Sarlat - La Dordogne, France
Sarlat – La Dordogne, is one of the most intact unique medieval cities in Europe. It is in possibly the most beautiful area of the Dordogne and a few miles north of the river.
Sarlat is the region’s capital of the Perigord Noir and in 1962 was lucky enough to become the trial town of a new law called the ‘loi Malraux’ which set about protecting the heritage of French towns. Money was provided to restore Sarlat’s fine buildings and it now has the highest density of ‘Historic Monuments’ and ‘Classified Monuments’ of any town in France. Sarlat is now classified as a ‘Town of Art and History’ and as a ‘Plus Beaux Detour’ – a town meriting a visit for its beauty. The historic centre is also on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Classification.
It’s well worth taking at least a morning to stroll through the narrow streets of the old town. These lead into the main square where you can enjoy a drink and marvel at the sites. There are plenty of guides/maps available which highlight the more important buildings but it’s also important to just soak up the atmosphere and imagine what life was like over the centuries. The beautiful honey-coloured buildings are a sight to behold. Head to the Rue de la Republique for a modern shopping experience.
Visit Sarlat during the first couple of months of the year and you could find yourself amidst a major food festival. In January, Sarlat is the venue for a renowned truffle festival while in March it’s all about the goose as the Fest d’Oie takes place. There is a square dedicated to the goose (Place aux Oies) which was once the venue for a fowl market.
During the summer months the festival focus is on the performing arts as the Theatre Games Festival sees open air performances in various locations around the town. It’s one of the most important theatrical events in France.
Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and although colourful and vibrant they do make for heavy traffic and difficult parking.
The journey between Milandes and Sarlat takes about 15 minutes. As you approach the river, you are greeted by four stunning Chateaux. Beynac and Castelnaud are both medieval and fortified and played a major role in the Hundred Years’ war, the south of the river being English for many years and slugging it out with the French on the other side. Beynac and Castelnaud are both interesting to visit with a museum of medieval armoury and torture at the latter. Fayrac is privately owned but the Chateau de Marqueyssac is well worth visiting. In the summer you can picnic here by candlelight. It commands amazing views over the other chateaux and one of France’s “plus belle villages” – Roque Gageac. Here you can take a boat ride down the river on a “Gabarre” which used to transport salt and timber to Bordeaux.
Eating in Sarlat varies from a Michelin starred restaurant to some mediocre touristy venues, so do please have a look at our blog for some suggestions. There is an amazing wine shop called Julien de Savignac (See our Blog) and plenty of outlets for regional specialities.
Sarlat is definitely worth a visit (or two!).