Sarlat in the Dordogne valley, now combined with the nearby village of La Canéda, is not particularly on the tourist route from the UK, or anywhere else for that matter. But it more than justifies the deviation; this is a wonderful place...bustling, energetic, historic and a little bit wacky. This is the capital of the Périgord Noir, a gem of medieval architecture that somehow combines the heritage of the past with acceptable modernity.
Sarlat is a medieval town that evolved around a Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin: the medieval Sarlat Cathedral is dedicated to the French saint Sacerdos (670-c.720), who was born near Sarlat, and later became the bishop of Limoges.
Because modern history has largely passed it by, Sarlat has preserved its antiquity, and today is and one of the towns most representative of 14th-century France and as such enjoys its place on France's Tentative List for future nomination for UNESCO World Heritage site designation, a distinction it owes to the enthusiasm of writer, resistance fighter and politician André Malraux, Minister of Culture (1960-1969), who largely restored the town .
Take a stroll through the centre of the old town to discover its impeccably restored stone buildings. Immerse yourself in the essence of the medieval times, a rare commodity in many French towns and villages. Or just take a seat at one of the many restaurants and bars and enjoy a relaxing coffee or Perrier Menthe. You could do no better than visit the restaurants, Les Jardins d'Harmonie on place André Malraux (www.lesjardinsdharmonie.com).
The world famous architect, Jean Nouvel, spent his childhood in the capital of the Périgord Noir, and in Sarlat he has transformed the ancient church of Sainte Marie into a covered market with monumental doors. In the nearby tower there is a glass lift with panoramic views, which was inaugurated in 2013. From above the roof tops, the town reveals the passing of the centuries: you can make out the line of the ancient ramparts, get views of the old justice house and Sainte-Claire Abbey, and take in a splendid panorama from the Lantern of the Dead to the historic Plamon mansion, from the Saint Sacerdos cathedral to the Maison de la Boétie, from the Town Hall to the Place de la Grand Rigaudie…
With such antiquity, it is not surprising that the town and the surrounding countryside has featured in a number of films, notably 'Timeline' (2003), adapted from the late Michael Crichton's time-travel novel, set in 14th-century France.
The Saturday market here is a wonder to behold; a place heavy with all the trappings of a small French market town, and enough culinary and quaffable products to ensure that your return home will earn you an overweight payment at the airport...better to come by car...but don't expect to be able to park on market day. Just have fun.
Office de tourisme Sarlat Périgord Noir
3 rue Tourny, BP114, 24203 SARLAT.
Tel: 05 53 31 45 45