(Published May 2014, last updated May 2023)
The eight-day walk from Martel to Rocamadour weaves through 127 kilometres (80 miles) of glorious French countryside. Located in the Lot Valley (adjoining the better-known Dordogne region), this walk visits fairy-tale castles, underground caves and passes 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.
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 walking 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-Martel, seven kilometres (five miles) from Martel. Bus connections to Martel are available 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 Rocamadour, 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
18 km (11.3 mi) Turenne
26.8 km (16.8 mi) Collonges-la-Rouge
43.2 km (27 mi) Curemonte
55.5 km (34.7 mi) Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
68.8 km (43 mi) Bretenoux
78.8 km (49.3 mi) Autoire
84.8 km (53 mi) Loubressac
100 km (62.5 mi) Carennac
125.8 km (78.6 mi) l’Hôpital
126.8 km (79.3 mi) Rocamadour
Suggested itinerary for walking from Martel to Rocamadour
Recent changes to the GR 480 and GR 652 Grand Randonnée paths which this walk follows have prompted me to rethink my itinerary.
A slight extension to the route between Collonges-la-Rouge and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne pushed it too far beyond my 25 kilometre a day limit and I now recommend breaking this section in two with an overnight stop in Curemonte.
A more significant rerouting of the path from Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to Bretenoux caused me to remove this section entirely. On day 5, I suggest you consider the following two options:
- Spend more time exploring Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in the morning and stay for lunch; take a taxi to Château de Montal early in the afternoon and a taxi from the château to Bretenoux, or
- Walk alongside the D41 and D803 from Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to Bretenoux. This road follows the western side of the Dordogne River but will be fairly quiet, at least until it doubles back to cross the river past Lioudres, and I imagine will only see a small amount of local traffic. This way is 13.3 kilometres (8.3 miles) and will still leave time for exploring Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. (Note: the D940 which links Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and Bretenoux further to the east carries a lot of fast-moving traffic and is much too busy to walk alongside.)
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 nine ‘most beautiful villages’ that this walk visits.
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.
The last section, from Carennac, requires a walk of 25.8 kilometres (16.1 miles) to l’Hôpital or 26.8 kilometres (16.8 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.
Day 1 Martel to Turenne (18 km/11.3 mi). Explore Turenne and the château in the afternoon.
Day 2 Turenne to Collonges-la-Rouge (8.8 km/5.5 mi). Arrive in time for lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing and exploring the village.
Day 3 Collonges-la-Rouge to Curemonte (16.4 km/10.3 mi).
Day 4 Curemonte to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (12.3 km/7.7 mi).
Day 5 Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to Bretenoux (13.3 km/8.3 mi).
Day 6 Bretenoux to Loubressac (16 km/10 mi). Visit Bretenoux markets (Tuesday or Saturday mornings only) and stop at Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux on the way to Loubressac.
Day 7 Loubressac to Carennac (15.2 km/9.5 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 8 Carennac to Rocamadour (26.8 km/16.8 mi).
Day 9 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 nine of the most beautiful villages in France
There are more than 30,000 small villages in France but only 172 of them can claim to be among the ‘most beautiful’. (To qualify, a village must enjoy a rural setting, have a population of less than 2,000 and at least two historical monuments which the community commits to protecting and preserving.)
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:
Founded in the eleventh century, Martel was once the capital and commercial hub of the Turenne region. All that remains now of the walls that once protected the town are seven towers—earning Martel the nickname la ville aux sept tours.
The village of Turenne was once dominated by a château which was home to the ruling families of the region between the tenth and eighteenth centuries. A charming maze of narrow lanes leads uphill to the Guards Rooms, which now contains a small museum, and the twelfth century Tour César which offers commanding views over the countryside.
Take a look around Turenne and find a comprehensive list of accommodation.
Originally founded by monks in the eighth century around the abbey church of Saint-Pierre, Collonges-la-Rouge is, I think, the highlight of this walk. With its distinctive red-brick cottages and fairy-tale turrets, this gorgeous village was the very first ‘most beautiful village in France’, an association formed in 1981 by then mayor Charles Ceyrac who dreamed of bringing visitors, and economic prosperity, back to the small, picturesque villages scattered throughout France.
During the Hundred Years War in the middle of the fifteenth century, many villages in France were destroyed, including la Combe, where life in this part of the world was centred. Today, only the twelfth-century church remains. The villagers moved a short distance to the site of present-day Curemonte, building homes around three châteaux constructed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
After the last few days of passing through small villages where pharmacies and supermarkets have been hard to find, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne offers a welcome opportunity to stock up on bandaids and trail mix and to raid the cash machine. The narrow streets wind through a sprawling town centre which surrounds the Benedictine abbey church dedicated to Saint-Pierre and leads down to banks of the river where the Chapelle des Pénitents is reflected in the waters.
First settled in Roman times, Autoire was devastated during the Hundred Years War with the English. Not a lot has changed since the village was rebuilt five hundred years ago—the elegant stone-and-timber cottages look much the same today as they did then.
Take a look around Autoire and find a comprehensive list of accommodation.
Allow an hour or two to explore the narrow streets lined with medieval houses covered in lush vines and surrounded by flower-filled gardens. From the lookout beside the château, relax and enjoy the spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.
Take a look around Loubressac and find a comprehensive list of accommodation.
Founded in the eleventh century by Cluny monks who built a monastery here in a small clearing by the river, Carennac soon grew to include a château whose high walls protected the occupants. Tucked away next door, behind an arched gate in the wall is the abbey church dedicated to Saint-Pierre with its magnificent entrance and ornately carved tympanum which dates from the twelfth century.
Take a look around Carennac and find a comprehensive list of accommodation.
Eight days of walking from Martel brings you to Rocamadour—an ancient village clinging precariously to the side of cliff, and the second most important religious site (after Mont-Saint-Michel) in France.
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.
Take a look around Rocamadour and find a comprehensive list of accommodation.
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 Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne 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.
Wikipedia claims that the Mona Lisa was hidden at Château de Montal during World War II. I don’t know if this is true—there was no mention of it in any brochure given out by the château—but it is a great story!
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. The rugged walls and towers of this medieval fortress provide a stark contrast to the delicate, refined architecture of Château de Montal. 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 continuing along the GR 652 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.
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 the D41 and D803 Departmental Roads, 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).
It is also possible to track your location using the GPS tracker on your mobile phone with the iPhiGénié app (a paid subscription service which is available for both Android and Apple phones.
Local bus and train services
Several local bus services provide connections to one or two other villages on this walk. Select Departement 46 to check the timetable.
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 by train from Rocamadour on the Rodez—Figeac—Brive train line.
Ready to go?
Download the 2023 (PDF) edition of the I Love Walking in France guidebook—Martel to Rocamadour
82 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!