I also recommend for its excellent artifacts the Musee National de Prehistoire a couple of miles away in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, a combination medieval fortress and cliff-dwelling village.
For natural splendor, the most spectacular cave we visited was at Gouffre (Chasm) de Padirac, a government-operated site east of Rocamadour. An elevator carried us 244 feet down a sinkhole to the entrance of a dripping cave. Farther down were boatmen who rowed us through stalactite-studded caverns across an underground lake.
Early summer rain and the threat of more of it curtailed our plans for bicycling and canoeing. But we visited other towns--the perfect bastide of Martel, and the highly touted Cahors, which was disappointing; new buildings distracted from old, the ancient heart of the city seemed dull and weathered rather than charming, and heavy traffic crawled through the narrow streets. We much preferred the pedestrian-friendly, historically preserved Sarlat.
Sixty years ago, Henry Miller wrote of Domme that the view from its bluff is something to be grateful for all of one's life. I am grateful, and I'll return, for the charm of Domme, for the countryside of the Dordogne, and for the duck.
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Getting there: Air France, American and AOM fly nonstop from L.A. to Paris; restricted fares begin at $610 through October.
A car (or a guided tour) is necessary to enjoy the Dordogne. Some might prefer to take the TGV (fast) train or fly from Paris to Bordeaux or Toulouse, each about 85 miles from the area described here, and rent a car there.
When to go: July and August are the high season--and most crowded; many sites and some hotels and restaurants close November till April.
Where to stay: Hotel de l'Esplanade is Domme's best, set on the cliff overlooking the river valley. Rooms run $87 to $92. Telephone 011-335-5328-3141; fax 011-335-5328-4992.
Two handsome hotels in nearby towns are members of the reliable Logis de France (Internet http://www.logis-de-france.fr): Hotel du Centre in Les Eyzies, rooms average $50; tel. 011-335-5306-9713, fax 011- 335-5306-9163.
Hotel La Couleuvrine in Sarlat, rooms from $29 to $58; tel. 011-335-5359-2780, fax 011- 335-5331-2683.
Where to eat: Hotel du Centenaire, Les Eyzies, tel. 011- 335-5306-6868, fax 011-335- 5306-9241, is a Relais et Cha^teaux property, with rooms from $116 to $260. Its restaurant is the best in the region, with two Michelin stars. Fixed-price menus are $56, $83 or $104 per person, not including wine. Closed November to March.
Le Regent, on the main square in Sarlat, is similar to La Poivriere in Domme, with moderately priced local dishes.
For more information: French Government Tourist Office, 9454 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715, Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2967; tel. (310) 271-6665 or (410) 286-8310 (France-on-Call hotline), Internet http://www.francetourism .com.--B.F.