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Sarlat, Perigord Noir, Dordogne

Sarlat (also known as Sarlat-la-Canéda) in the Perigord Noir area of the Dordogne in the region of Aquitaine, is one of those special places which once seen is never forgotten. It is off the beaten track, you have to travel a bit to get there but if you like old French towns with a lot of flair – you’ll definitely think it’s worth it.

This beautiful little town almost looks as if time has stood still and allowed us a glimpse into the past (once you get past the main road through the outer bit which is not so old). It is a medieval town which developed around a Benedictine abbey and the warren of winding little streets and squares look as though they’ve been preserved for hundreds of years. The yellow stone buildings, many dripping with flowers in the summer months, cobble stone walk ways and ancient shop signs hint at times gone by and provide endless photo opportunities.

It is said that the town of Sarlat goes back to Roman times and it appears to have been a popular place for centuries. Fought over during the Norman invasions and the Hundred Years War things calmed down for rather a long time.

sarlat franceIn fact it almost appears to have become a sleeping beauty of a town since nothing much changed for almost 150 years as bad road links virtually cut it off from the main stream. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th Century that people from outside Sarlat began to wake up to its attractions and a programme of restoration was begun. Having been almost abandoned for so long, the ancient buildings with their honey coloured stone walls and magnificent lauze stone roofs needed to be repaired to ensure they were saved for future generations. The result is a sleepy town that is an absolute treasure of architecture and stunningly beautiful. There are lots of medieval towns in France but Sarlat is special and the inhabitants almost seem unaware of the magnificence of their town which in its way adds value to your visit. It’s touristy of course but it still feels real. Actually, if you go out of peak season it’s really not crowded at all.

The walls are hung with bright coloured flowers, the streets wind their way through a largely pedestrianised area filled with little shops and brasseries – it’s no wonder that this town has featured in several films since it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

The best way to discover Sarlat today is on foot. Pick up a map from the tourist office and then just wander and take in the sights as you dip into a maze of narrow streets lined with 16th century houses and dottted with pretty squares. There are some hills and steep stairs to navigate if you want to get a stunning view over the town  – they’re worth the effort. There are plenty of stop off places to eat, drink and watch the world go by .

Sarlat Market

Although an ancient town, Sarlat has embraced the present too. The Sainte-Marie church built in 1365 has been converted into an amazing covered market with the most enormous doors – its a must for food lovers. You’ll find foie gras, the famous cepe mushrooms, magret (duck breasts) & confit (conserves of duck or goose), truffles, walnuts, strawberries and countless other delicious local products to tempt the visitor’s taste buds. The Saturday morning market is superb, friendly stall holders, lots of choice and very picturesque.

sarlat franceBuilt into the church bell tower is a glass lift and at the top – a 360° view of Sarlat through the glass walls. Quite at odds with the ancient architecture it works very well and provides for a stunning view.

Sarlat comes alive during the summer months when a range of street entertainments animate the narrow streets of the town Festivals like the Jeux de Théâtre in the old town are picturesque and authentic. There’s entertainment in the winter months too, notably the Fest’Oie, the festival of the goose with street food, music and dancing and an enormous lunch in the municipal hall for up to 800 people!

In the evenings, the town’s streets are lit by gas light giving a special and magical ambience to the ancient buildings.

A beautiful town, perfect for exploring night and day…

How to get to Sarlat

Going by car is the best way to visit Sarlat and also to take advantage of a visit to the surrounding area. Its a place of beautiful landscapes and castles, you can take a farm tour in one of the many picturesque villages, visit prehistoric caves or a wildlife park… there’s plenty to see and do in the area.

Getting there by train: Major train stations are at Brive, Souillac or Gourdon,  from where you can hire a car. Although there is a Sarlat train station, it is about a 25 minute walk into town (not so good if you have lots of luggage), but you can hire a taxi. Trains to Sarlat are infrequent and seasonal so do check in advance if you intend to take the train.

Nearest airport:  Brive Dordogne or Bergerac (you can hire a car at either of these airports).

Website for Sarlat Tourism

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