Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: A Medieval Gem in the French Dordogne

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a tiny village, population 220, in the Lot Department in southern France. This tiny hamlet is perched 400’ above the River Lot on a broad promontory overlooking a picturesque valley. Some years ago it was voted the #1 Most Beautiful Village in France. Consequently it sees a lot of tourists—so arrive early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds!  

During the Middle Ages, the town became a center for woodworking and related crafts. Until the late 19th century, craftsmen could still be seen at their lathes and tables in the tiny shop fronts set in small archways sprinkled throughout the town. Today, you can see some of these craftsman’s tiny alcoves abutting stone cottages; many of them have morphed into souvenir shops or enlarged to form inviting restaurants or ice cream shops. Cottages lining the streets often have corbelled façades, exposed beams, or bays with mullioned windows popular in the Renaissance. The pedestrian-only streets are cobbled as you might expect in this medieval jewell that seems untouched by the passage of the centuries. The picture above shows a furry pup relaxing in a shady spot unafraid of being run over by a tourist’s BMW—one of the joys of travel to rural France in these historic villages.

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Still, there are plenty of eateries and boutiques nestled in the crevices of these ancient walls to satisfy most tourist needs. We spied a pretty rose covered terrace just above us as we wandered and decided to pop in for lunch. La Table Du Produceur is set high up in the nearly vertical village. It has seating for just 16 people and is rightly famous for its duck cuisine, specifically foie gras, plus other classic Dordogne favorites like cassoulet, as well as local wines from Cahors or Bergerac. As we always say, lunch is usually the best meal of the day in France—and this restaurant served up a perfect repast.

Afterward, you can pop into some of the charming ateliers or shops for some classic French shopping. Pick up some cans or jars of foie gras, country paté, baguettes, cookies, or fruit preserves, as well as wine and liquors, scented soaps and bath products, French clothing, Bric-à-brac, and other medieval souvenirs like candlesticks, bronze keys, and French baskets, just to name a few.  

Market day is Wednesday beginning at 4pm. We usually recommend trying to coordinate visits with French village market days. And this one draws both locals haggling over the fresh produce, fish, and game, as well as tourists from all over the globe enjoying the spectacle!

If you visit Rocamadour, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is just an hour’s drive away; it’s a good antidote to the crowds in the famous place of pilgrimage at Rocamadour. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is on the D40 two hours drive from Toulouse and two and half hours drive from Bergerac in the Dordogne. It will not disappoint—and you may make some new French friends while you’re there!  

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Armagnac

Armagnac is a brandy distilled in the Armagnac region of France. The area was the first region of France to begin distilling liquor and this may be the reason it tastes so good. Armagnac is made from grapes you have likely never heard of - Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc.

The Armagnac region is in Gascony, about two hours drive south of Bordeaux. The more famous region of Cognac is 90 minutes north of Bordeaux. Production of Cognac dwarfs that of Armagnac and therefore Cognac is more well known outside of Europe. Cognac is made from a similar line of grapes but tastes distinctly different from Armagnac.

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The photo above shows an aged Armagnac we spotted on the shelf at the marvelous Relais and Chateaux Hostellerie de Plaisance in St. Emilion late one afternoon. We were weary from a day of sightseeing and a tasting was in order. 

The date on the bottles of Armagnac show the year the liquor was put into oak barrels after distillation and the year the Armagnac was pulled from the barrel and put into the bottle. Armagnac matures and becomes darker and smoother the longer it stays in the barrel. The older the first date on the bottle the more expensive your drink will be. If the difference between the two dates is very great, you might be looking at a car payment to sample it. 

Before you sip a glass of Armagnac, it should be caressed and warmed in the hand to release the subtle aromas and flavors that are hidden inside. The shape of a brandy glass is designed to capture and concentrate the aromas, so be sure to take your time and breathe deep. If you have tasted any kind of brandy and found it to be harsh, the quality is either poor or the product hasn’t aged for long enough. The glass being drunk above is from 1974 and it was very very smooth. I can’t imagine how the 1951, also on the shelf, tasted. I also couldn’t afford to find out. 

You will often see Armagnac on menus in France particularly with deserts. The photo below shows Armagnac being drizzled over a pastry while we were having lunch at the Jules Verne Restauant at the Eiffel Tower.  

If you have the chance to try Armagnac make sure you check the age of the contents. A few dollars more for an older vintage will reward you with a warm glow and a lasting smile. If you are in Paris some time and want to bring a bottle of Armagnac home with you, the food hall at Galleries Lafayette has an Armagnac Cave just for you. 

Paris Top Tips

Going to Paris? Research, Trip Advisor, and simply asking travel pals can net you some advice nuggets. But take it all with a grain of salt. Trip Advisor reviews tend to be geared to the budget conscious. High end travel pros may direct you to the grandest of the grand on the other hand. My advice? You typically get what you pay for—and if you don’t fork out some euros In Paris you’ll have to be happy with what you get.

Top tip therefore for Paris: ALWAYS MAKE A RESERVATION and GET TICKETS IN ADVANCE. Many foreigners still expect to wander into a venue and get a great table overlooking the Left Bank or the best room in a hotel. But Parisians—and smart travelers—know to make reservations early, get concierge help, and plan in advance for trains, plane, cars, tours, museum visits, wine tastings, cooking adventures, and more.  

Here’s a short list of some of the places and spaces I frequent while I am there. I generally follow this rule however: try one new place for every tried and true favorite. 

Breakfast: Angelina’s, Poilâne, Erik Kayser, Bread & Roses, Coffee Parisien, Frenchie to Go

Lunch: Angelina’s, Framboise, L’Avant Comptoir, Les Cocottes, Taillevent, Les Fous de L’île

Bistros or Restaurants: Bistro Paul Bert, Cuisine de Bar, Le Timbre, Ma Bourgogne, Septime, Georges, Chez Paul, Aux Lyonnaise, Le Fountaine de Mars, Le Soufflé, L’Estrapade, Chez L’Ami Jean, anything on Rue St. Dominic (Left Bank) 

Medium-Priced Hotels: Lyric Hotel, Hotel du Louvre, Hotel Langlois, New Orient Hotel, Hotel Beaubourg, Hotel Madeleine Plaza 

High-End Hotels: Four Seasons Hotel George V, Hotel Le Six, Hotel Luxembourg Parc, The Ritz, Hotel Plaza Athénée, Mandarin Oriental, Le Bristol Paris, The Peninsula Paris, Le Meurice, Park Hyatt Paris (go to any of these for an aperitif to “live the life” if you can’t afford to stay overnight)

Apartment Rentals: parisaddress.com, parisstay.com, parisvacationapartments.com, vrbo.com 

Museum Must-Sees: Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Grand Palais, Petite Palais, Rodin, Carnavalet, Pantheon

Walks: Paris-Walks, Discover Walks, New Paris Tours, Hidden Paris, CityFreeTour

Sights: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Champs-Élysée, Arc de Triomphe, Luxembourg Gardens, Marais, Catacombs, Palais Garnier, Versailles 

Shopping: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Le Bon Marché, shops along Rue Saint-Honoré, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and any place on the Left Bank. Also Daiwali--my fav scarf store

Street Markets: Rue Cler, Raspail, Mouffetard, Bastille, Montorgueil