The medieval Sarlat is a beautifully restored city in the middle of Perigord Noir, part of Dordogne or Perigord department of France. Perigord is divided into four subregions with different colours attributed to them: black, white, green and purple. The name Périgord black (noir) is derived from the dark colour of its evergreen oak forests and the dark, fertile soil. As Sarlat town merged with its neighbour La Caneda in the 1960s, the full name of the city now is Sarlat-la-Canéda. Sarlat developed around a large Benedictine abbey, first documented in the 9th century. Sarlat was a prosperous town until 18th century but after that it was almost forgotten for nearly 150 years, only to wake up again some 30 years ago. Sarlat is reputed to have the highest density of historic monuments in Europe. The city welcomes more than 2 million visitors a year. Here is a selection of things for you to see in Sarlat.
The Cathedral of Sarlat
The cathedral was originally the church of Sarlat Abbey, completed in the late 17th century. Now it is a mix of Roman, Gothic and other styles. Just above the cathedral is an ancient abbey cemetery with several sarcophagi. Notice an unusual structure above the cathedral and the gardens: 'La Lanterne des Morts', the lantern of the dead. This bullet shaped building has had various roles over time, including a funeral chapel.
Etienne de La Boétie house
Born in 1530 in Peyrou Square opposite the bishop’s palace, Etienne de La Boétie has marked the city with his humanism. When he was 18, he wrote the “Discourse on Voluntary Servitude”, an avant-gardist introduction to modern democracy. He was a lifelong friend of Michel de Montaigne.
The main square, the Place de la Liberté
This lovely square is surrounded by wonderful buildings and has a view of the bell tower of the cathedral. Many of the buildings on the square are home to restaurants, making this an excellent spot to stop for a drink or a meal. The town hall with its circular bell tower on the roof is also located there.
The world famous architect, Jean Nouvel, was born in Sarlat. He has recently restored the partly destroyed church of Sainte-Marie in the centre of Sarlat. Mixing contemporary elements with 14th century architecture of the church, the interior has now been converted into an elegant covered market. Its bell tower has a glass elevator with panoramic views, which was inaugurated in 2013. It takes passengers up above the top of the tower to admire breathtaking views of the town. In summer (15 June to 15 September) the lift is open from 9 am to 9 pm. Be careful when planning your visit during the rest of the year. It has one and a half hour lunch break and shorter opening hours then, so check the opening times in advance not to miss it like me.
Fontaine Sainte Marie
The unusual Fontaine Sainte-Marie is nestled in a natural grotto near the former Sainte Marie church. The 12th century fountain was used until the 18th century when the water became undrinkable. The grotto was reopened in the late 1960s during the restoration of the city. Address: Rue des Consuls.
Old market square
Place du Marché aux Trois Oies or Geese's Market Square is a beautiful old marketplace. In the centre of the square, there is a statue of three bronze geese. By the way, Sarlat hosts annual Fest’Oie, goose festival, in March when live birds and market stalls fill the streets and Sarlat’s top chefs serve an outdoor festival meal. It leads us to the gastronomy of Sarlat. Truffles, foie gras, porcini, chanterelles, nuts, meats, and fine champagne, chestnuts, strawberries, liqueurs, and brandies are some examples of its finest gourmet cuisine. The best recipes are passed from generation to generation and have contributed to a gastronomic reputation of Sarlat. It’s one of the reasons why the city attracts a large number of visitors.
Narrow streets of the old town
Narrow streets of the old town are awesome. It seems easy to get lost at the first visit.
Historic buildings of Sarlat
Hotel de Vienne
Hotel de Vienne is named after one of its owners, Jean de Vienne, Comptroller General of Finance Henry IV. It was built in the middle of the 16th century, including the noble tower. The building was made by merging the three historic houses together. The entrance gate and the carved decoration of the noble tower allow access to the impressive reception room.
The Presidial, founded by Henry II, is the former seat of royal justice at Sarlat. Restored in the early 17th century, it was used as a court until the late 18th century. Its facades and original lantern roofs are a historical monument. It is currently occupied by a restaurant.
The hotel de Grézel
Built at the end of the 15th century, and today occupied by the restaurant Gueule and Gosier, the hotel de Grézel has a half-timbered facade, attached to which is a noble tower with a beautiful door in Gothic flamboyant accolade.
Interesting facts about Sarlat
- The emblem of Sarlat is a salamander, maybe due to the fact that once the salamander was the animal-emblem of king François I during the French Renaissance. You can find it at the top of the Cathedral tower and see it in other places in the city.
- Sarlat has its own language: Langue d'oc or Occitan. Although many people have not heard of Occitan, it’s one of the several Romance languages that evolved from vernacular Latin. It is still widely spoken and taught at several schools of Sarlat.
- Sarlat is one of the favourite settings for directors of historical films and it is the third most popular city to be used as a film set in France, after Paris and Nice. Sarlat has been the background for, among others, the film Captain Fracasse, D’Artagnan, Robert Hossein’s film of Les Misérables, Jacquou le Croquant, Cartouche, Luc Besson’s Joan of Arc.
Practical tip: Do not forget to visit the Sarlat tourism information centre for the best advice on visiting the city.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my press trip experience to Perigord, Dordogne. I was kindly invited by the Comite Departemental Tourisme Dordogne. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own. I had a great time and I wish you the same! Happy travels!
Like it? Pin it!
What did you think? Have you been to Sarlat? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author