Thursday 30 July 2015

Rocamadour, the Dordogne, France

Tumbling down the side of a gorge above a tributary of the Dordogne, Rocamadour is a precipitous and virtually intact medieval village in the shadow of a monastery, below the shell of the chateau at the top of the cliff. Although the village's paved and pedestrianised main street is lined with ancient and atmospheric houses, it can be difficult to admire them. In the summer, the area inside Rocamadour's well-preserved stone gateways is awash with tourists milling around the cafes, restaurants and the inevitable souvenir shops.  You can escape the commercialism by climbing the 216 steps of the Grand Escalier (on your knees if you want to follow the pilgrim tradition) up to the shrines, chapels and churches above. You'll find a confusing maze of atmospheric stone alleyways, stairwells and diminutive squares that seem to belong in some fantasy epic. The sanctuaries include the Chapelle Notre Dame, which is famous for its medieval statute of the Black Madonna. From here, a path winds its way up through the woods, past some gaping caverns, up to the chateau. If you continue following the trail towards the neighbouring village of L'Hospitalet, you'll be able to take in the timeless views of Rocamadour enjoyed by millions of visitors over the past few centuries. Although the crowds may mar your visit, Rocamadour is quite a sight. 8/10