While Paris seduces me from time to time, my true love lies in the sunflower fields of southwest France, somewhere between the pink bricks of Toulouse and the salty air of Marseilles. As I can only choose one place, I’d like to introduce you to St Cirq Lapopie.
Swaying poppies, daisies, medieval half-timbered houses and a wonderful coq-au-vin. St Cirq Lapopie bottles up all the charisma that southwest France has to offer and infuses it through its winding, cobbled streets. Throw in a wine museum and I was hooked.
St Cirq, as the locals call it, seems impossibly perfect, a model village designed to make visitors go ooh and ah. Yet amid the smells of fresh baguettes and the lazy hum of bumble bees, St Cirq bears a grisly secret.
Guarded by stone walls, it sits 100 metres above the river Lot, not for scenic reasons but strategic ones. Several of these bastides, hamlets on elevated cliff tops, still exist around the region, a strikingly beautiful legacy from the brutal years of the Albigensian Crusade, the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. While soldiers raged across today’s tranquil fields, villagers retreated to the bastides for survival.
The ruins of the 13th-century château tell the story, while offering the gentle distraction of a view across the Quercy meadows. St Cirq also has a sparse chapel with elaborate stained-glass windows, as well as independent workshops specialising in handmade wooden goods and paintings.
Near the edge of the enclosure, a cluster of restaurants serve up rich magret de canard (duck breast) and goat’s cheese on red-and-white chequered tables. Even the sunlight falls properly here, onto the vine-sheltered terrace.
So, that’s how St Cirq won me over, through strength and resilience plus a hefty dose of French charm. Knights Templar used to roam here, after all.
Abigail King is a freelance writer with a passion for art, science and travel. She blogs at Inside the Travel Lab.