Cele Valley – Val-Paradis
The Cele Valley is also known as Val-Paradis – Paradise Valley as it boasts some of the most peaceful and picturesque sites of the region.
Before all, it owes its untamed beauty to the Cele, a little river that turns into a torrent in spring, hence its name!
The old French celer indeed evolved from the Latin accelerare (to accelerate).
However, the rest of the year the Cele is no more than a stream of clear shallow water quite popular with canoeing enthusiasts.
The winding and panoramic D41 road follows the river and its meanders.
It runs at the foot of abrupt cliffs and traverses picturesque villages.
Some were built straight into the cliff face, others stretch in the green and fertile banks where the river widens.
The Cele Valley was once the fiefdom of the powerful Hébrard de St-Sulpice Family.
Prominent members of this ancient dynasty became soldiers or ecclesiastics.
Others remained in the region, which they ruled during most of the Middle-Ages.
This historical period of local history is recorded as Hébrardie.
Cele Valley from Ceint d’Eau to Conduché
The D41 starts at Ceint-d’Eau, a picturesque village, located west of Figeac.
Ceint d’Eau menaing surrounded by water developed in a meander and at the foot of an impressive medieval fortress.
The tiny village of Ste Eulalie is one of the landmarks of the Cele Valley.
The monk Bertrand Grifeuille founded the Prieuré Notre-Dame du Val-Paradis in the 12th century.
Attached to the Abbaye de la Couronne in Angoulême, the priory was enlarged and became an abbey in 1212.
It was placed under the authority of Aymeric de St. Sulpice Hébrard, the Bishop of Coimbra in Portugal.
Sainte Eulalie d’Espagnac Abbey provided assistance to pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The cloister were destroyed during the Hundred Years War and the church burned.
The current Gothic Flamboyant church was built after the conflict.
It contains the tombs and recurrent statues of Aymeric Hébrard and Knight Hugues de Cardaillac-Brengues and his wife Bernarde de Trian.
The abbey was seized at the French Revolution, however, escaped destruction.
The fully restored priory has recovered most of its spiritual and peaceful atmosphere.
It has indeed become a gite d’étape and accommodates casual or regular trekkers and pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The D41 then traverses St-Sulpice village, the former stronghold of the almighty Hébrard Family.
The fortress still belongs to their descendants.
Marcilhac, the next village, developed around the Abbey of Marcilhac sur Cele.
The abbey was built during the 11th century in the heart of a rocky amphitheatre and is slightly remote from the main road.
Long ago, the abbey owned the oratory of Rocamadour, but neglected it, leaving the monks from the abbey of Tulle to look after it.
The discovery of St. Amadour’s remains in 1166 led the abbot of Marcilhac to recall his rights, when he realized that such a discovery would bring wealth and fame to his abbey!
It took a century to settle the claim, because Rocamadour had become a major pilgrimage centre.
Marcilhac Abbey was eventually offered financial compensation if they waived its right on Rocamadour.
The abbey was destroyed during the Hundred Years War but the Hébrard of St-Sulpice rebuilt it.
It was eventually seized during the French Revolution (1789), partly dismantled and left to fall into ruins.
All that is left are the western porch, the first three bays of the nave and the 14th century fortified square tower that flanks them.
The carvings of the tympanum above the south doorway date from the 10th century.
The 15th century Gothic Flamboyant section of the church is adorned with splendid frescoes, painted around the coat of arms of the Hébrard Family.
Sauliac is perched on the cliff side where many cave entrances or troglodytes can be seen.
In time of war, locals indeed found refuge in these natural shelters.
La Pescalerie is the name of an old watermill and a country-house.
The Fontaine de la Pescalerie marks the surfacing of an underground river next to the watermill.
There are no road sign to indicate the site.
You’ll therefore have to park your car next to the small Pescalerie water works and walk along the road for about 100m.
It is easy to miss the waterfall and the mill when driving, because they are both nestled at the foot of the cliff, below the road.
The waterfall can be disappointing in summer time.
At that time of year, it is indeed down to a trickle of water running down the natural steps carved by the flow over the centuries.
The display, however, is much more impressive in spring.
The village of Cabrerets spread in a natural amphitheatre enclosed within an impressive cliff.
It has therefore always been a site of strategic importance.
The ruined troglodyte fortress that clings on the Rochecourbe Cliff is known as the Devil’s Castle or Castle of the English.
The English, obviously, built during the Hundred Years War.
It is difficult to see the fortress at first, because its ancient walls blend into the cliff face.
However, after a few seconds your eyes focus on the remnants of windows and old sections of walls.
The escarpment is so steep that you wonder how people once carried water back from the river!
The old stone bridge at Cabrerets offers the best perspective of the fortress.
From there, you’ll also have an excellent view of the 14th century Château Gontaut, at the other end of the village.
As you follow the D41, it eventually comes to an end at Conduché, where the Cele flows into the Lot.
Department of Lot
Ceint d’Eau: Lat 44.594659 – Long 1.986626
Conduché: Lat 44.480864 – Long 1.650401