The best books on the Lot department of Southwest France

Who am I?

A francophile and a researcher. I ran the research department of The Guardian newspaper for many years. I decided to write my book after it became apparent that there were no English language guidebooks devoted to the Lot alone (and not many in French either). I have been travelling all over France since I was a child in the 50s and discovered the Lot, en route to Spain, in about 1956. I have visited every year since. Pretty well all my interests in life are centred around my passion for this area, but extend beyond it -- history, ecclesiastical architecture, vernacular architecture of Quercy, gastronomy, cave art, the Resistance.


I wrote...

Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in Southwest France

By Helen Martin,

Book cover of Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in Southwest France

What is my book about?

It’s a book about pretty much all the towns and villages in the Lot, but also about the causse, the wild limestone uplands that rise here and stretch southwards. It is a unique and special landscape, hot and arid in summer, concealing paleolithic cave art and supporting its own ecology and agriculture. It is slashed by dramatic river valleys, some of which flow underground. The views over to the Auvergne defy description. Pilgrims and troubadours wandered its tiny roads to Rocamadour and on to Compostela. English and French kings fought over its stony wastes and built their castles.

Lot tells of the people, the history and the legends that shaped the region, of the tragic events of World War II, when these wild uplands provided refuge for the Resistance, of the little round-apsed, round-arched Romanesque churches, of feast days and long-lasting friendships. It examines the Cahors wine industry and gives a taste of the countless culinary delights on offer, from causse-bred, herb-infused lamb and cabécou goat’s cheese in little round discs to succulent duck confit.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Three Rivers of France

Helen Martin Why did I love this book?

Not called a classic for nothing, the book covers the rivers Dordogne, Lot, and Tarn. A pioneering travel writer, Freda White was aided in her research by a little Morris Minor, her Oxford history degree, her good French, her journalism, her erudition, and a curious mind. Anyone who wants to understand the Lot in all its many guises should start here. It is written in an evocative and accessible prose.

Book cover of Lacombe Lucien: The Screenplay

Helen Martin Why did I love this book?

Louis Malle was one of the first film directors to demythologise de Gaulle’s spin that most of France was engaged in resistance to the Nazis. Lacombe Lucien was set in the Lot, Malle’s adoptive home, and he asked for the help of Modiano, Nobel Literary prize winner, to write the screenplay.

Lucien, too young to join the fierce if small Lot Resistance, dropped accidentally into the hands of the Gestapo instead, and through them met and fell for the cultured Jewish Parisienne, France Horn. A strange pairing of young people whose different lives had been interrupted by war, they fled both the Gestapo and the Resistance, hiding from a troubled world in the wilds of the causse, where Lucien, the peasant boy, was in his element. There they blissfully awaited the inevitable.

By Louis Malle, Patrick Modiano, Sabine Destrée (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lacombe Lucien as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Patrick Modiano and Louis Malle’s screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film tells a powerful story set in World War II France of a seventeen-year-old boy who allies himself with collaborators, only to fall in love with a Jewish girl
                  
This early work by the Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano relates the story of Lucien Lacombe: a poor boy in Nazi-occupied France who, rebuffed in his efforts to enter the Resistance for a taste of war, becomes a member of a sordid, pathetic group of Fascist collaborators who join the Gestapo in preying upon their countrymen. Lucien encounters the Horns, a Jewish…


Book cover of The Lost Upland: Stories of Southwestern France

Helen Martin Why did I love this book?

W.S. Merwin was an American Poet Laureate and ecologist manqué. Travelling around Europe after university, by the time he reached the Lot he was already something of a linguist and also a Buddhist. He settled into a simple life in a house near Loubressac, exploring the Causse de Gramat until he knew it intimately. He conversed with the shepherdesses in Occitan, the language of his beloved troubadours, exploring the ancient transhumance trails, the unique flora, fauna, and culture of the limestone causse. This is a poet’s book and he knew and understood the causse as few outsiders ever do. The Lost Upland is a book about the causse.

By W.S. Merwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lost Upland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Lost Upland, W. S. Merwin vividly conveys his intimate knowledge of the people and the countryside in this ancient part of France (home of the Lascaux caves). In three narratives of small-town life, Merwin shows with matchless poetic and narrative power how the past is still palpably present.

On its original publication in 1992 Jane Kramer wrote, "These stories are a gift from one of the great poets of the English language, a chronicle of the heart-stopping seasons of one small corner of La France Profonde and of its stubborn and illusive characters. Merwin’s French peasants are a…


Book cover of Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France

Helen Martin Why did I love this book?

Plenty of Resistance activity in the Lot, certainly, but it was also the home of the vicious anti-semite Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who rounded up many Jews to their deaths on behalf of the Vichy Government. Years later, Carmen Callil, founder of Virago, was seeking psychiatric help when she came across his daughter Anne, a psychiatrist, who had been abandoned by her despicable parents.

It was Anne’s death by suicide that set Callil off on a stunning attempt to track the life of Darquier, a drunkard, a rapist, and a man of few if any redeeming features. He disgraced his family and native town, where his father was mayor of Cahors, capital of the Lot. He was sentenced to death but, protected by Franco, died a free man in Spain.

“Only lice were ever gassed at Auschwitz” was his mantra as he sent children off to the gas chambers.

By Carmen Callil,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bad Faith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This brilliant book tells the story of one of history s most despicable villains and conmen Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Nazi collaborator and Commissioner for Jewish Affairs , who managed the Vichy government s dirty work, controlling its Jewish population. orn into an established, politically moderate family, Louis Darquier ( de Pellepoix was a later affectation) proceeded from modest beginnings to dissemble his way to power, continually reinventing himself in conformity with an obsession with racial purity and the latent anti-Semitism of the French Catholic Church. He was the ultimate chancer- always broke, always desperate for attention, social cachet, women…


Book cover of Et toute ma sympathie

Helen Martin Why did I love this book?

Sagan was born in the Lot at Cajarc and is buried there. She returned most summers to seek the peace and quiet of an area so different from the demi-monde of the mad, bad, and dangerous metropolitan life she was more used to inhabiting. She took her sustenance from riding across its stony wastes and introduced her famous friends to it too. Mitterrand and Pompidou were frequent visitors.

Her memoirs were published in two books. Avec mon meilleur souvenir was translated into English as With Fondest Regards and details many of her trips to America and meetings with Billie Holliday and Truman Capote. Her second memoir, Et toute ma sympathie, has not been translated but contains a few pages on the Lot. She doesn’t seem keen to share the place with many. But Sagan, author of fifty novels, starting with Bonjour tristesse when she was a teenager, was grounded by the area and drew her strength from its authenticity.

“The causses....it’s the fantastic, reassuring impression that France is empty.”

By Françoise Sagan, Françoise Sagan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Et toute ma sympathie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: French


You might also like...

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, Southern France, and the German occupation of Europe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, Southern France, and the German occupation of Europe.

France Explore 857 books about France
Southern France Explore 15 books about Southern France
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 68 books about the German occupation of Europe