France - holiday
After a week of beach recuperation, it was time for some greenery. As we wove our way through the Dordogne, inhaling France at its most undiluted, fields of sunflowers greeted us like crowds of smiling faces. Kiah said, "Can we live in France? It's so peaceful", and asked where all the cars were.
Villages with names such as Verteillac, Bourdeilles and Champagnac de Belair were decked with summer festival buntings, and sold sweet hams, socky cheeses and antiquey mushrooms from their pavement markets. The fine local wine was virtually free.
We began at Celles, a hamlet near Ribefrac, and checked in at Pauliac, a rustic cottage whose modest appearance belied its capacious interior. The girls exploration of the wild garden was determined by the escape routes of the various house pets. Imogen found a friend in Pilate, an old Labrador, and relentlessly pursued the numerous cats, while we had kittens watching her balance on the sides of the stone plunge pools.
The evenings were perfect for a family. The children were catered for early, and tucked up in bed by the time we rolled up for the second sitting. We could enjoy ourselves, safe in the knowledge that the children were only one floor above, and we didn't need to order a cab.
Our second country base was a chateau near Courbiac, 85 miles further southeast. We plunged and rose through vineyards and vales, crossing the Dronne, Ilse, Dordogne and Lot rivers, arriving eagerly at Chateau de Rodies, or the "fairy castle", as we had built it up. The girls could hardly contain themselves as we spotted it among a wood of oak trees, one hill away. It was a perfect 13th century chateau, and our home for the next five days.
Apart from a 15-minute trip to the hilltop village of Tournon d'Agenais, you won't leave this place during your stay. What would be the point? Time is spent by the pool, reading a book, a cold beer by your side. For the kids, entertainment comes in the form of other children, lizards, frogs and dogs, as well as a nicely hidden playground.
The drive: the 200-mile drive from Jard sur Mer to Ribdrac is beautiful, but be aware that the scenic route takes its toll on your speed, so allow extra time.
Head east on the D949 to Fontenay le Comte, then take the fastest routes (N148, AlO, E603) through Niort and Cognac to Angouhime. Drop south towards Ribdrac on the D939 and D708. Exit at Verteillac SE; Celles is three miles away. Allow seven hours.
The accommodation: in Celles, Pauliac (05 53 91 97 45) has doubles from £30 and exquisite meals from £11. An alternative is Fougeolles, in Eymoutiers (05 55 69 11 44), where the eccentric Monsieur Montant plays two jazz pianos; doubles start at £30. Near Conibiac, Chateau de Rodies (05 53 40 89 24) has an amazing selection of doubles from £45, as well as two tower rooms.