Last Updated on 9 July, 2021 by Veronica
The small medieval town of Sarlat in the Dordogne, Perigord Noir area, is a popular destination for tourists looking to explore the region.
With so much to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start! We’ve made things easy by creating a list of what we think are some of the best things you could do on your first day here.
A lot of these activities are free or low cost, making them perfect for budget-conscious travelers. So don’t miss out on any of these fun attractions when you’re in town!
Here you will find the highest density of Historical Monuments than in any other city in France.
It belongs to the national network of Cities and Regions of Art and History and is trying to enter UNESCO’s LIST of Humanity Heritage.
Sarlat-la-Canéda was the ancient capital of Perigord Noir and must-visit place on your trip through the Dordogne – Perigord in France. Besides, it is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe.
So you don’t have to think twice and visit Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the south of France.
A Brief history
Sarlat’s origins are uncertain. Although there are traces of human occupation dating back to the Paleolithic in the south of the city, tradition says that the city began to form from the ninth century around a Benedictine abbey that was the same distance Perigueux and Cahors.
It suffered the Hundred Years’ War between 1337 and 1453. During this period, the city of Sarlat becomes a reserve of men, weapons, and food.
It remains faithful to the King of France and stresses its importance compared to other Perigord cities and lordships, which often switch sides.
The golden age of Sarlat is between the 15th and 16th centuries. Then, as a result of the Hundred Years’ War (and having been on the winning side), some new families entered the nobility and brought a few years of some prosperity.
At this time, large mansions and monumental buildings are built.
In 1533, Nicolo Gaddi was appointed bishop; this Florentine will introduce the Renaissance’s artistic style and humanist ideals.
Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, after the wars of religion, Sarlat knows a new golden age, as evidenced by the construction of the Vienne mansion. It is an era where new convents and churches are built.
During the nineteenth century, the city underwent a profound transformation with the development of the Republic’s street. A large artery destined for the sanitation of the city.
In the twentieth century, Sarlat became one of the first conservation areas in France. In 1962 a new law was launched to reconcile architectural heritage’s protection and value with an urban center’s economic and social revitalization.
In 1969 there were 34 restoration jobs at once in the old town. Since that time, it has not stopped beautifying and preserving the city of Sarlat.
23 Places to Visit in Sarlat-la-Canéda
You can begin the visit to Sarlat in Peyrou Square. It is very close to the tourist office if you want to go for a city plan, although it is a bit regular, better to use Google Maps.
The places I propose you to know in Sarlat-la-Canéda are in order. It is a circular itinerary to walk through the most important places of this city of Perigord.
In the fourteenth century, the bishop’s palace replaced the abbot’s old house. Its architecture is of different styles.
For example, the windows of the first floor (fifteenth century) are Gothic style, while those on the second floor are Renaissance, and the facade of Tourny Street is from the twentieth century.
After the French Revolution (1789), the palace changed its uses, was a town hall, court, theater, and covered market. Today is where the tourist office and showrooms are located.
The Pope of Avignon, John XXII, in 1317, chooses Sarlat Abbey as the seat of a bishopric, so the abbey church becomes a Cathedral.
The ruined church of the abbey was destroyed (only the bell tower remains) and began constructing a Gothic Cathedral, which for lack of funds, takes several centuries to complete.
In a separate post, I will tell you more about this cathedral.
Saint Benoit Chapel
In the heart of the old abbey, we find this small Romanesque chapel of the XII century. It was restored by the “Pénitents Bleus” in the seventeenth century, a brotherhood under the patronage of Saint Jerome.
Another thing to see in Sarlat inside the cathedral is the Garden of Enfeus. The Enfeus are flat-bottomed niches intended to accommodate a tomb.
You’re going to find them behind the apse, where the cemetery and the retaining wall are located.
Lanterne des Morts (lantern of the dead)
It is one of the most photographed places in Sarlat. It is a cylindrical tower 6.5 meters in diameter, ending with a pointed dome. Its construction date is estimated to be around 1170.
It has been called the “lantern of the dead” since the 17th century. Its Romanesque architecture is related to that of the sepulchral chapel, a place of prayer for the dead. The monks were to come to the lantern of the dead in procession to fulfill the Easter liturgy.
This monument has long been an enigma but is believed to have been built to commemorate the passage of St. Bernard through Sarlat in 1147.
It was built in 1552, was the instrument of royal justice, and was in operation until the French Revolution. It’s Sarlat’s old prison.
The presidial allowed the social rise of many families.
In the basement were the cells of the prisoners waiting to be transferred to their detention center.
The Présidial de Sarlat is one of the few buildings of justice preserved in France of the old regime.
The Grézel Mansion is one of the first buildings to be adorned with a nobility tower in the fifteenth century. As a result of the Hundred Years’ War, many families have access to nobility, and their way of demonstrating it was with the construction of authentic urban palaces.
The town hall was installed in the seventeenth century, where the consular house used to be located. This building is the work of architect Bouyssou. During the French Revolution, municipal services were transferred to the former episcopal palace.
The town hall building became a bazaar on the ground floor and a club on the first floor.
In 1899 it was restored, and since 1900, it is again the city’s town hall.
The first church of Sainte-Marie was from the twelfth century and was demolished in 1365 because it was very deteriorated.
The new church is built in several stages throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. As you will see, it is a unique nave with high walls and a Gothic style.
During the French Revolution, it is desacralized and serves as a club and then a weapons factory.
In 1815, it was in ruins and fragmented. It is disassembled to take advantage of materials for other constructions.
In 1905, it became the post office; in 1935, it became a dispensary.
Over the years, it fell into neglect, and the municipality asked the architect Jean Nouvel to rehabilitate it and turn it into a covered market.
In 2000, the architect returned the interior amplitude, re-opened the arch of triumph that overlooked the choir, and installed the two gigantic solid steel doors on the outside.
Sarlat Panoramic Elevator
In the church’s old bell tower, there is a viewpoint that allows you to contemplate Sarlat’s city in 360º.
On Google maps, you see it, but you can go crazy looking for it on the street since you can’t see it from outside the church. Being classified as a historic villa, they have hidden the elevator in the bell tower of Sainte-Marie’s Church.
The elevator is about 35 meters high and allows you to contemplate the city from the heights.
Statue of Le Badaud, The Spectator
On the way to Gisson Mansion and looking at the Church of Sainte-Marie, we see “The Spectator,” the statue of Gerard Badaud by the sculptor Gerard Auliac.
This building is one of the oldest in Sarlat. In the eighteenth century, the Gisson became the owners of this mansion. This family began his career as a counselor to the Presidial.
Please take a look at the hexagonal tower, this one connects two older houses, and its slate roof has 7 sides.
The Statue of the Three Geese
This area of Perigord is well known for the “foie grass,” this product is made with ducks or geese liver. And the statue of the three geese marks the place where the foie gras market once stood. It is located in the square of “Marché aux Trois Oies” at the Gisson Mansion entrance.
Also, in the Place del Marché-aux-oies, there is another mansion. This mansion takes its name from the great family of the ancient nobility, natural of Quercy.
It is composed of two buildings and a double turret to affirm the nobility’s symbol (in case there had been any doubts…)
Plamon Mansion (Hotel Plamon)
In the street of the consuls, we can see the Plamon Mansion. In 1473, it was bought by Guillaume Plamon.
Over the centuries, it underwent several modifications, and now we can see two distinct parts (Consuls street facade), the one on the left is from the fourteenth century and has Gothic-style windows (which look like those of a church). The right side has on the bottom of some medieval arcades.
In 1618 the Recolets built their church and later its monastery. This church is one of the jewels of the Baroque art of the Périgord.
After the Revolution and the expulsion of the last Recolets, it was retouched by the Pénitents Blancs in 1804.
It was classified as a historical monument in 1944.
The Clarisas, or religious of Sainte-Claire, settled in Sarlat to educate the girls around 1621.
During the French Revolution, the nuns were expelled, and the building was used as a prison. It was later used as a school.
This is one of the few mansions located on Republic Street. This mansion was built in the sixteenth century by the Vernet of Marqueyssac. This family lived here until they sold it in the 18th century to the Cerval family.
Marzac Carbonnier Mansion
This mansion was built during the period of reconstruction that followed the Hundred Years’ War.
In the eighteenth century belongs to the Carbonnier de Marzac, the same owners of Puymartin Castle (another must-see in the Dordogne).
One of the features of this building is the nobility tower. The building was not very cared for by its owners.
The Mansion of Saint-Clar in Sarlat is from the fifteenth century and has a partially fortified tower in the seventeenth century. It looks like a military tower kept than a tower of the nobility.
Vienne Mansion (Maleville Hotel)
This mansion owes its name to Jean de Vienne, who, from being a stable boy, becomes the superintendent of finance and President of the Court of Auditors under Henry IV at the end of the sixteenth century. This urban palace embodies the social ascent of the owner.
This mansion consists of three pre-existing buildings from different eras, joined by a central building dominated by an arched passage. The U-building delimits The Small Lucien Square in Maleville.
The Maleville family has owned this building since the 19th century.
La Boétie Mansion
This famous residence is the birthplace of Etienne de la Boétie. His father came from a large family of landowners, the Boyt, and he had the building built between 1520 and 1525, influenced by the Italian Renaissance style.
Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) is soaked in the new intellectual movements brought by the new Bishop Nicolo Gaddi.
He then studied at the University of Orleans, where he met Dorat and Baïf. He carries out translations, poems, and especially his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, a profession of faith of an honest man imbued with tolerance and freedom.
At the age of 23, he became an advisor to the Bordeaux Parliament. In 1558, he met Montaigne, whom he already admired and will always consider his mentor.
The last years of his life dedicated them to maintaining peace in the kingdom. He was trying to implement in the province the policy of conciliation between Catholics and Protestants desired by the king.
In 1562 he published the Report on the edict of January: religious unification and Catholic reform without violence are the keys. However, after his death, the wars of religion resumed strongly.
He died in 1563 at the age of 33 from the plague.
In 1882 the railway station was opened, from where Bordeaux could be reached. The 220-meter-long Pontetviaduct was built to cross the valley and is visible from many points in the city.
Is Sarlat worth a visit?
After everything I’ve told you, do you wonder if Sarlat is worth visiting? Yes!!! It deserves an excellent visit if you can spend a couple of days, much better!
Why is Sarlat famous?
Sarlat is famous for being one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Within the historic center, you can enjoy the history, the different architectures, and its gastronomy and outdoor activities.
Sarlat (and the region of Dordogne – Perigord) is famous for foie gras, black truffles, duck confits, nuts, wines, etc.
How to get to Sarlat in France
Sarlat is found in the southern part of France in the Dordogne region of the black Perigord.
How to get to Sarlat
Sarlat can be reached by plane from almost any European city.
There are four airports near Sarlat, but the one with the most flights from Europe and the best price has is Bordeaux Airport.
But I recommend you look at the prices of Bergerac, Périgueux, and Brive–Souillac airports.
How to get to Sarlat from Paris
From Paris, you can reach Sarlat by train to Limoges or Bordeaux and then a rental car.
By Rental car
You can rent a car in Paris and drive the 530 km to Sarlat-la-Canéda (Toll Route)
You can reach one of the nearby airports such as Bergerac, Périgueux, and Brive–Souillac.
How to get to Sarlat from Bordeaux
From Bordeaux, it is 210 km to Sarlat. It is a route done in about two hours by car, and you pass through very nice places.
You can rent a car in Bordeaux.
You can reach it by regional train TER, and the journey takes less than 3 hours.
How to get to Sarlat from Bergerac
You can arrive by car rental and enjoy the landscapes of the Dordogne Périgord. The journey is about 80 km, and it takes about an hour and a half to get there without making stops.
If your idea is to make this journey by car. Please take a look at the route because several of France’s most beautiful villages are around this road. And others, even if they’re not listed like that, are just as pretty.
You can reach Bergerac by train; the journey takes an hour and a half.
Airports near Sarlat-la-Canéda
There are 3 airports close to Sarlat:
- Bergerac Airport,
- Périgueux and
- Bordeaux airport
You can also reach Bordeaux Airport, which is 210 km away and receives more flights than the Dordogne.
When is the Sarlat-la-Canéda market?
In Sarlat, there are 5 markets, of which 3 are all year round. This is the best time to enjoy the local gastronomy and come home with a few French delights. You’re not just going to come home with a magnet, are you?
Outdoor Market (All Year)
Saturday: in the city center; all products from 8.30 am to 6 pm
Saturday morning: Place de la Liberté; 8.30 am to 1 pm food market
Wednesday morning: small food market; Place de la Liberté from 8.30 am to 1 pm
Covered Market (All Year)
Old Sainte Marie Church – Place de la Liberté
Mid-November to mid-April: every day except Thursday from 8.30 am to 1 pm
Seasonal: daily from 8.30 am to 2 pm, and Friday from 9.30 am to 8 pm
Bio Night Market (All year)
Every Thursday from 4 pm to 8 pm, an ecological night market is located in Place du 14 Juillet (Post Office).
Wholesale Truffle Market (November to February)
It is open to truffle professionals and professional marketers, agri-food companies, retailers, restaurateurs. It takes place every Wednesday from 2.30 pm in Town Hall Square.
Truffle Market (December, January and February)
Saturday from 9 am to 12 pm, Fénelon Street (next to the Town Hall).
Sarlat Christmas Market
Sarlat’s Christmas market (marché de Noel) is the second most important market in Aquitaine. Every year they pay homage to a different country and choose it as a market theme.
About 70 stalls are gathered with handicrafts, jewelry, clothing, decoration, etc. Of course, among these stalls, we will also find places to enjoy Perigord’s gastronomy, wine from the region, local beer, and hot wine.
And to satisfy the biggest foodies, head to Place Bistronomique, where a dozen stalls invite you to try the Périgord Gastronomy.
Also, the whole village’s decoration makes Sarlat a magical place, which seems to have come out of a story.
What to eat in Sarlat
- Fois grass
- Périgord Black Truffles
- Duck confit
- Périgord Strawberries
- Périgord nut pie
- Le Tourain (a traditional soup)
- L’Enchaud canned pork (charcuterie)
- Potatoes with Sarladaises
- Bergerac wines
- Perigord Cabécou (cheese)
- Trappe d’Echourgnac (cheese)
- Chocolate-dipped caramelized walnuts
Where to sleep in Sarlat
In Sarlat, you will find hotels, cottages, B&B to spend some great days in the Dordogne – Périgord.
In the surroundings of Sarlat, you will find several campsites. One of the top-rated is Camping Huttopia Sarlat. It is camping with a swimming pool, outdoor seating areas, bungalows, a camping area, motorhomes, and campers.
Very complete to spend a few pleasant days. Ideal if you are traveling with children.
Campervan and motorhome area
The area of Dordogne – Perigord is super well adapted for travel by camper van and motorhomes.
If you want to stay in Sarlat, there are several options for vans. Check out the “Sarlat-La-Canéda Communal Air. It has 62 park places, electricity, water, garbage containers, and empty and charges the potty.
It’s on Place Flandres-Dunkirk.
What to see around Sarlat?
There is plenty to see and do around Sarlat. Here I tell you our 7-day road trip itinerary in the Dordogne – Perigord so you can make the most of your time and enjoy it to the fullest.
There are many castles in the Perigord; legend has it that there were 1001 castles!!! I’m going to leave you these which are very nice and are located in the vicinity of Sarlat.
- Chateau de Puymartin
- Chateau de Beyssac
- Chateau de Commarque
- Chateau le Paluel
- Chateau de Montfort
- Chateau de Beynac
- Chateau des Milandes
- Chateau de Hautefort
- Maison Forte de Reignac
- Bike routes
- Canoeing along the river
- Sailing in Gabarres
- Flying in a hot balloon
Another historical heritage
- Breuil’s cottages
- La Roque St Christophe
- Troglodyte village of the Madeleine
- Neanderthal site du Regourdou
- Prehisto park
The Grottoes and Caves of Perigord Noir – Dordogne
- Maxange’s Grottoes
- Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac
- The grottoes of Carbonnyres
- Cougnac’s prehistoric grottoes
Visit the most beautiful gardens
- The Water Gardens
- Marqueyssac Gardens
- The gardens of l’imaginaire
As you can see, Sarlat is an amazing, beautiful city, full of history and architecture. It is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. And I’m sure you’ll have a great few days.
Do you know when you’re going to visit Sarlat-la-Canéda? Let us know which places you liked the most!