Our series about wanderlust-worthy, slightly off-the-grid vacation hotspots, with local picks (and gorgeous pics) from our intrepid Nordstrom crew.
GLOBETROTTER: Mary Suhadolnik, Marketing Operations Manager
WHY THERE? A friend went to a charity auction and placed the winning bid to stay at a house there. Saint-Cirq Lapopie is a medieval village in southeastern France dating back to the 13th century, complete with a church and castle ruins at the top of the village. It’s rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France, so when my friend invited my husband and me to join her, we jumped at the chance. We flew to Paris and then took the train down through the French countryside (which I highly recommend) to the city of Cahors, where we met up with our friends for the 30-minute car ride to Saint-Cirq Lapopie.
WHERE DID YOU STAY? All of the 13th- to 15th-century houses in the village have names; ours was Coeur de Lion (“Heart of the Lion”), which is owned by an American couple who fell in love with the village years ago. It’s a fully renovated medieval house in the lower part of the village, complete with cable and wi-fi, and bats (completely harmless) who visit in the early evening hours to snack on the bugs attracted by the house lights.
DON’T-MISS ACTIVITIES: There are so many—it’s hard to choose! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Strolling along the Lot River, which winds across southern France. You can also rent bikes for longer excursions.
- Touring Pech Merle, one of the largest known painted caves in the world, with prehistoric paintings dating back 25,000 years. You can’t take pictures inside, but the outside is beautiful, too.
- Driving around the countryside, visiting nearby castles and chateaus. Every scene looked like something out of a dream.
- Shopping at the huge outdoor farmer’s and flea markets in Cahors.
IF I COULD LIVE THERE, I WOULD: Run a restaurant to indulge my inner chef. Or open a shop for local artists.
BEST FIND: An illustrated cookbook featuring local cuisine, created by artist Rosi Larapidie and her husband, Chef Pierre Larapidie, a charming couple we met when we bought the book. It’s so beautiful—we’re trying to figure out the best way to display it in our kitchen.
FAVORITE MEAL: All of them. Seriously. It’s France, after all! Our daily morning ritual involved climbing up the narrow streets to the top of the village for espresso and fresh croissants, still warm from the oven. We loved sampling the local wines, cheeses, cured meats and fresh fois gras—all of which were ridiculously inexpensive, costing a quarter of what you’d pay in the States. And then there was the duck cassoulet at a restaurant called L’Oustal. I’ve never tasted anything like it—amazing.
PACKING TIPS: Light layers are best. I usually wore a linen dress with leggings, sandals and a sweater during the day, and a heavier sweater or light jacket for evening dinners, since covered outdoor seating is common (and usually preferred). Keep a lightweight raincoat handy for midday drizzles. Skirts, shorts or jeans with lightweight tops and a scarf made me look more like a local than a tourist. Comfortable, supportive walking shoes and sandals are also a must for the cobblestone streets and uneven walkways.
FAVORITE MEMORY: We were having dinner in a tiny restaurant when a storm blew through town and the whole village lost power. We sat and watched the most intense lightning light up the sky, while epic rain pounded the stone streets. When the restaurant closed, we went back to our house and stayed up until 2am, sipping cognac and sharing stories by candlelight. We all felt the history of the centuries with us that night.