Sarlat la Magnifique

Sarlat la Magnifique

There are special places one always returns to with anticipation and sheer delight. As a longtime expat, I welcome the chance to travel around France and escape Paris, where I tend to spend a lot of time because my parents live in the French capital. Yet Paris, like all French natives know (except Parisians?) is not France. Few areas are as special to me as Sarlat-la-Canéda, or, as it is known, “Sarlat.” I started visiting le Périgord years ago because my cousins live there, in Montignac, a small town famous for hosting Lascaux, one of the world’s most renowned prehistoric sites. I have returned because le Périgord is one of my favorite regions in France. You can read about it on the French Girl in Seattle blog here. This spring, I flew to the southwest for a family reunion and spent a few days in Bordeaux. Then I headed east, stopped in Sarlat, and finally made my way to Montignac. I had not been back in years, but was happy to see Sarlat is still a unique, magical place and was lucky to enjoy it without the big summer crowds, right before the 3-day holiday weekend de la Pentecôte.

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A room with a view

Ask around: As a visitor, seeing Sarlat is falling in love with it. As a local, living in such a touristy place can’t be easy every day. I am lucky I belong to the former group, with time on my hands, and an appreciation for French-style pittoresque (quaint) sights that are hard to find in the New World. Sarlat is the complete package. Visitors will delight in historical landmarks, interspersed along meticulously remodeled cobbled streets, an endless string of medieval and Renaissance buildings, many protected as Historic Monuments of France.

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House of la Boétie, a (renowned) local son, 16th century.

Sarlat

Sarlat
And you thought the Shire was somewhere in Middle-Earth…

Being “the complete package” involves more than glorious sights. There is sustenance to be considered, for one. Once again, Sarlat delivers. Locals and tourists alike flock to the famous market, held twice a week in the main street. The Christmas market rivals those found in most French urban areas. Le Périgord offers an unlimited supply of bounties, from foie-gras (and all duck and goose-related products,) truffles, walnut-based specialties, local liqueurs and fortified wines, fresh produce (ah, the renowned fraises du Périgord!) cheese, and more. You will not go starving there.

The White Goose
Sarlat
Fromages du Périgord – Marché de Sarlat

Sarlat

When the time comes to sit down for lunch or dinner, how do we stay away from les attrape-touristes? (tourist traps) Like always in touristy areas, research pays off. Yet luck (serendipity?) plays a part too. I walked the medieval streets at dusk and noticed the clatter of cutlery behind a wall. A few tables were set inside a small courtyard. There was one left: It had my name on it. I enjoyed a delicious and affordable prix-fixe meal with efficient, no fuss service at les Délices de Lauralice.

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Salade Périgourdine, glass of Bergerac wine
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Canard Confit, pommes sarladaises
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Gâteau aux Noix, crème anglaise
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“La douloureuse,” (the painful one,) yet it wasn’t.

What I have just shared should be enough to convince you to visit Sarlat on your next trip. To this French native, there is more there than meets the {tourist} eye. Sarlat lives up to its reputation as a popular destination, yet it remains down-to-earth and uniquely French. As soon as I arrive, I know I am home, and in la province. Everything is familiar. The main street, where the famous market is held twice a week, is named Place de la République. The main square is la place de la Liberté. Specialty shops, from la boulangerie to la boucherie, or l’épicerie line the streets. The difference is, in Sarlat, everything just looks… pretty. It was not always the case. The once fortified town had a turbulent, and at times, violent past. It suffered during the Hundred Years’ War, was alternately French, then English, then French again. It survived the Wars of Religion, and emerged in the 16th century as a successful merchant town, flourishing through the 17th and 18th centuries. Sarlat, however, was geographically out of the way, and through the 19th, then the early 20th century, the town fell into a deep sleep, buildings were soon in a bad state of disrepair. It took the influence of one of France’s most respected writers and statesmen, André Malraux, once President Charles De Gaulle‘s Minister of Culture, for Sarlat to be re-born. It was the first city in France to be granted national financial aid that helped renovate the town, as part of the now famous “Malraux Law” (1962.) Merci, Monsieur Malraux.

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Kermesse (school fair.) Ecole publique, Sarlat
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La vie en {petite} terrasse
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Le fromager

Sarlat is French. It succeeds where other touristy cities sometimes fail. It remains authentic in the midst of all the commotion. It appeals to visitors’ senses, and it will charm you at every turn, if you take the time to look close enough… Bienvenue à Sarlat!

Sarlat
La plante à la fenêtre
Sarlat
“Silk on you, and at home.” Silk shop
Sarlat
Le lézard (I once played with his grandparents)

Sarlat

Sarlat
Le chat de Sarlat

 

All photos by French Girl in Seattle – Do not use without permission.

A bientôt.

 

Sarlat in the spring – A French Girl in Seattle video (June 2017) 

21 Responses to Sarlat la Magnifique

  1. Thank you so much for this, Veronique. This speaks so much to what I love about France. It’s not that we ever avoid Paris; we just rarely go there, but we found so much more in the regions and particularly, the small villes. France is, and always will be, the people, the food, the wine and l’amour de la vie. Merci!!

  2. Excellent piece as always. Very evocative of my only visit many decades ago. The food is some of my favourite in France. Though some might find it “heavy” I don’t think that is really true and canard (duck) and other fowl are rich but healthy.
    What’s not to love. Because it is at the far western end of the Dordogne even in summer it didn’t seem overwhelmed with visitors. Do the tour buses have it on their itinerary these days? (Hope not. Another nice feature of the town is that it is pedestrianised, with car parks on the edge of town.)
    Because you visited in spring but published in winter perhaps it is worth mentioning that this part of the world gets fairly wintry, and presumably a lot of restos etc are not open?

    One other thing that comes to mind–and for armchair travellers–is that most of Ridley Scott’s very first movie, The Duellists, was shot here and around. It wasn’t a huge hit but is a kind of cult classic with some claiming it is his best movie despite his later big hits. He said he was “trying to emulate the lush cinematography of Kubrick’s film (Barry Lyndon)” in this Joseph Conrad Napoleonic-era story. And look at the cast: Harvey Keitel, Keith Carradine, Albert Finney, Edward Fox and Pete Postlethwaite. I’m going to watch the DVD tonight!

    • Welcome back Michael! Sarlat, just to be clear, is “overwhelmed” with visitors, French and foreign, especially during summer months and even more so on Market days. The whole area, in fact, is so popular there are “canoe traffic jams” on the Dordogne river in the summer! Popular sites like Lascaux, les Eyzies, or le Gouffre de Padirac are very busy too, not to mention, Castelnaud, the most popular of all the châteaux. Still, Sarlat seems to adapt just fine and remains authentic. If you look it up as a “movie location,” you will be amazed (as I was) at how many movies have been shot there since the 1930s. She shows as well on the silver screen as she does in person. A bientôt!

  3. Exactement! Paris is not la belle France, it is just a cosmopolitan city similar to London. I, like you, tend to avoid it whenever possible. I spend my time visiting family and friends in département Lot, especially St Céré, and in particular the village of Glanes where the some of friends live. I have visited Sarlat several times and recognise one or two of the places in your photos. Please note, I don’t update my blog anymore.

    • Bonjour Keith. I do not avoid Paris and always enjoy staying there, as many posts on the blog attest. Still, as a girl from “la province,” I am also acutely aware Paris is not France, and there are many more places to discover and enjoy outside the French capital. Le Lot et Garonne is a wonderful area, and not as touristy as many other French regions (including le Périgord.) A bientôt!

  4. We rented a stone house on the edge of Sarlat for a week and tried to see everything the area had to offer. IT was one of my favorite trips to France.. Great post.

  5. It’s lovely. Some friends went this summer and raved about it. On the one hand, it’s too bad more people don’t look at these smaller towns out in the countryside, which are so deeply, richly, typically French and just stick to Paris and maybe Provence. On the other hand, those who do venture out aren’t overwhelmed by crowds. Yes, any place that’s interesting and pretty will draw crowds in summer, but they regain their character off season.

    • Bienvenue, fellow blogger. Yes, Paris, Provence and Normandy are the top three most popular areas in France, it often seems. Well deserved, but exploring off the beaten path pays off too. Sarlat, you are correct, is one of these places that become quieter off season, like most towns in “la province.” I hope you get to visit one day. Carcassonne is really not that far away.

  6. We have been to France many times (in fact, I lived there for 2 years as a young Army captain stationed at a small post in the Charente Maritime – Fontenet – in the early 1960s) and like many others avoid Paris and head straight to the provinces. This past September was no different. After a flight from Detroit to CDG we picked up our rental car a headed west. Destination: my cousin’s summer home on the coast of western Brittany, near Vannes/Arradon. After 4 days, our next stop was St. Jean d’Angely where I spent a week reliving those Army days of so many years ago… visiting nearby Saintes, Rochefort, and La Rochelle, with a Sunday mass in Cognac. We left the last part of our return to la belle France to two areas we have neglected in past visits and have always been high on our list of must-see. First was the Dordogne. For that we selected what turned out to be a delightful B&B near Saint Cyprien. From that base we ventured out daily to see everything the area had to offer. Of course, a highlight was a day spent in Sarlat. We were able to find parking not far from the city center and, for whatever reason, it was free that day! I don’t know if September is still tourist season in Sarlat but in light of the crowds it didn’t matter…for it was Market Day! We wandered the streets and stopped at many of the stalls, mostly for pictures. I recognize several of your pictures, especially the church from the rear (I have a similar photo). Alas, we had no meals in Sarlat. After a marvelous breakfast at the B&B we decided to skip lunch and had dinner at a restaurant in a small village near Saint Cyprien. Our final stop was in the Luberon region of Provence, just north of Marseille. I had booked another B&B sight unseen in Lacoste and it turned out to be another gem. From there we were able to easily visit the hill towns I had only read about…Menerbes, Bonnieux, Russillon, Gorde, Obbide, and Isles sure la Sorgue. All in all, memories of a wonderful month in France.

    • Let’s not go to extremes. The astounding thing about France is how so much of it is fabulous. Paris is truly exceptional, and not just the heavily-visited areas but much that isn’t, as Veronique’s posts attest to. I am biased–from having “gone native” from my years of living there–but it is one of the few world cities that lives up to its hype, much more so than London or New York which these days are an ordeal for visitors and average residents alike. The “secret”, again as Veronique’s posts reveal, is that after one has ticked off all those things on the must-do lists, there remains enough of interest to occupy the rest of your life, just within the Peripherique!
      Then there is the delight of the provences outside Paris. One shouldn’t feel obliged to have a “must-do” list that includes places like Sarlat because in reality, while it may have been the first (to be subject to Malraux’s lavish attention), there are hundreds of delightful towns and villages in France. You don’t really need any particular planning or list, though I suppose the Le Plus Beaux Villages de France and its 157 villages (well a small slice of them at any one time) could be a start.
      Then there are the provincial cities which should be a part of any tour around a particular region of France (personally I do not recommend a wide-ranging tour such as you have done; better to restrict yourself to a smaller geographic area such as the Dordogne or Languedoc-Roussillon etc). It’s almost impossible to choose a favourite amongst these as they all have their own charms: Lyon, Dijon, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Biarritz, even Nice (though not in peak summer). Then there are the intermediate sized towns like Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Narbonne, Pau, etc and so it goes.
      You hardly need a guide as you can leisurely wander around–rather than rush around–and you cannot fail to enjoy France.

      • To Aussie-on-Ile-St-Louis: Thank you for the appreciative comments about my blogposts. I am glad you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy researching and writing them. This being said, I feel I have to step in here because as a French native (who, like you, once had the luxury to explore France at her own pace while living there,) but also as an expat in a country where time off is limited (or non existent for some,) I know it is not always easy to plan a trip abroad. We want to see as much of a destination as possible, and hit several places on our “bucket list.” As a result, many foreign visitors might sacrifice quality over quantity because they are pressed for time. I think that with the time at hand (one month,) Edwin did a pretty good job at visiting areas off the beaten (touristy) path, actually. As for those who “avoid Paris” and head to la province instead, it is their choice, and we should respect it. The way I see it, they make up for those who will only visit Paris – and claim they know “France.” What do you think?

        • I was just trying to balance what Edwin Rennel wrote. There are many ways to travel and I myself have often whizzed around countries trying to see as much in as short a time as possible (though almost always by train). However, later I try to spend more time in a given locality to get a proper appreciation. Given that he and many other readers/comments are American, I especially wanted to suggest an alternative to the “must-do list” approach to seeing France (or anywhere). It is exactly what produces the summer crush you mentioned for Sarlat or those few hilltowns in Provence (none of which are “off the beaten path”; these are the beaten path!). There is an awful lot more than this tiny selection of small towns made famous by Malraux and Peter Mayle.

          I suppose I am being a hypocrite here because I too visited Sarlat (though about 30+ years ago; last time I went thru the Dordogne I didn’t go there). But actually I am proposing here what I might have wished I had learned earlier. As visitors we are ruining the very things we value. It is exactly this approach that is producing the backlash by residents in Venice, Amsterdam and who knows, maybe Paris (already BnB is creating troubles). But, re your last sentence about Paris versus Edwin’s approach: Paris can absorb the crush (paradoxically even more so in summer since so many Parisians, and especially their cars, are en vacance elsewhere) and two weeks spent in Paris would, in my opinion, be better than rushing around in a car covering thousands of kilometers.

          Especially since if you are based in Paris you are within easy day trips–crucially, by train–of plenty of “provincial” things too, ie. in Ile de France and nearby (Champagne, Chartres, Chantilly etc). Not that I necessarily recommend it but by TGV you can do relaxed day trips to Lyon, Dijon, Strasbourg, Brussels, even Bordeaux or … London!

          My advice to Anglophones (especially Australians and Americans) is, after “doing” Paris, rent a gite on the edge (ie. walking distance) of a nice village in … well, take your pick–almost anywhere–I would say Dordogne, the Gard, Tarn, Gers etc rather than the rather over-run Provence. This is what a lot of French and other Europeans, including Brits, do in their long summer break. It has the added benefit of being the cheapest stay possible.

          A car is of course a very convenient thing for getting around from your base but it can also be a big distraction if used in the “wrong” way, ie. for rushing too far away to tick something off some list. Instead I say stay local. (A big benefit of Paris, and Ile de France, is that you don’t need a car; indeed you’d be nuts to try to use a car. Yes, I know, I’m nuts for trying to tell Americans they don’t need a car!) For this reason, while not being dogmatic about car hire, I recommend against some very isolated gite deep in countryside where you have to drive everywhere–it is wonderful to walk, or maybe cycle, into the local village for your morning croissant and baguette etc or an evening meal in a restaurant (which means a village that is not too small). And in France you can get almost anywhere by train, sometimes fast via TGV but even the slower journeys have their rewards (eg. it is about 2.5 hours by train from Sarlat to Bordeaux. TGV it ain’t, but it goes thru beautiful territory and along the Dordogne river). So, again this suggests finding a village close to a train station. If your gite was in the Dordogne–but perhaps more central, say around Bergerac, than Sarlat which is on the far eastern edge–then you would have more things on your doorstep than you could possibly exhaust in a month or three months!

          Your point about Americans not having much vacation time is alas true (“living to work” rather than “working to live”) but even more reason to take my approach rather than Edwin’s. I know which will be more relaxing and more profound in appreciating the true France. I think your recent blog about your stay in Batignolles (Paris) was precisely proving that point.
          ……………………..
          Vale Johnny Hallyday. Died 6 December 2017 (aged 74), Marnes-la-Coquette, France.

      • What a great post. Having never been to Europe, but going this coming year. I look forward to not only seeing Paris, but many of the outlying towns north to south, east to west. Several home base cities (Paris, Nice, Bordeaux & Toulouse) will afford the opportunity of many day trips. 2 months to explore & enjoy.

    • To Edwin: I can see why this would have been a very special trip for you! Hats off for covering so much ground across France! You made the most of these 4 weeks, certainly. I can tell you planned your itinerary carefully too, which pays off when time is limited. Hope you can return soon!

  7. Thank you for your writings. I am hoping to get to Sarlat when in France next year. Being my first time in Europe, I am especially excited to see the smaller towns & villages. I love to explore out of the way places, wandering often where I shouldn’t (perhaps) be. But, I love to find the unexpected this or that as I go about my day. Not speaking the language will likely be a challenge, but I will not let that be deterrent to my inquisitive nature.

    • Bienvenue DiAnn. You do not need to speak French fluently to enjoy your upcoming trip to France, but I would recommend learning a few basic expressions (like greetings.) This will make a big difference. France being the #1 tourist destination in the world, you will find many people to help you in English. It’s always best to approach locals in their language first, however, wherever you go around the world 🙂 I know you will enjoy your travels!

      • I will dig deep into my high school memory bank for some of those French phrases I learned while in French class. Your messages are such an inspiration.

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