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Rocamadour France. The name alone conjures up a mystical aura. Let it roll off your tongue. You know right away there is a story behind this name, Rocamadour France.
Rocamadour has been a pilgrimage site for centuries attracting pilgrims and nobility from far and wide. Seven medieval chapels are carved into the cliffside overlooking the River Alzou and the 216 steps of the Grand Escalier (Grand Staircase) have been ascended a million times over.
The UNESCO site of Rocamadour France is a place where miracles happen. The existence of a black Madonna and an ancient bell that tolls all by itself when a miracle occurs at sea make the site both spiritual and magical.
Rocamadour France is situated in the Lot region of Occitanie France and in the Causses du Quercy Regional Natural Park near the eastern border of the Dordogne Region.
Ouf! No wonder I get confused by the regions of France.
If you are planning a visit to the Dordogne Valley or the Lot in France, add Rocamadour to your itinerary.
Try to visit Rocamadour France in the off-season and early in the day. It is one of the top sites visited every year in France, drawing over one million visitors.
1. Rocamadour France: It’s Steeped In History
Pilgrims have been making their way to the holy pilgrimage site of Rocamadour since at least 1105. In 1152 a sanctuary was built to welcome the pilgrims.
When the body of Saint Amadour, an early Chrisitan hermit, was discovered in 1166, the fame of Rocamadour spread. An abbey was built in honour of Saint-Amadour and on top of the cliff, a fortress was constructed to protect the city.
Rocamadour became a major stop on the Saint James’ Way pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. But Rocamadour was devastated during the Hundreds Years War (1337-1453) and again in the Wars of the Religion (1562-1598). In fact, by the time the French Revolution began, Rocamadour was a mess. It was during the 19th century that Rocamadour France saw a rebuilding and revival to its glory days.
During all the years of destruction, the Black Madonna and the tolling bell somehow survived.
2. Rocamadour France: Stroll Through The Medieval City
The main street of Rocamadour France today is a pedestrian street lined with tourist boutiques. Stop for a minute and try to imagine a different scenario. One from hundreds of years ago where shop keepers welcomed pilgrims who had walked for weeks to arrive at this sacred place.
It’s incredible that the original stone gates still exist in Rocamadour France. There are four such beautifully preserved gates to enter the town: Porte Basse, Porte Hugon, Porte Salmon and Porte Figuier.
3. Follow In The Steps Of Pilgrims
Word of miracles happening at Rocamadour spread drawing people to make their way to the holy site. Henry the II of England made his way to Rocamadour France as did King Louis IX of France.
Stand at the bottom of the Grand Escalier, consisting of 216 steps, and imagine the pilgrims ascending on their knees, saying the rosary on each step.
Upon reaching the top they would receive a pardon.
4. See The Famous Black Madonna Of Rocamadour
In the Chapel of Notre-Dame (1479) is the famous wooden Black Madonna of Rocamadour France, with baby Jesus sitting on her knee. Reputed to have been carved by Saint-Amadour, people have come from all over the world to receive a blessing and ask for a miracle from the statue of the Virgin Mary.
5. Stare Up At The Powerful Sword Of Durandal
As you exit the chapel, look up high for the sword in the stone. Another legend full of magic and intrigue, this sword, called Durandal apparently belonged to Roland, a valiant knight and nephew of the famous Emperor Charlemagne. One legend states that in order to prevent this powerful sword from falling into the wrong hands, Roland, seriously injured on the battlefield, called on Archangel Saint-Michel for help. He flung his powerful sword into the air and Durandal landed in the rock face at Rocamadour France. It was the 8th century.
6. Visit The Chapels At Rocamadour
Exploring the chapels of Rocamadour is an experience. You never know what will happen! On my visit, while standing in the glorious Chapel of Notre-Dame, a man entered and started singing “Ave Maria” at the top of his voice. This is a sacred place where miracles happen and there is a definite aura.
Stop by the Chapel of Saint-Michel with its majestic, colourful frescoes and stand before the crypt of Saint-Amadour. The Chapelle Saint-Louis, the newest chapel, has rugby shirts lining the walls. Look for the tree trunks where you can pin a prayer with a golden thumbtack.
Stand and admire the stonework and the views over the town and the Alzou valley. It is remarkable just to be at Rocamadour.
7. Walk Along The Ramparts
When you have finished investigating the chapels, climb up to the cliff summit where the medieval fortress stands. It was originally built in the 13th and 14th centuries and restored in the 19th century. The sweeping views from the ramparts are unforgettable.
8. Rocamadour France: Have A Picnic Under Its Spell
If you park below the village, there is a grassy area just perfect for a picnic. Eating in the open air with a glorious view of the UNESCO site Rocamadour was the perfect way to begin our visit. There are no picnic tables here, so bring a blanket to spread on the grass, a baguette, some Rocamadour cheese and…well… that is just the start!
9. Savour Rocamadour Cheese
It seems only fitting if you are visiting Rocamadour that you sample the region’s speciality – a delectable cheese. Once tasted, Rocamadour Fromage (cheese) will become a go-to! Made from unpasteurized whole goat’s milk, Rocamadour Fromage can be eaten at any stage of maturation. I love this cheese with its creamy subtle flavour. Rocamadour cheese is perfect for picnics, eaten with salads and even eaten warm.
10. Rocamadour France: Practicalities
Rocamadour France: Where To Park
There are parking areas both above the village and below the village by the river. I parked by the river and walked up to Rocamadour. There is a train from this parking lot to the town.
There are also lifts between the ramparts, the sanctuaries and the village.
Rocamadour France: A Great View
Stop at the village of l’Hospitalet for great views of Rocamadour.
What Else To Visit Near Rocamadour
The lovely town of Carennac (Read about it here) is well worth a visit.
Also if you like caves, the caves of Gouffre de Padirac are closeby.
Every year on the last weekend in September, the Montgolfiades de Rocamadour (Hot Air Balloon Festival) takes place. Imagine the sight of hot air balloons soaring by Rocamadour. Imagine being in one!
Rocamadour France: Where To Stay
Most likely you will stay nearby to Rocamadour. This map will give you an idea of where to stay.
Let me know what you think of Rocamadour France.. any plans to add it to the bucket list?
Until next time,
More Travel Info…
Planning a trip to France? Here are some detailed articles about some of my favourite regions to visit:
Normandy: 19 Wonderful Things to do in Normandy (includes Giverny, Mont-Saint-Michel and D-Day Beaches)
Provence: A Seven-Day Itinerary Through Provence ( includes lavender fields)
Brittany: Saint-Malo Brittany
Paris: If you are heading to Paris, here are all my best insider tips! Paris France
And.. if you are heading to Paris solo, here is my best advice on creating the best experience possible!