© Chensiyuan CCASA4 Aerial View of Sarlat
A film set with probably the best market in France
This magnificently restored Gothic and Renaissance town is situated deep in the heart of the Périgord Noir in a basin surrounded by wooded hills. Sarlat, officially Sarlat-la-Canéda, has been the location for two Hollywood films, The Duelists and Timeline. However, it is much more than a film set. Sarlat is a busy small town with a Saturday market to die for which is arguably the best in France.
A Town of Two Halves and a Mystery
The old town is divided in two by the rue de la République where you’ll find many of the shops. On both sides of the Traverse, as the locals call it, the old townhouses, built using a golden-hued limestone and roofed in lauzes or stone slabs, open onto ancient courtyards which take you back in time. Behind the Cathedral can be found the rather spooky round tower with a conical roof. Associated with the visit of St Bernard in 1147, nobody knows what the Lanterne des Morts was for!
Things to Do
France boasts some of the best markets in Europe and many of these can be found in the South West. Arguably the finest of all is in the Dordogne here in Sarlat.
There are two markets throughout the week but the best is the Saturday event. This spreads right through the Old Town and along the main street, the rue de la République. Stalls offer culinary delights such as foie gras, truffles, sausages, high-quality fruit and vegetables, bread, wine and even spices.
Check out the indoor market, cleverly housed in a de-consecrated church, on the north side of the Place. Just behind the church is the quaint little Place du Marché aux Oies.
If you happen to be visiting on a Saturday or Wednesday morning, enjoy the fabulous Sarlat market taking place all around you. See below.
Place de la Liberté
The Place de la Liberté is Sarlat’s main square and meeting place located, as you may expect, in the centre of the old town. With its pavement cafés overlooking the square and the charming 17th century Town Hall on the east side, it is the ideal place to relax and observe the bustle of this popular market town.
If you happen to be visiting on a Saturday or Wednesday morning, enjoy the fabulous Sarlat market taking place all around you.
The Church of St Sacerdos first appeared here during the 12th Century. However, most of the original structure was torn down in 1504 to make way for a new Cathedral. The new structure was commissioned by the Bishop Armand de Gontaud-Biron, who was the Abbot of Sarlat Abbey.
The name St Sacerdos refers to Sacerdos of Limoges whose relics arrived here during Medieval times.
However, the building took more than one hundred and fifty years to complete even though they retained the Romanesque belfry above the West front. Inside the well-proportioned design of the Nave with its ogive vaulting impresses the visitor.
Don’t Miss: Walk along the Rue Montaigne on the Northside of the Church for a great view of the East end of the building and also to see the enigmatic Lanterne des Morts
Lanterne des Morts
The Lanterne des Morts in Sarlat is one of the most unusual architectural structures in the region. Situated just off the Rue Montaigne, at the top of the churchyard behind Cathédrale St Sacerdos, this cylindrical structure with a conical roof is pierced by four narrow windows.
The origins of the Lanterne are uncertain. Some say it was built to commemorate the visit of St Bernard in 1147. On the other hand, others say the light was simply to show the position of the cemetery at night. Another theory is that it is actually a ‘Lantern of the Moors’ given its association with St. Bernard and the Second Crusade. In French Lanterne des Morts and Lanterne des Maures are homophones as they have the same pronunciation.
Some would say it’s a little spooky but go and see for yourself and make up your own mind. There is no access to the interior so you’ll just have to use your imagination but look out for the sculpture depicting the horse and two crosses favoured by the Knights Templar.
Sarlat’s West Side
Sarlat’s West Side is on the other side of the Rue de la République, or the Traverse. Equally as interesting as the East Side but much less busy and many of the buildings of note are here. The main street on this side is the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
A little further along is the site of the 17th Century St Clare’s Convent. Nowadays it consists of low-rent housing, something which the religious order of Poor Clares would have no doubt approved. Just off the main street the Tour de Guet, the old watchtower and the Tour de Bourreau which was the executioner’s Tower, are well worth seeing.
There are a few restaurants on this side of town. However, for something typically French don’t miss Café Le Lébérou (see below) on Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
There are many fascinating places to visit around Sarlat in the surrounding Périgord and Quercy regions. These are covered in detail in my soon to be released travel app Dordogne’s Best but here are a few to keep you busy in the meantime:
Beynac et Cazenac
Beynac Château is arguably one of the most impressive castles in the whole of France. Dating from the middle ages and standing in a commanding position high above the river Dordogne in the Black Périgord. It towers over the pretty village (an official Plus Beau Village in fact) of the same name making a visit here doubly worthwhile.
The original castle fell into the hands of the redoubtable Richard the Lionheart during the late 12th Century but was later destroyed by Simon de Montfort. Rebuilt by the Lords of Beynac, it was strategically very important during the Hundred Years War, when in French hands, due to its extensive views of the river and nearby Castelnaud Château which was in English hands.
Allow at least a couple of hours to see both the castle and village.
Jardin de Marquessac
The overhanging gardens of Marquessac situated on a rocky spur between Beynac and La Roque Gageac in the Black Périgord are listed as a National Historic Monument. These 19th Century gardens have been painstakingly restored and now provide some of the most spectacular views in the whole Périgord from the 6km of shaded paths which run through the carefully manicured boxwood.
The balcony at the western end stands 130 metres (427 ft) above the Dordogne River and overlooks both Beynac and Castelnaud. At the eastern end the riverside village of La Roque Gageac can also be seen. The paths wander through the clipped boxwood which blends in with the surrounding countryside and in places there is an almost cloudlike effect which is very restful on the eye.
The Château, built just before the Revolution, is a splendid building sporting a lauzes roof said to weigh more than 500 tons!
Les Eyzies de Tayac
Les Eyzies de Tayac is a small town on the lower Vezère in the Black Périgord and one of the most important centres in the Dordogne for those seeking out the fascinating prehistoric remains to be found here.
The valley of the Vézère River which flows into the Dordogne from the north at Limeuil contains many vestiges of the prehistoric societies who lived here during the Paleolithic era or Stone Age.
On the lower reaches of the river at Les Eyzies de Tayac caves cut into sheer walls of rock provided shelter for the families who lived here for many thousands of years. Evidence of habitation has been found in the form of bones, ashes, weapons and tools.
Don’t miss the Musée National de la Préhistoire in the centre of the village near the old castle which contains artifacts etc and also some works of art from the period. Also nearby you will find the Pataud Shelter and the Grottes du Roc de Cazelle.
Stroll around Sarlat In-A-Day
A walk around a film set with the best market in France
Sarlat, a magnificently restored Gothic and Renaissance town in the Dordogne, is situated deep in the heart of France‘s Périgord Noir in a basin surrounded by wooded hills. Officially known as Sarlat-la-Canéda, has been the location for two Hollywood films, The Duellists and Timeline, but it is much more than a film set. It is a busy small town with an extensive Saturday market to die for which is arguably the best in France.
A Sarlat Morning
Head for the Place de la Liberté in the centre of the old town with its pavement cafés. Grab a table at Jimmy’s Bar overlooking the square for a coffee. The 17th century Town Hall is on the east side of the place while on the north side is the de-consecrated Église Ste-Marie, now an indoor market. Just behind the church is the quaint little Place du Marché aux Oies. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting on a Saturday or Wednesday morning, enjoy the fabulous Sarlat market taking place all around you.
When you’ve had your fill of the market, head down the rue de la Liberté. Here you’ll find nice local shops, the 16/17th-century Cathédrale St-Sacerdos and the Renaissance Maison de La Boétie.
Retrace your steps along the rue de la Liberté for Brasserie Le Glacier, with unpretentious but delicious food at reasonable prices. For something more representative of Périgordian Cuisine, many establishments nearby serve more traditional local fare.
Return towards the Cathedral. Turn left into the steep rue Montaigne to see the enigmatic 12th-century Lanterne des Morts in the garden behind the Cathedral. Walk through the garden passing the Chapelle des Pénitants Bleus. Walk through the Cour des Fontaines before crossing rue Tourney and head down to the rue de la République.
Enter rue du Siège on the West Side of town and explore ancient streets full of Medieval and Renaissance houses. Pass the 17th century Couvent Ste-Clare home to the Poor Clares, cross the Cote de Toulouse and enter rue Jean Jacques Rousseau.
If you’re still in the West side after 6pm and ready for a pre-dinner drink and discussion at a ‘café philo’, head to Le Lébérou on Rousseau. Two of the best dinner restaurants in old town are Chez le Gaulois (9 Rue Tourny) and Les Jardins d’Harmonie (Place André Malraux).
Bars and Restaurants
You can find Le Lébérou in the middle of Sarlat’s old town on the rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. Typically French, it is the haunt of locals of all ages, musicians, gamers (the board variety), and storytellers. Oh!.. and those just wanting a quiet drink while reading the newspaper!
The boss, Franc Champou, hosts discussion groups on Philosophy, Politics, Science and Literary Issues. There’s even an Occitan group where they speak the old language of the region. You don’t speak Occitan or even French? Well, at any rate, don’t worry, some discussions are translated into English and Dutch!
Le Lébérou? From the Occitan for ‘the hare’, a mythical character, half-man and half-beast, condemned to roam in the shadows. You will know for certain if you meet him because he will shake your hand with his palm down!
5 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
Le Glacier Restaurant
This renowned local establishment, offering great value accommodation, is also a brasserie and pizzeria where you enjoy lunch after shopping at the incredible Market. Above all, their Salade Niçoise is the best in town!
9 Rue de la Liberté
Tel: +33(0)553299999 Website
The Jimmy’s Bar
Jimmy’s Bar, located on the Place de la Liberté in Sarlat can’t be missed. The terrace of the is a great spot to people-watch and see much of what is happening in town! It is ideal for coffee or perhaps an ice cream while you chill. However, to satisfy your appetite after shopping in the market or sightseeing then try a hot dog or a cheeseburger!
Not very French perhaps but after all the premises have been converted into into a 1960s American style coffee bar/diner. Nevertheless you can still order a Salade Caesar or Steak frites washed down with a bottle of Bergerac wine!
On market days (Wednesday and Saturday) it is always busy so make sure you arrive early to secure a table.
1 place de la Liberté Sarlat
Sarlat le Caneda 24200
3, rue Tourney. (next to the Cathedral)
Tel: +33(0)553314545 Website
Guides for the Dordogne
Other articles featured in this French series are:
- 10 of Provence’s Best Villages
- Things to do in Aix-en-Provence
- A Travel Guide to Nice
- Things to do in Provence
- 10 of Provence’s Best Villages
- Things to do in Aix-en-Provence
- A Travel Guide to Nice
- Things to do in Carcassonne
- A Travel Guide to Marseille
- Things to do in Languecoc-Roussillon
- Things to do in Collioure
Apps for your smart device?
Much more about the Dordogne and Quercy can be found in my forthcoming Travel App Dordogne’s Best
When you’ve explored the Dordogne you may wish to check out the South of France with Paul’s Apps Provence’s Best and Nice’s Best the ideal travel guides to France’s sun-drenched traveller’s paradise. They detail key DESTINATIONS; outlines several ITINERARIES; and suggests great places to EAT and DRINK. All content is original & independent; no recommendations are ads.