Sarlat is a small town at the heart of a very popular tourist region: the Périgord. It is one of its major centres, receiving more than one million tourists annually, who choose it mainly for its architectural and gastronomic heritage. Based on the typology of tourist destinations developed by the MIT team (2002), Sarlat corresponds to a touristified town, with tourism being today the dominant sector.

Sarlat-la-Canéda is a small town of about 10,000 residents located in the Dordogne, in south west France.

Ill. 1. Location of Sarlat-la-Canéda (source: Annie Ouellet)

A relatively recent start in tourism

The present-day municipality of Sarlat-la-Canéda was formed following the merger between “Sarlat” with “La Canéda” in 1965. However, the name Sarlat predominates. In particular, from a tourism point of view, it is Sarlat and its old centre that capture the interest of visitors.

Sarlat’s architectural heritage is today one of its main assets in terms of tourism. The small town has a high concentration of listed monuments, including many private mansions and ancient religious buildings, dating mainly from the 13th to 18th centuries. Above all, one of the key features highlighted by Sarlat is that it was one of the first towns whose urban heritage was granted protection under the law of 4 August 1962, known as the Malraux law, together with the Marais district in Paris or the old Lyon district.

Ill. 2. Some iconic listed monuments of the Sarladais heritage: the House of La Boétie, the Cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos, the Crypts and the Lantern of the Dead (Cl. Annie Ouellet, 2015).

However, until the early 1950s, Sarlat was a simple base to discover the surrounding places, such as the Lascaux cave (discovered in 1943 and opened to the public in 1948) and the Milandes castle (then owned by Josephine Baker).

Although the first tourist office of Sarlat was created in 1923 and the small town became a “Listed Tourist Resort” in 1943, it was not until three men got involved that the historic centre of Sarlat in its entirety, as an urban centre, was promoted. These three men were: Jacques Boissarie, from Sarlat, a man of theatre and president of the tourist office from 1950, Lucien de Maleville, an artist from Périgord and delegate to the inventory of historical monuments in Dordogne, and Henry de Ségogne, a State Councillor and pioneer in the protection of cultural heritage in France. Considered as “trailblazers of the development of tourism in Sarlat” (Bécheau, 2013: P. 38), they created the Theatre Games Festival in 1952, with the aim of “giving life to the old stones of the city” (ibid.). Their action has a twofold objective: patrimonialisation and touristification. They “had badges placed on the buildings showing the age of the constructions” and “they published the brochure Sarlat, nid de pierre et de verdure (Sarlat, a nest of stone and greenery), thus contributing to the promotion of tourism” (ibid.) of the town. This first spotlight shown on Sarlat, followed ten years later by the establishment of the protected area (Malraux Law), helped assert Sarlat as a destination.

Today, the city’s tourism promotion is mainly based on the wealth of its urban heritage, the quality of the surrounding natural environment as well as its local products and gastronomy (truffles, foie gras, etc.). Tourist presence is estimated at 1.3 to 2.2 million (depending on sources) per year, while the town hall states that tourism represents 40% of the economy in Périgord Noir.

A touristified city with seasonal tourists

The tourist season in Sarlat lasts from April to October, July and August being the most popular months. Shops in the city centre adapt to the presence of tourists, with many of them closed off-season. In addition, the beginning of summer marks the arrival of new categories of inhabitants, namely street vendors, tourism seasonal workers and street artists (Ouellet, 2017). Furthermore, in order to energize the city during the winter season, events have been created focusing on gastronomy (such as the Truffle Festival (January) or Fest’Oie (March)).

Ill. 3. Street artists in the old centre of Sarlat (Cl. Annie Ouellet, 2015)


Ill. 4. Place de la Liberté (Liberty Square) in Sarlat. Left: an afternoon in March; right: an evening in August (Cl. Annie Ouellet, 2015).

Based on the typology of tourist destinations developed by researchers of the MIT team (2002), Sarlat is a touristified town. The small urban centre, which existed prior to tourism development, is now subverted by tourism, which has become its primary function. Most of the tourist flows is concentrated on the old heritage centre. However, unlike other touristified cities such as Venice or Bruges, where tourists flock all year round, the tourist activity in Sarlat is marked by seasonality. This contrast between the high and low season is similar to certain seaside or mountain resorts with, among others, a significant presence of “seasonal people” (seasonal workers, as well as street vendors, street artists, etc.).

The example of Sarlat would suggest the addition of a nuance to the “touristified city”, namely the degree of seasonality. Thus, touristified cities with strong seasonality operate on a cyclical basis, seeing successive periods of strong tourist presence where density is at its peak and “dormant” periods when permanent residents find a “local community” of sorts… until the next tourist season. The pace of the city is thus aligned on that of tourist activity.



  • Bécheau Anne, 2013, Se souvenir de Sarlat: 150 ans de restauration. La Crèche, Geste Éditions, 160 p.
  • Équipe MIT, 2002, Tourismes 1: Lieux communs, Paris, Belin, coll. «Mappemonde», 320 p.
  • Ouellet Annie, 2017, Coprésence et rapports à l’espace dans les petites villes touristiques et patrimoniales. Lecture croisée de Dinan (Côtes-d’Armor) et Sarlat-la-Canéda (Dordogne). Thèse de doctorat en géographie, Université d’Angers, 418 p.