Enchanting is not a word I use often. But, from…
I’m reluctant to admit it, but when I arrived in the historic town of Sarlat in southwestern France, I was a damsel in distress.
One of the charms of Les Suites Sarladaises is that it’s located in the heart of the old town – – a pedestrian only area. Since I didn’t make the reservation directly, I should have contacted my hosts in advance to get the details on where to park. But I forgot, and then my phone card died. The GPS on my rental car led me in circles. Finally, I parked and navigated the narrow streets. Once I got to Les Suites, I wasn’t sure I could find my way back to the car.
Fittingly, for a medieval town like Sarlat, a gallant knight (and his black cat Arcadio) came to my rescue.
Dan, one of the gracious hosts at Les Suites holiday apartments got things all sorted out. It’s straight forward once you have the directions. After a little wine and a purring cat cuddle, all was well and I began to fall for Sarlat and the beautiful space created by Dan and his partner, Francesco.
An Authentic Experience
With its ancient stonework, wavy glass windows and exposed wooden beams, a stay at Les Suites Sarladaises provides a real taste of the elegance of the Sarlat of the past. It’s housed in the ancient Hôtel de Leydis, a medieval building that was refurbished in the 17th century as the home of the magistrates of the Leydis family who presided over the royal court of justice. Over the years, other judges lived in the in the home’s stylish rooms but it later fell to ruin.
Fortunately, Dan and Francesco have a passion for renovating old homes, and they spent three years restoring Les Suites to its original splendor.
They’ve even created their own coat of arms, posted at the entrance to Les Suites. You might be surprised to find a symbol of a salamander at the top of the shield and in places throughout Sarlat. This is the official symbol of the city, awarded to Sarlat by the King of France for its loyalty during the 100 Years War. The ‘fire salamander’ was often found in the ashes of burnt logs and became known for its lack of fear and defiance to danger. The other symbols, and indeed, the names of each of the apartments, are based on the mythical beasts of heraldry: the unicorn, griffin, phoenix and caladrius.
This charming stone building has three studio and two one-bedroom apartments, each with private bathrooms and kitchen facilities so that you can take full advantage of the local markets just steps away. I stayed in a spacious studio named after the majestic phoenix, the miraculous bird from Greek mythology that rises from the ashes and symbolizes new beginnings.
Le Phenix was once the dining room of the judges’ residence dating from 1640. High ceilings, a Directoire style fireplace and antique furniture made me feel like the lady of the manor. Spotlessly clean, it has a comfy queen-sized bed with luxurious, high thread count gleaming white linens. And, in the category of amusing historical anecdotes, it has a clothes closet that was once the judges’ privy.
I was delighted to find a bottle of local wine and a fresh baguette waiting for me in the kitchen, which was stocked with all of the incidental items you might need during your stay.
Although Les Suites Sarladaises has the patina of age, the apartments also have thoroughly modern amenities, including fast Wi-Fi, which I greatly appreciated. And that rain shower was just heavenly.
A Labour of Love
Dan gave me a tour of all of the apartments, and it was clear from his enthusiasm and respect for the heritage of the building that the renovation was a labour of love.
Dan and Francesco did all the design and decoration of the apartments themselves. Although they used tradespeople, like plumbers and electricians, they did all of the painting and wood refinishing. As Dan put it, it was a monumental task to “scrape away the crud of ages” to prepare old surfaces for paint or stain. Dan says he’s painted every surface of the house three times and has restored 400 square metres of flooring.
The attention to detail in the restoration and decor is astonishing. Here in the salon of La Salamandre, the grandest apartment, the two discovered a 17th century Dutch still life painting cut down to fit a carved frame in the original woodwork of the fireplace. They had the painting restored in Italy.
The stenciled designs on the wall were done with the help of a friend, Meg Roberts, who based the stencil shapes on the frame in the fireplace and matched the colour to coordinate with the fabric on the chairs. That work alone took a month, but the effect is nothing short of brilliant.
For me, the pièce de résistance is the dreamy wrought iron balcony off this apartment that overlooks the rooftops of wonderful Sarlat. As Dan describes it, from this balcony in the morning, you will hear the song of swallows and smell the delights of nearby bakeries. In the evening, when I saw it, you can sit and sip as the sun goes down and watch the gas lamps light up this magical place.
Thank you to the Dordogne Périgord Tourism Board for hosting my stay in Sarlat and to Les Suites Sarladaises for providing the interior photos. My opinions are, as always, my own.
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