View of the cliff-top fortress and a mill on the river bank in Angles-sur-l'Anglin

One of the plus beaux villages de France (most beautiful villages in France), the village of Angles-sur-l’Anglin is, as its label suggests, ridiculously pretty. Situated around the idyllic River Anglin, the charming village boasts picture-perfect medieval buildings, breathtaking views and a ruined cliff-top castle. It’s also home to a series of 14,000-year-old Paleolithic cave sculptures.

The medieval streets in Angles-sur-l'Anglin

We arrived in Angles-sur-l’Anglin at lunchtime and after a spot of lunch, spent a couple of hours ambling around the village’s winding, narrow streets, admiring the attractive architecture, taking lots of photos and looking in the occasional shop we passed along the way.

The village was quiet when we visited, which added to its idyllic charms. It also meant I could take my time playing with the settings on my camera and have a little fun with my photography as I didn’t have to worry about people stepping into my shot.

Angles-sur-l'Anglin fortress

With it’s dramatic position high on the cliff overlooking the River Anglin, one building in the village stands out from all the rest – the castle. The ruined fortress, which was originally built between the 12th and 15th centuries for the bishops of Poitiers, is now in such a precarious state it’s closed to the public for safety reasons. But you can still look around the outside, which is what we did after walking around the centre of the village.

The castle is located in a strategic position between the ancient regions of Berry, Poitou and Touraine, which were hotly contested by the French and the English during the Middle Ages. When we were up at the castle, it was easy to see why the bishops of Poitiers would build a fortress here as it’s elevated position makes it a great place from which to detect an invading army.

After seeing what we could of the ruined castle, we made our way to the highest point on the cliff, which is home to the Saint Pierre Chapel. The tiny, unassuming and abandoned-looking chapel was closed, so we couldn’t look inside, but the views over the village, the castle and the river were fantastic and well-worth the climb.

River Anglin in Angles-sur-l'Anglin

From the chapel, we strolled back down the hill, past the castle, to the river. There we ambled along the picturesque river bank, stopping to look at an old water mill along the way. After a short walk, we turned back and made our way to Roc-aux-Sorciers.

Roc-aux-Sorciers, or Sorcerers’ Rock as it’s known in English, is a rock shelter featuring 14,000-year-old cave sculptures of animals. The sculptures are closed to the public for conservation reasons, but the site is home to an interpretation centre where you can view replicas of the sculptures and find out more about their Paleolithic creators.

Unfortunately when we got to Roc-aux-Sorciers, we found we’d made that rookie mistake of not checking the opening times before we visited and the centre was closed. We might not have seen the replicas of the Paleolithic sculptures, but we nevertheless had a lovely day out in Angles-sur-l’Anglin, which more than lived up to its billing as one of France’s most beautiful villages.



Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay in France

As regular readers to my blog likely know by now, I love a castle, and if there’s one close by when I’m travelling, I have to visit it. During our stay in Parthenay, our hosts had told us the best castle nearby was in the town of Montreuil-Bellay, so that’s where we headed on our second day in the region.

When we arrived in Montreuil-Bellay, we found the castle was closed for lunch, so we found a café where we had a bite to eat and then spent some time wandering around the town until 2pm when the castle was set to reopen. The town of Montreuil-Bellay has a long history as it’s strategically placed between the historic areas of Anjou, Poitou and Touraine (all former Plantagenet strongholds). As a result, it’s home to lots of attractive, old buildings.

The 15th century St John's Gate in Montreuil-Bellay

We spent a pleasant half hour or so ambling around the town’s streets, admiring the old buildings and fortifications (including the 15th century St John’s Gate, above) and looking in the odd shop, before making our way back to the castle. The huge, beautiful castle is still inhabited so it can only be visited by guided tour at certain times throughout the day.

Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay in France

The current castle was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, but there’s been a castle on the site since the 11th century. It has quite the storied history, too. Its moat sheltered starving peasants during the Hundred Years War between England and France, women thought to be sympathetic to the royalist cause were imprisoned here during the revolution of the 1790s, and it served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War.

View of the River Thouet from the gardens at the Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay

After buying our tickets, we had time to spare before our tour began so we set off to explore the castle’s gardens and ramparts. The castle, which overlooks the River Thouet, boasts 13 towers and some 650m of ramparts, and I had great fun climbing the garden’s towers, exploring the ramparts, from which I had fantastic views of the river below, and strolling around the landscaped grounds.

The gardens were really pretty with beautifully manicured lawns and hedges, and flower beds filled with red, pink and white flowers. There’s also an enormous, elegant chapel. After spending a good half hour roaming the grounds and taking lots of photos, it was finally time for our guided tour.

The guided tour, which takes you around the castle’s ground floor and the cellars, was carried out in French and English, and lasted just under an hour. Among the rooms on display were the music room, dining room and the Duchess of Longueville’s bedroom, as well as the impressive medieval kitchen and the huge cellars where they used to make wine. We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside, hence the lack of indoor pics, but the tour was interesting and our guide knowledgeable.

Montreuil-Bellay is a beautiful château and an interesting place to spend an hour or so, but I’m not sure it was worth the hour or so drive there and back from Parthenay. Unfortunately, you can’t see much of the castle other than those few rooms on the ground floor and the cellars, which is understandable when people still live there, but it felt as though it was lacking something, especially given its long and fascinating history. It’s lovely and all, but if I’m honest, it’s not the most interesting castle I’ve visited in France.


River Thouet in Parthenay

A couple of years ago, I spent a week just outside the fortified town of Parthenay in the Nouvelles-Aquitaine region of France. The town is situated in a bend in the River Thouet and is a charming, attractive place, with timber-clad houses, a ruined castle, a number of impressive medieval gates and striking churches.

The medieval streets with timber-clad houses in Parthenay

Soon after arriving, we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the citadel, wandering through the old town’s hilly, winding medieval streets and enjoying the views of the river. We went on a circuitous route through the old town centre, ambling past lots of rickety-looking timber-clad houses, not quite sure where we were going, going up this road, then that, and seeing where we ended up.

Looking up at the Porte Saint-Jacques in Parthenay

Along the way, we came upon the impressive Porte Saint-Jacques (above) where we decided to stop and climb to the top of the tower, admiring the great views over the town and the river. From there, we continued on, making our way down to the river bank and following the path along the river to the castle. The river walk was pretty and peaceful – the only other people we met along the way were a few dog walkers.

Parthenay’s castle was originally built in the 11th century, then expanded in the 13th and 15th centuries. Now much of it lies in ruins with only parts of three of its nine towers remaining. We spent a little time exploring what remained of the ramparts and the towers, before making our way back up to the town.

The water features in the medieval garden in Parthenay

We carried on walking through the narrow, cobbled streets until we came across a lovely medieval garden. It was only small, with a little water feature, an orchard and lots of herbs growing, but it was a relaxing spot and I was glad we stumbled across it. By now, we’d pretty much walked around the whole of the medieval part of Parthenay, so we stopped off at a café for a well-deserved rest and a drink. Our stroll around the town was really enjoyable and a great way to start our week-long break in the region.


Château de Biron

I’m a little obsessed with castles, which means whenever I go anywhere, especially in Europe, I’m on the lookout for a castle to visit. Luckily, the magnificent Château de Biron was only a few kilometres from our base in Monpazier, which meant there was no way I was leaving the Dordogne without visiting this incredible fortress.

Perched high on a hill and dominating the surrounding landscape, it’s impossible to miss Château de Biron. Built in the 12th century, the castle boasts commanding views over the surrounding countryside and is an impressive sight. After it was damaged during the Hundred Years War between France and England, the castle was restored in the 15th century, resulting in a curious blend of architectural styles. It was owned by the Gontaut-Biron family, one of the four baronies of the Périgord, until the early 20th century.

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When we arrived at the castle, we walked through the gates into a large grassy courtyard and having paid for our tickets, were free to wander about as we pleased. Our first port of call was the chapel (above). The chapel features high-vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, which in the bright sunlight left a colourful twinkling pattern on the stone floor, as well as the tombs of a couple of prominent members of the Gontaut-Biron family.

We then walked across the courtyard to have a look around the main part of the castle. The castle is huge and I enjoyed wandering aimlessly around it – up and down the stone staircases and going inside all the different rooms. The castle is largely unfurnished, but it was nevertheless an impressive sight, and I strolled around admiring the stonework and the intriguing mix of architectural styles.

One of my favourite rooms was the kitchen, which was enormous. But I also enjoyed walking across the ramparts between the various towers and taking in the gorgeous views over the adjoining village of Biron and the surrounding countryside. We explored every possible nook and cranny of the castle, and it was great fun.

Having spent a good hour or so exploring all there was to see, we made our way back down the hill towards Biron. On the way, we stopped inside the chapel under the castle, which is home to a small arts and crafts market. The market was fantastic with some lovely, unusual products for sale, and I ended up buying a little leather coin purse and my father bought me a beautiful silver bracelet.

By now it was lunchtime, so we had a quick look around Biron – which is a quaint, pretty little village – then stopped off for lunch in the local auberge. Château de Biron is a great place to spend an hour or two. Sometimes these massive castles you can see for miles turn out to be a disappointment when you visit, but Château de Biron’s interior turned out to be just as impressive as the exterior.


Sarlat le Caneda

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To the north of the Dordogne lies the pretty town of Sarlat le Caneda. Home to an abundance of picturesque medieval and renaissance buildings, the town is so renowned for its attractive architecture, it’s one of the most popular tourist spots in the region.

On arriving in Sarlat, we headed straight to the most photogenic part – the old town centre. There we walked around the maze of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways, admiring the beautiful buildings around us, and paying particular attention to the buildings’ intricate and eye-catching details such as turrets, carvings, and arched doors and windows.

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Sarlat is a foodie town and we were lucky enough to visit on a Wednesday, one of its two market days (the other being Saturday), when its narrow, winding streets are filled with stalls selling fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, sausages, meats, cheeses and more. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the food stalls, then stopped by the large covered market that’s filled with yet more food stalls, where I bought some lovely little macarons.

Having thoroughly checked out all the food stalls, we made our way to the Manoir de Gisson, a curious little museum housed in a couple of attractive townhouses that once belonged to high-ranking members of the Sarlat nobility. On going inside, we were greeted by strange and interesting artefacts, as well as some grisly and very painful looking torture instruments.

We carried on through the museum, which then turned into a tour of the living quarters showcasing how the rich townsfolk lived during the medieval and renaissance eras. The museum isn’t very big so it didn’t take long to see it all, but I did leave a little bemused by the two very distinct, contrasting sections. It’s the only museum I’ve been to that combines plushly-decorated living quarters with torture instruments and unusual curiosities.

By now we were getting hungry, so we stopped for lunch in one of the many cafes lining the town’s squares. The food was good, but nothing special, and tummies sated we headed up towards the main street where we carried on admiring the architecture, and popping in and out of the many shops.

As pretty as Sarlat is, I didn’t love it. I found it a little too touristy for my tastes and felt it was on that dangerous cusp of beginning to cater so much to tourists that it loses the charms that made it special in the first place. That being said, if you’re in the region, it’s worth visiting (for now) to see what the fuss is about – just make sure you visit on market day and take advantage of all the wonderful produce on sale.


We’re all going on a boar hunt

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Soon after arriving in the Dordogne, I found a little trail that led from our country gite to Monpazier. Despite being rather untrodden in parts, the trail was a great little 40-minute shortcut to Monpazier taking us through some woods, passed a little stream, a number of farms, and finally, up a hill to the town on top.

Having successfully navigated this walking trail, I’d noticed another trail leading from our gite towards the town of Biron, a few miles away. Biron is home to a grand chateau (above), so I decided to see if this trail turned out to be just as good as the one to Monpazier. My mother, worried at the thought of me hiking through the unknown French countryside by myself, decided to come with me.

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We set off along the path at the bottom of the garden along a narrow ledge that led into the surrounding woods. We clambered over the various brambles and branches lying in our way, winding through the forest until we came out by a field in a neighbouring farm. We tramped across the field to a nearby road, then followed it for a bit until we came to a bend. Instead of continuing along the road, we turned down a path into a big patch of woodland.

The path was wide and clearly marked underfoot. It was a hot and sunny day, and so far we hadn’t come across another living soul. We followed the path deeper and deeper into the woods, when suddenly we heard loud barking. Now I’m a little uncomfortable around dogs, especially large dogs, as is my mother. The noise made us a little jittery as it sounded as though there were lots of dogs roaming the woods, but we carried on regardless.

A few moments later we heard a gunshot. By now, we were spooked and my mother suggested we head back. As we turned around and started walking, an old man appeared carrying a shotgun gesturing to us to continue through the woods, seemingly telling us, “It’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”

A little bemused as to what was going on, we followed the man’s directions and headed back into the woods. Soon we heard more dogs and more gunshots; we also met another man with a shotgun. At this point, the penny dropped that there was a hunt going on in the woods.

As we continued, we passed yet more hunters, dogs and even a van – and as we walked past the van, we could clearly hear something rattling around inside. We walked through the woods, intrigued by the activity around us, and as we reached the other side came upon another van with a woman standing beside it.

Using my best French, I asked her what was going on and she told us they were hunting boar. In recent years there’s been an explosion of wild boar in France with more than two million roaming the French countryside. The animals destroy crops, breed like rabbits and are responsible for a high number of car accidents, so for the past seven years there’s been a national control plan in place urging hunters and farmers to keep their numbers down.

By now fully clued up on what we’d unwittingly stumbled upon, we thanked the woman and carried on down the path to Biron. We crossed a large field and came out onto a road, surrounded on either side by woodland. As we wandered down the road, a swarm of midgies and flies joined us and it got so bad we couldn’t keep our eyes open. The flies and midgies were relentless and as more and more joined the party, it became impossible to keep going. So we turned back.

A quarter of an hour after saying goodbye to the boar hunters, we were saying hello to them again. This time walking through the woods, I felt much safer knowing what was going on around us. I also took the time to pay attention to what the hunters were doing. I’d never witnessed a hunt before, but it seemed they were using the dogs to drive out the boar before capturing them.

The afternoon turned out to be one of the most random experiences I’ve had. I may not have made it to the magnificent chateau of Biron, but I did stumble upon a wild boar hunt, something I never thought I’d do. It was a little unnerving when we initially stumbled upon it, but I was fascinated when we discovered what was actually going on. Some of my most memorable travel experiences are those unexpected moments that you couldn’t plan even if you tried, and this afternoon’s adventure turned out to be one of the most unusual.



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Of all the places I visited when staying in the Dordogne, the place I was most excited about seeing was the medieval town of Cahors. Not only does the town lend its name to my favourite type of wine, but its famed medieval bridge, the Pont Valentré, had been on my French bucket list since I was a child when I came across it in a book about France and was captivated.

Nestled in a bend in the river Lot, Cahors is the capital of the Lot region (to the south of the Dordogne) and dates back to the 1st century BC. Despite its early origins, the town came to prominence during the medieval era and its old town is home to some spectacular, well-preserved medieval buildings.

On arriving in the town, we parked the car in the centre of Cahors, and immediately made our way down to the old town. There we spent a fair bit of time wandering up and down the narrow warren of streets, admiring the medieval and Renaissance buildings.

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Our first stop was the magnificent Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. An architectural gem, the 12th century cathedral is beautiful and has undergone regular and extensive rebuilding over the centuries, resulting in a glorious mix of architectural styles. The cathedral proudly boasts two massive domes over the nave, the largest in south-west France.

We headed inside to explore the interior of the cathedral, admiring the nave, the domes and the stained-glass windows, before heading to the cloisters. The pretty cloisters are centred around a small, neat garden and offer great views of the cathedral. There you can see the cathedral from lots of different angles and I was able to gain a much better appreciation of its architecture. The domes, in particular, stood out with their round navy slate roofs sitting atop the smooth cream stone and dark stained-glass windows.

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Having fully explored the cathedral, we moved on to the part I was most excited about, the incredible Pont Valentré. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont Valentré was built in the 14th century and took some 50 years to complete. The striking 172m-long bridge features three Gothic towers that boast great views over the Lot. In the 19th century, the bridge was restored by the architect Paul Gout who commissioned Antoine-Cyprien Calmon, a local artist, to carve a small stone devil into the middle tower.

The devil represents an old legend around the construction of the bridge – according to the tale, the original architect sold his soul to the devil in return for help building the bridge. If the devil failed to help the architect at any point, their pact would be broken. So the architect decided to try to get out of the arrangement by tricking the devil and in revenge, the devil made sure the last stone laid on the middle tower kept falling off.

The bridge is fantastic and an incredible piece of engineering. The towers really command your attention, there’s great attention to detail and it’s very well-preserved for its age. It’s quite unlike any other bridge I’ve seen, so needless to say, I was really impressed by it.

The only thing I didn’t like were the large number of elderly tourists, who as soon as I pointed my camera at something would walk in front of it and not move. If I was one of those people who spent ages lining up my shot, I’d understand people getting fed up and walking in front of the camera, but I’m pretty much a point-and-shoot girl (as evidenced by many of my photos), and I found it rude and unnecessary. It wouldn’t have killed them to wait a couple of seconds. But after lots of patience and waiting about, I finally managed to get a few elderly tourist-free shots.

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After spending quite a bit of time exploring every facet of the Pont Valentré, we headed back to the car for a tour of the Lot Valley – and its wineries. Once we left Cahors, it didn’t take long before we hit upon the first wineries and we soon stopped at one. I was in seventh heaven as we wandered around, tasting the glorious bottles of cahors and marvelling at the sheer size of some of the bottles – some were enormous!

A few purchases later, we continued our tour of the valley, snaking our way along the banks of the Lot, crossing the river every so often as we followed the winding roads. The Lot Valley is home to some picturesque old towns and villages, and even if there weren’t lots of lovely wines to sample along the way, it would make for an incredible drive as it’s so pretty and peaceful. It was a really lovely way to end a fantastic day out.



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Sitting on the banks of the Dordogne, medieval Bergerac has a long and turbulent history, and is one of the largest towns in the region. During the middle ages, the town changed hands repeatedly between the French and the English, until it was reclaimed for good by the French king Charles VII in 1450. It was also a Protestant stronghold during the 16th and 17th centuries.

On arriving in Bergerac, we headed straight to the old town where we picked up a map with a self-guided walking tour. The town’s medieval centre isn’t enormous, it only takes an hour or so to walk around it, but it is very attractive. The old town is full of well-preserved timber-clad and light-coloured stone houses, and there are lots of flowers everywhere, adding to its charms.

We followed the walking trail around the winding medieval streets and down towards the river, where we enjoyed great views over the magnificent Dordogne. On the way down to the river, we passed a water level (above) that showed how high the water level had been when the Dordogne has broken its banks over the years. There was also an abandoned wooden boat down by the water’s edge, a reminder of the city’s past as an important trading hub when boats would transport goods up and down the river.

One of my favourite things about Bergerac was the statues of Cyrano de Bergerac, the hero of Edmond Rostand’s play, dotted around the town. There’s a colourful statue of the big-nosed hero on top of the steps of the Place Pélissière beside the 12th-century Église Saint-Jacques. And another statue made out of stone in a little garden in the middle of the Place de la Mirpe.

After spending a good hour or so walking around the town, we stopped off for a late lunch near the Place Pélissière. I enjoyed our day out in Bergerac, it’s a pleasant, pretty town and a nice place to spend a relaxing couple of hours strolling past some very attractive old buildings.



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One of les plus beaux villages en France, the utterly delightful bastide town of Monpazier, south of the Dordogne, more than lives up to its billing as one of the country’s most beautiful villages. I adored it. So much so that if I were ever to move to France, this is where I’d want to live.

The town dates back to 1284 when it was founded by the English king, Edward I. Its one of a series of bastide towns and villages in south-western France built by the English during the Hundred Years War in the 13th and 14th centuries. A bastide town is a fortified town, surrounded by large, thick stone walls and built to a grid layout – and Monpazier is one of the best surviving examples.

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As a typical bastide town, Monpazier has a large square at its centre, a series of streets and alleyways leading off it, and fortified gates around the edges providing entrance to the town (today, three of the original six gates remain).

Around the central square is a series of covered walkways home to shops, including a tabac where I’d get my daily newspaper; restaurants; and a great little café, where I’d stop off for a hot chocolate in the morning. The square also hosts the town’s market on a Thursday, as well as a number of flea markets throughout the summer where I had great fun browsing (and buying) antiques.

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Monpazier is home to some excellent shopping. There’s a fantastic leather shop, where I bought a black leather handbag – everything in there was so nice, I could easily have bought half the shop. There are also a number of shops selling home furnishings, a butcher’s that sells portions of homemade lasagne and quichés, and stores selling local food stuffs, such as foie gras and pécharmant wine.

One of my favourite spots was the fabulous patisserie on the Rue Saint-Jacques. The cakes and desserts were so good I made a daily pilgrimage (apart from the day it was closed) to sample a different treat – the walnut tart was particularly good. By the end of the week, the lady who ran the patisserie must have thought “You, again?” as I enthusiastically sauntered through the doors.

Monpazier’s light coloured stone buildings are incredibly pretty and largely untouched since medieval times – it’s so charming, I found myself happily ambling around on a daily basis, somewhat in awe of its loveliness. Adding to its many charms, it has a relaxed vibe, and the people are warm and friendly, too. If you’re looking for somewhere to base yourself in the Dordogne, you could do a lot worse than Monpazier.



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With its lush green forests, picturesque medieval architecture and gourmet food, the Dordogne is one of my favourite parts of France. Cutting a swathe through the heart of the region in the south-west of France is its namesake river. The magnificent Dordogne River flows for more than 300 miles from the mountains of the Auvergne near Clermont-Ferrand to the Gironde Estuary, just north of Bordeaux.

I first visited the Dordogne when I was around eight years old on a family holiday. We were staying in a caravan on a campsite and I have fond memories of riding through the campsite’s forest on my bike during the hot sunny days and being awe-struck by the epic thunderstorms at night.

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So when my parents said they were renting a gite in the Dordogne for a week and would I like to join them, I jumped at the chance. We stayed in a lovely little house, just outside the bastide town of Monpazier, and from there we day-tripped to nearby Bergerac, the pretty medieval city of Sarlat-la-Canéda and the stunning Chateau de Biron (above). We also toured the nearby countryside, as well as the vineyards of the Lot valley and its capital Cahors.

France is renowned for its excellent cuisine and, in my opinion, the region’s gastronomy is among the country’s very best. Put simply the Dordogne is a foodie’s paradise. Home to deliciously ripe fresh fruits and vegetables (I discovered black tomatoes in a greengrocer’s in Monpazier), beans and strong cheeses. Duck and goose can commonly be found on restaurant menus, along with nuts in various forms – I enjoyed more than one walnut tart during my week’s stay. Foie gras is also a popular local delicacy, despite its notoriety, and you can find it for sale all over the region.

The Dordogne’s wines may not be as famous as those of the neighbouring Gironde, but it’s home to some very drinkable wines. Péchamant, from the Bergerac area, is a full-bodied red and this became our wine of choice during our week as there was a little shop selling cheap, drinkable boxes of it in Monpazier. The region also produces the Montbazillac dessert wine. To the south of the Dordogne, the Lot valley is home to my favourite wine, the Cahors.

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But what I like best about the region is its traditional, relaxed way of life. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming, and there’s a slow, laid-back charm to the area. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet and relaxing, with a little bit of sightseeing, history, beautiful scenery and incredible food and wine, there’s no place better than the Dordogne.