Sarlat la Caneda, the capital of the Perigord Noir in the Dordogne is a beautiful, alluring town that has been well preserved, making it one of the best representatives of C14th France. Narrow cobbled streets, picturesque archways, delightful squares filled with shops and cafes, and ochre-coloured stone houses rich in ornamental detail can be found at every corner, causing directors of period films to come flocking. ‘Les Misérables,’ ‘Cendrillon’ (Cinderella) and ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (Joan of Arc), for example, have all been filmed here.
The area surrounding Sarlat has history reaching back as far as ‘Primitive Man.’ Prehistoric caves with paintings for example have been found and the Vezere Valley is now classified by UNESCO as being a world heritage site.
The town centre meanwhile began to makes its mark in the C9th, eventually developing around a Benedictine abbey built in the C12th. The wars then struck and the town suffered greatly due to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England. In 1360, Sarlat became English and remained so until 1370 when the Connétable du Guesclin took over.
From the C14th to the C17th, Sarlat was prosperous and displayed this through its architecture; new and grand dwellings were built as symbols of nobility, using Gothic and Renaissance styles. However, the town then fell asleep so to speak, achieving little for 150 years, until the railway was invented.
In recent times two things have served to boost activity in the town: the theatre festival created in 1952, ‘Festival des Jeux du Théâtre’ which involved the production of numerous plays and the Loi Mulraux (Mulraux Law) passed in 1962 which sought to restore historic centres. Sarlat was the first town to benefit from this law, receiving considerable financial aid and consequently developing a programme of restoration.
Sights to see include: the medieval sector centred around ‘Place de la Liberté,’ the curious architecture of the St Bernard tower, also known as the ‘Lanterne des Morts’ (Lantern of the Dead), the St Sacerdos Cathedral, ‘Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac,’ the house of Etienne de la Boétie, a great philosopher, Château of Castelnaud with its medieval warfare museum and Château du Temniac, which overlooks Sarlat.
There is a twice-weekly market, overflowing with fresh produce, including local specialities such as foie gras, walnuts, black truffles, wild mushrooms and pork delicacies. And annual fairs and festivals include: ‘Les marches;’ different types of markets throughout the year, ‘Festival des Jeux de Théâtre,’ mid July to the beginning of August, ‘Festival du Cinéma’ every November, which unites big screen stars, directors and producers as well as students studying film and ‘Les Hivernales;’ exhibitions of local artists every Christmas.
Cycling, horseriding, swimming, canoeing, fishing and golf are also popular activities, hot air balooning can be tried and beaches are nearby.
Food and Drink
A typical ‘Perigordin’ meal consists of: ‘tourin blanchi’ a garlic and onion soup mixed with goose fat and eggs and topped with sorrel, foie gras, a ceps or truffle omelette, goose preserved in fat with sarladaises potatoes, a salad with nut oil, cabécou (goats cheese), walnut cake and a bowl of strawberries.
Le Bistro de l’Octroi, 111 Avenue Selves, tel no: 05 53 30 83 40
Hôtel La Couleuvrine, 1 Place Bouquerie, tel no: 05 53 59 27 80, www.la-couleuvrine.com,
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