and have a great view. (“I bet the Kings of France didn’t have to pay…”)

I don’t need your view!

This was my reward at the top:

Can we take a moment to talk about two things? The first one being how amazed I am at the architecture of Rocamadour. I’m already amazed by the domed ceilings of Medieval cathedrals and their precision.

How does it not fall in??

But this Medieval cathedral is built into the sheer face of a cliff. Even with today’s technology it would be extremely difficult to build something of this size at this location, not to mention that the road leading up to Rocamadour is tiny and winding. They could only bring a certain amount of stones at a time.

Such a perfect fit! I’m amazed.

The other thing I’d like to talk about is how touristy Rocamadour is. I could leave off here so you’d think Rocamadour is just the most magical place on Earth. I could not show you the ice cream store at the entrance to the church.

I could not tell you that up and down every street are the most ridiculous and unecessary touristy knick-knacks.

Every street looks like this. Seriously, why would you buy an umbrella with toy dogs on it at Rocamadour?? I couldn’t even bring myself to take pictures of the Medieval-looking fairy figurines, seductively holding their pregnant stomachs. Yes, unfortunately you read that sentence correctly. I thought America was the only place that could ruin a beautiful place with materialism and tourist crap. But apparently that is universal.

So Vlad and I took off down a small street away from the crowds and stores.

After passing through that gate, we saw a nondescript gravel trail leading up the cliff.

We decided to take it.

I’m just now realizing that Vlad wore the same outfit both days. That’s not very French. Anyways, I’m so glad we took the trail. We were rewarded with beautiful views

and a respite from the crowds.

The Thinker

Let’s hope that little trail remains unmarked.

After the perfect ending to a perfect day, we headed back to Toulouse, leaving Rocamadour behind.


About emily

In love with all things travel and culture.
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7 Responses to Rocamadour

  1. Maureen Krivo says:

    Absolutely gorgeous! And more delightful commentary, I must add. Had me laughing out loud a couple times! (You mean to tell me you don’t think the kings of France bought ice cream at that very same ice cream shop??!!)

  2. Amanda says:

    Wow! Fascinating!!

  3. Emily,
    I did an exchange in St. Orens when I was 15 and was able to visit Albi and Cordes as well as Carcassonne. I will be returning with my family (mon mari et deux jumeaux qui ont 8 ans) in October. I love the villages that you included (St. Cirq as well as Rocamadour). These are not places I have seen before. We were going to rent a car for one day as we will not have much time in the Toulouse area. Would you think that the St. Cirq Lapopie loop with Rocamadour would be doable in one long day? We already have a hotel in Toulouse so cannot stay over. I would love to try it if it is not too much driving as well as not enough time to see both villages. The other option is that I take my family back up to Albi (which I love but would still enjoy seeing something different!)

  4. canerkul says:

    This place looks very much like sümela monastery

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