Two thousand years ago, long before France was France, the Roman invasion was spreading throughout the known world. In the first century BC, a small settlement on a corner of land bordered on three sides by the River Lot, was conquered and the town of Cahors was established.
Today Cahors is a vibrant town and the centre of a thriving wine industry—an historic quarter filled with ancient buildings and narrow lanes only adds to the charm.
From the twelfth until the fourteenth century, Cahors prospered. Trade along the river flourished and bankers and merchants relocated here from as far away as Lombardy in Italy. Wine from the region was exported throughout France and beyond to Great Britain.
In the fourteenth century, during the Hundred Years War, a defensive wall with eleven towers and two gates was built along the northern edge of town. (The River Lot provided protection on the other three sides of town.) All that remain today are Tour Saint-Mary, Tour de Morlaas and Porte Saint-Michel in Rue de la Poudrière.
Before you scroll to the bottom for practical tips on where to stay and where to eat, let’s take a look around town.
(First published May 2013, updated May 2020)
When you arrive in Cahors, call into the Tourist Office on Place François Mitterrand and ask for Itinéraires à travers la ville—a map which will guide you around town passing 44 historical sights.
Let’s start exploring…
Take a walk around town—or ride the Tourist Train
Boulevard Gambetta, the main street, divides Cahors neatly into new and old sections. Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), Palais de Justice and other important civic buildings were built on the western side in the nineteenth century but to the east, you’ll find the cathedral and many houses dating from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries.
If your time is limited, or you’ve done enough walking over the last few days and weeks, Le Petit Train de Cahors will whisk you past all of the main sights in under an hour. It leaves from Quai Valentré and operates every day from May until September.
The Tourist Office also offers several walking tours based around a variety of themes, such as history, wine or monuments such as the cathedral and Pont Valentré.
Visit the cathedral and cloisters of Saint-Etienne
Construction of Cathédrale de Saint-Etienne began in the eleventh century, although the site had been a place of worship for five hundred years before this. The nave that you stand in today dates from 1120, the north portal was added in 1150, and over the following six hundred years, the building was enlarged to include a choir and several chapels—resulting in an eclectic mix of architectural styles.
The cathedral is closely surrounded on both sides, but a wooden model built by monks allows us to appreciate the detail and beauty more closely.
Early in the sixteenth century, a cloister was added next door and remains an oasis of calm and tranquility despite the constant parade of visitors.
Search for the devil on Pont-Valentré
By the end of the fourteenth century, three bridges spanned the River Lot connecting Cahors to southern France. The oldest two have long gone, but work on the newest and most famous bridge, Pont Valentré, began in 1308.
Legend has it that the architect of Pont Valentré became increasingly worried as construction took longer than expected and funds ran out. He asked the devil for help and promised to pay him with his soul when the bridge was complete. When construction was almost finished, the architect devised a way to free himself from his pact by asking the devil to bring water for the remaining work using a sieve. Of course, the devil was unable to comply and so, was never paid.
In a final twist to the story, it is said that one stone remains missing from the bridge and whenever it is laid in place, another falls loose. During restoration of the bridge in 1879, a small sculpture of the devil was added high on one of the towers.
Visit le Musée de la Résistance
The highlight of my stay in Cahors was a visit to the Musée de la Résistance.
The day I visited, we were shown around by a delightful lady – a young girl during the war – who explained the exhibits in a mixture of French and English. The museum is overflowing with photos and artefacts from WWII – depicting everyday life in Cahors during the German occupation, the hardships, the dangers and the role of the resistance and pays a moving tribute to the bravery and often distressing fate of those who risked their lives to protect their countrymen.
Since my visit, the museum (then located on Place Bessières, across the road from Place Charles-de-Gaulle) has closed for renovation and the exhibits moved to other public buildings. As I write this, Covid 19 has forced the closure of such venues but because this museum is one of the best in France, I recommend asking at the Tourist Office for the current location.
Sample the finest Cahors wines
The area around Cahors is well known for its wineries. If you are able to base yourself here for a few days, rent a car and head out into the countryside to discover them. The Tourist Office has a number of brochures describing suggested day trips.
Every Friday from late July to late August, les Croisières Fénelon offers a cruise west along the River Lot which includes a visit and a tasting at one of the local wineries before returning to Cahors by bus.
Detour to the ‘most beautiful village’ of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
If you have arrived in Cahors along the traditional GR 65 path of the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, you’ll have missed the ‘most beautiful village’ of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. It’s not too late to visit and one of the easiest and most pleasant ways is by joining the river cruise offered by les Croisières Fénelon each Monday and Wednesday in July and August. The cruise follows the River Lot east to Tour de Faure then travels to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie by bus where you’ll enjoy a guided visit of the village.
If you prefer to visit under your own steam, you’ll find a link to the daily bus timetable below.
Which long-distance walk in France visits Cahors?
Where is Cahors, France? Find it on Google maps
Cahors is located 339 kilometres (211 miles) along the traditional Chemin de Saint-Jacques path. My preferred route follows the variante from Figeac through the Célé valley which increases the distance to 360 kilometres (225 miles) – a twenty day walk from the starting point of Le-Puy-en-Velay. You’ll find all the information you need about both routes here.
Click through to find my suggested itinerary for all five stages of the walk
If you prefer to set your own agenda, I share the steps I take to calculate distances on any long-distance walk (using the Chemin de Stevenson as a case study)
A daily bus service from Figeac connects Cahors with Cajarc (on the traditional Chemin de Saint-Jacques route) and with Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Conduché, Bouziès and Vers (if you are following the variante).
Les Croisières Fénelon operates le Petit Train de Cahors and river cruises to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and the nearby wineries. You’ll find the train timetable here and further information on all river cruises here.
Tourist Office in Cahors
You’ll find the Tourist Office on Place François Mitterand. Opening hours are listed here.
Accommodation in Cahors
You’ll find a range of options for lodging in Cahors, including –
Rivière de Cabessut
Where to eat in Cahors
There are more cafés and restaurants in Cahors then you could ever hope to try during a short stay. Options range from takeout, cheap and cheerful to refined and elegant, with many showcasing the local produce and specialities. Auberge du Vieux Cahors (near Église Saint-Urcisse in the old section) was recommended by our hotel host and our dinner there did not disappoint.
As you’d expect in any medium sized town, Cahors has several supermarkets and bakeries where you can pick up other essential items.
If you are in Cahors on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, combine your visit to the cathedral with a wander through the market which sets up in front of the church. Like markets everywhere in France, these are a feast of fresh, local produce including fruit, nuts, olives—in fact everything needed for a delicious trail mix blend and much more!