Halfway up a cliff in the deep and abrupt canyon of the Alzou stream, the spectacular setting of Rocamadour is hard to beat. Since medieval times the town has been inundated by pilgrims drawn by the supposed miraculous ability of Rocamadour’s Black Madonna. Nowadays, pilgrims are outnumbered by more secular-minded visitors, who fill the lanes lined with shops peddling incongruous souvenirs, but who come here mainly to wonder at the sheer audacity of the town’s location, built almost vertically into its rocky backdrop.
Rocamadour is easy enough to find your way around. There’s just one street, rue de la Couronnerie, strung out between two medieval gateways. Above it, the steep hillside supports no fewer than seven churches. There’s a lift dug into the rock face (€3 return), but it’s far better to climb the 223 steps of the Via Sancta, up which the devout drag themselves on their knees to the little Chapelle Notre-Dame where the miracle-working twelfth-century Black Madonna resides. The tiny, crudely carved walnut statue glows in the mysterious half-light, but the rest of the chapel is unremarkable. From the rock above the entrance door hangs a rusty sword, supposedly Roland’s legendary blade, Durandal.