Village Life - Autoire

With its quaint houses and fine period detail, the tiny village of Autoire in the Lot is a feast for the eyes. SYLVIE WHEATLEY discovers what makes this little treasure such an attraction for visitors

The small but picturesque village of Autoire is situated in the north of the Lot d�partement, on the edge of the Parc Naturel R�gional des Causses du Quercy. Nestled in the narrow valley of a river called La Bave, it is dominated by imposing, rugged limestone cliffs which form the foothills of the Massif Central. The dramatic landscape combined with the style of the beautifully preserved architecture makes it the perfect destination for a day out.

Indeed many tourists come to discover this little gem, often on their way to more well-known places nearby such as Rocamadour and the Gouffre de Padirac. Walking enthusiasts come here too as it is a good starting point for many chemins de randonn�e (signed walking paths). Nearby is Le Ch�teau des Anglais, the ruins of a fortress built many centuries ago by the English on the hillside overlooking Autoire.

There are only approximately 350 Altoirois and Altoiroises who live in Autoire all year round. Many were born here. Jean-Fran�ois Pons or Monsieur le Maire spent many years away from the village but came back eventually, because of family ties and simply because the village is so authentic and peaceful.

“The beauty of Autoire has always been in my blood,” he explains, “even during the years I spent living and working elsewhere. I left because I was young and I had to follow my parents of course but when, as an adult, the opportunity arose for me to come back, not only to Autoire but to the house where I was born, I didn’t hesitate.”

M. Pons says it is the local architecture that has contributed so much to the village’s character.

“My house is right in the centre of the village,” he says. “When I open my shutters first thing in the morning I see the fountain on the main square and the auberge that’s called after it, and if I stretch my neck a bit I see the bottom end of our famous 30 metre cascade. Everywhere I look I feast my eyes and I feel like I could be living in a different period of history, the architecture has been so faithfully kept. None of it has been spoilt by development or modern ways. From the modest houses dating from the Middle Ages to the maisons bourgeoises and the manoirs, everything has been maintained carefully. That’s what I love best about this village.”

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Still standing proud are houses featuring dovecotes, exposed beams, corbels, mullioned windows and steep roofs of brown tiles. These splendid houses bear witness to an age when Autoire, the chosen residence of some bourgeoisie and nobility was called le petit Versailles. M. Pons says that foreign property buyers such as the British and the Dutch have played a positive role in the preservation of the local heritage.

“They didn’t go for houses with land on the outskirts of Autoire, instead they bought the village houses and renovated them with real respect and sympathy for the original style. They don’t live here permanently but they come often, and in the summer months they increase the local population to about 500.”

For a perfect day in Autoire, M. Pons recommends a saunter around the village, a pause in the 11th-century church with its square spire and its typical Quercy features, lunch at l’Auberge de la Fontaine on the main square, a climb to the top of the cascade from which you get an excellent vantage point, then a walk along the route touristique until you can see the village from the hills.

TOURIST INFORMATION Office de Tourisme du Pays de Saint C�r� 13 Avenue Fran�ois de Maynard 46400 Saint C�r� Tel: (Fr) 5 65 38 11 85 www.tourisme-saint-cere.com