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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

The Dordogne - I Wish I Could Rave

I've been dragging my heals on this post because my preference is to be positive. To talk about beauty, style, nature, things we loved and places I can whole-heartedly recommend. The Dordogne is certainly beautiful and other people love it, but for some reason I just can't rave. I'm beginning to wonder what's wrong with me? Luckily D. felt the same way too. I get that other people love the place, I can see what they like about it (just look at the view above) but it  didn't speak to me. This isn't to criticize others who wax lyrical about it but while I like it well enough I wasn't charmed. Perhaps I didn't go to the right places or bring the right attitude, perhaps I'm too partial to the Luberon, but the Dordogne was far less captivating to us than Provence or Burgundy. However, I loved the nearby  Lot valley and would certainly like to see more of the Auvergne. 
So what can I tell you about it? Well, we were there in May and I'd failed to take my own advice to check the school/public holiday schedule. Mea culpa, we were there on a week that combined three public holidays and the spring school vacation, excellent planning on my part! The place was packed with families on their spring holidays, it was horribly touristy. As one hotelier explained to us, in May it's too early for the beach and too late to ski so it's a popular time to head to areas like the Dordogne. The small hill towns were heaving, the weather was dull and the whole place felt like an overly groomed French Disneyland. With the yellowed sandstone buildings it reminded me of the worst of the  Cotswolds in the summer, no wonder there are so many Brits here. 

So gripping and crowds aside what can I tell you about it? Well there's lots to do and I think this is partially why it appeals to people. There are an incredible number of mediaeval castles that are open to the public or turned into museums, including the interesting  Chateau Milandes above which was the home of the American cabaret artist and dancer Josephine Baker. There are several beautiful modern gardens including Marqueyssac and Les Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac which we enjoyed and I'll be blogging about later. You can take a hot air balloon in the valley or get out on the river. We visited Sarlat on their famous market day and it was packed with people. It's a very pretty town and we have friends who love it. 

For many Sarlat represents the best base for the area but we preferred the quieter  charms of the smaller more out of the way bastide town of Montpazier - pictured below. Wherever you stay prepare yourself for hearty meals and menus dominated by duck and goose product.
So, our experience doesn't define yours. I suspect  if we'd gone during a quieter week or had better weather we might have felt differently. We very much enjoyed walking around Turenne which I'll be blogging about soon. The mystery of personal opinion throws up all sorts of contradictions in our experiences. While I love Bonnieux I found  the Dordogne hill town of Domme too touristy for me, others might view them as quite similar. The point is to go, enjoy and make up your own minds.