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One of the most intact historic towns in France, Sarlat-la-Canéda’s medieval streets are lined with honey-toned buildings dating from across the ages. Half-timbered townhouses, Baroque doorways, Renaissance mansions, stone towers and hidden chapels sit on almost every street in this official ‘Town of Art and History’. Most date from the 15th and 16th centuries when Sarlat, as it’s locally known, was an important political and judicial hub. It’s best to explore on foot, leaving plenty of time to wander down side streets and stop in the some of the many little restaurants, shops and cafés that spill out on the streets.

I think that this is the best place to stay when you’re exploring the Dordogne. Not only is it convenient for reaching all the sights, but the historic part of town is beautifully preserved and has some of the best restaurants in the area.

France specialist Leanne

Things to see and do in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Saint-Sacerdos Cathedral and the Lantern of the Dead

The original church of Sarlat Abbey, the cathedral was first founded in the 1100s but was rebuilt in the 16th and 18th centuries. Its façade is largely Romanesque in style, while the central nave is Gothic. To the rear is the 14th-century church of Saint-Sauveur. Behind the cathedral lies the Jardin des Enfeus, the old abbey cemetery, where you’ll find a number of enfeus (tombs built into the walls) as well as the unusual Lantern of the Dead, a tapered tower that is thought to have been built to mark a visit by Saint Bernard, one of the founders of the Cistercian order, in 1147.

Place de la Liberté

Sarlat’s main square, Place de la Liberté, is surrounded by imposing buildings dating from medieval and Renaissance times, with turrets, towers, balconies and ornate rooftops creating a pleasing jumble of styles. The town hall with its circular bell tower is here, as are a large number of cafés and restaurants making it a pleasant place to linger over a drink or meal and just watch the world go by. For the last two weeks of July, the square is the venue for an outdoor festival and comes alive with performances of classical and contemporary drama.

Saint-Marie Church and covered market

One of the most imposing buildings on Place de la Liberté is the 14th-century Saint-Marie Church with its monumental metal doors. Eminent French architect Jean Nouvel was born in Sarlat and was commissioned to transform the disused church, which was damaged during the French Revolution, into a covered market. Inside, contemporary features sit seamlessly alongside the original Gothic architecture and the market stalls which sell traditional local produce. The highlight, however, is the glass lift inside the original bell tower. The lift extends beyond the top of the tower offering panoramic views of Sarlat and its surroundings.

Local markets

Sarlat is well known for its produits du terroir (local produce) and particularly renowned for its foie gras and truffles. The covered market is a good place to look for such delicacies and there are a whole host of small shops and delicatessens lining the narrow streets. More atmospheric, however, are the weekly markets which are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays on the cobbled streets in front of the cathedral and on Place de la Liberté. Look out for local cèpe mushrooms, walnuts, duck or goose confit (conserve), local cheese and honey. Between December and February you’ll also find a Saturday morning truffle market on Place Boissarie.

Le Manoir de Gisson and Place du Marché aux Oies

On Rue des Consuls you’ll find the 13th-century Manoir de Gisson tucked in between a series of mansions. Its two buildings are joined by a hexagonal tower and inside, you can see the rooms which would once have been the private apartments of the Sarlat nobility with their huge fireplaces, wood panels and period furnishings. You can also visit the vaulted cellars which contain an exhibition on the history of justice in the region. Outside, on the Place du Marché aux Oies (Goose Market Square), three life-size bronze geese mark the location of the town’s goose market which takes place in March.

Best time to visit Sarlat-la-Canéda

April to June and September to October are the best times to visit because Sarlat-la-Canéda can get crowded in the height of summer. In late January the town hosts a truffle festival, while in early March, the town’s goose festival sees the streets filled with live birds and market stalls before a grand outdoor feast.

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