About a month ago, I revisited Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, to interview a writing friend, Tracey Warr, who was spending time there as a writer in residence. Saint-Cirq is a plus beau village de France, overlooking a meander of the River Lot.
This hilltop village is the sort of place where you take visitors, but to which you are unlikely to venture yourself on a regular basis – at least if you live here. Saint-Cirq is absolutely heaving during the high season and pretty quiet outside it.
The commune has done its best to create sufficient parking in a tight space, but you are advised to get there early in the day if you want a place (4€). Even in May the tourist coaches were heaving up the hill after lunch.
Saint-Cirq is a very picturesque village. Probably a bit too cute, if I’m honest. It’s hard to imagine that it would have been as quaint during its medieval apogee as it is today. In 2012, it won the “Village préféré des Français” competition.
It’s thought that a settlement has existed on the site since Gallo-Roman times. The origins of the Lapopie part of the name are subject to debate, but the 15th-century parish church is dedicated to Saint Cirq (the child-saint Cyricus).
Like many such places, its modern tranquillity belies a more turbulent past. The village commanded an important strategic position over the left bank of the Lot.
Saint-Cirq was originally a seigneurie held from the Comte de Toulouse by the Cardaillac family. Later on, the seigneurie was divided among three families, which caused problems during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. The Cardaillacs supported the Comte de Toulouse, while the two other families sided with Simon de Montfort. You wonder how the villagers decided which side to support.
The original château was demolished by Louis XI in 1471, since Raymond de Cardaillac had joined a coalition to stem the increasing powers of the king. It was rebuilt later on but was demolished again by Henri IV during the Wars of Religion. Now only the ruins remain, but you get a stunning view of the Lot Valley from the top.
Also like many villages, Saint-Cirq exemplifies French rural depopulation. Census figures for 1861 show a population of 1,461. The 2013 census counted 217. The low point was in 1975 (167 inhabitants). Although you can buy pottery, foie gras and other regional products, Tracey said there is no everyday food shop in the village.
Chosen spot for writers and artists
The village has long been favoured by writers and artists. The surrealist writer André Breton bought a house in Saint-Cirq in the 1950s. He attracted other writers and painters from Paris, thus drawing the attention of the outside world to the place and hastening its restoration.
The Maisons Daura, where Tracey was staying, originally belonged to the painter Pierre Daura. His daughter gave the property to the region to establish an artists’ residence and exhibition venue. The Musée Rignault also houses temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
She and I had a pleasant lunch on the terrace of le Cantou (word for an inglenook fireplace), a little off the village centre. Afterwards, I wandered around the narrow cobbled alleys, enjoying the out-of-season calm and the spring flowers, like this lovely white wisteria.
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