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Another of the Dordogne’s tourist magnets and one that will make anyone pine to live in France is Sarlat-la- Canéda.
Some 1,500,000 visitors pour in to Sarlat each year, making it the most visited town in the Dordogne.
A central street – Rue de la Republique – runs the length of the old town, with narrow streets either side of the pedestrianised road.
Sarlat’s cathedral is in Place de Payrou alongside Hotel de la Boétie – the birthplace of the philosopher and humanist Etienne de La Boétie. His house has a large arched entrance and Renaissance style mullioned windows.
The cathedral was originally the church of Sarlat Abbey and has been much altered over the centuries. Parts of the building date from Roman and Mediaeval times. The jardin des Enfeus just above the cathedral is the ancient abbey cemetery.
Nearby, there is La Lanterne des morts – the lantern of the dead. The bullet-shaped building has had various roles over time including a funeral chapel.
The winding Rue des Consuls contains several very impressive mansions. The 16th century Hotel de Mirandol features an imposing doorway, the 14th century Hotel Plamon has three arched windows. The 15th century Hotel de Vassal has a double turret and the Hotel Tapinois de Betou has a monumental staircase.
Here you will find the 13th century Manoir de Gisson, originally called the Hotel Magenat. It has two buildings of different styles linked by a hexagonal tower with a spiral staircase. The building was recently opened to the public and visitors can now view the vaulted cellars and artefacts from the history of justice from the Middle Ages to the Revolution, including instruments of torture.
The lovely main square, the Place de la Liberté, is paved and pedestrianised and surrounded by gorgeous buildings. You can sit n one of the many restaurants here and look out at the town hall with its circular bell tower.
The town’s market days are Saturdays and Wednesdays, and there is a Christmas fair in December with around 40 wooden chalets selling arts and crafts plus an outdoor ice-rink.
One of France’s top architects, Jean Nouvel, was born in Sarlat. The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner restored the church of Sainte-Marie in the centre and it is now a covered market, featuring a panoramic lift which rises up through the centre of the bell tower to give people a view over the whole town.
Sarlat is well known for foie gras and truffles. Plenty of shops offer the chance to stock up on these and often offer tasting sessions too. In the third weekend of January Sarlat celebrates the Fete de la Truffe and the third Sunday of February is Sarlat’s goose festival – Sarlat Fest’oie.
There are also some fantastic nougat shops in Sarlat.
Besides the annual film festival, the mediaeval buildings and lovely squares of Sarlat make the city one of the most filmed in France. More than 80 shoots have taken place in the city since 1945.
There is plenty to do after you’ve exhausted all the historic tourist tours. Sports clubs cover pretty much everything, from athletics, basketball and boxing to climbing, football and swimming.
The city is classified as a city of art and history . It is renowned for having the highest density of historical monuments classified or registered in the world.
A Benedictine abbey was built in Sarlat in the 9th century. The abbey grew and a town began to build up around it. The church ran Sarlat until 1299, when the town was granted liberty by Philippe le Bel.
In medieval times Sarlat grew in prosperity. It became an important market town and many rich merchants settled here, having the beautiful houses built that still attract so many visitors today. Despite having heavily fortified walls Sarlat suffered greatly during the Hundred Years War.
By the start of the 16th century Sarlat was an important political and judicial centre. More homes were built, this time in the Italian Renaissance style.
After the Revolution in 1789 Sarlat became a commercial centre. However it wasn’t hugely successful, as it was far from railways and roads.
More recently, in the 60s Sarlat was given money to restore its historic buildings. It now has the highest density of historic monuments and classified monuments anywhere in France. UNESCO is said to be considering a World Heritage Site designation for the town.
The abbey is the only one of the six great abbeys of Périgord to have been spared by the Vikings because of its location.
As a result, relics of Saint Sacerdos were moved to Sarlat for safekeeping.
Saint Bernard went to Sarlat in 1147, where he performed the miracle of the breads.
The Black Death killed 2,500 people in six months in 1279-1280.
Sarlat became English by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360. It reverted to the king of France ten years later.
In 1807 Mayor Lacipière issued a decree forbidding hanging up the laundry and smoking a pipe on public walks.
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Another very popular area for the English, Sarlat has the added benefit of being smaller, quainter and less daunting to discover than some of the larger towns of the Dordogne. You have all the necessary facilities here, as there is a population of getting on for 9,000, but this is essentially a small market town at its heart.
Sarlat has a small network of urban vehicles called Sarlat bus.
There are 13 services to and from Bordeaux Saint-Jean from Sarlat train station.
Sarlat plays host to numerous events throughout the year.
The truffle festival in mid-January offers many activities organised by a group of producers of black Périgord truffles and the city of Sarlat.
There’s the Fest’Oie (the feast of goose ) in early March and days to discover the products of Périgord Noir .
The Ringueta is a festival celebrating traditional old games such as the tug of war and greasy pole. It is held every other year.
There’s a theatre festival here in July and August, with a different piece of theatre every day for three weeks.
A vintage vehicle festival, a major film festival and of course the Christmas market.
There is beauty to be found in the village of Tamniès.
It has been awarded two flowers in the France in Bloom awards and has a Blue Flag for its leisure pond, to boot.
The pond was created in 1968, when landowners were asked to give land to make a lake and create an irrigation network for farmers. The pond has since been opened up for swimming, fishing and watersports, including canoeing.
A beach has been created there using 4,500 square metres of fine sand, and there are games for children, outdoor furniture, a pontoon, a refreshment bar, toilets and showers and a large car park.
The supervised swimming and the refreshment bar open from the end of June to the end of August each year.
A trail in the village allows visitors to discover the fauna and flora of the Vallée des Beunes.
Tamniès has a 13th century church and an old priory. Its tree of liberty, which were planted in every town a year after the French Revolution, is still standing, albeit hollow, in the middle of the square.
An introductory museum to prehistory is made from cut flint stones and other discoveries made by the inhabitants of the town.
Marquay is a historic village of about 600 people in the Dordogne. Archaeologists discovered the site of Venus de Laussel there, which dates from prehistoric times.
During the German occupation, many of its residents refused the compulsory labour and hid in the woods. Their wives and parents maintained contact with them by means of relays or “letter boxes”, such as the old farmhouse far from Fontimasserie or the ruins of the Château de Commarque , to supply them with news, ammunition and food.
The village has a flower in the France in Bloom awards, and several historic buildings.
The Église Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens de Marquay is 12th century and the Chateau Puymartin dates from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
Chateau Laussel is from the 15th and 16th centuries and commands a view of the Château de Commarque.
There is also the Shelter of Cap Blanc – a prehistoric site and ornate shelter and La Beune du Paradoux –a recently renovated wash house, fed by a spring flowing into the river.
Saint-André-d’Allas is a merger of two villages, Allas-l’Évêque and Saint-André-d’Allas, which have just over 800 residents between them.
Here too, there are many historic buildings, including the 18th century Chateau Roch and the 19th century huts of Breuil, dry stone huts classified as historical monuments in 1995.
The 14th century church of St André was registered as a Historic Monument in 1926 and the 13th century Church of St Bartholomew was registered in 1926.
The 16th century Altar, also called cross Lassagne, was classified as a historical monument in 1931 and the Cave of Pas-Estrét was deemed a Historical Monument in 1932.
Vézac stands on vertiginous hills in the Dordogne, with four mills dotting the landscape that once used the main stream to power their work.
The land of the plain and the top of the valley is rich and fertile, as well as that of the upper valleys , allowing the growth of demanding crops, such as wheat, tobacco and corn. Sunflowers, rapeseed and asparagus are new and profitable crops. The walnut is relatively easy to grow here too.
The harvest of chestnuts and the grazing of animals (the pigs were fed on acorns from the oaks) led to the construction of small temporary peasant dwellings in dry stones, of which more than 40 have survived.
The village lies between two of the most beautiful villages in France – La Roque-Gageac and Beynac-et-Cazenac.
The limestone hillsides are strewn with natural caves which are sometimes quite deep. Only one is known to have served as a shelter for prehistoric people. The Roc cave, above the hamlet of the same name, was excavated by the famous prehistorian Denis Peyrony, then studied in detail by Jean-Philippe Rigaud. Between 30,000 and 20,000 BC, drawings and reliefs were painted, engraved or sculpted there.
During the agricultural boom of the Middle Ages, the inhabitants were wealthy enough to build and then enlarge a freestone sanctuary. The parish church, dedicated to St Urbain was built in the 12th century.
In the 14th century, Vézac was on the front line of the Hundred Years War. In 1350, the small castle of Marqueyssac was taken and burned by the English troops. Once the Anglo-French wars and the wars of religion ended, castles and noble houses were transformed into ceremonial residences. Manor Rochecourbe was built in the early 16th century then rebuilt in the 17th and 18th and features a beautiful ceiling decorated in the French style. Manor Soulvignac, which belonged to the powerful family Périgordine of Solminihac, retains traces of the Gothic style, but was also completely redesigned in the 17th century.
Legend has it that the first “hanging” gardens of Marqueyssac , established on the hillside, were designed by André Le Nôtre , but it seems that this was the work of one of his students, Porcher
Under the Second Empire, Julien de Lavergne de Cerval inherited Marqueyssac and enlarged the gardens in an Italian style, adding clumps of boxwood topiary.
The village is home to a number of historic homes, manors, monuments and churches.
In 1944, two young people belonging to the group 36 of the Chantiers de la jeunesse, were killed by German fire.
The village, which has about 800 residents, has a number of historic buildings, including the 15th century Château du Barry and Lasserre Castle, dating from the Middle Ages and restored in the 14th century.
The 12th century Church of St Laurent Marcillac has a Romanesque choir and a 16th century chapel and the church of Saint-Quentin is in the nearby village of Saint-Quentin.
On your arrival in the village, you will find many traditional houses of the Périgord Noir with blond stones and lauze roofs.
Each summer, the church opens its doors to an exhibition of paintings, giving visitors the opportunity to admire its Carolingian bas-relief.