The Lot Valley is a charming region of rural France that holds abundant attractions for its visitors. There are some lovely old towns such as Figeac, and Cahors where the meandering River Lot is spanned by the famous medieval bridge, ‘le Pont Valentre’. Quaint riverside settlements include the spectacular ‘hanging villages’ of St. Cirq-Lapopie and Calvignac, both seeming to defy gravity as they cling to cliffs above the river. The area also boasts some impressive prehistoric sites, amongst them the numerous dolmens scattered about the landscape and the superb Paleolithic paintings of mammoths and horses to be found in the caves of Pech Merle. What is often not appreciated, though, is the amazingly rich wildlife of this enchanting valley and its surrounding area. Here, myriads of butterflies and other insects may still be found, plus a long list of birds — especially raptors — and a really spectacular variety of flowering plants, including many orchid species.
There are many reasons for this wonderful diversity; they include the preponderance of limestone bedrock, the practice of old-fashioned subsistence farming without the use of fertilisers and sprays, and the area’s geographical position within France. The latter explains the presence of a fine representative selection of Mediterranean, Atlantic and Central European elements to both the flora and fauna. Additionally, the time of our visit coincides with the peak season for wildlife-viewing, with the vegetation still lush and green before the generally hot and dry summer takes its toll.
We will be based for the week, close to the river, in a charming rural hotel serving hearty local food and fine wines. Each day we will explore the surrounding countryside on gentle natural history walks, making use of the many paths, tracks and quiet country lanes — a delicious picnic lunch ensuring we make ample time for a midday break! Amongst the week’s highlights will be excursions onto both the Cajarc and Limogne Causse, north and south of the river respectively. These are plateaux of Jurassic limestone that rise to around 400 metres and offer extensive areas of dry, stony grassland — known as karst — interspersed with scrub of juniper, oak and pine. In times past these arid areas supported a huge population of sheep, supplying the local people with meat, wool and cheeses. Today, with the reliance on such livestock farming reduced, we should find instead a wide variety of orchids, including Lady, Monkey, Military, Lizard, Bug, Burnt-tip, Pyramidal, Man, Tongue, Bee, Woodcock and Late Spider Orchid, plus both Red and Sword-leaved Helleborines. Many different species of rockroses, flaxes and clovers also abound, together with numerous British rarities such as Narrow Hare’s Ear (Bupleurum baldense), Rough Mallow (Althaea hirsute) and Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara). The number and diversity of butterflies to be seen is quite staggering, and it is not unknown to see nearly 40 species in a single afternoon. Scarce Swallowtail, Black-veined White, Clouded Apollo, Turquoise Blue, Southern White Admiral and Queen of Spain Fritillary are just a few of the many that we hope to record, along with other interesting insects such as praying mantis, hawk moths and the strange, but beautiful, dragonfly-like Ascalaphids. Birds which may be seen or heard include Short-toed Eagle, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Crested Lark, Hoopoe, Nightingale and abundant and various warbler species.
Amongst other habitats we will visit during the week are the spectacular cliffs alongside the River Lot, home of such plants as Round-headed Leek (Allium sphaerocephalon) and Small Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea). Here, the liquid calls of Golden Orioles fill riverside poplars and Black Kites and many other birds of prey choose to breed. Less precipitous parts of the gorge are clothed in extensive woodlands of oak and Box; Honey Buzzards and Red Kites breed here, and many more orchids may be found, together with Dianthus species, Bastard Balm (Melittis melissophyllum) and Crested Cow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum) amongst other notable plants.
Finally, we will spend a day in the hills behind Figeac, in a region called the Châtaigneraie. The area is so named on account of its extensive Sweet Chestnut forests, though it also holds many small cultivated fields which provide a refuge for rare cornfield weeds such as Corn Cockle (Agrostemma githago) and Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). The underlying rock here is made up of granites and schists, which erode to form soils of an acid nature, creating a stark contrast in vegetation to that we will have encountered up until now. Heathers are numerous, while birds like Goshawk, Cirl Bunting and Firecrest are commoner here. Such further variety complements a week filled with rural charms, and a diversity and abundance of natural history long since lost from the English countryside.
The hotel attended to our needs and served superb local French food – the trip was worth going on just for the latter.
I learnt a lot, but had a wonderful holiday at the same time. Our leader was excellent, giving expert advice at a level appropriate to each individual. He created a very happy atmosphere and was knowledgeable about the local area. Having been on similar holidays before, this was the best balanced - enjoyed by everyone, expert or just interested, so well done and thank you Naturetrek.
This was a very enjoyable week in a beautiful area of France. The weather was remarkably good, we had rain only one night, so our days were uninterrupted. The tour leader, Jason Mitchell, was very enthusiastic and geared the walks to the interests and abilities of the clients.
A really good trip, nice mixture of natural history and some visits to villages and also to Cahors. The hotel was very good, in general very quiet and beautifully situated. The food was extremely good and the couple who run the hotel were charming and helpful. Jason Mitchell, the tour leader, was full of enthusiasm and plenty of knowledge. He was good at adapting the daily itinerary to suit conditions and clients.
Mark was first class; amazing breadth and depth of knowledge and looked after us well.
Mark Galliott was an excellent leader with an incredible knowledge of plants, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
Mark is extremely well informed and made an excellent leader - very well organized.
Andy is an exceptionally good leader - not only at hearing and spotting birds, but also at communicating his knowledge. Mark too was much appreciated for his wide knowledge of plants and butterflies.
Mark and Andy gave us a truly memorable holiday and shared their time and knowledge equally around the group.
The two guides Andy and Mark were excellent.