Visit Sarlat (Aquitaine, France)
Sarlat is without a doubt one of the most attractive and most visited medieval towns in France, with the extensive historic centre containing innumerable impressive medieval buildings and monuments. Equally important there are almost no new buildings in the centre to spoil the overall impression and the centre is listed as a 'secteur sauvegardé to restrict future development.
The town is situated in the heart of the Dordogne department in the region referred to as the 'perigord noir'. Sarlat is also officially listed as a 'Town of Art and History', and there are more than 250 listed buildings in the old town, typically built in the 15th and 16th centuries (Sarlat has more listed buildings per square metre than any other town in Europe).
In the 9th century the town developed around a benedictine monastery, and was a wealthy local centre until the Hundred Years War (14-15th centuries). After a long period of decline, with outbreaks of plague adding to the problems, the town had a resurgence that carried on into the 16th century and much of the town we see today dates from this period of rebirth.
By the 18th century the town was again falling into decline and remained a rather forgotten backwater until the second half of the 20th century - a fate that contributed to the lack of alterations to the town centre. In recent decades the important heritage of Sarlat has been recognised and many of the buildings have now been restored to their former glory.
There is a great deal to discover in Sarlat old town, fine examples of architecture in both medieval and renaissance styles, and a very large number of interesting buildings and architectural details to admire as you do, almost all built in the yellow stone that is characteristic of Dordogne towns and villages.
To ensure you make the most of your visit your first stop should be Sarlat Tourist Office (Rue Tourny, near the front of the cathedral) to get a map of the town centre (although the map is very lacking in detail and information!).
A list of individual monuments does little to convey the overall impression that Sarlat has on visitor, with every street bringing new surprises, opening into a small square filled with cafes, or revealing another small chapel or tower.
Here we mention just a few of the most important sites - be sure to also explore the many narrow streets around the cathedral and either side of the Rue de la Republique (the main street through the centre).
Place de la Liberté
Your visit will usually start in the Place de la Liberté, a good introduction to Sarlat since it includes many fine townhouses that span the period of growth of the town, the Town Hall, some attractive medieval arcades.
At the northern end of the square follow the street past the small church that has been converted into an indoor market and into the ancient geese market (the Place du Marche aux Oies) and along the rue des Consuls. This square and street contain many of the grandest houses in Sarlat, including the Gisson Manor.
Manoir de Gisson
Situated on the Place du Marche aux Oies this grand 13th century townhouse has been fully renovated and furnished (mostly in 17th century style) and is open to the public (admission 7 euros when we visited), giving an interesting glimpse of what life was like inside these grand houses.
Heading south from the Place de la Liberté you reach Place du Peyrou and the cathedral.
The Cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos is in the heart of the old town, and falls into three distinct parts. The cathedral entrance is through the roman style belltower that dates back as far as the 12th century; the central nave section is more recent (17th century), and to the rear is the original 14th century cathedral of Saint-Sauveur.
Inside the cathedral there are many paintings and statues, and a highly regarded 18th century organ, while just to the rear of the building is a small cemetery.
Lanterne des Morts
Up the hill behind the cathedral you can see the unusual Lanterne des Morts, a substantial round stone structure with a conical roof. The origins and history of this ancient building seem unclear but it has had many uses over the centuries including funeral chapel, ossuary, gunpowder storage...
On Place Peyrou in front of the cathedral there are several interesting buildings, including the Hotel de la Boétie - a close friend of Montaigne (the important French philosopher) was born in this ornately decorated house in 1530, and the Hotel de Maleville. Between the two is the alley called the Passage Henri-de-Ségogne, along which you can see some of the oldest houses in Sarlat.
As well as the historical sights there are numerous small shops, cafes and restaurants to detain you. Saturday is market day in Sarlat and a great place to pickup some local products - mushrooms and truffles, foie gras and local fruit, cheese and dried sausages...
Note: The central location and the very well known attractions of Sarlat mean it is an obligatory stop for everyone visiting the Dordogne. This does mean that it is often very busy, especially on market days in summer, so you might prefer to visit in the morning during summer months.
Other places to visit near Sarlat
Many of the places in the central Dordogne are easily visited from Sarlat, with medieval castles, beautiful scenery and picturesque riverside villages all close to hand. See Dordogne for more information.
Photos of Sarlat
Click any picture to start the gallery
Tourist classifications for Sarlat
Sarlat has received the following tourist classifications: listed town of Art and History ; historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); recommended detour town (plus beau detour)
Address: Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne, Aquitaine, 24200 || GPS: latitude 44.89, longitude 1.2175
Map of Sarlat & places nearby
Highlights close by
La Roque-Gageac 8km
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Sarlat, France
- Cathédrale Saint-Sardos (Sarlat) - religious monument
- La Roque-Gageac - most beautiful village (8km)
- Beynac - most beautiful village (8km)
- Jardins de Marqueyssac - remarkable garden (9km)
- Jardins du château de Caudon - remarkable garden (10km)
- Domme - most beautiful village (10km)
- Eglise notre-Dame de Nativité (Cenac-et-Saint-Julien) - religious monument (10km)
- Jardins de l'Albarède - remarkable garden (12km)
- Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac - remarkable garden (13km)
- Gourdon - recommended detour (15km)
Market days in Sarlat: Regular market(s) are held in Sarlat each Wednesday & Saturday all day. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Sarlat (Francais)