By Maggie LaCoste
Market day in Sarlat is like the 4th of July for the senses: brilliant colors, the sounds of local school bands, the intoxicating smell of fruit, lavender and herbs, samples of cheese, foie gras and walnut cake that beg to be taken home. With new adventures around every corner and alley way, market day in medieval Sarlat is a classic Slow Travel Adventure, and an experience of a lifetime.
I had been told that Sarlat’s Saturday market basically shut down the center city, with all traffic rerouted around town, so I knew that this was going to be a serious market. Market days are never long enough for me so I did not want to miss a thing. I set my alarm for 7:00 am and made plans in advance with my family regarding who would go early, and where we all would meet up later in the morning for coffee. I went out on the balcony of our apartment at Villa des Consuls at 7:30 and the streets were already filled with tables, canopies and bustling activity. It was time to go!
My oldest daughter Kate volunteered to go early with me to take pictures and get a head start on the crowds. After a quick cup of coffee, we headed for the center of the food action, the Place de la Liberte. The market literally snaked from one end of the medieval quarter to the other, with no empty spaces anywhere. Vendors of every type of product were busy setting up, and prospective customers like us were starting to linger, waiting for the chance to select their purchases.
We quickly decided on a plan of action as we knew that the crowd would be growing very soon, making it much more difficult to make purchases. Kate went off in search of jams for gifts, I went off in search of fois gras! As you can see from the pictures, both of us had great success!
The crowds around the Place de la Liberte were beginning to grow, so we proceeded to make our way through the side streets and alleyways which were full of the freshest produce of the region: bright red strawberries that looked as if they were just picked, white asparagus, so expensive in the states that few of us have ever had it, small fragrant melons similar to the Cavaillon melons of Provence and cauliflower as white as snow. And I almost forgot the Cabecou cheese, a local goat cheese that takes like butter, and costs only .60 Euro/piece.
And then there was the bread….bread of every shape, size and texture from savory nut bread to delicate baguettes. We decided that the locals were the best experts on bread, so we too bought our bread from the vendors with the longest lines. And then I discovered Gateau aux Noix. A young girl invited me to sample some of her mother’s cakes and breads. It was mid-morning and I was getting hungry from our shopping adventures, so I sampled several, but it was the light, airy walnut cake with the crusty top that I fell in love with. It went to the top of my to-buy list, and was definitely one of my favorites of the trip.
It makes me sad to think that I may never have it again until I return to Sarlat!
We finally made our way to Rue de la Republique, the main street through town which was also filled with vendors who carried mostly clothes, leather goods, local crafts, kitchen and home goods. It was on Rue de la Republique that we discovered regional food vendors where we would buy supplies for our picnic lunch.
Since Sarlat is so close to Spain, paella is very popular. Judging from the line to buy paella, we decided to add it to our lunch menu, along with foie gras with local chutney, several kinds of ham from one of the local vendors, and an assortment of cheeses and bread. Oh, yes, and the Gateau aux Noix, which disappeared much too quickly.
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you about Sarladaise Potatoes which are served with most meat dishes in Sarlat. They are basically potatoes fried in duck fat until they get good and crusty and while they may not be the healthiest thing that I ate in Sarlat, they definitely were one of the tastiest, and we bought those at the market too!
Our market bags were filled to the brim and we were starving. We were sad to leave the market, but glad to escape the crowds on the street, and to enjoy the incredible lunch that only a morning at the market could provide.
MARKET DAY TIPS:
Here are a few tips if you ever have a chance to go to a local market in France:
• Bring your own market bag and make sure it’s big. It makes it much easier to keep your purchases.
• Bring cash. Most vendors do not take credit cards. Exceptions would be higher priced items like foie gras and some art work.
• Start early. Markets like Sarlat and Arles in Provence attract local residents from throughout the region, and the crowds get very large. An early start enables you to make your purchases early, and then sit back and enjoy watching the crowds while enjoying a expresso or glass of wine.
• Make a plan of action as there is never enough time, and you don’t have a lot of time before the crowds appear.
• Sample, sample, sample. Vendors are happy to have you taste their products, so be like the locals and sample. You too may discover many new favorites.
• If you see something you like, buy it. You may never find your way back to purchase it later.
• Buy supplies for your picnic/dinner. This is a great way to involve the family in market day. Assign one picnic food item to each family member and have fun seeing what everyone brings back.
For more information on market days in Sarlat, visit www.sarlat-tourisme.com.