Planning to to exploring Sarlat? Welcome to our Sarlat-la-Canéda walking guide to get you started!
A picturesque tangle of honey-coloured buildings, alleyways and secret squares make up the beautiful town of Sarlat.
Boasting some of the region’s best-preserved medieval architecture, it’s a popular base for exploring the Vézère Valley, and a favourite location for film directors.
Not only is it the most famous town in the region and one of the most renowned and visited in France, it is also one of the most attractive. Sarlat is in the region called the Perigord Noir in the South West of France.
Time to go exploring Sarlat!
Destined to be besieged by tourists at almost all times of the year Sarlat is a beautiful, well restored town a few kilometres north of the River Dordogne.
The old town, dating from both medieval and renaissance times is a pleasure to visit, especially during the spring and autumn, or early in the morning. If you can catch the early morning sunshine on the yellow sandstone buildings, so much the better.
Before setting off exploring Sarlat, visit the tourist office which can provide a suggested walking tour to take in the key attractions. The tourist information office is near to the cathedral.
Broadly, the pedestrianised Rue de la Republique runs the length of the old town, with mazes of narrow streets either side. The cathedral is to the south-east of Sarlat, with the attractive Place de Payrou and Hotel de la Boétie.
North east is the lovely Place de la Liberté, only a few steps from the apartment, and the wonderful winding street of the Rue des Consuls.
The cathedral was originally the church of Sarlat Abbey. Over the centuries it has been added to and transformed and is now a mix of Roman, Gothic and other styles. The Cour du Cloitre and the nearby Cour des Fontaines and the Cour des Chanoines were all originally part of the abbey. The Jardin des Enfeus just above the cathedral is the ancient abbey cemetery and there are 10 several sarcophagus and enfeus (enfeus are tombs that are built into the church wall).
Up above the cathedral and the Jardin des Enfeus is an unusual structure La Lanterne des morts (the lantern of the dead). This bullet shaped building has had various roles over time including a funeral chapel.
Opposite the cathedral on the Place du Peyrou is the splendid Hôtel de La Boétie, birthplace of the philosopher and humanist Etienne de La Boétie. His house has a large arched entrance and Renaissance style mullioned windows.
Crossing the Rue de la Republique to the west side of town take a look at the Hotel St Clar with its wonderful turret tower and see the Tour du Bourreau and the last remaining part of the ramparts. Wander northwards past the convent of Sainte Claire and the Chapel of the Penitents Blancs with its huge Baroque doorway.
The history of the town is never ending
Crossing back over the Rue de la Republique walk down the Rue des Consuls. This road is one of the highlights of Sarlat and contains a number of very impressive mansions. There is the 16th century Hotel de Mirandol with its imposing doorway, the 14th century Hotel Plamon with its three arched windows. The floor above with its mullion windows was added a century later.
The Hotel de Vassal was built in the 15th century and has a double turret and the Hotel Tapinois de Betou has a monumental staircase. Wandering along the street taking in all the different details of windows and doors and roofs is a pleasure.
About half way along the Rue des Consuls is the Manoir de Gisson originally called the Hotel Magenat. The Manoir de Gisson is made up of two buildings of different styles linked together by a hexagonal tower. The building dates back to the 13th century. Recently opened to the public there are two aspects to your visit. The first is a visit to the vaulted cellars and rooms which exhibit items on the history of Justice from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. This includes an exhibition of instruments of torture. The second part of a visit to the Manoir de Gisson is the private apartments showing home life for the Sarlat nobility. Furniture dates from the Middle Ages to the 17th century and you can see the lovely wooden floors, panelling and huge fireplaces and of course the spiral staircase which winds up the hexagonal tower.
Outside the Manoir de Gisson is the Place du Marché des Oies, the goose market with a statue of some geese in the centre.
A little further on, back towards the cathedral is the fabulous main square, the Place de la Liberté. This lovely square is paved and pedestrianised and surrounded by wonderful buildings and has a view towards the bell tower of the cathedral. Many of the buildings are home to restaurants making this an excellent spot to stop for a drink or a meal. The town hall with its circular bell tower perched on its roof is also on the square.
Finally on the edge of the old town visit Le Présidial. This attractive 17th century building has an original lantern structure on its roof and was the headquarters of the royal court in the 17th century. It is now a well known gastronomic restaurant.
Exploring Sarlat is never-ending!
The heights of the town
Frequently you will think yourself lost in the winding medieval streets – don´t worry, it’s essentially a small town, and sooner or later you will emerge into the light and refind your path!
Don´t forget to glance up from time to time as you explore the medieval cobbled streets – the rooves of the buildings in medieval Sarlat are often in lauze – carefully cut stone – and are unusual elsewhere.
Sarlat is also firmly on the tourist radar and can get quite busy in the summer, especially on market days, but you have the luxury of staying in the hear of where it alls happens so can see all of the town façades, both during the business of the day and the calmness of the evenings. Market day is on Wednesday and Saturday morning in Place de la Liberté, a few metres from the apartment and on the streets leading from there.
The old town is buzzing with the local market. See if you can get a table at café on the main square for either a coffee or a glass of white wine to see al the market action.
One last top tip whilst exploring Sarlat – one of France´s top architects, Jean Nouvel, was born in Sarlat. The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner 2008 has recently restored the church of Sainte-Marie in the centre of Sarlat. Mixing contemporary elements with the 14th century architecture of the church the interior has now been converted into an elegant covered market. The highlight though is the panoramic lift which rises up through the centre of the bell tower and raises its passengers up above the top of the tower to get breathtaking views of the town. Inside a glass cube you can get 360° views over the rooftops of Sarlat – wonderful. In summer (15 June to 15 September) the lift is open from 9am to 9pm and costs 5 euros.
So here you have our favourite walk around Sarlat! Planning to go exploring Sarlat soon? We´d love to hear from you in the comments below if you have any good ones to add to this list or if you have been to any of these during a stay in Sarlat!
If you are planning to visit Sarlat and haven´t yet booked your accommodation, you can take a look at our central Bijoux apartments!