Dordogne, France - the City of Lights was quite amazing regardless of the high prices, dingy budget hotels, snotty waiters and hordes of tourists. The thing I remember most clearly is how beautiful the view was from the top of Montmartre and how good it felt to be overlooking this fair city.
Yet when I reminisce about the trip, I can't help but long for the French campagne. It was in the southwest, in Dordogne, that I found my French countryside bliss.
Well-groomed fields, quaint villages, sinewy river scenes and appetizing bistro menus abound, though you could probably say the same for plenty of other regions in France.
One thing that distinguishes Dordogne is its high concentration of caves with prehistoric paintings and carvings. If you have a visual image of a prehistoric painting, I guarantee you it comes from a cave in this region - most probably the horses of Lascaux.
This famous cave with its splendid horse paintings from 15,000 years ago had to ban visitors for the sake of preservation. The interaction of people's warm breath and the cave's cool, humid air was creating a film of green algae on the walls that was starting to cover the paintings.
But many other caves in the area are open to wannabe anthropologists: Font-de-Gaume and Ruffignac, for example. There is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as being deep in a cave a few kilometres under the surface and listening to a guide describe in slow, charmingly accented English how Cro-Magnon people came here with primitive torches just to carve or paint these beautiful deer, mammoths, fish and horses.
After time deep underground, it's refreshing to go to Domme (as in our word "dome"), a town at the top of cliff with a killer view.
I could see the Dordogne River valley floor for miles and miles, and another cliff 10 or 15 kilometres away, opposite the one we were standing on. It's easy to imagine the Cro-Magnons fishing in this river, hunting among the herds of animals migrating through this corridor and finding shelter inside an indent we could see at the bottom of the facing cliff.
Everything below seemed peaceful, the fields getting a dusk sprinkling, the farmers connected to their land, the past connected to the present. I imagined generations of people going back to the dawn of the human race standing here to watch the sunset.
There is so much beauty in this French country scene, no postcard could do it justice.