Sarlat-Le-Caneda, France: Joy in a Medieval Town

It’s impossible to escape the geese in Sarlat-le-Caneda. Images of these plump birds adorn shop windows, and products of all kinds are decorated with the likeness of the animals that have been adopted as the unofficial mascot of the area.

Often known simply as Sarlat, this town with a population of about 11,000 is in the center of the Dordogne region of southern France. Sarlat offers big-city convenience and activities packaged in a small-town setting that make it a delightful location to visit and a wonderful place to call home.

Narrow streets occasionally interrupted by quiet squares meander through the historical center bringing to mind the romantic images of small-town France. Caves with pre-historic paintings, castles guarding nearly every hilltop, and rivers quietly winding through forested valleys draw visitors to the area around Sarlat.

Yet, even on the busiest summer nights, Sarlat retains its peaceful character.

There’s more to Sarlat than the medieval architecture and quiet lanes though. Whether you are canoeing the rivers, biking along the country roads, or climbing the limestone cliffs, it’s easy to be active here. Visiting the caves and grottoes or exploring one of the many nearby castles provides a glimpse into the past lives of the region's inhabitants. The summer Theater Festival, autumn Film Festival, and Holiday Music Festival showcase the cultural side of Sarlat. The Cultural Center offers exhibitions and performances throughout the year.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the town bustles with the sights and aromas of the region as market day fills the Place de la Liberté. Tables overflowing with sweet strawberries in the spring give way to succulent melons and juicy tomatoes in the summer. Stalls that offer a taste of local wine, such as the sweet Monbazillac, or a sample of local cheese are complemented by artisans selling their creations.

In Sarlat, the cuisine is as outstanding as the setting. The area is famous for truffles and their delicate yet musky flavor accents many local dishes. Geese, ducks and the notorious French delicacy, foie gras, are favorites in many of Sarlat's restaurants.

For a romantic splurge in an elegant setting the Auberge de Mirandol, located in a restored medieval mansion, offers four-course fixed-price menu options ranging from $20 to $40. The duck breast with truffle sauce served accompanied by blissful Sarladaise potatoes (delicately pureed potatoes with a hint of truffle sautéed in duck fat) epitomizes the flavors of the region.

Sarlat is far enough from large cities to provide a quiet small-town life but it is also situated within easy reach of the major cities of southwest France. Bordeaux and Toulouse are each about two hours away by car.

Although Sarlat has been a popular destination for French and British tourists for many years, it accommodates multitudes of visitors without sacrificing its charm. For visitors, there are many small family-run accommodations for around $100 per night and apartment rentals there are even more affordable.