THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND SARLAT
- The Tourist Office in the centre offers a vrey nice (English) walking guide in the centre and a free plan. Buy your tickets there for the ‘Ascenseur Bellevue’: an elevator with glass walls that offers you 360 views of Sarlat. It is build at the back of a former church on the main square (= Place de la Liberté), which contains also a markethall. It’s enormous doors are open almost every day, untill 14.00. The weekly markets are held on Saturday and Wednesday, filling up the whole centre in summer.
- Facing the doors is Le Manoir de Gisson. A museum that shows a wealthy Manor-house of the 17th century. And look up for the very fotogenetic statue of ‘le Badaud’, which means ‘the spectator’. He has indeed picked a beautiful spot to observe the market-place!
- If you are looking for a quick/ low budget snack or icecream, you can find a small Casino supermarket on the corner of la Rue de la République (the main shopping street that devides the old centre in two) and la Rue de Boétie. Only 50 m. to the right you’ll find a bakery with sandwiches to go.
- Sarlat offers a lot of small boutiques (bags, shoes, art, souvenirs) and restaurants with beautifull terraces and sometimes courtyard in the small alleys in the centre. All big and low budget supermarkets are situated just outside the old centre.
- If you like to take an atmosperic route, we advice you not to take the main entrance of the Cathédral, but to climb up the alley on it’s left where the Lanterne de Mort is situated. Follow this alley around the church, untill you find yourself on a small courtyard with a little well in the centre. On your right you’ll see a gate going to la Cour de Cloître, which beholds the side entrance of the Cathédral. It might come as a little shock when you leave the silent Cathédral’s main entrance: the Place de Peyrou will probably welcome you with colourfull vendors and artists. On the right, you will spot the fotogenic birthhouse of poèt and politician Etienne de la Boétie. To the left of his birthhouse there is a passage that will guide you to the main square.
- Make sure to visit the part of the centre that is on the other side of the Rue de la République! There no cars are allowed and the medieval cobblestone alleys give you the impression that nothing has changed there, since the Middle Ages. Just wander around, with the main shopping street on one side and the old city walls as you other ‘limit’. On the map you will see that the old centre is very small, but it is almost impossible to see everything in one visite. Sarlat will surprise you again and again, especially when you don’t forget to look up at it’s beautifull facades!
THE HISTORY OF SARLAT
Sarlat-la-Canéda became a prosperous city at the end of the VIII century, under the reign of Pepin le Bref and Charlemagne, when the Benedictines established a monastery there. Behind the cathedral, dedicated to Saint-Sacerdos, the curious architecture of the Lanterne des morts (lantern of the dead) reminds us of Saint Bernard’s visit, passing through Sarlat on his return from the crusades in 1147.
The town suffered from the Norman invasions (14th century) and the Hundred Years War thanks to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England. The town, well fortified by its Consuls, withstood all attacks and only became English at the end of the first part of the Hundred Years War when, by the treaty of Brétigny, Edward III of England renounced his claim to the throne of France in exchange for the South West of France. Ten years later, the Connétable du Guesclin chased the English from France and Sarlat became French again. After the Hundred Years War ended in 1453, the Wars of Religion destroyed the countryside and the town, until the reign of Henry 4 brought peace to Sarlat.
Sarlat, which became an episcopal chair in 1317, started building a cathedral shortly after. The parish church of Saint-Mary and numerous town houses are still proudly standing and awaiting your visit. Sarlat was a prosperous town throughout the XVI, XVII and XVIII century, but afterwards, too far removed from the main stream, like the sleeping beauty, it fell into oblivion for nearly 150 years, to wake up again only some thirty years ago when road transport supplanted river and railroad as means of communication.
In many other towns in France the curious and picturesque cobbled streets and charming buildings were demolished due to the modernization of those cities. In Sarlat those treasures of the past were miraculously saved thanks to a law announced on the 4th of August 1962 (loi Malraux) by which the old town received sufficient financial aid to undertake a programme of restoration.The rescued old facades and quarters give the lively and lived-in town an unforgettable serene beauty.
The straight Rue de la République, that divides Sarlat in two, was constructed in the Middle Ages for the horse carriages that frequently attended the city. Now the main shopping street, its small alleys to the left and right still offer the feel and signs of the Middle Ages, like the parts of the old city wall and towers, recognisable in the walls of the high houses.
In July and August, Sarlat hosts a theatre festival, both in- and outdoors. Sarlat attracts a lot of tourists in summer, especially on Saturday and Tuesday, when the local markets are held. The markets and shops offer a great variety of delicious local and artisanal products from the region, like walnut oil, fruit liquor, foie gras, nougat, macarons, chocolate and ice cream in a wide range of tastes.
The tourist office of Sarlat (Office de Tourisme) provides all kinds of information, like a tour guide in English, theme walks and tastings, beautiful souvenirs, books, toys and even games.