Sarlat, town centre -
A paradise for food lovers, a thrill for history buffs and a godsend for lazy travellers who want it all in one place... Sarlat's astonishing lineup of treasures to see, activities to do and goodies to eat has put this medieval town on top of the list of villages to visit!
Listed as a 'Town of Art and History', Sarlat's charming medieval streets and picturesque squares attract thousands of people every year in search of a piece of the sweet life in the Dordogne Valley. In addition to its splendid architectural heritage, the town draws in crowds of foodies with its multiple markets, shops and restaurants putting on a fabulous spread of delicious local specialities.
As modern history has largely passed it by, Sarlat remains impeccably well-preserved and is considered as one of France's best examples of a 14th century town.
Medieval and Renaissance architecture
Developed around a large Benedictine abbey in the Middle Ages, the fortified town of Sarlat became an important political and judicial centre from the 15th century, resulting in a period of building in the Renaissance style. With an impressive number of historic buildings and monuments up for grabs in the town centre, Sarlat has always been a fascinating place for both the architect and historian to study. Famous for its magnificent architectural heritage of honey-coloured limestone and lauzé roofs, Sarlat's cobbled streets never fail to lead visitors either down narrow lanes, past attractive inner courtyards and through picturesque squares.
To this day, Sarlat has managed to avoid any 20th century new comers and thrives on an interesting mix of beautifully preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings. Glorious gold stone and timber-front houses as well as 15th and 16th century private mansions with ornate stonework watch over the bustling (and largely car-free) streets, awarding Sarlat's guests with a medieval market town atmosphere.
Its wealth of architectural wonders means that the town isn't short of an interesting visit. Place de la Liberté is a good introduction to Sarlat since it includes many fine townhouses, attractive medieval arcades and numerous pavement cafés. The 17th century Town Hall is on the east side of the square whilst on the north side is the 14th century church-turned-indoor market.
Housed within the bell tower of Sainte-Marie is a panoramic lift offering 360-degree views over the rooftops of Sarlat and the surrounding countryside. The 10 minute journey gives passengers a brief history of the town in various languages.
Manors and more...
Just behind the church is the Place du Marché aux Oies where the traditional goose market once stood (and where live geese are still sold during Fest’Oie). In honour of region's culinary heritage, the square is now adorned with an emblematic life-size sculpture of three bronze geese.
The beautiful buildings surrounding the square are trimmed with turrets, pinnacles and corner staircases. On this same square sits the castle-like Manoir de Gisson, a grand 13th century townhouse and one of Sarlat's most prominent monuments. Exquisitely renovated with period furnishings, the site is open to the public and gives an interesting glimpse of what life was like inside these grand houses.
Another manor not to be missed is the Maison de la Boétie, birthplace of the writer Étienne de La Boétie. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the building's fine façade is adorned with large mullion windows framed by pilasters carved with medallions and lozenges.
A trip to Sarlat would not be complete without a visit to the Cathédrale Saint-Sacerdos. Built in the 9th century and redeveloped over the centuries, the church is an interesting mix of styles of Roman, Gothic and other styles. The belfry and western façade are the oldest parts of the building, whilst the nave and interior chapels are later additions.
The Cour du Cloitre and the nearby Cour des Fontaines were also originally part of the abbey. Above the cathedral, sits the Lanterne des Morts, an unusual bullet-shaped stone structure that has enjoyed various roles over the centuries including a storage for gunpowder.
The Dordogne Valley's delicious local specialities and fabulous cuisine is something that all visitors must experience. And Sarlat is one of the region's most renowned gastronomic hubs where eating foie gras and drinking wine isn't just a thing you do at Christmas.
Michelin-starred restaurants, neo-chic bistros, traditional cafés and farmhouse inns line the streets of Sarlat, enticing hungry passers-by with their extra-scrummy menus. After a hard day out, visitors can settle down in one of the quaint restaurants and enjoy any of the local staples like duck, goose and truffle. Nonetheless, the cuisine in Sarlat is also varied. Les Quatre Saisons is a reliable local favourite, tucked away in a beautiful stone house on a narrow alley leading uphill from rue de la République. The food is honest and takes its cue from market ingredients and regional flavours.
Sarlat's most romantic tables often boast cross-town views like Le Petit Manoir, housed in an ornate 15th-century mansion where the cuisine combines creative Dordogne specialities with a touch of Asian fusion. There are also many touristy but charming little bistros whose menus are usually heavy on Sarlat classics like walnuts, duck breast and finger-lickin’ pommes sarlardaises (potatoes cooked in duck fat).
After dinner, a digestive stroll under the town's vintage gas lamps shouldn't be left off the agenda. Plenty of shops boast mouth-watering displays of regional goodies and offer passers-by the chance to stock up on some of the ol' faves often with a little tasting session too.
Markets and fairs
Shoppers and traders have descended onto Sarlat's streets for the weekly markets since the Middle Ages. Every Wednesday and Saturday mornings, locals flock to town for their weekly food shop as visitors scuttle from one colourful tent to another sampling and buying the local products. As the market's delicious aromas, live music and warm atmosphere fill the air, seasonal delicacies such as cèpes, strawberries, walnuts and truffles fly off stalls and into shopper's baskets.
Visitors that can't make it on a market day, the year-round covered market at the Sainte Marie church is open daily from 8:30 am to 1 pm (except Thursdays in the off-season). Besides the morning marchés, the town operates an organic night market on Thursday evenings and a themed Christmas fair with around 40 wooden chalets selling arts and crafts.
Annual truffle and foie gras festivals are also held with large banquets, dozens of street animations and live music... oh and 200 geese running wild in the town centre!