This week’s travel dream: A family escape to France’s ‘Castle Valley’

The canoe trip down the Dordogne ended at Beynac, home to a 12th-century castle.

Perhaps there comes a moment during every trip abroad when everything feels a little too much like home, said Lini S. Kadaba in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Paddling three plastic canoes down the Dordogne River, we were thinking less about the storybook experiences that we’d already had during our family trip to rural southwest France than about how much this uneventful day trip resembled a lazy glide down the Delaware. But then our party rounded a bend: Suddenly, “a caramel-colored medieval village clung to the towering cliff” above us, and above those houses, ancient cave dwellings dotted the cliff’s face. Once again, this land had opened up a fresh adventure to us. “Our meander down the river had turned into a spectacular feast of human ingenuity and natural beauty.”

The whole week went that way. Traveling in a group that included children ages 13 months to 13 years, we chose to mix physical activity with the adults’ interests in wine, history, and natural splendor, and everyone’s curiosity was rewarded daily. The canoe trip ended at Beynac, one of the most beautiful villages in France and home to a 12th-century castle, whose ramparts we conquered by clambering up a steep cobblestoned path flanked by shops and cafés. Another favorite fortress city was Carcassonne: Though its “kitschy souvenir shops and crowded fast-food restaurants give it a Disney-esque feel,” Carcassonne’s medieval core is ringed by 52 towers and nearly two miles of battlements, giving it an authentic fairy-tale air.

A rented villa in the small town of Marives was our group’s base camp. From that spot, we were able to make quick excursions to Albi, whose Bishop’s Palace houses a “wonderful” collection of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, and to Pech Merle, “home of amazing prehistoric cave paintings and engravings dating back more than 20,000 years.” Some of the trip’s best times, though, were spent back at the villa, where the kids played soccer “with World Cup enthusiasm” while the adults “nibbled local cheeses” before joining the games themselves. Those afternoons made our southwest France adventure feel “like a family reunion, but with better scenery.”

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