Sarlat-la-Canéda: an insider’s guide

PUBLISHED: 09:42 30 June 2017 | UPDATED: 17:33 10 July 2017

Sarlat-la-Canéda is one of Dordogne's most popular destinations © Jonathan Barbot

Sarlat-la-Canéda is one of Dordogne’s most popular destinations (Credit: Jonathan Barbot)

Sarlat-la-Canéda is a Dordogne favourite, where visitors never fail to be captivated by the town’s fine medieval architecture and gastronomic delights. Here’s our insider’s guide to the main attractions, restaurants and hotels and buying property in Sarlat-la-Canéda

 Sarlat-la-Canéda is unsurprisingly one of the most popular towns in Dordogne. Located just a few kilometres from the River Dordogne in south-west France, the town has retained much of its 14th-century charm and its medieval architecture is still a main pull for its thousands of yearly visitors. A popular base for exploring the Vèzére valley, you could easily spend all of your time discovering Sarlat’s quaint medieval buildings, twisting alleyways and picture-postcard squares.

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Sarlat-la-Canéda has lots of impressive manor houses © Dan Courtice
Sarlat-la-Canéda has lots of impressive manor houses (Credit: Dan Courtice)

What to see and do in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Originally an abbey church dating from the 11th century, the Cathédrale St-Sacerdos is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The organ in the church is said to be one of the best preserved from the 18th century. Pop inside to hear it being played as part of a special concert or simply soak up the peace and quiet away from Sarlat’s busy squares. Nearby you can spot the a rocket-like structure called ‘lanterne des morts’, a 12th-century stone monument that is said to honour Saint Bernard, who is believed to have cured the sick by blessing their bread.

House-hunters to Sarlat should stroll along Rue des Consuls, which has a number of impressive mansion houses that are testament to Sarlat’s growth during the Middle Ages. From being a small community controlled by the church, it had, by the mid-1500s, evolved into a prosperous market town popular with wealthy merchants. Further on you’ll see elegant buildings including the 16th-century Hôtel de Mirandol with its imposing doorway; the 14th-century Hôtel Plamon with its mullion windows; and the 15th-century Hôtel de Vassal with its double turret.

You can’t go to Sarlat-la-Canéda and miss the buzzing Saturday food market in the city centre. You might have to jostle for space among the crowds of eagle-eyed locals but it’s well worth it. Trestle tables are laden with farmers’ produce: fleshy red tomatoes, brightly coloured carrots, farm-fresh plums and twisted cucumbers sit alongside seemingly bottomless boxes of garlic, truffles, and trays of foie gras.

 Another market well worth a visit is the indoor market at Église Sainte-Marie. Enter through the gigantic steel doors, and you’ll see stalls piled high with everything from spicy saucisson to local St-Nectaire cheese. Don’t forget to look out for the church’s main attraction; a glass lift that rises up through bell tower to reveal breathtaking views over the rooftops of Sarlat and beyond.

Place des Oies is where you can see the life-size bronze statue of three geese that seems to appear on every postcard of Sarlat; birds that have served as a delicacy for many Salardais over the centuries. Meanwhile, on Place de la Liberté, many visitors might experience a feeling of déjà vu, as this iconic square has often served as a backdrop for films.

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The wines of Bergerac: non-AOC wines

We have been so accustomed to look for the phrase appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) on a wine label, to signify that it comes from a recognized wine area, that we often overlook good wines without it. In fact, many growers who could use the AOC mark choose not to do so because the requirements can be burdensome. Winemakers in an AOC district are limited to the types of grapes than can be used, how much wine may be produced per hectare and so on. And then there are the good wines that come from outside the 300 or so AOC areas in France.

About a quarter of French wine production is listed as vin de pays and is entitled to carry the letters IGP on the label for Indication Géographique Protégée. There is yet another category below this, vin de France, which tends, with some exceptions, to be cheap plonk. We have several IGP wines in this region, including some from well-known vineyards that also produce AOC wines, like Château de la Jaubertie and Château Tirecul La Gravière, for each of whom I have a deep respect.

Tirecul’s Monbazillac was the first Bergerac wine to get the maximum 100 points in a Robert Parker tasting. And if you come across a wine called Le Haut Païs made by Vignerons de Sigoulès, it is very much worth trying. They make a red and a white, and I find them to be a cut above most bottles of generic Bordeaux or Bergerac, although much of this wine goes for export to Holland and Germany (where I came across it on a book tour).

Other winemakers are reviving vineyards that recall the centuries before the phylloxera plague struck in the 1860s, when the Périgord and Dordogne regions were major wine producers. Then came the new wonder crop of tobacco and the tradition of wine production was almost lost – almost, but not quite. Individual farmers continued to grow vines for their own household and the skills remained.

I have long enjoyed the wines of Domaine de la Vitrolle in the Vézère valley between Limeuil and Le Bugue. I was initially attracted by the château itself, the secret HQ of the Resistance in World War Two and for some crucial months around D-Day in 1944, it was the base of André Malraux and ‘Captain Jack’ Poirier. They have been making wine there for three decades and in recent years the English winemaker John Anderson has produced some fine sparkling wines and very drinkable reds and whites. For less than 5 euros a bottle, his Demoiselle de Limeuil are very good value. (They also grow excellent apples and have some stylish gîtes available for rental.)

The other day, a friend in Bordeaux served at dinner a bottle of a wine I had not known before, a Périgord wine called Le Petit Manoir. Once back in the Périgord, I made a beeline for the vineyard, between St-Cyprien and Le Bugue. It is close to the home at Péchalifour of my chum Edouard Ayrou, the legendary truffle expert, whose guided tours of his truffle lands are strongly recommended. On the D35 road from Le Bugue to St-Cyprien, just before the turn-off to Meyrals, look for the sign to Péchalifour and Domaine de la Voie Blanche and you come to the vineyard, where Natalie Dalbavie can arrange tastings (between October and April). She and her husband Marc are self-taught winemakers who were inspired by finding the remains of a 2,000-year-old winery on their land. They are great believers in organic wines and even tried using horses to work the vines. They also use giant terracotta jars to age their wine, just as their predecessors did in Roman times. Natalie reckons that one year in terracotta gives as much ageing as two years in oak barrels – but she loses 13% a year through evaporation. They make two wines at this vineyard, Les Joualles and Le Petit Manoir, where the terroir is clay and limestone. Les Joualles comes from an old Occitan term for the traditional practice of growing rows of vines amid apples and other fruit trees.

The wine I had tasted in Bordeaux was a 2012 Petit Manoir made of Merlot, which is now sold out. So I tried the 2014, which because of the vagaries of that year’s weather is made entirely from Cabernet Franc. It is very good indeed, and at 23 euros it is worth laying down for three years or more. They have a second vineyard about twenty miles to the north-west at La Bachellerie, further up the Vézère valley, with a mineralrich terroir terraced with river pebbles where they make red and white wines named La Source. These are serious wines, between 12 and 16 euros a bottle, and I bought several of a very remarkable red that was made without sulfites.

There is a pleasing sense of history about drinking these wines made in a vineyard that dates back to Roman times, and where the wine is grown and made in the age-old way. And there could be no better proof that the AOC label need not be a pre-requisite for making very good and distinctive wines..

■ Credit/Source:  Martin Walker, The Bugle

Martin Walker is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  He and his wife have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.

 

Feed your foodie in holiday heaven – A food lover’s paradise

Ready to indulge yourself with some of the finest food Europe has to offer? It has to be Destination Dordogne!

Think of fine cuisine, mouthwatering dishes and Michelin star creations, and it’s hard to imagine a menu thatdoesn’t include a taste of France. French cuisine is famed the world over. But it’s one particular area of France – Dordogne – which is at the heart of the finest food on the planet. A food lovers’ paradise, it’s the home of the rich, dark, musky Perigord truffle. That alone puts Dordogne at the top of the food chain. From foie gras to morel mushrooms, dozens of local cheeses, the finest wines and traditional rustic duck cheeseand goose dishes washed down with local walnut laced liquour – plus romantic Michelin star restaurants – Dordogne is a food lovers’ heaven. And its stunning scenery means there are plenty of opportunities to work it off, with a cycle ride or romantic stroll alongside chateaux that look like they’ve come straight from a child’s storybook. Feeling tempted?

Here’s our foodie guide to enjoying one of the world’s most mouthwatering destinations.

Head to marketfood stand

Usually in the middle of town, among cobbled lanes and pretty plazas, Dordogne’s markets are a sensory delight. Visit Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of the busiest markets in Dordogne or the pretty medieval village of Issigeac. Head undercover to the market hall at the historic fortified village of Monpazier, voted one of France’s most beautiful village. Buy some Cabecou de Rocamadour – a small local goat’s cheese – a freshly baked loaf and find a spot to sit back and watch.

Dine at the top tables

All that wonderful produce means Dordogne has some of the world’s best and most romantic restaurants. There’s the finest Michelin star dining, to quaint corner bistros and chefs who are pushing the foodie boundaries. Indulge at the beautiful chateau at the Michelin starred Chateau des Vigiers which also boasts a golf course and a spa, or nip into Les Petit Paris in Daglan which specialises in seasonal local produce. The choices are endless.

Top up your glass

Some areas of France might be better known, but there’s no mistaking the quality of wine produced in

wine with rainbow

Dordogne. The Bergerac area has more than 1200 wine-growers, producing excellent reds, whites and rosés to wash down all that gourmet food. Visiting a vineyard is a ‘must’. Head to Château de Tiregand and explore its Pécharmant wines. Or visit Château Montdoyen, where the art of winemaking has been passed through generations.

Tuck into truffles

Dordogne is famed for its black Périgord truffle, or black diamond. You’ll discover truffles on the menus and even special truffle markets in Périgueux, Brantôme and Sarlat-la-Canéda. Or hunt for your own – join a truffle hunting tour and at Truffière de Péchalifour.

Take it outside

A picnic amid stunning scenery is hard to beat. Just stock up at the market and head to La Roque Gageac, one of exteriorthe country’s prettiest villages or in the grounds of the Walnut Museum near Castlenaud. The chateau there is a national monument.

Take a boat trip on the river Dordogne at La Roque-Gageac, picnic by the banks and round it off with a walk to Chateau de la Malartie. Wherever your tastebuds take you, a break in Dordogne is bound to leave you hungry for more. Discover delightful Dordogne for yourself.

Source/Credit: written by Sandra Dick for The Scotsman

6 specialties from Nouvelle-Aquitaines Dordogne

6-specialties-from-nouvelle-aquitaines-dordogne.jpg

NOUVELLE-AQUITANE, FRANCE – This region might be best known for its quality Bordeaux wines, but its food is an epicurean’s paradise. To the east of Bordeaux, the department of Dordogne (historically known as Périgord) is best known for its gourmet foods. With more than 2,000 years of history and numerous regionally protected products, there’s a plethora of choices to keep any food lover happy.

Truffles: Native to the Dordogne, the black Périgord truffle is coveted by gourmands worldwide for its complex aroma. From November to March, the expensive delicacy can be purchased for a fair price from Perigueux’s Place St-Louis market and Sarlat’s Saturday market. Connoisseurs of the black diamond are known to visit Sorges, about 19 kilometres northeast of Perigueux, to learn about the fungus at its charming truffle ecomuseum and area truffle farms. Or attend Sarlat’s truffle festival on the third weekend of January.

Foie gras: Despite its controversy, the traditional skill of force-feeding geese and ducks is still practised in Périgord and remains part of the department’s identity. Foie gras, a.k.a., fattened goose or duck liver, is served at most restaurants and found in specialty shops in Sarlat. There’s even a Route de Foie Gras for those wishing to meet the more than 60 producers of the specialty. Look for products labelled “Indication géographique protégée” (IGP) which guarantees the high quality product is strictly from Périgord.

Dordogne strawberries: Delicate, candy-sweet and a treasure of the region, the excellent, large-fleshed Dordogne strawberries are the only strawberries protected by the IGP geographic status. Thanks to ideal temperatures and soils, the region enjoys a long season that lasts from April to October. The main strawberry varieties, including Gariguette and Darselect in the spring, and Mara des Bois and Charlotte in the fall, can be found at most markets.

Traditional macarons: Ursuline nuns brought the traditional macaron to Saint-Émilion in the early 17th century. Although they’re made with the same ingredients — egg whites, sugar and almond flour — as their gussied-up sandwiched Parisian cousins, the rustic confection is chewier, straddling a soft biscotti and almond cake. Many shops sell traditional macarons, but the original recipe (a carefully guarded secret that’s only passed down to the business’ successor) is only available at Les Macarons de Saint-Emilion.

Caviar: A pioneer in river sturgeon breeding in Aquitaine, Domaine Huso in Neuvic sur I’Isle is one of three production sites in the Dordogne that specialize in high-quality caviar. Using methods that create minimal environmental impact, the prestigious products are processed and packaged, then marketed as Caviar de Neuvic. The 7.6-hecatre farm is open to visitors seven days a week. Tours of the facilities (that concludes with a caviar tasting) are available, but pre-booking is required.

Walnuts: Since the Paleolithic era (with evidence found in Cro-Magnon habitations from 17,000 years ago), walnuts have been widely celebrated for its many uses. At area ecomuseums or walnut-oil mills including Moulin de la Veyssière, you’ll find products such as vin de noix, a sweet and rich liqueur made from the green nuts, walnut flour, and walnut oil that’s been pressed from cooked nutmeal. For quality and authenticity, look for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)-certified Périgord walnuts.

Credit/Source: Info-Europa.com

12 of the Finest Dordogne Châteaux

This is a land of castles with any number of grand houses to visit. Here is our selection of the best.

Chateau de Beynac
Chateau de Beynac. Photo: OT intercommunal du Périgord noir

The fascinating history of the Dordogne from medieval to modern times is brought to life by the grandeur and mystique of some of its splendid châteaux. When you visit these medieval fortresses, Renaissance palaces and grand family estates you will encounter a rich tapestry, revealing accounts of love and war, ambition and tragedy, fairy-tale romance and escapism. Here is our selection – but many more fine examples await travellers looking for inspiring architecture and remarkable stories from days of yore.

 

Château de Beynac

This imposing fortified castle sitting on a dramatic cliff top location overlooking the River Dordogne has seen almost a thousand years of history played out against its stone walls and courtyards. It is one of the best-preserved in the region.

Château de Bridoire
courtesy of Château de Bridoire

Château de Bridoire

A beautiful 15th-century château near Bergerac, once neglected but now happily in private hands and undergoing a small renaissance. Many restored and furnished rooms to view as well as medieval-style games. Popular with families.

Chateau de Biron
Chateau de Biron. Photo: Pays des bastides

Château de Biron

Near Monpazier, in the south of the Dordogne, this dramatic château from the 12th century is perched on a hillside overlooking the Périgord and Agenais countryside. Visitors will appreciate its many beautiful architectural features.

Chateau de Bourdeilles
Chateau de Bourdeilles. Photo: Semitour Perigord

Château de Bourdeilles

The site of one of the four baronnies of the Périgord, this is an impressive château with a spectacular tower overlooking the River Dronne in the north of the Dordogne near Brantôme. The château and surrounding village are worth a visit.

Chateau de Castelnaud
Chateau de Castelnaud. Photo: M. Boutry

Château de Castelnaud

In the heart of the Périgord Noir this is a medieval fortress with a military history. In keeping with its past life, today it houses a museum of medieval warfare. Enactments of Cathar history take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in summer.

Chateau d'Hautefort
Chateau d’Hautefort. Photo: OT Château d’Hautefort

Château de Hautefort

Closer in appearance to a Loire château, the golden age of this majestic building in the north of the Dordogne was during the time of the Marquis de Hautefort in the 16th and 17th centuries. The beautiful formal gardens are a must-see.

Château de Jumilhac
courtesy of Château de Jumilhac

Château de Jumilhac

The Château de Jumilhac is to be found in the north of the Dordogne, on the route of Richard the Lionheart. With its picturesque turreted Renaissance roofline this imposing château strikes visitors as the quintessential romantic castle.

Château de Lanquais
courtesy of Château de Lanquais

Château de Lanquais

In the Périgord Pourpre, this château dates from the Middle Ages but also boasts some fine work by Italian craftsmen who later helped transform some parts of it into a Renaissance palace. It has been owned by the same family since 1732.

Chateau de Milandes
Chateau de Milandes. Photo: Jonathan Barbot

Château de Milandes

A beautiful 15th-century castle in the heart of the Dordogne valley, made most famous by former owner the American chanteuse Josephine Baker, who lived here with her 12 adopted children. Famed for its birds of prey displays during the summer.

Château de Monbazillac
courtesy of Château de Monbazillac

Château de Monbazillac

Here, just south of Bergerac on a proud hilltop, you can combine a pleasant dégustation of the famous dessert wines with a visit to the small yet impressive château with Renaissance interiors and views over the vineyards.

Chateau de Puyguilhem
Chateau de Puyguilhem. Photo: OT Périgord Dronne Belle – Frédéric Tessier

Château de Puyguilhem

A Renaissance jewel in the north of the region, Puyguilhem is an elegant building with classic proportions and Loire-esque turreted rooflines. Hard to believe it was once abandoned until the French state intervened in the 20th century.

Château de Sauveboeuf

Only opened to the public in 2013, this is a Louis XIII château overlooking the River Vézère not far from the Lascaux caves. The owner will often be on hand to share his special interest in prehistoric artefacts.

From France Today magazine

Château Da Sauveboeuf
courtesy of Château Da Sauveboeuf

Dordorgne Dreaming

sunflowersThe Dordogne is France’s third largest department, and as well as numerous picturesque villages, it also boasts an incredible 4,000 chateaux, 10% of all the chateaux in France.  Like many French departments, the Dordogne is named after the river that flows through it. Foie gras, duck and goose are regional specialities.

The department has four distinct territories. In the north you will find ‘Green Périgord’ which derives its namedordogne regions from its many green valleys and woodland, covered with trickling streams, and houses the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park. The major towns in the area are Brantome (the “Venice” of the Dordogne), Nontron and Riberac.  In the center of the department is ‘White Périgord’, so called because of its limestone plateaux. It contains the capital of the Dordogne, Périgueux, with attractive shopping centre and marvellous winding old town.  The ‘Purple Périgord’, in the South West of the department, is named from the area’s grapes, which are put to good use in Bergerac, the capital of this wine producing region. The area was of great strategic significance during the hundred years war, and visitors will find a number of fortified villages, castles and chateaux built by both the English and the French here.  In the south-east you’ll find ‘Black Périgord’, with deep valleys and ancient forests. It contains the towns of Saint-Cyprien and Sarlat-la-Caneda, which are both popular with foreign buyers. It houses numerous prehistoric caves with some 30,000 year old cave paintings.

Sarlatsarlat sign

Sarlat is the capital town of the Perigold Noir – a beautiful area of deep valleys and ancient fortresses, in the South East of the Dordogne. The town is a great example of 14th century France as many of its buildings from this era remain in tact. The nearest airport is Bergerac.

 The area surrounding Sarlat has history reaching back as far as ‘Primitive Man.’ Prehistoric caves with paintings for example have been found and the Vezere Valley is now classified by UNESCO as being a world heritage site.

The town center meanwhile began to makes its mark in the 9th century, eventually developing around a Benedictine abbey built in the 12th century. The wars then struck, and the town suffered greatly due to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England. In 1360, Sarlat became English and remained so until 1370 when the Connétable du Guesclin took over.

From the 14th to the 17th centuries, Sarlat was prosperous and displayed this through its architecture; new and grand dwellings were built as symbols of nobility, using Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Sarlat Activities 

Sights to see include:

  • the medieval sector centred around ‘Place de la Liberté’
  • the curious architecture of the St Bernard tower, also known as the ‘Lanterne des Morts’ (Lantern of the Dead)
  • the St Sacerdos Cathedral
  • ‘Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac’
  • the house of Etienne de la Boétie, a great philosopher
  • Château of Castelnaud with its medieval warfare museum
  • Château du Temniac, which overlooks Sarlat

There is a twice-weekly market, overflowing with fresh produce, including local specialities such as foie gras, walnuts, black truffles, wild mushrooms and pork delicacies.  Annual fairs and festivals include: ‘Les marches;’ different types of markets throughout the year, ‘Festival des Jeux de Théâtre,’ mid July to the beginning of August, ‘Festival du Cinéma’ every November, which unites big screen stars, directors and producers, as well as students studying film and ‘Les Hivernales;’ exhibitions of local artists every Christmas.  Cycling, horseriding, swimming, canoeing, fishing, hot air balooning, and golf are also popular activities.

Food and Drink 
A typical ‘Perigordin’ meal consists of: ‘tourin blanchi’ a garlic and onion soup mixed with goose fat and eggs and topped with sorrel, foie gras, a ceps or truffle omelette, goose preserved in fat with sarladaises potatoes, a salad with nut oil, cabécou (goats cheese), walnut cake and a bowl of strawberries.

 

Restaurant des Rois – A Royal Evening!

In researching places to celebrate a special anniversary, I discovered the Restaurant des Rois at La Reserve Hotel – a gastronomic restaurant at a 5-star hotel in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.  From the moment of arrival, I felt like I had entered a palace, due to its exquisite & lush decor of silks, velours, and passementerie, as we were Into Bar areaescorted, addressed by name, into the bar area.

Courtyard entrance

Bar

Champagne and amuses-bouche

Champagne was the apero of choice (bien sur!), served with a tiered plate of nibbles.

dining room

We were again escorted and welcomed by name to our table in the beautiful dining room, as I took in the decor and chandeliers.

table and view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following 5-star etiquette, I was given the menu without prices listed and was immediately provided with a table hook from which to hang my purse. Every attention to detail was made by the staff, from A to Z; the sommelier approached to discuss our three-course (fixed-price) menu choices with regards to the extensive wine list (more like a book) which included a bottle of red wine listed for 13,600 Euros!  On the other end of the price spectrum, we ordered a half-bottle of Montrachet, a light-bodied red wine that was delightful.

As the dining area began to fill with couples and tables of four, I noticed one couple with a little girl of about 5 years of age and wondered how she would cope during the formal dining experience. I was surprised that other than hearing her sweet voice a few times, she was well-behaved throughout the (long-for-a-child) evening.

Again, we were served a few savory appetizers to whet our appetite:

amuses-bouche 2

I ordered a three-course menu, but before that began, we were served the chef special: a small pot of mousse aux petits pois with bacon underneath.

pea & bacon chef special

aparagus and foie gras soup

The menu then began with asparagus and foie gras soup

duck and beets

followed by the main course of duck with beets

I passed on the cheese course, which was served from a special cart

I passed on the cheese course, which was served from a special cart

before dessert

& before the dessert, an entremets of lime, chocolate, and coconut delights

 

la piece de resistance was a lemon souffle and granny smith sorbet

la piece de resistance was a lemon souffle served with granny smith sorbet

candelier and ceiling

After 3 1/2 hrs of excellent food & service, we left the dining room & were escorted through the bar towards the reception area, I felt regally satiated & festively full. Certes – a royal evening to remember!