Saturday, 30 October 2010

Sarlat: Straight out of a fairytale

The medieval village of Sarlat in the Dordogne region is probably my favourite place so far. It's straight out of a fairytale (or fantasy novel) – narrow and winding cobbled laneways (many sans traffic); buildings built haphazardly, abutting and adjoining each other to fill every available space; turrets and towers denoting houses of note; wrought iron and stone-carved balconies; high-pitched roofs of layered stone; passages underneath archways; cathedral with old cemetery and recessed tombs to the rear; cafes and brasseries with chairs and tables out on the pavement; remnants of the old stone wall...

We took a walking tour around the village as part of our 'Dordogne in a day' tour, and our guide explained much of the local history and pointed out objects of interest. (The village grew around a large Benedictine abbey, and was the first in all France to be completely restored in the 1960s.) The following day we were at liberty to explore the town ourselves, and followed a walking route marked out on the tourist map. It's the most adorable little place, and it's easy to see why Sarlat has the reputation of being one of the most attractive villages in France today.

The region of the Dordogne has many beautiful villages smaller than Sarlat. Also known as 'Perigord', the region was the most hotly contested by the English and French during the 100 Years War, and thus most of the villages are fortified (including the abandoned La Roque St Christophe in my earlier post) and most have a chateau, which enhances their beauty. We visited a couple of these during our 'Dordogne in a day' tour, including Beynac (which has a fully restored and heavily fortified chateau at the top of a hill), and La Roque-Gageac (from which we rook a traditional boat ride down the Gabon River).

With its hills and winding roads, quaint cobbled towns and chateaus, the Dordogne/Perigord must surely be one of the most gorgeous parts of France, if not the world.

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