During three weeks in the Dordogne and the Lot researching The Rough Guide to France, I clocked up over three thousand kilometres on the road - equivalent to driving from London to Istanbul - climbing up steep single-lane tracks to isolated hamlets, negotiating bizarre one-way systems, and zipping down empty country roads where every corner revealed another breathtaking panorama.
It's a beautiful part of France, criss-crossed by countless rivers, dotted with sleepy medieval villages, and offering seemingly endless opportunities for sampling the fabulous local food and wine (all in the name of research, of course). Here are a few of my highlights from my time on the road:
One of my first, and favourite, stops was the gorgeous small town of Brantôme. Sitting snugly on a small island in the River Dronne, it boasts a fascinating troglodyte abbey built into the limestone cliffs, and an ample supply of cafés for soaking up the riverside views.
It's commonly claimed that Périgueux's cathedral was ruined by additions by Paul Abadie, the man responsible for Paris's Sacré-Cœur, but I never fail to be charmed by it - at first glance, its bulbous domes and bell tower appear almost mosque-like.
With honey-coloured houses clinging to the steep cobbled streets, the view of Puy-l'Évêque from across the river was just the tonic I needed after a long day of research. In an area crammed with picturesque villages, it is undoubtedly one of the finest.
Set against dramatic cliffs and hugging the riverside road, La Rogue-Gageac is impossibly scenic - and the tour buses are testament to that. While looking for somewhere to hire canoes, I came across the perfect, quiet spot to soak up the view, interrupted only by the splash of swimmers in the river.
It's definitely a big part of the region's charm that so many places feel as though they haven't changed in decades. I loved this old tabac in the sleepy village of Bourdeilles, which reminded me of holidaying in this neck of the woods as a child.
One of my favourite things about this part of France is the abundance of great markets, which are always stuffed full of gorgeous local fruit and veg. The one in Cahors (Wed & Sat) is particularly good, though you need to get there early to see it at its best.
© Tony Tooth/Shutterstock
The Dordogne is full of pretty bastide (fortified) towns in striking hilltop positions, and Domme is one of the prettiest, with bright bunting decorating its streets, and fabulous, far-reaching views over the surrounding countryside.
Jardins de Marqueyssac
These astounding gardens were the absolute highlight of my trip. Situated on a wooded promontory above a wide meander of the Dordogne, at times it felt like stepping into a Tim Burton-esque fantasy, at others like I was in the heart of an ancient forest.
Even the countless tour groups can't detract from the fairytale-like beauty of Rocamadour, perched above the River Alzou in one of the region's most spectacular settings.
Road to Limeuil
My favourite time of day is just before dusk, when the sunlight casts an almost magical glow upon the countryside. The roads in the Dordogne are blissfully quiet, and it was hard to resist stopping from time to time to soak up the views - and the silence.
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