SARLAT LA CANEDA
THE DORDOGNE VALLEY

Sarlat is among the most well-preserved medieval villages in all of Europe, best representing 14th Century France. You don’t have to be an architectural buff to gawk in wonder as you walk, tripping over the cobbles and golden geese. There is no shame in doing so. Though 5 km from the river Dordogne (its saving grace from Viking pillagers), its historical charms rival any conjured movie set for Three Musketeers. While benighted architecture and cathedral spires framed by sycamores and walnut groves seem to have turned back time, to say it sublimely sleeps there would melt poetic wax. As soon as the sun rises, Sarlat is quite the lively place with its markets brimming with activity. When it goes down, the restaurants light up and late-night revelry carries over till the next dawn. We’re not sure when anyone sleeps at all. Perhaps when floating down the river, but who could shut an eye with the amazing castles floating by. Okay, they’re not floating you are, but with a good Bergerac wine, you may not be able to tell the difference.  

cathedral chandelier
Maison La Boétie
la est le manoir sarlat

Queen of the Dordogne Valley

The entire Dordogne Valley is a most pleasant place for the mind to unwind and the taste buds to get wound up. Though many regions claim to be the gastronomic hub, if it is the livers of geese you favor, Sarlat is your go-to plate.

Pronounced Sar – lah (you can drop the t when pronouncing…and the La Caneda, the residential area of Sarlat), the main pedestrian street bends at the magnificent St Sacerdos Cathedral, a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin (whether South or North Carolinian… oh nm). 

Across from this cathedral, you will find the birthplace of Etienne de la Boetie. You might recognize it by all the people pointing their camera phones that way. Built in 1525 Maison de la Boetie is one of the finest homes in Sarlat it is characterized by an Italian Renaissance-style facade featuring large mullion windows framed by pilasters carved with medallions and lozenges.

Just up on the hill is the Lanterne des Morts, a fascinating 12th-century structure whose origins are lost in the mists of time – more or less connected with the nearby medieval cemetery (Morts) or with the invading Saracens (Moors).

Le Badaud de Sarlat
Sarlat Cathedral

#1 Dog Friendly Village in France

Not only do the restaurants allow foie gras lovers, but they also allow dogs and welcome dog lovers. Neither are part and parcel of any meal. Even the pets of restaurant owners are on-site to mingle in case you were unable to BYOD (bring your own dog). Either way, you will find plenty of other dogs there. In fact, more people are dog owners in France than anywhere in the world, and perhaps the highest concentration can be found right here in Sarlat. If they are lucky, their owners sneak them some duck or goose scraps. Any scraps will do.

 

Sarlat has its fair share of shops, with water bowls at every shop’s doorstep (though Toby prefers to never mix saliva – we BYOB, bring our own collapsible bowl and canteen of water wherever we venture). Most people do their shopping at both the indoor and outdoor markets. More on that later, as it’s a big part of the French experience and why people come here

dog at Sarlat restaurant
Toby with golden geese
Dog at restaurant
Dog in Restaurant
sarlat avenue couple
Place de la Liberte

Classic Medieval Architecture

In France, the color of the buildings depends upon the geology of the region. Here in Sarlat, the golden, limestone is the bedrock of its stone-warm beauty. Renaissance mansions and gothic villas line the alleys and traverse the main cobbled street winding through town.

Of refined interest are the steep roofs tiled with “lauze,” which are made of the same stone as the wall, however, these stones are darkened by the sun’s exposure.

Bordered by traditional houses 16th – 17th Century, these buildings are anchored by a number of bars and restaurants in the heart of it all, Place de la Libertie. While enjoying your coffee, ice cream, or aperitif, you see the pulsating glow of the Hotel De Gisson’s sandstone walls.

If you are having a hard time distinguishing the English word for hotel from the French word, hotel, you are not alone. You can tour this home, but you cannot sleep here, at least not laying down or after tour hours.

Toby prefers a walk on the quieter, less landmarked side of town, which is divided by the main street, Rue de la Republique. The Western district would be quite grand in any other French village but sits quietly in comparison to Sarlat East of the Rue.

Both sides are pedestrian zones, though you will see vendors rolling through the East from time to time, particularly on market days, so heads up after a few glasses of the grape. Smaller streets fork off the larger ones, and much activity centers around the parks surrounding the town.

quiet side of Sarlat
Rue de la République, Sarlat Toby and Elena walking on crosswalk
foie gras cans
Foie Gras Sarlat Market vendor
Foie Gras Store Sarlat

Foie Gras Your Heart Out

This is the town of the Fest’oie, the foie gras festival. Foie Gras is an acquired taste, like escargot and frog legs. If you are anti Foie Gras, Sarlat is probably not the best place for you to visit. It is probably the least geese activist-friendly place in the world. In fact, you will rarely find any activists here against anything. People come to get away from their issues, not to create some. Besides, the geese farmers here think they treat their geese quite fairly. Why, there is no force feeding… they come running for their meal every time! Until, well, they realize they are part and parcel, the meal. 

People

Though Sarlat is certainly dominated by tourists, most of these are from other regions of France. The area has a reputation of being Brit, perhaps due to many taking stock in Gites here. Perhaps they Brexited, for we did not hear very much of the Old English spoken here at all. There were many French people who live in the surrounding areas, evidenced by their own festivals which the tourists never hear about. Regardless of reputation, the locals here are more friendly than in other places. Perhaps their dependence on the marketplace has something to with it, or just the laid-back nature of the region.

market day

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

inside cathedral sarlat
maison de Gisson

Ancient History

One of the first places we go to when initially visiting a town is the TI, the Tourist Office. Credit Rick Steves for this advice. Here, we gather maps and highlight the historical monuments, as well as sign up for a guided tour. After all, when we visit anywhere for the first time, we’re not travelers. We’re tourists! Except for Toby, whose been there done that expression might fool you.

On this tour, the lady who spoke a bit of English, pieced enough together to describe the first who discovered the area, when the first Gallo- Romans came over the hill in search of venison and “dans cette valley, they drop their bow, look in awe. Ici paradiso… Sarlaaaahhh!” Err, something like that. Just book your tour well in advance.

It wasn’t until the 8th century wrapped that the monks discovered Sarlat, perhaps launching a new brand of mint and jelly under the crest of Bref and Charlemagne. In 937 it came under the rule of Cluny long before George purchased there a villa, or was that in Rome? Either way, Sarlat soon was under the orders of the Roman Empire. Not much escaped the expansion, as Sarlat bowed to Catholicism. It became one of the six great abbeys of the region, the Périgord, and the only village to have survived the Viking attacks. This perhaps explains why it does not lie along the river. The not-so-surviving abbeys were situated directly on it.

In 1147, Saint Bernard passed through and performed the miracle of the healing loaves, commemorated by the Laterne des morts.

In 1181, Philip Augustus, King of France, took a liking to Sarlat, rebuilding the city in a Romanesque style. Following a prosperous time, Pope John XXII declared the abbey Saint Sacerdos as the seat of the new diocese, and the architecture to rebuild, as gothic.

The town did not escape the plague. As well, it changed hands many times during the religious wars, but eventually was left alone in its peaceful environs. It was nicknamed “la belle enormie,” or Sleeping Beauty until 1962, when WWII resistance leader André Malraux, Minister of Culture, began a great period of restoration. Sarlat’s beauty is now alive and well.

Sa L’Art

There are a handful of art galleries in town, the V&A Galerie being the most tasteful and our favorite, 5 Rue Fénelon. For something a little more out of this world, check out the Gorodka, 8 Rue Louis de Champagne. There are no museums to speak of. Of mixed reviews when we were there were installments of giant murals by two local artists. Fantastic art, just not sure it was in the appropriate setting (see way below). Ella et Pitr are the artists.

Ella and Pitr art mural, Sarlat
Auberge de Mirandol restaurant, Sarlat
Restaurant in Sarlat

Gastro Astronomic – Out of this World 

Part of the Sarlat experience is dining in one of the many fine establishments. Foie Gras, the much-ballyhooed liver patè comes in many varieties and price points, depending on whether it is made from geese fattened by gavage (force-feeding),  part goose/part duck, all duck, and hopefully not turducken. If you’re in a restaurant that doesn’t serve the rich, buttery product, you’re in the wrong restaurant. 

 

Like Toby said, of the few things you will find not many French people protesting, it is the overfeeding practice, which began with the ancient Egyptians back when whoever built the pyramids needed a square meal. Perhaps this is where the Jews were credited with building them, as they substituted the forbidden lard for poultry fat, known in Yiddish as schmaltz. 

 

Appreciation of the cuisine spread as other cultures purchased or took by force the pate from the Jewish ghettos. So don’t blame the French, and don’t blame this blog. Toby loves foie gras, and thinks facts like this are no chopped liver.

 

If you aren’t on board with foie gras… there is always good pizza in town. A competing blogger once stated while running that the French make just as good of a pizza as the Italians, as “they aren’t the best at keeping a secret.” Indeed that blogger, like the Three Stooges film, really Cooked His Goose on that one.

 

And of course, there are always sandwiches at any one of Boulangeries. Our favorite was just off the beaten track, but you will need to try them all to find yours!

 

As for which restaurant, it’s always our suggestion to not eat at one right on any square, as like ocean dining, you are paying for the view, not the food. Head up any alleyway and you will see which one is most popular. Suggest making reservations for that one if possible, or note for your next trip to book well in advance, depending on the season. Speaking of seasons, if during the canicule, heat wave, look for the word, “clime” on the restaurant, meaning A/C. Hopefully, you don’t mind a bit of fly to spice your soup. Protein anyone?

Funny sign of wine

Wine A Bit

  The Dordogne wine region, like its neighbor, the Bordeaux wine region, produces wines from the same grape varieties. The region also has similar terroir, resulting in wines of comparable quality and affordability. The following grape varieties are permitted in the Dordogne wine region, the best nose growing up near Bergerac. Aside from a trip to Burgundy, may we suggest the:

Chateau de la Jaubertie Mirabelle Rouge, Bergerac 
Chateau Thenac, Bergerac 
Guyendac Sec, Bergerac

Red Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Fer Servadou, Tannat, and Merille.

White varietals: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Ondenc, Chenin Blanc.

Sign of the Beer Cave
Or, you can just drink Cro Mignon in your beer cave. 

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

Cheeseman Sarlat Market
Olives vendor

All About the Market

If you didn’t get the drift already, Wednesdays and Saturdays, Sarlat is full to the brim with market stalls offering everything French markets offer. The Wednesday market is only for food while Saturday includes clothing, leather good, jewelry, etc. There is really no better market anywhere in the world, and not just our opinion. People come here from all parts and not just tourists. Locals and travelers alike!

Half the town’s residents are kept fat as geese from its popularity, manning or womaning the stalls to an imagined good profit, their overhead being whatever awning they bring. Our favorite here is the Cheese Man. He’s a man for sure, as he once told Toby’s fem master to try his cheese. “It’s like falling in love for the first time.” 

We did cut to the chase of that cheese rather prematurely, before it and the sausage could make its way home.

We suggest you get to the market as they open so you don’t have to muscle your way through to the stalls. Don’t expect them to know any English until it comes time to pay. Sign language will work just fine. Don’t expect any bargains here, either. Demand is high. And you may want to pass by the stall that sells chicken with head still on.

Market vendor, Sarlat
crushed roses sarlat

Weather or Not

We visited here for a month in June and a week in September. Of course, it was definitely hotter in June. That is when we learned a new french word, Meteo Canicule, or heatwave. To combat the afternoon heat, there is the Dordogne, in which swimming and kayaking are tops. Sarlat is popular and crawling with tourists in the wonderful pedestrian zone, but it’s possible to hit the edges of the high season and still enjoy a bit of space, particularly in the mornings when most revelers are sleeping off a night of wining and dining. Perhaps May would be the best time to visit, as the town does not “open” until Easter. If you arrive too early most all will be closed aside from during Christmas. We’ve heard that Christmas is a wonderful time there but haven’t yet been to share our experience and may never will as we plan to hit up the more renowned Christmas Markets in Alsace.

Swimming in Dordogne river
view of La Rogue Gageac from Kayak
Hot air balloon
bnb out our window
VRBO Room with one hell of a view. Pardon!
Toby and Elena in window

Where We Stayed 

While not all hotels and BnBs accept dogs here, there are usually enough to book if booked in advance. Sometimes, like when you do want to call it a night, those who don’t know when to quit in the many restaurants can keep one up all night. We stayed in a nicely renovated VRBO apartment with a view of the cathedral. While not located directly above the restaurants, the rugby teams kept us up all night with their team cheers and chants. Rah rah rah! 

With open windows from the heat, there was no medieval A/C, aside from the breeze the flies made buzzing around the room. Thus, no matter how wonderful it might seem to stay in the thick of things, next time we will look for a place on the sleepy side of town. Keep in mind that if you’re staying in a place of charme and are accustomed to A/C, you will be hard-pressed to find these accommodations.

There really is no better central place to stay and explore the Dordogne Valley and its many castles than Sarlat, unless one prefers camping. There are many options for this along the river for outdoors-loving souls. Toby is not one of these souls, nor is Mrs Master. Mr Master likes to camp and earned his Eagle Scout badge, but by the time one buys all the necessary stuff to camp, it winds up costing more than a Bnb, and then what do you do with all your gear? Your choice though, and commendable. It will place you closer to the river yet further from what we came for… Sarlat.

Lantern du Morts, Sarlat
Lantern du Morts, Sarlat
Sarlat A' vendre

Househunters Sarlat

We have extensively hunted in Sarlat and the surrounding area for a pied a terre, second home, or first. Read our blog about the backward manner in which real estate is hunted and sold if interested. Like anywhere in France, the closer you are within walking distance of your morning baguette, the more expensive. As well, a view will cost you. Anywhere in Sarlat will also cost you much more in taxes, but most are willing to pay it. The demand is high and availability low, which is why most of the immobiliers, or real estate agents, try to steer you to one of the small, sleepy villages of the Dordogne area. It will be fun to search, but unless you are looking to get away from it all and possibly renovate until eternity, you will most likely come back to Sarlat.

French house in Domme
French house in Domme
Sunset Sarlat
Path to free parking runs along park. Shhh
Ella et Pitr street art, Sarlat

Parking

Parking can be a challenge here, particularly on market days. There is a secret, free parking lot just above the park, and some of the roads coming into and above town also have free overnight parking. It’s a bit of a hike but not bad, and with a stroller and backpack, the groceries are easily transported.

Safety

Due to its isolation, Sarlat is perhaps one of the safest places in France. Unless you’re a goose. Or you run into that bully. There goes your ice cream.

Beynac Castle Road view
One of those magical days when you have the magic but didn't bring your camera. iPhone 14 to the rescue. View from Beynac Castle road. More towns along the Dordogne coming soon.

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!