We went to Sarlat, in the Dordogne region, after La Rochelle. Now, first off, the drive was…er…”interesting.” Because we wanted to stay off the autoroutes (highways) and drive on backroads, I put “Limoges” into the GPS, as going through Limoges would take us through some scenic areas. Unfortunately, I did not notice that the GPS has accepted “Limoges-Fourches” which is way the heck away from Limoges. I quickly realized the GPS was giving me incorrect directions, then realized that the GPS showed a distance of 500 km when I knew it should be about 200 km. So I got off the highway and figured that out, but to get back on the road in the right direction, GPS took me through a supermarket parking lot (which, in fact, was the best way to go), where a large truck was blocking the road until I decided to go around it and then it decided to move, so I was driving alongside it, on the wrong side of the road. Anyway, we got out of the parking lot and onto the right road.
Later we needed gas and because we were on back roads, there were not a lot of gas stations. Finally got to the town of Cognac where surely there would be gas stations, and lots to drink if there weren’t. First station: credit cards only and, despite the advertising that U.S. credit cards have chips, they don’t work in automatic gas pumps. So, off we go. Next station: closed. Finally found a supermarket station with a cashier, so – phew – we got gas.
On to Limoges… The GPS took us accurately through this good-sized city, right to the autoroute entrance we were to take, which was closed for construction. Oh-oh; GPSs do not know what to do in a situation like this. I started to back-track through Limoges, as I was sure I’d seen a sign pointing to another way to the autoroute. The GPS is now, of course, complaining that I need to go back to that closed entrance. I did, indeed, find that other route, took it to the autoroute and away we went. A disaster averted, as far as I’m concerned.
Scenic roads have one drawback: they have lots of traffic, much of it big trucks. Slow. Finally we got off onto some real back roads, saw some beautiful little towns and made our way to Sarlat.
Our hotel at Sarlat was nice, with an excellent restaurant. We asked the most gracious woman at the desk if she could put a bottle of our champagne in their refrigerator for us to drink the next night. When Laurie went to get it the next day, that lovely woman had it in a silver ice bucket, with two champagne glasses for us. We sat in their peaceful garden and had our champagne.
Sarlat has a long history, but had fallen into bad shape until the 1960s. Then the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, found ways to get funds to French cities and towns to restore them and Sarlat was the first to get that funding. As a result, many buildings in the medieval core of the town have been restored. (Malraux himself is probably worth a post: a well-known novelist and philosopher, as Minister of Culture he pushed hard on getting France back on the world cultural stage. Among other things, he discovered an old, almost unknown law that required Paris buildings to have their facades cleaned once every ten years, and he enforced it. Paris went from being a dark and dirty city to having the beautiful buildings it has today.)
Sarlat’s restoration has had a down side: tourists by the thousands, all in a small area. Sarlat is the second-most visited small town in France, behind Mont Saint Michel. And like Mont Saint Michel, there just isn’t a large area for all those folks and so it gets crowded. But as in so many places, we found that if we walked a hundred yards from the tourist area, we found beautiful deserted backstreets.
Some pictures of Sarlat. These first were taken on a Sunday morning before the heaving crowds arrived.
We can agree with the comments about how interesting Sarlat is, but we can add something no guidebook mentioned: give it about two hours, unless you’re the type that likes to peruse shops of medieval souvenirs, walnut products (the area is famous for them), foie gras, postcards, wine, and other miscellanea…