Today Puy L’Évêque is a bustling little town on the banks of the River Lot. The town rises steeply from the riverbank and for those on foot there are some very pretty walks up through the narrow streets to the main part of town where you’ll find great views of the valley below. Here is where you’ll find a popular weekly market every Tuesdays.
A little history
Located at the opening of one of the narrowest isthmuses of the Lot Valley the town perches on a rocky promontory dominating the valley, on which are found the oldest buildings. However, there’s one exception: the church of Saint-Sauveur which was constructed at a distance from the town on a hill offering it a dominant and protected position. The rocky outcrop, formerly known as ‘pech’ or ‘puig’ in ancient Celtic gave its name to the village in the form of ‘Puy’.
At the beginning of the 13th Century the town was taken by the Albigensians, led by Guillaume de Cardaillac, Bishop of Cahors, who joined it to his diocese. A Papal Decree confirmed this union in 1227 and the town took the name of Puy-l’Évéque.
In view of its strategic position on the river, Puy-l’Évêque was occupied several times during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Then during the religious wars it was besieged and bombarded by, a future, Lieutenant of Henri IV. The town resisted and the siege was lifted in 1580.
Behind the 13th Century Donjon, which is the last vestige of the Episcopal Palace, the town descends in terraces of superb medieval, ochre-coloured dwellings to the Quay where there was an active port.
At the heart of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée ‘Cahors’ vineyards, Puy-L’Évêque is home to some grand estates and châteaux. The principle grape variety is Malbec the colour of which leads to its popular name black-wine. Rich in tannins and bouquet, this wine seduced the Russian Tsars and some of historical Heads of Europe. Cahors wine marries marvelously with the local cuisine: foie gras, cèpes, duck, walnut tart, truffles…. (If you like a walnut tart then we can strongly recommend those produced by Franck Tonel in the village. As part of essential research one was consumed, here in the office – a real artist at work).
On the subject of food and wine, if you are in town and fancy something to eat, we can recommend the restaurant Le Médiéval (which can be found on the narrow one way road between the two levels of town), we’ve been and were impressed. Booking recommended. Then further up at the top of town there’s the very informal ‘Les Dodus en Ville’ – not wanting to miss a chance – we’ve tried that too!
Puy-L’Évêque and Gustave Eiffel
The previously extremely industrious and notoriously boatmen who’d worked the river to support their often ruthless family dynasties, saw their livelihoods start to decline in 1869 with the arrival of the railway.
A bridge was been required, at Puy L’Évêque, to join the two sides of the river. The first attempt was a masonry bridge similar to the ones at Lacroze, Luzech and Douelle. However the huge floods of late October 1868 washed this away. So Gustave Eiffel who was becoming known for his metal constructions, such as the Eiffel Tower, was called upon to try and avoid a repeat of the disaster. So the bridge was built with metal beams with wire netting resting on masonry piles.
When opening the line and bridge a great crowd gathered. The Mayor of Cahors came to welcome the first person arriving by train, in this case from Monsempron-Libos. In his memoires an old inhabitant of Puy-L’Évêque tells the story told by his parents that Gustave Eiffel was himself aboard for the inaugural trip. However, there are no known documents to confirm or disprove this testimony.
The line was used for more than a century. The last ‘autorail’, which had replaced the steam trains in 1955 stopped running on 26th September 1971. First the river was redundant, then the train line and now the road network was to be king.
The tourist office can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tourisme-lot-vignoble.com
Photo Credits - Tourist Office and Pascal B