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‘Land of 1,001 Castles’

Dordogne, France

Created date

October 26th, 2010

The Dordogne River in France meanders through absolutely gorgeous countryside. Over millions of years it has carved out very steep cliffs; here and there small cities were built up against those cliffs, often with a castle situated at the highest point, as a protection against invaders. The valley is known as the Land of 1,001 Castles, and whether or not you re counting, you ll find enough spectacular sights in the Dordogne region some along the river, others further inland, and some actually under the ground to make the numbers unimportant. In the middle of the region is Sarlat-la-Caneda, a city which first arose around a Benedictine abbey in the eighth century. Today the city s old center is closed to traffic; narrow twisting streets offer a photo opportunity around every bend. Sarlat-la-Caneda is the perfect base from which to explore the Dordogne, taking day trips to the many other must-see sights. Two of the prettiest cities along the banks of the Dordogne, La Roque-Gageac and Beynac et Cazenac, are only minutes away, and a third, Domme, is across the river built high up on a cliff. One castle that doesn t have a river view, the Chateau des Milandes, built in 1489, draws tourists for another reason. One of its 20th century owners the famous singer/dancer Josephine Baker really put it on the map. Inside you ll discover a museum dedicated to the singer, who accomplished more than dancing with bananas around her hips at the Follies-Berg re Theater, as she was a decorated member of the French Resistance. While modern man has left his traces above ground, a large part of the appeal of this region are the cave paintings left behind 15,000 years ago by early man. The most famous, Lascaux, is now closed to the public because of the damage done to it by human breath, though there is an exact replica right next door. At Font de Gaume, a few kilometers away, the original caves can still be seen, though if you go in high tourist season (the summer), you ll definitely need reservations as only small groups are permitted inside. If you ask a Frenchman where the best food in France can be found, all will reply, without hesitation, in the Perigord, the region in which lies the Dordogne valley. It s the land of foie gras, which is on every menu along with many forms of duck. The local wines, Bergeracs and Cahors, are fantastic, but of course any restaurant in France can offer you wines from every region and at every price. Staying in a hotel is, well, staying in a hotel. France has what is called the gites system, where individuals rent you a room or small house on their grounds. Le Petit Manoir, outside of Sarlat, has three such accommodations. They re all rated 4-star and situated on beautiful grounds with a heated pool. By staying at a gite, you ll never have to fight for parking, be stuck inside a small hotel room, or be without expert advice from a local the gite owner as to the best places to see and dine. Most speak English (many people from England vacation in the area) and, in fact, the owners of Le Petit Manoir are expat Americans. For more information, visit www.france-for-visitors...