Last week we went to visit Sarlat. The reason for the visit was that a friend owns a holiday home there and he offered us the use of it. In our free and easy Gap Year lifestyle, it was an opportunity for us to try something else, up in the mountains and far away from rivers. So off we went.
We would never have thought of visiting Sarlat except for our friend’s kind offer. It is a beautiful very well preserved medieval city. As mentioned in the blog last week on the 11th November, the main reason it has been so well preserved is thanks to Andre Malraux. As Minister of Cultural Affairs (1959-1969), he created a number of Maisons de la culture in provincial cities and worked to preserve France’s national heritage. Sarlat’s medieval walled city was renovated under these programmes. Today this lovely city is very welcoming to visitors and has many fine buildings to visit and restaurants serving local delicacies such as fois gras and duck dishes.
The city is high up in the mountains and had a colourful past history, particularly around the time of the religious wars but in more recent times has had a quiet life. This is the main reason the structure of this medical walled city was left unchanged.
One of the interesting pieces of history was that while the area was a stronghold for the Protestant Huguenots, the city was Catholic. A Protestant 6000 strong army attacked the city. The 500 Catholic inhabitants of the city under the leadership of the local bishop held out for six weeks. Eventually the Protestant guns breached a hole in the city walls but they decided to wait until the next morning before going through the breach. During the night, the defenders managed to make a temporary barricade inside the damaged wall. The next morning they repulsed the attackers. In the end, the Protestant army withdrew after 500 of their men were killed. Only 14 of the city’s defenders died. This proved the value of a strong walled city in those times.
Also Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) was born in the city. The house he was born in still stands opposite the Cathedral. He was a French Judge and writer. His essay Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator attacking absolute monarchy and tyranny is credited as the first writing advocating civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. It is credited with influencing many men who came after him, including the thought processes that lead to the French Revolution. (Source Wikipedia).
In travelling by car to Sarlat we learned something about the French road system. Sarlat is 500 km from Chalon so it took us about 5 hours to get there using the motorways and cost us €24 on tolls. On the way back we decided to programme our Sat Nav to avoid toll roads. It took us an hour longer to get back but it was actually a shorter distance and much more pleasant driving as we got to see the towns, cities and countryside we were passing through. Motorway driving is the same in any country, fast efficient but boring so in future when travelling we are going to non-toll more scenic options.