Rising in the cool, cloudless hours of the morning, slipping downstairs and out of the door to sit shaded by the maple trees, on the very first day of our holiday I was greeted by the deer leaping in pairs not twenty metres from the villa, just the other side of the pool. It was an arresting sight to wake up to, and an equally special place to see it in: sunken into a wide clearing, an idyll of fresh smelling green under an unbroken blue sky.
If the landscape was truly picturesque, the villa did it justice in every respect, nestling on the slope in authentic Périgourdin stone; inside, charmingly rustic beams and decorations yet comfortably furnished and thoughtfully equipped. My father could afford a satisfied smile at our reactions – no-one could praise the villa enough.
A leisurely stroll past maize fields and basking lizards to St. Avis for des baguettes, and an outdoor breakfast beckoned. Already the pool glittered invitingly – too much for some, as the first cry of joy and the first splash was answered by the wailing of the pool’s toddler-proofing security alarm. However this temporary descent in chaos lasted a mere five minutes, after which the villa began to exert its calming ambience over everyone.
There were hours lounging by the water, devouring books and bronzing torsos, diving and drying and diving all over again. The more energetic competed fiercely on the table tennis table, but whole days might have passed in reading and relaxing, soothed by this life of unhurried pleasures. Even the presence of the TV and DVD player, initially a source of delight to certain family members, was soon forgotten.
To stay in this forgivable state of trance would have been to ignore the numerous delights that the Dordogne region has to offer – plenty to appease the culture-hungry traveller, or the simply hungry one. There was a rich cacophony of sights and smells in the vibrant food markets of Beaumont, Lalinde and especially Cadouin – all experiences with a distinctly Gallic flavour – wine-tasting among the rolling vineyards at the striking Château de Monbazillac, discovering the beautifully preserved bastide of Monpazier, and of course the wide, winding banks of the Dordogne itself.
Sated with ice cream, loaded with charcuterie and patisserie, we invariably returned from the bustling squares desiring only the peace and seclusion of our new home-from-home. Delicious meals were prepared, usually on the barbeque and eaten outside in lavish style. And so the day would end beneath a sky as clear as it had begun, with the whole family together around the table, playing cards and dessert wine in hand, feeling that here, at last, we had found the quintessential British fantasy of life in rural France.