The clouds gave way to watery sunshine, just warm enough to dry the cobbled streets below. The market, although busy whatever the weather suddenly came to life as the tarpaulins were thrown off and stowed away like sails no longer needed for a voyage, the true colours of the produce revealed. The shoppers moved through the stalls, a touch here, a word there, checking and choosing, each confident in the seller they selected for their garlic, truffles, rillets, and foie gras. This is Sarlat, the ancient town of golden stone, on market day.
Trestle tables wedged together in the 15th century cathedral square, laden with the fruits of the farmers labours, a weathered hand pointing out the benefits of bright coloured carrots, vibrant green celery plants, twisted cucumbers and stripy tomatoes. Fresh fish glistened in the sunshine on its icy bed and even the bare bones of a duck carcass were discussed before buying, as if it were caviar, not the makings of stock. Food has always been a serious business here.
Tucked down a medieval street above a Traiteur Chef Gerard Gatinel was preparing the delicious ingredients we had shopped for in the market. Like everyone else in Sarlat he had his favourite vendors. We packed into the more than adequate kitchen in the apartment, only feeling small whilst it had to accommodate seven of us chopping, stirring and photographing as we were encouraged to lend a hand with the cooking. It was hard not to be distracted by the wonderful smells of the buttery rich foie gras cooking, a precursor to our pots of scrambled eggs with generous earthy fresh truffle, followed by duck breast and pomme de terre Sarladaise, a local dish of rich goose fat, thinly sliced potatoes and garlic.
Stomachs full we heaved ourselves down the steep stairs to explore the alleyways of Sarlat in the late afternoon sunshine. Originally a medieval town built around the Benedictine Abbey which, despite it’s fortifications, suffered during the hundreds year war. In the 15th and 16th centuries building began again in the renaissance style. As a consequence of this and a preservation order from the French government,a Sarlat is a charming tangle of narrow streets and cobbled squares hemmed in by ancient buildings, carved archways, gables and gargoyles. A fascinating town to explore or just to relax in a café and watch the people go by.
Sarlat welcomes visitors all year round; December to March is the truffle season bringing with it the promise of delicious dishes to come. The spring sunshine brings piles of produce and beautiful flowers and the market is buzzing. The heat of the summer brings the French tourists especially in August, but September and October are mellow and warm, the grape harvest begins and the hotels are a little emptier.
I stayed in the 17th century Chateau Les Merles, a 4 star boutique hotel with a wonderful restaurant and 9 hole golf course. I loved it so much we’ve booked to go back this summer.
I visited the Dordogne as a guest of Dordogne Valley Tourism Boards and We Like Travel. All transfers, transport, food drink and accommodation were included in the media trip. I was not paid to publish this piece; all views and opinions are my own. Thanks to Hannah from We Like Travel for translating for us, Clemence from Brive Airport for her patience in driving us everywhere and all the teams from the tourism offices at Sarlat, Correze, Bergerac, Lot, Brive, Perigord, Welcome To Dordogne Valley and Dordogne Valley
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