The seven-day walk from Martel to Rocamadour weaves through 130 kilometres (81 miles) of glorious French countryside, visiting fairy-tale castles, underground caves and passing through six of France’s most beautiful villages.
It’s a walk best taken slowly; an experience to be savoured and enjoyed. Each day will bring new delights, and your biggest challenge will be deciding whether to linger where you are or move on to discover the next village.
(Published May 2014, updated May 2021)
My suggested itinerary leaves plenty of time to lean against the stone walls of an ancient chapel and ponder the hands that built them a thousand years earlier; to look out through the observation slits in a medieval tower and imagine invading armies charging up the hill…
Where is it in France?
Map of the path from Martel to Rocamadour
There are couple of ways to approach this walk, with train access close to Martel and Rocamadour and also at Biars-sur-Cère between Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and Bretenoux. Your options are:
Martel to Rocamadour
Trains on both the Brive-la-Gaillarde to Figeac and Brive-la-Gaillarde to Aurillac lines stop at Saint-Denis-près-Maret, seven kilometres (five miles) from Martel. Bus connections to Martel are availale from here.
Follow the walking loop clockwise as listed, from Martel to Rocamadour. The Rocamadour-Padirac train station is three kilometres (two miles) away and from here you can take a train on to Figeac and then to anywhere in France.
If you need to return to Martel, the same train will return you to Saint-Denis-près-Martel. Alternatively, Martel is a twenty-kilometre (twelve-mile) walk from Rocamadour, reached by backtracking to Montvalent and continuing along the GR 46 to Martel.
Bretenoux to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
Trains on the Brive-la-Gaillarde to Aurillac line stop at Biars-sur-Cère, which is two kilometres (one mile) from Bretenoux. Bus and taxi connections to Bretenoux are available from here.
Follow the walking loop clockwise as listed, from Bretenoux to Tocamadour, then backtrack to Montvalent and follow the GR 46 to Martel. From Martel, continue clockwise around to Biars-sur-Cère to catch the train back out.
Accommodation from Martel to Rocamadour
Villages along the long-distance walking path from Martel to Rocamadour offer accommodation at intervals to suit most walkers.
0.0 km (0.0 mi) Martel
16.7 km (10.4 mi) Turenne
22.7 km (14.2 mi) Collonges-la-Rouge
37.7 km (23.6 mi) Curemonte
49.7 km (31.1 mi) Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
71.7 km (44.8 mi) Bretenoux
82.2 km (51.4 mi) Autoire
87.6 km (54.8 mi) Loubressac
103.6 km (64.8 mi) Carennac
129.2 km (80.8 mi) l’Hôpital
130.2 km (81.4 mi) Rocamadour
Suggested itinerary for walking from Martel to Rocamadour
My suggested itinerary recommends a mix of long and short days to allow plenty of time for exploring Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux and for lingering in the six ‘most beautiful villages’ that this walk visits.
There are two sections longer than 25 kilometres (15.6 miles) which, I confess, is as far as I like to walk in one day. Both can be easily reduced to lighten the daily load.
The longest section, from Collonges-la-Rouge to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne requires a walk of 27 kilometres (16.9 miles). If you are able to extend your schedule by one day, this section can be broken with an overnight stay in Curemonte. If your time is limited, I suggest taking a taxi from Collonges-la-Rouge to the ancient chapel at Saint-Hilaire de la Combe (located a short distance before Curemonte) and beginning the day’s walk there.
The last section, from Carennac, requires a walk of 25.6 kilometres (16 miles) to l’Hôpital or 26.6 kilometres (16.6 miles) if you continue on to Rocamadour. If this is further than you wish to walk in a day, I recommend taking a taxi from Carennac to Montvalent and continuing your walk from there.
It is certainly possible to complete the walk in fewer than the recommended eight days, but this schedule is based around my ‘enjoy breakfast, walk ten kilometres, have a nice lunch, walk another ten kilometres and linger over dinner’ philosophy.
Day 1 Martel to Turenne (16.7 km/10.4 mi). Explore Turenne and the château in the afternoon.
Day 2 Turenne to Collonges-la-Rouge (6 km/3.8 mi). Arrive in time for lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing and exploring the village.
Day 3 Collonges-la-Rouge to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (27 km/16.9 mi).
Day 4 Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to Bretenoux (18 km/11.3 mi). Explore Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne this morning, walk to Biars-sur-Cère, then take a taxi into Bretenoux to make up time (and because you may be tired after yesterday’s long walk!).
Day 5 Bretenoux to Loubressac (15.9 km/9.9 mi). Visit Bretenoux markets (Tuesday or Saturday mornings only) and stop at Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux on the way to Loubressac.
Day 6 Loubressac to Carennac (16 km/10 mi). Take time for a tour of the Gouffre de Padirac and arrive in Carennac in the afternoon, in time to visit the church and cloister.
Day 7 Carennac to Rocamadour (26.6 km/16.6 mi).
Day 8 Rocamadour. Take a well-earned rest and explore Rocamadour.
If you prefer to set your own agenda, I share the steps I take to plan my itinerary on any long-distance walk (using the Chemin de Stevenson as a case study)
Highlights of the walk from Martel to Rocamadour
Visit six of the most beautiful villages in France
There are more than 30,000 small villages in France but only 159 of them can claim to be among the ‘most beautiful’. (To qualify, a village must enjoy a rural setting, at least two historical monuments which it commits to protecting and preserving and have a population of less than 2,000.)
This corner of France has more than its fair share of most beautiful villages and on the walk from Martel to Rocamadour, you’ll visit—
Turenne—a charming maze of narrow lanes, all leading uphill to the ruins of a tenth-century château
Collonges-la-Rouge—with its distinctive red-brick cottages and fairy-tale turrets, this picturesque village is the highlight of the walk (I think 😊)
Curemonte—home to three medieval châteaux and a source of inspiration for the French novelist Collette
Autoire—a relatively modern village, rebuilt in the sixteenth century following the devastation of the Hundred Years War
Loubressac—perched high on a hill and offering magnificent views over the surrounding countryside
Carennac—founded in the eleventh century by Cluny monks who built the magnificent church and adjoining cloister.
Stock up on trail mix at the local markets
In addition to the visual feast that awaits you in these lovely places, you’ll discover fresh food markets at several villages where you can find regional delicacies to bolster your picnic lunches. Time your walk to visit at least one!
Martel—Wednesday and Saturday morning
Curemonte—Wednesday evening from mid-June until mid-September
Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne—Wednesday and Saturday morning, except for Saturday following the local fair which is held on the first and third Friday of each month. In July and August, a local produce market starts at 5 pm on Monday evening.
Bretenoux—Tuesday and Saturday morning
Carennac—Tuesday evening in summer
Explore Château de Montal and Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux
From Biars-sur-Cère or Bretenoux a short taxi ride will take you to Château de Montal. Built in the first part of the sixteenth century, the château has been faithfully restored and refurnished, providing a fascinating insight into the daily life of the nobility.
A brochure (available in many languages) will guide you through the beautifully decorated rooms.
As you leave Bretenoux and continue on your walk, you’ll reach Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux, a thirteenth-century fortress where ruling barons kept an eye out for invading armies. A climb to the top of the artillery tower will reward you with stunning views over the surrounding countryside.
Guided tours are available and expositions are often held during the summer months.
Journey deep underground at Gouffre de Padirac
From Loubressac, a variante of the GR 652 walking path offers a shortcut to the next village of Carennac. You could follow it and enjoy a restful day but I recommend taking the longer route which passes by Gouffre de Padirac—a series of underground lakes and caves 103 metres below the surface.
From Easter until October, a guided tour takes you by boat along an underground river before you disembark and continue on foot past majestic stalagmites and stalactites.
Finish your walk in Rocamadour
Seven days of walking from Martel brings you to Rocamadour—an ancient village clinging precariously to the side of cliff.
It is said that Zaccheus (also known as Armadour and a servant of Mary, mother of Jesus) came to live here in the caves as a hermit, bringing with him a black, wooden statue of the Madonna. The statue is displayed in the Chapelle de Notre-Dame and many famous figures—including King Henri II of England, accompanied by Sir Thomas Beckett—have come to pay their respects over the last nine hundred years.
GR paths and IGN maps
The walk from Martel to Rocamadour follows a number of connecting Grand Randonnée paths—the GR 46, GR 480 and GR 652. There is no TopoGuide unfortunately which summarises this walk into a single book but a few easy-to-follow IGN maps will keep you on the track. You’ll need—
Martel to Turenne—follow the GR 46, IGN map 2136 ET
Turenne to Collonges-la-Rouges—follow GR 46 and GR 480, IGN map 2135 O
Collonges-la-Rouge to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne—follow GR 480, IGN map 2135 E
Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to Bretenoux—follow GR 480, IGN map 2236 O
Bretenoux to Carennac—follow GR 652, IGN map 2236 O
Carennac to Rocamadour—follow GR 652, IGN maps 2236 O and 2136 ET
IGN maps provide a lot of detail, including topographical contours, villages, rivers and the GR path. They do not extend to street level but provide more than enough detail to guide you safely each day. Having one will allow you to assess possible shortcuts along a road and give you a feel for how far away the next village is. Personally, I like to carry a map (when no TopoGuide is available), and have used them in the past to find a detour around the occasional hill.
Maps are available online, at the Paris store (8 Avenue Pasteur, Saint-Mandé) and sometimes in the local tabac (store).
If you prefer online maps, you can use the GPS built into your phone to track your location on the IGN map using Géoportal which also shows GR paths clearly marked in purple.
Local bus services
Many walkers arrive in Rocamadour having followed the Chemin de Saint-Jacques variante from Figeac. It is possible to return to the Chemin de Saint-Jacques at Figeac or Cahors using bus services from Biars-sur-Céré, Bretenoux or Rocamadour. Timetables are available here.
Ready to go?
Download the 2021 (PDF) edition of the I Love Walking in France guidebook—Martel to Rocamadour
80 pages packed with dozens of photos, taxi phone numbers, links to accommodation websites and train and bus schedules, Tourist Offices, market days, where to find a pharmacy or an ATM, useful French phrases—and many more practical tips!