I have a confession to make. I am a travel…
Sarlat stole my heart.
There’s something about this little medieval town in the Dordogne region of France that takes hold of you and makes you want to linger there awhile.
The town dates back to the 9th century with the founding of a Benedictine Abbey. Many of the fabulous stone houses were built in medieval times when the town grew richer as an important market town. While it suffered during the Hundred Years War, it’s been beautifully restored and is now on the on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage classification. If you’re checking Google, the town is twinned with its neighbour and is often called Sarlat-le-Caneda.
There’s a lot of history here, but it’s the ambiance created by the narrow alleyways and the honey-coloured buildings that captured my heart.
Here are just some of the reasons why I fell for Sarlat.
The Main Square
Market day in Sarlat is Saturday and Wednesday and the main square fills with local vendors with delicious offerings. It’s not just a tourist thing – this is where residents do their shopping.
Lined with outdoor cafes, it’s also a splendid place to enjoy some local wine and people-watch.
Sarlat is built out of a soft-focus, distinctly hued limestone that changes colour beautifully in the light.
The old homes of the nobility and other buildings are a mix of both Renaissance and Gothic styles, where you’ll discover new details or gargoyles every time you look.
And there’s a gherkin, perhaps a precursor to the famed British building. This unusual structure actually has more serious beginnings. It’s called ‘La Lanterne des morts’ or ‘Lantern of the Dead’. Beside the cathedral, the building has had various roles over time including a funeral chapel.
As you wander the narrow alleyways, you’ll find the cutest and tiniest cafes tucked into nooks and hugging the stone buildings. Some of them are in hidden-away spots and are a delight to discover. See what I mean about a place to linger?
You’ll notice a recurring motif dedicated to geese as you wander the streets. This statue, on the “Square of the Geese” puts the region’s favourite food, foie gras, on a pedestal. Sarlat is a gourmet centre, particularly known for foie gras, truffles, fresh produce, cheese and wine.
There are no flashy neon and electric lights in the old part of the city. That just wouldn’t be right. In Sarlat, when the sun goes down, the town lights up by gas lamps casting a warm glow.
Narrow laneways, hidden cafes, lamp light….what can you say? Impossibly romantic.
Les Suites Sarladaises
With so many gorgeous mansions, you should take the chance to experience what life was like behind those gorgeous facades.
I stayed at Les Suites Sarladaises, housed in the ancient Hôtel de Leydis, a medieval building stylishly refurbished in the 17th century as the home of local magistrates. More recently, every detail of the building has been lovingly restored and elegantly decorated by its current owners.
The result is a stay, with modern comforts, in authentic rooms with beamed ceilings, rococo plaster work, 17th and 18th century woodwork, wavy antique window panes, and worn stone – some dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Here, the charm of Sarlat will deepen its grip on you. (See my post on Les Suites.).
With the tangle of narrow streets in Sarlat, you will get lost. But not for long. Enjoy it – – it’s all part of the experience in this pretty, not-to-be missed town.
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