Past the volcanoes and onto the rock – Rocamadour, Occitania, France

Our plan this morning was to visit Puy de Dôme, a lava dome in the Chaîne de Puys volcanoes, the youngest volcano in the Massif Central region, formed 10,700 years ago. The Puy de Dôme is the highest point in a chain of 48 volcanoes / cinder cones / lava domes / mars and explosion craters stretching out over 25 miles. It receives over 500k vistitors a year and a dedicated train line has been installed to transport visitors to the top to see the views over the Chaîne de Puys.

Puy de Dômes in cloud

However, the forecast was not looking great for our visit with rain expected by 1pm, but as the forecast is never full proof we thought we would go and see. We arrived around 11:30, but found that the top of the Puy de Dôme was surrounded by a hat of cloud. We saw the train depart to the top, but it was clear that the train would be arriving into zero visibility and cloud. We parked on our own on the motorhome parking and made some lunch whilst we made a replan.

We decided to carry on to our next planned overnight stop at Rocamadour as the forecast was not due to improve for the next few days. I had seen photos of Rocamadour for years, teetering on the side of a cliff and it has been on my radar to visit that and the Dordogne region for sometime. The journey from Puy de Dôme took us right through the middle of l’Aubrac National Park with its twisty roads, mountain lakes and dramatic scenery. We were back in the snow line for a while, but the sat-nav’s attempt to take us over a mountain pass was thwarted by a closed road.

We passed some beautiful villages on route, all so well preserved, picturesque and stone built. We regretted not stopping in Martel which looked lovely and much more lived in than Rocamadour turned out to be. We crossed the Dordogne and saw how the route of this now very meandering river had gorged cliffs into the landscape.

Crossing the Dordogne

When we arrived into Rocamadour, it was at the top of tone such cliff but there is no signs of the famous village. The large gorge which it is built into is below the modern village, now the site of an empty river bed as presumably the river moved course sometime in the past. First task was finding parking, as the Aire we hoped was open proved not to be. We went to option B, a campsite just under a kilometre from the village. This turned out to be a nice family run place, with a father and his miniature twin son in matching overalls busy with winter upgrade jobs with the tractor as we arrived.

First views of Rocamadour

As soon as we were parked up after a long day of driving, we thought we would take the dogs for a walk to see what all the Rocamadour fuss was about, as we were yet to see the famous views. Luckily the campsite owner pointed us to a farm track which took us off road all the way to a view point on the cliff top. We were at the level of the Chateau, below which the sanctuary was built (in 1152) into the cliff face over the site of the original caves first inhabited from the upper paleolithic age. Apparently by 1172, 126 miracles had been recorded at the site and the devotion to Saint Amadour was born, prompting pilgrims from all over Europe to visit and kneel to pray on each step of the Grand Staircase. The town is still one of the many routes of the Camino de Santiago which ends in northern Spain, part of which we visited last summer, with its recognisable shell symbol signs providing a guide to the modern pilgrims.

Rocamadour at sunset

We got a good view of the castle and sanctuary on the cliff side and the kilometre long street which leads from it, which built up during its pilgrim heyday. The path ends at the small area of L’Hopitalet, named after the hospitals built to treat the weary pilgrims. We walked round to the village, but for one tat shop and a hotel, all the restaurants and shops were still closed for the winter. Although with 5 large car parks in the village, this place is obviously heaving in summer and we were happy to have a quiet closed place instead. We stopped for a quick drink at the hotel, as we were losing daylight, before heading back down the track to the campsite. It is nice to see how the daylight is stretching out again as our trip progresses. It was really quite a mild evening as we walked home and it’s starting to feel like spring is on the way.

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